Dr. Jamal J. Elias, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of several books on Islamic culture, gave a lecture Wednesday, Feb. 21 in the University Center on the progression of religious iconography in Islam.
Elias argued that no explicit condemnation of icons, or more specifically, depictions of the prophet Mohammed, exist in Islam. The closest thing to such a condemnation, Elias said, comes from Qur'an 6:74: "And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his father Azar, 'Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people to be in manifest error.'"
The lecture reviewed the history of Muhammad's depiction in Islam in reverse chronology. One modern example that Elias expanded upon was the controversy caused by the Danish newspaperJyllands-Posten, which printed twelve comics of the prophet in 2005.
"The Muslim reaction to the Danish cartoons was screened broadly in the television and written media of the Western world as being based in the fact that Islam prohibited images of Muhammad," said Elias, "rather than by somewhat distinct explanation, obvious to anyone who bothered to read or hear what Muslims were actually saying, that they saw in the caricatures the intention as one of causing offence to their prophet and their religion, and that they were rallying in defense."
The lecture, being one of many in the ongoing Cluster Development Lecture Series, was coordinated by Professor Robert Rozehnal, Director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies.
"As part of our ongoing efforts to develop an innovative program of comparative, interdisciplinary Islamic Studies at Lehigh, this spring's 'cluster development' lecture series will bring six top scholars in the field to campus," said Rozehnal. "Dr. Jamal Elias from the University of Pennsylvania is a renowned scholar of Islamic ethics and spirituality. He has explored the importance of beauty and virtue in Islam: key concepts and practices that are absolutely central in Muslim history, piety and practice."
Students in attendance were receptive to the lecture. Hao Tian, '15, was particularly surprised by the fact that Islamic culture often depicted the prophet in stylized text that loosely resembled a human figure.
"I came from China, and before, I had no prior knowledge of Islamic culture," said Tian."I did some reading in my comparative politics class about people from Iraq and their experience after the U.S. invasion, so I was really interested in Islamic culture and this lecture."
The Cluster Development Lecture Series will continue until Wednesday, April 18.