Islamic art: Iconoclasm: the counter-narrative

Although received wisdom would have us believe otherwise, Islam is not actually an anti-iconic religion. Indeed, down through the ages, it has always produced images. Today, artistic creativity needs to resist the appalling flood of visual information being produced by the jihadists. (Asiem el Difraoui and Antonia Blau)

Nowhere does the Koran forbid images. As emphasised by the great historian of Islamic art, Oleg Grabar, Islam is not iconoclastic; it is aniconic in the sense that although during certain periods of its history, primarily Sunni movements avoided pictorial representations of divine creation, they did not violently destroy images. It is largely today that the impression that Muslims reject images is gaining ground. This is due to the barbarism of Daesh (Islamic State), which is not directed exclusively at humans, but also at the roots of its own Arabo-Islamic culture, as illustrated by the destruction of the pre-Islamic Arab city of Hatra or the Sumerian city of Nineveh.

 

Islamic Art

This barbarism, however, has nothing to do with the culture of Islam. If Muslims have at times distanced themselves from figurative representation, it has been for reasons other than a prohibition prescribed by the Holy Book. The first generations of believers, for instance, took great pains not to be found guilty of idolatry. After all, in the year 630, did not the Prophet Muhammad himself destroy all statues and idols in the Kaaba in Mecca, Islam′s holiest of sites?

Moreover, Muslims also wanted to distinguish themselves from Christianity, which at the time was still dominant in most of the conquered regions, such as Syria and Egypt, and which itself debated the issue of imagery for a long time before St John of Damascus finally won the war of the icons.

 

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Categories: Art, Asia, Islamic Art N Exhbit

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