Muslim devotional pictures


Islam's prophet Muhammad ibn Abd Allah. Representations of the Prophet are well known from early on, but are not very common. While some Muslims hold beliefs that it is against Islam to make images of the Prophet, others have more relaxed attitudes, and among Shia Muslims, such pictures are common, and much liked.

According to Iranian informants interviewed by Ingvild Flaskerud, such portraits should not be considered "real" portraits of the prophet Muhammad. The artists make these images on the basis of conventional ideas of the character of those personages depicted, in the same way it has been done with Biblical figures in European art.

The text below the image is the shahada or Profession of faith: "There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is His messenger."

Original: Purchased in Qum 1999 by Ingvild Flaskerud.

As in the previous picture, the Prophet holds the Quran in his left hand, while with his right hand index finger, he points upwards. The one finger symbolises or reminds the viewer of the basic Islamic tenet of the one God. Below the picture is the shahada, as in the previous picture, while the medallions in the upper corners contain the words "Allah" (to the right) and "Muhammad" (to the left).

These portraits remind one of Zoroastrian (or Parsi) depictions of the prophet Zarathushtra, compare for instance with this image from The Life of Holy Zarathustra (The Prophet of the Parsees) by Framroz Rustomjee, Bombay 1961, and image from Introducing Zoroastrianism; With 52 Weekly Sermons by Maneck B. Pithawalla, Bombay 1961.

Original: Small images, Ingvild Flaskerud, Qum 1999.

This picture represents the prophet Muhammad in the middle, with his veiled daughter Fatima on his left hand side, his cousin and son in law on his right hand side, and his two grandsons, Ali's og Fatima's sons, Hasan (in green) and Husayn (in red). "The holy family" or "the Holy Five" has a high position among all Muslims, but particularly among Shia Muslims. Their names are written on the rosette to the left: starting from the top and reading clockwise: "Allah, Muhammad, Fatima, Husain, Hasan, Ali". The text in the middle is not readable. Behind Muhammad stands an angel, probably Djibril (Gabriel) with the Koran in his hands. According to Muslim belief, the angel Djibril was the one who brought the first revelation to Muhammad. In this picture, like in many other representations of Ali, he holds in his hands one of his characteristics, the double pointed sword Dhu 'l-Faqar.

Original: Small images, Ingvild Flaskerud, Qum 1999.

More common than portraits of the Prophet Muhammad are more or less schematic representations of his family or genealogical tree, or so-called "prophet trees", where the Prophet himself may be symbolized by a calligrahic representation of the name "Muhammad", and/or a rose.

In this family tree we find the Prophet's name in the midle of the upper part, with near relatives, wives and children and descendants below. The medallion in the right corner contains the sentence Allah jalli jalaluh, "God, Mighty and Glorious is He!" In the left corner medallion: "The magnificent family tree of our lord Muhammad, God's messenger, God bless him and grant him savation, and the people of his house (his family and descendants)."

Original: 50x70 cm. Purchased in Cairo in front of the Sayyidna Husain-mosque January 1988 by Richard J. Natvig.


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