The face of Muhammad
There are many extraordinary and beautiful paintings, miniatures, and woodcuts in the online gallery of artworks that show Muhammad’s face. That European artists portrayed Muhammad without the usual veil is not surprising. What is surprising are the numerous Islamic works—from Persia, from Afghanistan, from all over, many of them of high cquality—that revealed Muhammad’s features. These were evidently not underground works. If the author of children’s books in Denmark had realized last September that so many Islamic portrayals of the M man existed, he could have saved poor Jyllands-Posten and himself a lot of trouble.
The Muhammad gallery is so large it can be overwhelming. Here are two works I particularly like. The first is a 14th century Persian miniature, a quiet, meditative, yet somehow fraught-with-tension shot of the angel Gabriel conversing with Muhammad. The almost pastoral amiability of the scene is deceptive. As the angel leans toward him, instructing him, Muhammad sits very still and controlled, his head tilted forward thoughtfully, yet, even in his posture as listener and pupil, you can see the forces gathering inside him for his career as dictator and war leader. It’s as though he were still in his Meccan phase, preparing for his Medinan phase—an exceptional example of how a picture can tell us things that words cannot.
Next is a French illustration from the 1699 La Vie de Mahomet showing an unchararacteristically young and exuberant Muhammad as a world conqueror, an upraised sword held triumphantly in one hand, the Islamic crescent of the moon in the other, the sun hanging from his belt, and his feet stepping on the globe, the Cross and the Ten Commandments, like a demonic reversal of the Virgin of Quito stepping on the moon and the Dragon. Notice that the avatar of this “new order,” is not an “Islamist” or an “Islamo-fascist,” but the central figure of Islam, Muhammad himself; the campaign of world conquest is not the project of “radical” Islam, but of Islam. Europeans held to that correct understanding of Mohammedanism until the modern age, when they lost the Father, lost the Son, lost the Holy Spirit, lost their history, lost their self-confidence, and began to believe in nothing except six-week vacations, human equality, and white guilt.
I propose that George W. Bush hang a reproduction of this woodcut in the Oval Office and look at it every day.