I am reading the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s novel My Name is Red, which is a murder mystery, and a love-story, and much else besides, set in 16th-century Istanbul, amongst the workshops of miniaturists working for the Sultan. At one point, one of the protagonists, who ingeniously step forward one at a time, like the automata of a mechanical clock, and who include a corpse, a tree, and a dog, tells of a miniaturist who climbs a minaret to gain perspective on the human tragedies he is witnessing. Seems to me a bit of perspective, in the current climate, might not go amiss.

"Bonfire of the Pieties", an article by Amir Taheri in the Wall Street Journal Online, cites references to earlier images of the Prophet Mohammed including:

A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M’eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet’s capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad’s miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk’s portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Taheri continues:

Islamic ethics is based on "limits and proportions," which means that the answer to an offensive cartoon is a cartoon, not the burning of embassies or the kidnapping of people designated as the enemy. Islam rejects guilt by association. Just as Muslims should not blame all Westerners for the poor taste of a cartoonist who wanted to be offensive, those horrified by the spectacle of rent-a-mob sackings of embassies in the name of Islam should not blame all Muslims for what is an outburst of fascist energy.

Elsewhere, Sandmonkey notes that

while the arab islamic population was going crazy over the outrage created by their government’s media over these cartoons, their governments was benifitting from its people’s distraction.(sic.)

Another sidelight to this came from a blog called chapati mystery, posting back in November on the Royal Mail’s use of an unattributed 17th century Mughal painting of Madonna with Infant Jesus for one of their Christmas stamps for 2005. He quotes from an academic article on the Mughal’s use of Christian imagery:

After inviting the first Jesuit missions to court in 1580, Akbar ordered his artists to paint hundreds of iconic portraits of Jesus, Mary, and a panoply of Christian saints in the styles of the late Renaissance to adorn books, albums, jewelry and even treaties. These images were used in court rituals and major royal festivities such as coronations. The dramatic culmination came when imperial throne rooms, harems, tombs and gardens were prominently adorned with mural paintings of Christian figures. Astounded and delighted, European travelers wrote home declaring that the Muslim regime was on the verge of conversion. They could not have been more wrong. Far from capitulating to Western cultural superiority, the Mughals took European material culture and put it to work for themselves.

And, apparently, according to Taheri, the iconoclastic strain in Islam derives from an encounter, early in its history, with a brand of early Christianity that was vehemently opposed to imagery. So what goes around, comes around.

This page has some background, pertinent to Pamuk’s novel, as well as beautiful images like this one:


H’srev and Shirin, Sheraz school in the beginning of the 15th century, Iran


Written by Dave Lovely

February 12, 2006 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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