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Islamic Depictions of Mohammed in Full

Mohammed Images

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Medieval Muslim artists often created paintings and illuminated manuscripts depicting Mohammed in full. Several examples are presented here. Other artists of the era drew Mohammed, but left his face blank so as to technically comply with a sporadically enforced Islamic ban on depicting the Prophet; these faceless images are shown in the second section of the Archive.

In 1999, Islamic art expert Wijdan Ali wrote a scholarly overview of the Muslim tradition of depicting Mohammed, which can be downloaded here in pdf format. In that essay, Ali demonstrates that the prohibition against depicting Mohammed did not arise until as late as the 16th or 17th century, despite the media’s recent false claims that it has always been forbidden for Muslims to draw Mohammed. Until comparatively recently in Islamic history, it was perfectly common to show Mohammed, either in full (as revealed on this page), or with his face hidden (as shown on the next page). Even after the 17th century, up to modern times, Islamic depictions of Mohammed (especially in Shi’ite areas) continued to be produced.

On this page are many examples of full-faced Mohammed portraits produced by Muslim artists across the centuries. Attributions for each image are given where known.

Illustration showing Mohammed (on the right) preaching his final sermon to his earliest converts, on Mount Ararat near Mecca; taken from a medieval-era manuscript of the astronomical treatise The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries by the Persian scholar al-Biruni; currently housed in the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (Manuscrits Arabe 1489 fol. 5v). This scene was popular among medieval Islamic artists, and several nearly identical versions of this drawing (such as this one [shown in detail below] and this one) were made in the Middle Ages.

Another version of the previous drawing (almost exactly the same, but with minor differences) , this one taken from a 13th-century Persian manuscript (most likely a different edition of al-Biruni’s The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries) housed at the Edinburgh University Library, Scotland.

Detail of Mohammed from the picture above.

The image shown above was censored by the French textbook company Belin Editions in 2005. As explained and illustrated on this French-language Web site (an English translation of which you can find here), the April 2005 edition of their history and geography textbook had this original picture of Mohammed with his face visible; but the subsequent edition, from August 2005, had his face blotted out by the editors, in a misguided attempt to be politically sensitive.
(Hat tip: Gilles C.)

Mohammed’s Flight from Mecca in 622 AD; Algerian color postcard from the 1920s or ’30s. Mohammed is the figure entering the cave. The original postcard is in a private collection.
(Hat tip: Martin H.)

Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh (literally “Compendium of Chronicles” but often referred to as The Universal History or History of the World), by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 A.D. Now in the collection of the Edinburgh University Library, Scotland.

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One response to “Islamic Depictions of Mohammed in Full

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