Images of the Prophet Muhammad - a Zombie Error
So - are images of the Prophet Muhammad illicit in Islam? From what some people do and say you might think so.
Not so fast. This is a classic zombie error - a commonplace belief that will. not. die!
I am not a specialist in Islamic art, but I teach an occasional low-level survey of the field at these Colleges, where we have an excellent Visual Resources Collection for a school of our size, a collection which is unfortunately for your visual delight very observant of copyright laws, so I can't post any pictures. I popped some terms into the search engine and came up with this list of paintings of the Prophet Muhammad executed by Muslims that we happen to own slides of; this is not an exhaustive list!
So, journalists, don't tell us this is a taboo subject matter in Islam. The physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad may be a taboo subject matter in some sects of contemporary Islam, but let's all be clear -- this is not a universal prohibition.
Here are LOTS of examples for you arranged in chronological order:
From Rashid al-Din's Jami al Tawarikh (Compendium of Chronicles) - here's a page from the Met (with pictures) explaining some history of the book.
-----Khalili Collection Ms 727, Rashid al-Din's Compendium of Chronicles, f3a: Muhammad conquers Mecca, 1314, painted Iran.
-----Edinburgh University Library MS Arab 20, Rashid al Din's Compendium of Chronicles, Scene of the Birth of Muhammad, 1315, painted Iran. The baby Muhammad has a visible face. Here's a link to an image of ONE folio, though not one showing Muhammad.
---Topkapi Sarayi Library, Istanbul, B.282 Kulliyyat-i Tarikhi of Hafiz-i Bru, folio 171A: Muhammad Conquers Mecca, 1415-1416, painted Afghanistan -- Muhammad's face is a golden wash of fire and he stands in front of a gold background. F 169A shows Ali storming a fortress.
---Topkapi Sarayi Library, Istanbul, MS Hazine 2154, F 107:Muhammad describing Jerusalem, 1400-50, painted Iran -- FULLY FACED Muhammad.
---Paris, Bib Nat, SupplTurc 190, Hari-Malik Bakhshi, Mi'rajnama, folio 34B: Muhammad and the Angel Gabriel, 1425-50, painted Afghanistan. Fully faced Muhammad, both Muhammad and Buraq encased in flames.
---Khalili Collection MSS 620, The Giant Uj* and the Prophets Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, 15th Century book, painted Iraq - click this link, choose Publications, choose Vols XXV-XXVI, scroll down - it's the image in the left margin. I can't find the folio information without going to our library and the Khalili collection doesn't allow access to pages deep in the directory. Sorry.
---London, British Museum. Mi'raj, 1497, painted Iran. The thumbnail image I can see looks like a fully-faced Muhammad, but it won't enlarge and I'm not sure.
---Worcester Art Museum, page from a Khamseh of Nizami, Mi'raj, Muhammad on Buraq, 1550, painted Iran. Here's a link to a page from the book, but like the Edinburgh link not to the correct page. It begins to make me wonder if the curators are avoiding controversy by keeping the Muhammad images off the internet?
---Freer Gallery, Washington, Jami, Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones), F 275A, Mi'raj, Muhammad on Buraq, painted Iran, 1556-65. Go here, scroll to Arts of the Islamic World, choose the last virtual exhibition -- your tax dollars at work!! Choose the first poem of the 7 - "Chain of Gold." The Ascent of Muhammad (the Mi'raj) is the 4th page in. There's a nice note on the use of the veiled prophet (anyone from St. Louis reading? That's where it comes from.).
---Topkapi Sarayi Library, Istanbul, MS.Hazine 1221, Kitab Siya-i Nabi (Life of the Prophet), multiple scenes from the life, including the Birth, Call by Gabriel, the Call to Prayer from the top of the Kaba, the Mi'raj, and the Death of the Prophet, 1594, painted Turkey.
Some other useful things
Here is a useful piece on the Night Journey of Muhammad, the Mi'raj, from Wikipedia. Perhaps its explanation of the mystical content will help you understand why this is such a common IMAGE of Muhammad.
The Wikipedia article on Buraq, the steed of Muhammad, even has a picture optimistically described as "public domain." I don't recognize it (it's not a great reproduction and, like I said, I'm not a specialist). It shows a veiled Muhammad.
*Uj is, I think, Og of Bashan in the Hebrew versions.
We can, of course, forgive MUIS for being ignorant of existing art by Muslims depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Let's not forget to forgive the very Straightened Times for being ignorant of the existence of Muslim Danes who held their own counter-protest *in favor* of the publication of the caricatures.