How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

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ygalg
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How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by ygalg »

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by Matt Soniak - January 11, 2008 - 4:29 PM

The other day, Will and Jason told me about a Mohammad statue at the Supreme Court they heard about on This American Life. This was their way of saying, “We’re curious, so you should go do a bunch of research on it. Let us know how that goes.”

When I hear about depictions of Mohammad, I picture Muslims burning Aqua* CDs in the streets and boycotts of Danish…danishes.

But much to my surprise, the Danes aren’t to blame this time around. The statue in question is, in fact, right in our very own Supreme Court building.

Let’s start at the beginning.

A Court to Call Home

Despite its stature in the country’s political and cultural landscape, the Supreme Court was something of a vagabond in its early years. When New York City was our capital, the Court met in the Merchants’ Exchange Building, and when the capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the Court set up shop in Independence Hall, and then City Hall. When the federal government went off to Washington, the Court used the Capitol Building as a flophouse, but got bounced to a new chamber six different times during their stay.

Finally, in 1929, Chief Justice William Howard “I got stuck in the White House bathtub” Taft decided enough was enough and persuaded Congress to authorize the construction of a permanent home for the Court. Construction on the Supreme Court Building was completed in 1935, and the Court finally had a home to call its own after 146 years of existence.

Sculpture figures prominently in the Corinthian architecture of the Court Building. One chamber features a frieze decorated with a bas-relief sculpture by Adolph A. Weinman of eighteen influential law-givers. The south wall depicts Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius and Octavian, while the north wall depicts Napoleon Bonaparte, John Marshall, William Blackstone, Hugo Grotius, Louis IX, King John, Charlemagne, Justinian and, you guessed it, Mohammad.

Objections

Things were all well and good for a few decades, with no documented controversies over the sculpture that I could find. But then, in 1997, the fledgling Council on American-Islamic Relations brought their wrath to the Court, petitioning then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist to remove the sculpture. CAIR outlined their objections as thus: 1. Islam discourages its followers from portraying any prophet in artistic representations, lest the seed of idol worship be planted. 2. Depicting Mohammad carrying a sword “reinforced long-held stereotypes of Muslims as intolerant conquerors.” 3. Building documents and tourist pamphlets referred to Mohammad as “the founder of Islam,” when he is, more accurately, the “last in a line of prophets that includes Abraham, Moses and Jesus.”

Rehnquist dismissed CAIR’s objections, saying that the depiction was “intended only to recognize him [Mohammad]…as an important figure in the history of law; it was not intended as a form of idol worship.” He also reminded CAIR that “swords are used throughout the Court’s architecture as a symbol of justice and nearly a dozen swords appear in the courtroom friezes alone.”

Rehnquist did make one concession, though, and promised the description of the sculpture would be changed to identify Mohammad as a “Prophet of Islam,” and not “Founder of Islam.” The rewording also said that the figure is a “well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor to honor Mohammed, and it bears no resemblance to Mohammed.”

The reasoning behind Rehnquist’s rejection? For one, he believed that getting rid of any one sculpture would impair the artistic integrity of the frieze, and two, it’s illegal to injure, in any way, an architectural feature of the Supreme Court Building.

Other Depictions of the Prophet

While the Qur’an forbids idolatry, it doesn’t expressly forbid depictions of the Prophet. The prohibition on such depictions that we often hear about comes from hadith (oral traditions that supplement the Qur’an). Muslim groups have differing opinions on the prohibition, with Shi’a Muslims generally taking a more relaxed view than Sunnis. That said, there are more depictions of Mohammad in art out there than we’d think, from the US to Uzbekistan. Until the 1950s, there was even a statue of the Prophet at the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse, right on the front steps. Anyone want to clue us in on other Mohammad art hanging around out there?

*Yes, they’re the most famous Danes I could think of…
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/11107
credit to @stephen_taylor (twitter) for tweet.
Last edited by ygalg on Fri Mar 02, 2012 11:43 am, edited 2 times in total.
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CuteCoot
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by CuteCoot »

There is a website somewhere that collects portrayals of Mohammad in art. This frieze is quite prominent and has been discussed quite a bit but I didn't know about the CAIR objections and their rebuttal.
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ygalg
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

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CuteCoot wrote:There is a website somewhere that collects portrayals of Mohammad in art. This frieze is quite prominent and has been discussed quite a bit but I didn't know about the CAIR objections and their rebuttal.
CAIR is there for one purpose, to overthrow the Constitution and replace it with Sharia.
“a true believer as a person so fanatically committed to a cause that no amount of reality can make him abandon it” Eric Hoffer
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SAM
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by SAM »

The United States Supreme Court honors Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, as a source of law and justice alongside Moses, Solomon, and Confucius. He is depicted in the Courtroom Frieze among the great law-givers of mankind. :lol:

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http://islamgreatreligion.wordpress.com ... eme-court/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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manfred
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by manfred »

... and he is holding the Qur'an in his LEFT hand, thereby explaining a much better use for the paper...
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kaimana1
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by kaimana1 »

SAM wrote:The United States Supreme Court honors Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, as a source of law and justice alongside Moses, Solomon, and Confucius. He is depicted in the Courtroom Frieze among the great law-givers of mankind. :lol:



http://islamgreatreligion.wordpress.com ... eme-court/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Sam do you realize it consists of a frieze of muhammad holding the qur'aan with his left hand as manfred pointed out? :lotpot:
Anyways, heres the relevant quote from the actual pdf:
Muhammad (c. 570 - 632) The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur’an. The Qur’an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad’s teachings explain and implement Qur’anic principles. The figure above is a well- intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet
Really? How does the author of that quote know the frieze doesnt resemble muhammad? LMAO Thanks for the laugh sam :clap:
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Fernando
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by Fernando »

This must present Muslims with a terrible dilemma. Since such a representation is banned, should they blow it up like the Buddhas - or would that be sacrilege? Or or is it so holy that they should prostrate themselves in front of it - or would that be sacrilege?
Decisions, decisions... but it might be worth putting an armed guard on it to be on the safe side.
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farside
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Re: How a Mohammad statue ended up at the Supreme Court

Post by farside »

My lesson 14 is about the Muhammad frieze on the Supreme Court Building. I do discuss the problem of Muhammad holding the Quran with his left hand. :)

http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Farsideology: ... _-_Statues" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Enjoy!
Farside :farside:
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