Egypt is a country of almost 80 million people, over 90% of whom are Muslim. It is the largest Islamic country in the Arab world. Therefore, what its chief religious authority promulgates appears to be important in the Islamic world. The Grand Mufti of Egypt may not be the Pope, but he seems to be far more than the Archbishop of Canterbury. When he says statuary — like that from the temple of Karnak at Luxor — is un-Islamic and forbidden, that statement seems far more important than those of the Taliban which we have previously discussed. It states anew the view, recurrent and common in the Arab world but denied or made light of by Western elites who continue to be in denial, that statues are sinful. From AFP (HT: American Thinker):
A fatwa issued by Egypt’s top religious authority which forbids the display of statues has art-lovers fearing it could be used by Islamic extremists as an excuse to destroy Egypt’s historical heritage. Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country’s top Islamic jurist, issued the religious edict which declared as un-Islamic the exhibition of statues in homes, basing the decision on texts in the hadith (sayings of the prophet)….
The fatwa did not specifically mention statues in museums or public places, but it condemned sculptors and their work. Still, many fear the edict could prod Islamic fundamentalists to attack Egypt’s thousands of ancient and pharaonic statues on show at tourist sites across the country.
“We don’t rule out that someone will enter the Karnak temple in Luxor or any other pharaonic temple and blow it up on the basis of the fatwa,” Gamal al-Ghitani, editor of the literary Akhbar al-Adab magazine, told AFP. Gomaa had pointed to a passage from the hadith that stated: “Sculptors would be tormented most on Judgment Day,” saying the text left no doubt that sculpting was “sinful” and using statues for decorating homes forbidden.
[T]he controversial Qatar-based Islamic scholar, Yussef al-Qaradawi [and TV star]…joined Gomaa in declaring that statues used for decoration are “haram” or un-Islamic. “Islam proscribed statues, as long as they symbolise living entities such as human beings and animals,” Qaradawi said on an Islamic website. “Islam proscribed all that leads to paganism or smells of it, statues of ancient Egyptians included,” he added. The only exception, he said, was “children’s toys.”
Many in the West do not take seriously as of yet the fact that mainstream Islam, as defined by Egypt’s chief religious authority, often finds statuary repellent and offensive, as it does so many other things, from cartoons to squiggles on milk shakes. The Grand Mufti’s ruling may invite more pathetic and self-defeating self-censorship in the West, if the Cartoon Riots are any indication. We have previously asked if we should shutter our museums to avoid giving offense to the Islamic world. The relevance of that question has been advanced by this latest outrage.
Art is a dream of what could be; it is a metaphor that embodies hope and wonder and yearning and much else, as we have written. Indeed, we believe that in certain ways the humanistic art of the Renaissance that preceded the Enlightenment was actually a pre-figuring of those later accomplishments. (We can talk about this on the side if you like.) Islam has historically viewed statuary as a kind of idolatry, and this is true, for it elevates man to the status of Creator — which we applaud.
Thus the lines are drawn. The faithful for whom a 1400 year old book tells the entire and sufficient tale of humanity, on one side; and us infidels, who marvel at the non-submissive, idolatrous creations of man, on the other side. If the bad guys win, maybe the last statue they will destroy is Benvenuto Cellini’s famous Perseus with the Head of Medusa from mid 16th century Florence, pictured above, for it features beheading, the signal act of the barbarians at our gate.