Wendy Thomas Russell over on the Patheos Atheist channel has a blog called Natural Wonderers, which is about “raising curious, compassionate kids in a secular family.” She occasionally runs a series called “Mommy, What’s that?” that is “aimed at giving secular parents some simple, straightforward and open-minded ways to describe religious concepts.” She approached me and some of the bloggers at Patheos Muslim to take part in a round table discussion around this question that a child may ask: “Mommy, Can I Draw Muhammad?” as in the Prophet Muhammad (saw).
Writes Wendy on her post addressing this question,
I decided to step aside and ask some of my fellow bloggers here at Patheos what they would say to their own kids. The result is a rather wonderful “virtual roundtable” discussion on the issue of drawing Muhammad. I’m immensely proud of the wisdom these writers have shared with me, and I hope you enjoy it, too.
To keep the piece as brief as possible, I’ve categorized the comments into five main pieces of advice — a step-by-step guide, if you will, to discussing Muhammad with kids. It should be noted that some writers emphasized sensitivity and respect, while others emphasized free speech — but all of them, without exception, indicated that the real question isn’t whether children can draw Muhammad, but whether they should — and why they would want to.
Members of the roundtable are as follows: Dilshad Ali (Muslimah Next Door), Ryan Bell (Year Without God), Neil Carter (Godless in Dixie), Dale McGowan (Secular Spectrum), Kaveh Mousavi (On the Margin of Error) and Qasim Rashid (Islam Ahmadiyya).
Check out the post and what all bloggers at this round table (three atheists, two Muslims including myself) had to say.The following is my longer answer to her question, which I address to kids in general. Mommy, Can I Draw Muhammad?:
It’s kind of hard to understand why many Muslims believe that we should not draw or create images of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) I mean, many of us have been drawing faces and taking photos of each other as soon as we learned how to draw.
So what’s the big deal with the Prophet Muhammad? Why not him? Has anyone ever drawn him? Why do some Muslims get so angry if others show or draw (whether nice or drawings that make fun of) the Prophet Muhammad? (A discussion on appropriate anger or disagreement without ever resorting to violence, well that’s a whole other discussion for us to have!)
Actually, if you go back in history, there have been depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. But, as time passed (around 1500 AD), images of the Prophet began to be covered by a veil or replaced by golden flames, according to this article in The Guardian newspaper. In Iran, many Shi’a Muslims (that’s a sect of Muslims, which I won’t get into right now), still use the image of the Prophet Muhammad in many places – on postcards, pictures, carpets and so on.
But, the general view from many Muslim scholars and many Muslims is that we should not be drawing or creating images of the Prophet Muhammad. Why? Because many scholars and other Muslims believe that showing images of him could lead to idol worshiping, meaning that people start praying to him instead of to God.
Worshipping someone or something other than God is one of the biggest no-no’s for Muslims. In fact, the shahada, or declaration of faith that Muslims believe in, says that there is only one God, and that the Prophet Muhammad is His messenger. One of the biggest things about Islam is that we believe that only God is divine, and all the Prophets (we believe and honor all the Prophets, not just Prophet Muhammad) were holy messengers. But, they are not to be prayed to or worshipped as a God-figure.
So, Muslims are taught to love the Prophet Muhammad, because he brought Islam from God to the people and because he is the best of men. But he is not God, nor should we ever look up to him in that way.
The thing is though, the world is a big place with lots of people in believing lots of different things. So even though a lot of Muslims feel this way about pictures of the Prophet Muhammad and would like others to respect their beliefs, not everyone is going to do that. Of course we have the freedom to draw what we want and say what we want.
Unfortunately though, the line between drawing something or saying something that is very upsetting or even hateful to another group of people, and saying (or drawing) whatever you want because you have the right to do so is debatable. I think it’s just as disrespectful (to Muslims) to draw the Prophet Muhammad as it is (to people of other faiths) to make artwork that puts down other faiths or religious figures.
So, if you ask me if you should draw the Prophet Muhammad, I’d say I would prefer you do not. Why do something, say something or draw something that a large group of people would not like?