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Muslims Protest Wikipedia Images of Muhammad

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has again stirred up controversy — this time over a biographical entry on the prophet Muhammad.

Nearly 100,000 people worldwide have signed a Web-based petition asking Wikipedia to remove all depictions of the Prophet from its English-language entry, viewable here.

"I request all brothers and sisters to sign this petitions so we can tell Wikipedia to respect the religion and remove the illustrations," the creator of the petition at The Petition Site asks.

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Opposition among Muslims to images of Muhammad has its roots in the prohibition of "graven images" in the Ten Commandments, but has varied over time.

"Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent," Notre Dame history professor Paul M. Cobb told the New York Times. "Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammad."

All four images on the English-language Wikipedia page are rather lovely Persian and Ottoman miniatures from the 14th through 16th centuries. The two later ones depict Muhammad's face as covered by a white veil, but the earlier pair show his full face.

"Please take off those pictures or leave only the digitally blanked out faces please," writes one anonymous petitioner from Belgium several times on the petition site. "Thanks for respecting Muslims beliefs. Peace and Light."

Wikipedia has entries on Muhammad in several dozen languages. A quick survey found images of the Prophet on the Dutch, German, French, Spanish and Russian versions, but not on the Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, Albanian, Urdu or Bahasa Indonesia versions.

The Croatian edition depicted Muhammad, but the version written in the nearly identical Bosnian dialect did not, reflecting Bosnia's Islamic identity.

Surprisingly, one version in a language spoken overwhelmingly by Muslims had several images of Muhammad, both veiled and unveiled — the Farsi edition, legible to Persian-speakers in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and in the Iranian and Afghan diasporas worldwide.

• Click here for the English-language Wikipedia entry, here for the Petition Site petition and here for the New York Times report on the issue.