The republication of caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in September 2020 led to protests in many Muslim-bulk nations around the world. It also resulted in disturbing functions of violence: In the months that adopted, two people today have been stabbed in close proximity to the previous headquarters of the magazine and a instructor was beheaded just after he showed the cartoons in the course of a classroom lesson. Visual depiction of Muhammad is a delicate difficulty for a amount of good reasons: Islam’s early stance against idolatry led to a common disapproval for pictures of living beings in the course of Islamic heritage. Muslims seldom produced or circulated photographs of Muhammad or other notable early Muslims. The new caricatures have offended many Muslims about the planet. This aim on the reactions to the photographs of Muhammad drowns out an vital problem: How did Muslims visualize him for hundreds of years in the in the vicinity of whole absence of icons and pictures? Picturing Muhammad without imagesIn my courses on early Islam and the lifetime of Muhammad, I instruct to the amazement of my pupils that there are several pre-modern historical figures that we know extra about than we do about Muhammad. The respect and devotion that the initially generations of Muslims accorded to him led to an abundance of textual elements that furnished rich specifics about every aspect of his life. The prophet’s earliest surviving biography, published a century soon after his dying, operates into hundreds of pages in English. His remaining 10 a long time are so nicely-documented that some episodes of his daily life through this interval can be tracked working day by day.Even additional detailed are textbooks from the early Islamic period devoted especially to the description of Muhammad’s human body, character and manners. From a pretty well-known ninth-century reserve on the subject titled “Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya” or The Elegant Features of Muhammad, Muslims realized almost everything from Muhammad’s peak and system hair to his sleep patterns, clothing choices and preferred food. No solitary piece of data was seen way too mundane or irrelevant when it anxious the prophet. The way he walked and sat is recorded in this e book alongside the approximate amount of white hair on his temples in aged age. These meticulous textual descriptions have functioned for Muslims in the course of centuries as an alternative for visual representations. Most Muslims pictured Muhammad as described by his cousin and son-in-law Ali in a well known passage contained in the Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya: a wide-shouldered gentleman of medium top, with black, wavy hair and a rosy complexion, going for walks with a slight downward lean. The next fifty percent of the description concentrated on his character: a humble person that encouraged awe and respect in all people that satisfied him. Textual portraits of MuhammadThat stated, figurative portrayals of Muhammad have been not entirely unheard of in the Islamic globe. In simple fact, manuscripts from the 13th century onward did include scenes from the prophet’s existence, exhibiting him in full figure in the beginning and with a veiled face afterwards on. The greater part of Muslims, nonetheless, would not have entry to the manuscripts that contained these illustrations or photos of the prophet. For people who wished to visualize Muhammad, there had been nonpictorial, textual alternate options. There was an inventive custom that was significantly well known among Turkish- and Persian-speaking Muslims. Ornamented and gilded edgings on a solitary web site were being loaded with a masterfully calligraphed textual content of Muhammad’s description by Ali in the Shama’il. The heart of the web page highlighted a famed verse from the Quran: “We only despatched you (Muhammad) as a mercy to the worlds.”These textual portraits, called “hilya” in Arabic, ended up the closest that one would get to an “image” of Muhammad in most of the Muslim entire world. Some hilyas have been strictly with out any figural illustration, although others contained a drawing of the Kaaba, the holy shrine in Mecca, or a rose that symbolized the magnificence of the prophet. Framed hilyas graced mosques and personal homes nicely into the 20th century. More compact specimens were being carried in bottles or the pockets of individuals who believed in the religious ability of the prophet’s description for superior well being and towards evil. Hilyas retained the memory of Muhammad fresh for these who required to imagine him from mere words. Distinctive interpretationsThe Islamic lawful foundation for banning pictures, which include Muhammad’s, is fewer than clear-cut and there are versions throughout denominations and lawful educational facilities. It seems, for occasion, that Shiite communities have been much more accepting of visible representations for devotional reasons than Sunni kinds. Images of Muhammad, Ali and other family members associates of the prophet have some circulation in the popular religious lifestyle of Shiite-greater part international locations, these types of as Iran. Sunni Islam, on the other hand, has mainly shunned religious iconography.Outside the Islamic world, Muhammad was on a regular basis fictionalized in literature and was depicted in photos in medieval and early modern Christendom. But this was normally in much less than sympathetic sorts. Dante’s “Inferno,” most famously, had the prophet and Ali struggling in hell, and the scene inspired lots of drawings. These depictions, nevertheless, hardly ever obtained any focus from the Muslim globe, as they have been manufactured for and consumed inside of the Christian globe. Offensive caricatures and colonial pastProviding historical precedents for the visible depictions of Muhammad adds significantly-needed nuance to a sophisticated and perhaps incendiary issue, but it will help describe only aspect of the photo. Equally important for knowledge the reactions to the images of Muhammad are developments from far more modern historical past. Europe now has a large Muslim minority, and fictionalized depictions of Muhammad, visible or normally, do not go unnoticed.With innovations in mass communication and social media, the spread of the photographs is swift, and so is the mobilization for reactions to them. Most importantly, quite a few Muslims discover the caricatures offensive for its Islamophobic material. Some of the caricatures attract a coarse equation of Islam with violence or debauchery through Muhammad’s impression, a pervasive topic in the colonial European scholarship on Muhammad. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood has argued that this kind of depictions can trigger “moral injury” for Muslims, an emotional pain thanks to the particular relation that they have with the prophet. Political scientist Andrew March sees the caricatures as “a political act” that could bring about harm to the initiatives of building a “public room where Muslims sense safe and sound, valued, and equal.” Even without having visuals, Muslims have cultivated a vivid psychological photo of Muhammad, not just of his appearance but of his complete persona. The crudeness of some of the caricatures of Muhammad is really worth a instant of thought.[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]This post is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news web-site focused to sharing ideas from tutorial experts. It was composed by: Suleyman Dost, Brandeis University.Read through far more: * Muslim schools are allies in France’s struggle from radicalization – not the cause * Why there is opposition to visuals of MuhammadSuleyman Dost does not function for, consult, have shares in or receive funding from any firm or firm that would advantage from this post, and has disclosed no appropriate affiliations beyond their academic appointment.