Monday, February 06, 2006

Rehnquist on the Visual Depiction of the Prophet

Here is another caricature of Mohamet:

It is on the frieze of the North wall of the Supreme Court's courtroom.

"Muhammad (c. 570-632) The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur'an. The Qur'an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad's teachings explain and implement Qur'anic principles. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet."
I guess so.

There have been complaints:

"United States Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist recently rejected complaints by a coalition of Muslim groups offended by a frieze, depicting the Prophet Muhammad, and turned down their plea that the marble sculpture in the Supreme Court's chamber be removed or altered. He disagreed the sculpture was a sacrilegious "form of idol worship" and drew attention to the rich symbolism of the Qur'anic motifs and Islamic beliefs. It is true that in Islam the depiction of the Prophet is considered a form of apostasy, because it may encourage believers to worship someone other than Allah. The friezes though, carved of Spanish marble and in place since the Court building opened in 1935, show allegorical figures and a process of eighteen great lawgivers. Muhammad is included among other historical figures including Confucius, Moses, Napoleon and Charlemagne. The bearded Muhammad is shown clutching a scimitar in his right hand and the Qur'an in his left hand. The coalition had also complained that the curved oriental sword in the Prophet's right hand "reflects long-held stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant conquerors." Furthermore, the protesters said, Supreme Court literature about the frieze incorrectly identifies Muhammad as the "founder of Islam," when he is in fact recognized as "the last in line of prophets that includes Abraham, Moses and Jesus." Rehnquist replied that the depiction of Muhammad "was intended only to recognize him, among many other lawgivers, as an important figure in the history of law; it [was] not intended as a form of idol worship," and that "[a]ltering the depiction of Mohammed would impair the artistic integrity of the whole." Rehnquist also dismissed the objection to the curved sword in the marble Muhammad's hand as reinforcing the stereotypical image of Muslims as intolerant conquerors: "I would point out that swords are used throughout the Court's architecture as a symbol of justice and that nearly a dozen swords appear in the courtroom friezes alone." Rehnquist said the description and literature, however, would be changed to identify Muhammad as a "Prophet of Islam," and not "Founder of Islam." The rewording, based upon "input of numerous Muslim groups," would also say that the figure "is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor Adolph Weinman to honor Mohammed, and it bears no resemblance to Mohammed." Aziz Haniffa, Religion: Court Rejects Plea to Deface Figure, INDIA ABROAD (New York), Mar. 21, 1997, at 38."

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan and Joshua Micha Marshall for pointers.