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Depiction of Islamic Saints and Prophets

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Analysis of Islamic art shows a significant rejection of the depiction of Islamic saints and prophets in artworks describing Islam. Muslims prefer to highlight the revelations in the Quran using Arabic calligraphy rather than portraits as evident in mosques. Variations in the interpretation of Islamic doctrines regarding figurative art have significantly contributed to the diversity of attitudes on inappropriate religious art. Although the Quran does not prohibit the depiction of living beings, it firmly bans any acts that insinuate there is a being or object that deserves greater honor in comparison to God. Among all materials that act as a collection and source of reference for Islam, the Quran is the most divine. However, Muslims attach great importance to materials such as the Hadith, which contains records of recommended Islamic traditions as described by followers of Muhammad with whom he taught and spread Islam. Although the records in the Hadith are not divine revelations, the Hadith is a trusted source of guidance on the expected conduct among Muslims (Eliav et al. 277). Analysis of some excerpts from the Hadith illustrates the reason for negative reactions among Muslims regarding images of Muhammad. Aisha describes the punishment that will befall people who paint pictures of Muhammad and his followers because their deeds are an attempt to bring into life what they did not create. The painters will suffer great torments due to their misdeeds. In this regard, the Hadith depicts the painting of Islamic saints and prophets as an act of mockery against Allah who is the only being that can create and destroy life. Aisha describes an incident during which Muhammad reacted angrily to the presence of a drape with painting of animals. To illustrate his disapproval of the painting, Muhammad tore the curtain into pieces and indicated that painters of such pictures would suffer greatly for their actions.

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Abbas, a follower of Muhammad, would pray in church as long as there were not statues and pictures. He would not enter any church with figurative art citing the portrayal of saints and prophets as an unacceptable religious practice. As Islam spread, it encountered other cultures that promoted religious art and the depiction of holy men. These cultures influenced the tendency by Muslims to experiment with various designs and techniques in decorative art. Overtime, interaction with diverse cultures caused an increasing deviation for Islamic teachings on figurative art.

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Angry reactions to the depictions of Muhammad arise because these depictions conflict with the guidelines stipulated in the Hadith. Muslims who follow the Hadith without any compromise view images of Muhammad as an act of mockery to Islam. Most depictions of Muhammad emanate from non-Muslims who lack an understanding of the Islamic doctrine. Non-Muslims view Muhammad from a different cultural and religious perspective. In this regard, there is the tendency to describe Muhammad within a different scope rather than Islam (Zaman 61).

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Evidence shows that most of the images and animations of Muhammad originate from critics of Islam. Thus, apart from violating the Islamic doctrine, depictions of Muhammad seek to portray negative aspects about the prophet. When an individual depicts a being that a particular religion honors in a disrespectful manner, angry reactions are inevitable. Although respectful images of Islamic saints and prophets may not attract violent reaction as evident in the anti-US protests in Egypt and Libya and the killing of Van Gogh in Amsterdam, Islam prohibits all manners of depicting human beings and animals in religious art. Assertions that depictions of Islamic saints and prophets should not attract the reactions witnessed in various events fail to acknowledge the Islamic doctrine and are disrespectful to Muslims. 

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