Are representations of the Prophet Muhammad permitted in Islam? To make or not to make images of the Prophet: that is the question Oleg Grabar (picture) will try to answer. It is an unexpectedly burning question, as the newspapers regularly demonstrate. But both the answer to the question and the reasons for raising it require a broader introduction.
There have been many times in recent years when one bemoaned the explosion of media that have provided public forums for so much incompetence and ignorance, not to speak of prejudice. Matters became worse after September 11, for two additional reasons. The first is the propagation of a climate of fear, of ever-present danger from ill-defined foes, which led in the West, and especially in the United States, to a plethora of security measures ranging from reasonable and useful to ridiculous and demeaning. Penetrating and perverting institutions and individuals, this fear collided in the Muslim world with a complex ideological and psychological evolution that led many people in Muslim countries and communities to a reflexive and often self-destructive brutality in reaction to the slightest whiff of verbal or visual provocation.
MORE of this article by Oleg Grabar, professor emeritus at Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, in The New Republic