Museum lied about Mohammed image

Museum lied about Mohammed image

When the Victoria & Albert Museum in London was asked if it held any images of the so-called prophet after the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, it said there were none.

But a US expert later provided a link to a poster in its collection, with the inscription “Mohammad the Prophet of God”. That page in the database was deleted last week, but can still be found in a cached version. A spokeswoman said their original response was “an honest error”.

Reporting on this latest act of self-censorship, the Guardian showed the potentially explosive image buried a long way below these words:

Warning: this article contains the image of the prophet Muhammad, which some may find offensive.

The V&A, it said, had attempted to conceal its ownership of the “devotional image”, citing security concerns, in what is part of a wider pattern of apparent self-censorship by British institutions that scholars fear could undermine public understanding of Islamic art and the diversity of Muslim traditions.

Similar images have been shown in exhibitions across Europe and America without prompting outrage, much less protests or a violent response. Made by Muslim artists for fellow Muslims, they come from a long but often overlooked tradition.

British museums and libraries hold dozens of these images, mostly miniatures in manuscripts several centuries old, but they have been kept largely out of public view. Fear of displaying them is apparently driven by controversy about satirical or offensive portraits of Muhammad by non-Muslims, despite the huge difference in form and purpose.

V&A spokeswoman, Olivia Colling said:

Unfortunately we were incorrect to say there were no works depicting the prophet Muhammad in the V&A’s collection. As the museum is a high-profile public building already on a severe security alert, our security team made the decision that it was best to remove the image from our online database (it remains within the collection).

Colling declined to say whether the museum had consulted Muslim communities about who might consider the image offensive, or whether it had received any threats directly related to the poster, created in Iran around 1990.

Many images of the 'prophet' can be found in the Internet.

Many images of the ‘prophet’ can be found in the Internet.

There was not a single complaint when another contemporary Iranian image of Mohammed was included in a 2013 exhibition in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, hung next to a Christian icon, as part of an exhibition on cross-cultural encounters.

Said Mirjam Shatanawi, an Islamic art specialist and the Tropenmuseum’s curator for the Middle East and North Africa:

We knew it might be controversial, but decided to take the risk because the story is important to tell. These images are a real eye-opener, a powerful example of Islam being different and more diverse than many imagine.

If Muslims feel offended by images made by other Muslims out of reverence for the prophet, I’m not sure if the museum should decide not to show them. It seems like choosing one interpretation of Islam over the other. These images are not made to disrespect but – on the contrary – to honour the prophet.

The Muslim Council of Britain declined to comment on whether it considered the images offensive, or whether it would object to their display.

Other British institutions with images of Mohammed in their Islamic art collections show some on websites, but have shied away from exhibitions. Edinburgh University Library last year celebrated a manuscript that contains many images of Mohammded, but none was included in the display. The university declined to say why.

Said Christiane Gruber, an expert in images of the prophet at the University of Michigan:

There is no artistic reason whatsoever why those folios should have been left out. The paintings of Mohammed are superb and form a significant part of the manuscript’s pictorial programme. I worry that our institutions of culture and learning are muting these significant Islamic works of figural art due to a variety of fears. This is a real shame and a terrible loss for our shared global artistic heritage.

The British Library included one image of Mohammed in its 2007 Sacred exhibition, but his face is veiled. None of the other UK libraries and museums that hold pictures of the prophet could provide details of any time they had been on public display.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art features one in its Islamic art galleries, and several were shown in Paris at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in 2011 with no negative response.

Said Ingvild Flaskerud, an expert on Shia devotional culture at the University of Oslo:

As a historian of religion, I think it is very important to put such images on display. They provide valuable information about the richness of Muslim devotional life. By not displaying the images, we give privilege to certain understandings of Islam and marginalise others. This is not simply a scholastic issue; it is also a democratic matter.

Hat tip: Ivan Bailey & Trevor Blake

23 responses to “Museum lied about Mohammed image”

  1. Peter English says:

    The idea that images that some might consider offensive should be deleted from the historical and artistic record is absurd and highly offensive.

  2. Personally, I find the idea of fox-hunting deeply offensive. How many depictions of hunt scenes should be removed from public galleries and online sites to appease me?

  3. Broga says:

    @Rosa Rubicondior: I’ll join you in that. As fox hunting is a top people’s sport they go on hunting foxes with impunity till they can watch the hounds rip the exhausted and still live animal to pieces. Charles Windsor is an enthusiast for the “sport.” Well, he would be, wouldn’t he?

  4. Trevor Blake says:

    The article (and too many others) speaks of ‘the prophet Mohammed.’ Only Islam is awarded this honorific. If a newspaper referred to Jesus as ‘Lord Jesus’ they would reveal their bias. Like a biological sickness, the moral sickness of sharia creeps over the globe. It is spread by fear, and fearlessness is a cure. Mohammed is the prophet of Muslims, not my prophet.

  5. barriejohn says:

    That’s obviously an historically accurate representation. You can tell by the image of the old mare that’s carrying him!

    Trevor Blake: Christians always make a big fuss about Jesus being referred to by his “full name” – The Lord Jesus Christ. Strange that, as the Bible seldom does!

  6. barriejohn says:

    And another thing, while we’re on the subject: Christians go berserk if the personal pronouns for god and Jesus don’t begin with a capital H, as that shows “disrespect”. Find it in your beloved King James Version then, you idiots!

  7. Rob Andrews says:

    Yeah… we’re slowly helping Muslims implement Sharia laws. Just by applogising and making the kind of excuses quoted in this areticle. i remember when in the US we had the Hays code for movie and vbook censorship–until the 1960s. This was largely through Christian groups like the ‘Catholic League for Decency’.

    Ijn light of what just happened there’s an implied threat that museum staffs must be aware of. i know i’d feel scared. It’s kind of like saying;” give me money so your store don’t burn down. You saw what just happened to your neighbors (Charlie Hebdo) store when he wouldn’t comply’.

  8. tonye says:

    I think they should be granted their wishes.

    Any religion wanting to keep images of their icons under cover
    will get my full support.

  9. TrickyDicky says:

    @ Trevor Blake

    And they forgot to put “pbuh” after each reference to him.

    I could think of another word beginning with “p” that would be more appropriately placed before his name.

  10. Rob Andrews says:


    Does the Freethinker have a new policy. I tried to post something this morning and I got: “Your comment is awaiting moderation”.
    I thought only the first post was subject to moderation. I haven’t seen this for the last 3 months I’ve been posting.

    does this apply to everybody? Or am I doing something wrong?

  11. Barry Duke says:

    No new policy Rob. WordPress has a mind of it’s own, and is constantly doing unexpected an annoying things. My apologies.

  12. Cali Ron says:

    I never capitalize god, christ, islam, christian or related words as they are not deserving of a capital letter. When they start capitalizing Atheists I might reconsider.

    Always amazed at the hypocrisy of the graven images thing. The bible clearly admonishes not to worship graven images, yet catholic and other religions have graven images of mary, christ, etc. all over the place with the fatihful praying to them. To try and take everything in the bible literally is impossible without some serious self delusion. Well, actually, to be a believer at all requires serious self delusion!

  13. Paul Cook says:

    This behaviour of frightening everyone or worse, not to cause religious offence has got to stop.
    We are in 2015 not 1415.

  14. Broga says:

    @Rob Andrews: I see the egregious Baroness Warsi has surfaced. She says the government is failing to engage with muslims. She wants the P.M. to have a regular meeting with muslims.

    If they ever do get round to agreeing with this whining and publicity seeking woman I hope whoever meets the muslims seeks an opinion on such choice extracts from your link. Maybe Warsi could comment?

    Baroness? Lady? What a load of old cobblers as they say in the House of Lords.

  15. Angela_K says:

    What of the paintings by William Blake and Gustave Dora and many other western artists depicting mad Mo, are they still on public display or stashed away in craven cowardice?
    I wonder if it is some sort of silly game of obfuscation by Muslims so that nobody knows what Mo [if he existed] looked like and this begs the question: If no one knows what Mo looked like, how can any painting or cartoon be deemed to be an insulting image.

  16. Lumberjack joe. says:

    Why are you blathering about foxes when innocent people are in danger of being gunned down by murderous self appointed islamofacist executioners. That we have to lie about the possession of artworks for fear of terrorist backlash is truly appalling. Democracy and free speech are at stake here just because evil bastards who have no other way of getting noticed, who are poisoned by their nasty evil dogma, who have no tallent for or interest in doing good, with absolutely no desire to better themselves, who loath themselves,who are a parasitic burden on society but want to arrogantly strut along the streets of civilised counties telling us decent people that they want us dead…and you whine about foxes. In case you have not noticed the chinless heir to the throne is a muslim apologetic as well as an enthusiastic bloodsportsman. So wake up and consider how your way of life, that your predecessors fought hard for,is under real threat from those who loath you and your comfy life in a secular country.

  17. Broga says:

    Angeka_K: The censorship of the supposed Mo is a power game where muslims decide what the rest of us must do and think. This whole farce of depicting Mo is so ludicrous, so off the wall that the fact that we pay any attention to it demeans us as a society.

  18. Cali Ron says:

    Rob Andrews-
    Have you researched It’s affiliation with Gatestone Institute and John Bolton? They are considered an islamophobic site by some other sites, such as I was troubled by the fact that the site has no info about itself, editors or sponsors. John Bolton is an extreme right wing, evangelical war hawk from the Bush presidency that gave us 2 wars and increased instability in the middle east. I’m always leery of religious sites that attack other religious sites, are they being honest or just trying to drum up support for their own superstitions. I’m not defending islam here, but questioning the web site.

  19. Cali Ron says:

    Agreed!! It’s time for all societies to call stupid rules of any religion what they are-stupid rules. By deferring to them we lend credence to something that has no credibility.

  20. Rob Andrews says:

    @Cali Ron:
    RE: Research on citizen Warrior

    No. I didn’t . thanks for the heads up on Loon Watch. i never heard of them before.

  21. Peterat says:

    Isn’t Jesus’ full name Jesus Murphy?

  22. Philip Smeeton says:

    The Muslims are demanding that we rewrite British history, or at least delete anything that might in any way offend a Muslim. The Victoria and Albert may have narrowly escaped a bombing. maybe not. We are going to have to censor the writings of Winston Churchill. On Islam:”as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog,”

  23. Robster says:

    Why don’t the offended Mo followers simply look away when they think they’re about to be exposed to an image of their magic flying horse prophet? That way, regular people will be free to look at whatever they like and the offended will be not err…offended, so much. Problem solved.