The Image Debate

The Image Debate


Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World

edited by Christiane Gruber
series edited by Melanie Gibson

Format: 240x290mm Hardback Portrait
Published: June 2019
Pages: 240
Illustrations: over 200 colour illustrations


‘Assembling an all-star cast of contributors, Christiane Gruber has put together an outstanding exploration of visual sensibilities in the history of Islam.[…] One after the other, chapters explore the political, philosophical, aesthetic, and devotional aspects of imaging to model how the study of religious visual culture should be done’
—Professor David Morgan, Duke University

“The essays in this collection, sensitively edited by Christiane Gruber, examine the subject by covering an unusual span of creativity and reception, ranging from the pre-Islamic world to our emoticons […] This is a wide-ranging collection, asking some difficult questions. The essays and their very comprehensive bibliographies can take us in new directions…’
Jane Jakeman, The Art Newspaper

‘This book can be highly recommended because of its diverse perspectives […] In her introductory inspirational contribution ‘Idols and Figural Images in Islam: A Brief Dive into a Perennial Debate’ Christiane Gruber gives a broad overview of the early Islamic ban on the worship of statues and natural stone setting understood as divine beings up to the ban on selfies at the Hajj ceremonies in Mecca by the Saudi religious authorities. She follows the legal debates as well as the political practice through the centuries and points above all to the different interpretations of the Koran on this topic.’
– Peter Heine, Orientalische Literaturzeitung



The images released by The Islamic State of militants smashing statues at ancient sites were a horrifying aspect of their advance across Northern Iraq and Syria during 2015-16. Their leaders justified this act of iconoclasm by arguing that such actions were divinely decreed in Islam, a notion that has remained fixed in the public consciousness.

The Image Debate is a collection of thirteen essays that examine the controversy surrounding the use of images in Islamic and other religious cultures and seek to redress some of the misunderstandings that have arisen.

Written by leading academics from the United States, Australia, Turkey, Israel and the United Kingdom, the book opens with an introduction by the editor Christiane Gruber, who sets the subject in context with a detailed examination of the debates over idols and the production of figural images in Islamic traditions.

The book is divided into three sections: the first deals with pre-modern Islamic practices and anxieties concerned with image-making; the second addresses similar issues in Judaism, in Christianity during the Byzantine period, in pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia, and in Hindu and Buddhist contexts in South Asia; and the third brings the reader back to Islamic lands by examining traditions of figural representation in the modern and contemporary periods.

Christiane Gruber is Professor of Islamic Art at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her primary fields of research include Islamic book art, figural painting and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.

Contributors: Shiva Balaghi, James Bennett, Robert DeCaroli, Christiane Gruber, Steven Fine, Finbarr Barry Flood, Rose Issa, Mika Natif, Oya Pancaroğlu, Allen F. Roberts, Mary Nooter Roberts, Yousuf Saeed, Michael Shenkar, Alicia Walker.


Table of Contents:

Stefano Carboni – Foreword

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

Part 1: Pre-Modern Islam

Mika Natif –  ‘Painters Will Be Punished’: The Politics of Figural Representation
Amongst the Umayyads

Finbarr Barry Flood – Signs of Silence: Epigraphic Erasure and the Image of the Word

Oya Pancaroğlu – Conditions of Love and Conventions of Representation in the Illustrated
Manuscript of Varqa and Gulshah

Part 2: Beyond the Islamic world

Alicia Walker – Iconomachy in Byzantium

Steven Fine – The Image in Jewish Art

Michael Shenkar – Religious Imagery and Image-Making in pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia

Robert Decaroli – Conspicuous Absences: The Avoidance and Use of Images in Early South Asian Art

Part 3: Modern and Contemporary Islam

Yousuf Saeed – The Figural Image in Islamic Devotional Art of the Indian Subcontinent

James Bennett – The Shadow Puppet: A South-East Asian Islamic Aesthetic

Allen F. Roberts and Mary Nooter Roberts – Enigma and Purpose: Visual Hagiographies of Urban Senegal

Rose Issa – Figures of Protest in Contemporary Arab and Iranian Art

Shiva Balaghi – Only for My Shadow: Figuration in Contemporary Iranian Art

Additional information


Art, Religion & Philosophy


Edited by Christiane Gruber






240x290mm Hardback Portrait