Christians: Would you hang in your house this painting by Muhammad Ali?

In the desert town of Lancaster, California, I once attended a silent auction fundraiser for a charity, and was so struck by the fairly large (28 x 24 inches) painting above that I took what for me then was quite a leap, and bid $80.00 on it. Weirdly enough (to me anyway), no one else bid on the painting. When I went to pay for it afterwards, I was told the painting was by the boxer Muhammad Ali, who had also autographed it.

Who knew The Greatest was a painter? And judging from this picture, I know, many would argue that he’s not. But I very much like this painting. It’s informed by a direct and elemental power that I find moving.

Some fifteen years after acquiring this picture, I became a Christian. Then I wondered if it was right for me to leave hanging in my house Ali’s painting, which pretty explicitly celebrates Islam. But then I thought, “Who cares? Islam isn’t the enemy of Christianity. Evil is the enemy of Christianity.”

“On the other hand,” I thought, “many Christians think Islam is downright evil. This painting hanging in my house will drive at least some of my new Christian friends crazy. But so what? Art is art. Soul is soul. If anyone has a problem with this great painting, they can talk to me about it—which would make, actually, for a good and even important conversation. In any event, in the name of religion I’m not turning my back on art that I love. Then I’d be exactly the kind of person I think the world needs a lot fewer of.”

So that’s how it came down for me. How about you? If you’re a Christian (and you liked the painting, if you don’t), would you hang it in your house?

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Ingrid

    I think we’ll all be surprised at who made it to the divine table in heaven and who was booted to hell. I personally think your choice in decor has you a leg up on the heaven bound train myself.

    BTW Love the painting. You are one lucky duck to have found it. I’m slightly jealous ;)

  • http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com Rachelle

    John, you crack me up. Personally, I go for the world peace idea and leave the painting up. It was the art that touched your heart to begin with… and I believe that kind of artistry comes from God Himself, whether or not the artist realizes it. Even if it really is Islamish, it looks to me like it depicts only the positive and loving side of Islam… and I’d see it as a reminder to look for the positive in others, including (or maybe especially) Muslims.

  • http://www.johnshore.wordpress.com John Shore

    Heathen!

    Oh, wait. You’re a Major Christian-Market Literary Agent.

    Visionary!

  • http://fvthinker.blogspot.com Mike (FVThinker) Burns

    While you, John, seem pretty inclusive, I (as a non-believer) take away the following:

    a) as a non-christian, you saw the artwork and the enemy/appropriate/blasphemy topic never entered your mind

    b) as a christian, you now have to entertain thoughts of “who’s in the ‘in’ group, and who’s in the ‘out’ group”

    It seems to me another example of religion creating divisions where none would otherwise exist.

    BTW: Yellow is my favorite color…I love the painting

  • arlywn

    okay, well if god condemns you to hell because of a painting that will make history… then what will he do to all the christian people who surf up porn?

  • Live & Learn

    THIS is why your blog is so interesting. I love it that you’re asking these questions — facetiously or not. :) But I’ll take the question at face value.

    If you have peace about it, it’s probably fine. After all, art is representative, and you can put whatever interpretation or reflection on it that you wish.

    But if the Holy Spirit is making you restless about it, definitely do something. Maybe you could sell it and use the money for something you feel God is leading you to do.

    Just imagine though, if a mosque like the one in the picture could go up for sale, be purchased by believers, and then re-dedicated to the worship of the One True and Living God, it would become a HOLY place — and a holy painting! :)

  • fetje

    It’s not a technically excellent painting… but it’s fun and fresh. In fact, I’d say it says a lot about the joy of a congregation (Christian? Muslim? Is that germane in this instance?) coming together to worship. The wide open spaces and the uncluttered backdrop seem to suggest a certain purity of faith, natural and unweighted by superstition.

    This entry of yours takes the lid off a can of worms. I work in the art field (classical music); and have experienced first hand the stultifying inanity of the “Inferior-until-proven-Christian” approach to art… or any cultural artifact for that matter. The knee-jerk reaction is self-preserving and forgivable when the territory is unfamiliar; but our responsibility as Christians is to *become* familiar; that is, to become engaged in cultural dialogue beyond the tracts and propaganda. I’m not saying that we should not reject art that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ; that should be clearly pushed away. But there’s a lot that takes place outside “sacred speak” that would help us become “saltier” and “brighter”. Useful starter questions when confronted with unfamiliar cultural things: Does it directly contradict God’s special revelation as laid down in the Bible? (Then, if, gasp, the item passes this test…) What does it say, and who is saying it?

    Thanks for the provocative thought, and of course, a glimpse at the perky painting.

  • http://samwrites2.wordpress.com samwrites2

    John,

    I’d say hanging the painting is between you and God.

    But in the unlikely event of an invitation to the Shore residence it would be the first item I’d want to look at/admire/covet.

    Here’s a site if you want an opinion on the art’s authenticity: http://www.aliautos.net/opinionservice.html.

    At first I thought maybe “The Greatest” was selling cars but the autos part refers to autographs. Of course, how do we know this guy’s opinion is worth $5?

    -Sam

  • http://www.sheppardministries.com Greta

    First glance, I saw one man with 8 wives, heading for the Temple area to worship….then a closer look told me it could be a couple, with 7 daughters, heading to the Temple to worship. Dad is on the extreme left and mom is on the extreme right! If one could pick the brain of Mohammed Ali, we might get the answer! Who knows what childhood memory was released on that canvas. Nonetheless, John, it is a good find. I would have paid 80.00 for it myself.

  • http://www.sisterfriends-together.org anita

    Hang it and enjoy it, but if the wall starts bleeding or warts beginning appearing in unpleasant places, you might want to reconsider.

  • http://skerrib.blogspot.com Skerrib

    I think the painting is great, but I think chocolate chip cookies are even better.

  • Cibola

    When it comes to art, who can judge what’s sacred and what’s not?

    Fetje: I like your thoughts on the matter. The tunes from some of our beloved hymns were once (beloved) pub songs. And that reminds me….there was a church in our town that wouldn’t allow a bluegrass concert to be held in their sanctuary, but the next week there was a classical, Mozart concert held there. Hmmm…

    I like the painting. It’s lovely, bright and creative…like our Father.

  • http://www.youtube.com/morsec0de Morse

    28 x 24, eh?

    Hmmmm…

    The portrait is evil. It is destroying your home and your faith even as we speak. You must rid yourself of it.

    Send it to me. I have a perfect place to hang…I mean…I have a perfect place to dispose of it for you. And I won’t even charge you for the effort. :D

  • JCinBoulder

    This is a gray area, covered by our freedom in Christ. If you can hang and enjoy the painting for the glory of God then do it, if your conscience convicts you and you hang it anyway you are sinning.

    Make no mistake though, no false religion is a brother of Chritianity. And all false religions, including Islam are evil as they lead people to hell. As Scripture teaches “what fellowship does light have with darkness.” If Jesus isn’t the only was to God then He was a liar and He is no way to God.

    • http://www.whyislam.org/ Hussein

      JC in Boulder, as you have not given any tangible proves nor argued about what makes your way right and all others wrong, I just wanted to let you know, like you Muslims think and (being a Muslim) I agree that your religion may not be evil but your worship is. and associating partners with the one and only God of creation makes you a polytheist and you will be damn to hell along with anyone who worships anyone or anything beside the God "The Father" who has no sons nor daughter nor partners in creation.

      I think it is fair that Christians who pass judgment against others should know that the same is true when others look at them. I personally believe that Islam is the ONLY way to God's salvation JC.

      As for the painting, You were lucky to find it, and best of luck to you John, but if even a hint of doubt cross your mind, then maybe you should sell it, hopefully a Muslim who will NOT question its value and treasure it for all that it it can purchase it and you can make a little money off of it.

      PS. I release this is an older post but I could not help myself since not a single Muslim seems to have commented on this, I hope you allow this for fairness sake.

      Peace!

  • aysha

    John, you’re one lucky guy to have gotten that painting. Treasure it not for it’s religious value but for its art. It’s a perfect way to show (your kids especially, if you have any) and encourage understanding and acceptance of different religions and cultures. It reminds me of my mom’s tiny hometown where there is a mosque near the beach as well. It’s not as close as depicted in the painting but, still.

    Enjoy your great find! :)

    • n.

      that’s cool, i was just wondering if people really build mosques near the beach or if that was the artist’s invention.

  • b. davis

    It is a piece of art…one that was created by one of the greatest athletes the world had ever seen. Why Should anyone care about the artists religion. I would hang it proudly….As for God…Of course I have no way of truly knowing….I don’t think he will judge you on your taste in art…nothing in this painting is offensive…unless you don’t care for the colors used!!

    • n.

      i donno, i like to think that God kind of looks sideways at people who like Thomas Kinkade and Jon McNaughton. but on the other hand i hope that God is more openminded than me.

  • http://michael66086@sunflower.com Michael Vestal

    Hell, I’d Love to have one hanging in my house.

  • Rich Pratt

    I think that your decision will determine whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution.

    Option 1: The artist doesn’t believe the same as me, so anything he does is wrong and must be fought against – Part of the problem.

    Option 2: The artist doesn’t believe the same as me; but has created something beautiful and I enjoy; so I will celebrate that common interest and proudly display the work. Part of the solution.

    This applies both in politics and religion.

  • Katy

    Perhaps I am naive, I don’t think about implications enough. I am a Jesus-follower and it wouldn’t even cross my mind that Christians could be offended by that. It’s a picture. If I put a naked Michelangelo sculpture up, does that mean I believe in everything Michelangelo believed in? Dude, it’s Muhummad Ali’s work. In your house. I’d start charging admission.

  • n.

    aesthetically, i like mosques. mostly they are deliberately made in beautiful shapes, which i assume follows the arabic traditions of architectural art.

    i’m not so big on yellow, but sometimes it really works, and i think this painting is one of those times. i’d maybe choose to hang a smaller print of this painting in my house.

    as far as i can tell, this picture says that many people flock to and find community in Islam. that is not false no matter what your religion is.

  • Kathy in KC

    When I first read the question posed and looked at the painting, I was puzzled and my reaction was “Why wouldn’t I (have the painting in my house)?” I saw a group of people at a place of worship. *End of sentence.* I didn’t think about “what are they worshiping?” or “how are they worshiping?” or “they are not worshiping like I do.” There was just dead air space after that period and a positive feeling about the joyful colors and simplicity of the painting. I felt very uncomfortable reading some of the comments where people suggested or even stated unambiguously that there is only one correct way to worship or to believe. Ouch. I’m glad there are many ways to interpret and understand the world either spiritually or scientifically, or a combination of the two. It makes human society an interesting and stimulating place to live.

  • revsharkie

    I like it. Yellow is my favorite color, too. That it’s painted by Muhammad Ali adds to its appeal, but I just like the painting.

    Not only would I hang it in my house, but I’d probably hang it in my church office, alongside the Norman Rockwell illustration of the Golden Rule and the quilt my mom made that depicts the amazing variety among the world’s people.

  • Lymis

    Personally, I’d have it professionally appraised, digitally copied, hand the duplicate with pride in my home, and sell the original. SOMEONE is going to pay a fortune for it.

    The religious implications wouldn’t bother me at all. I have paintings of dragons and spaceships in my house. Doesn’t imply I worship them.

    Signed photos by Ali go for about $800 or more these days.

    This website: http://rogallery.com/Ali_Muhammad/ali_hm.htm

    is selling a print of that piece for $5000.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      WHAT? That is my picture/print, exactly! Same: mine, too, is a serigraph, numbered and signed in pencil. Whoa. That’s pretty serious money. Holy cow! Thanks for that major bit of research, Lymis!

  • Don Rappe

    I would hang it. It’s small enough to fit in my trailer house and I like it. Without help, I would not see any connection to Islam.

  • Tom Backus

    Personally, I wouldn’t hang it in my house. It has nothing to do with who painted it, it has nothing to do with the subject matter, but rather, it won’t look good among the art deco and sci-fi stuff I hang. If this was my style, HECK YEA I would hang it. It is beautiful, and it does speak volumes to me. We have to give up our “only way” mentality. To try to understand God through the teachings of one religion is like trying to understand life in the ocean by looking at a drop of salt water.

  • Doug Sewell

    It doesn’t appeal to me artistically. Other than maybe being able to say “I have a painting by Muhammad Ali”, probably not. The religious significance doesn’t add or detract on my interest.

  • Andrew Chow

    I think you need to get rid of it, John. I will be happy to help you and take it off your hands. :-)

    Seriously, one word, Cordoba. The greatest periods of history are always during peaceful coexistence of different religions, ideas, cultures. The greatest minds are the ones that can hold divergent, even contradicting ideas in balance and continue to function. Treasure that beautiful painting. But if you really want to get rid of it…I like it, too. It conveys a sense of community celebrating peaceful harmony with nature, and hope for the future. :-)

  • Sue Tathwell Wille

    When I see something beautiful, I don’t beauty by the religion of the person who created it. I spent the better part of a day taking in the beauty of the Alhambra years ago…imagine if the Spanish had destroyed it because it was built by Muslims!!

  • Gina Cirelli

    Heck, yeah. It’s gorgeous and makes a great bigot detector.

  • Jon Larimore

    I’m a Christian, and subject matter aside, this would probably decorate my refrigerator door if my 8-year-old had proudly brought it home from school. Otherwise, no, regardless of its provenance, I really don’t find this sort of primitive effort even slightly attractive.

  • Cory M. Warren

    I would go further. I would have a quran in my home. I may be a christian, but that doesn’t mean I am going to take an anti-intellectual stance on other religions. To understand a faith, you dont listen to people with an axe to grind, you read their religious text. you realize that while there are differences, often, at their core, we are more alike than not. The common ground is where civilized society exists.

  • Tim Contreras

    Art is art, whether done by a professional, a child or someone not so sophisticated.

  • Judy Nauss Koepp

    My wall space is finite and what I hang there represents me, not necessarily whether or not it is art. While I appreciate the painting for its value as art and the value of the signature it carries, I wouldn’t hang it. The content represents something which is not me and which, in fact, is anti-me as a Christian. The meaning of the word “Islam” is “submission” not “peace.” I just can’t, personally, honor that sentiment on the limited wall space in my home. Just sayin’.

  • Ross Farina

    Well if you decide not to display it, I would love to buy it from you. I love it.

    • http://johnshore.com/ John Shore

      You know, it’s the funniest thing. I was recently approached by a sports memorabilia guy who also runs a Muhammed Ali museum. He offered me 10K for the painting. After much agonizing–and a lot of back and forth with him about verification and shipping and how exactly we would do it all–I decided to sell it to him. Everything was all set–but then, at the last moment, he simply disappeared. It was so weird. Anyway, yeah, I would sell it, but … that’s a lot of money. And I’d feel like a moron taking anything less for it.


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