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What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam What is This? A guide to a wide variety of general questions asked by those looking to learn more about Muslim culture and the Islamic world.

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Why do Muslims object to images of Muhammad?

Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, strictly prohibits idolatry; worshipping anything (other gods, persons, religious images) but the one true God is a major sin. Neither the Quran nor the hadith (Prophetic traditions) explicitly ban depictions of Muhammad, but the hadith do prohibit images of any living being. As a result, many Muslims today argue that the visual depiction of the Prophet (and other prophets such as Moses and Jesus), whether positive or negative, should not be allowed.

Muslims have treated the prohibitions against images in various ways throughout history. The absence of figures (technically known as aniconism) became characteristic of Islamic religious art, and can be seen in the common practice of decorating mosques and manuscripts with Arabic calligraphy, tile work, and intricate geometric, vegetal, and floral designs. However, at some times and in some places, particularly in lands now stretching from Turkey to India, Muslims did make images of the Prophet to use in illustrating stories about his life and deeds. In some cases he was shown veiled, but in others his features are visible. All these pictures were intended only to illustrate stories, never to be worshipped. Yet the fear of idolatry has often been so great that for many Muslims today the making of such images has been forbidden.

This belief has been taken to extremes. In 2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan dynamited the ancient Buddhas of Bamyan, which date back two thousand years, because they were believed to be un-Islamic and idolatrous. The world community, including many prominent Muslims, denounced the destruction.

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