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Idols and Figural Images in Islam: A Brief Dive into a Perennial Debate

26th February 2018, London

On Monday 26th, Gingko hosted a talk for Professor Christiane Gruber on the subject of ‘Idols and Figurative Images in Islam: A Brief Dive into a Perennial Debate’ at the Khalili Lecture Theatre in SOAS.

The lecture aimed to explore some of the questions and debates concerning idolatry and figural representation from the beginning of Islam until today. It focused in particular on the specific terminology used in the Qur’an and Hadith in order to distinguish the semantic and conceptual categories that were used by Muslim writers to classify various forms of art-making along with their associated practices. In the majority of texts, images were not understood as prohibited per se. Rather, their modalities of display and use proved of paramount significance within the perennial debates concerned with image-making, as is the case in all global religious cultures. Skirting the ‘broad swath’ method, this talk aimed to pinpoint some the finer issues raised by the textual corpus as it intersects with artworks and paintings in order to demonstrate that practices of figural representation in Islamic traditions most often were (and still are) guided by cultural and political expediency rather than religious or legal principle.

Christiane Gruber is a Professor at the University of Michigan. Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written two books and edited a volume of articles. Her most recent monograph is The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images.


Watch the entire lecture: