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Varieties of Muslim ExperienceEncounters with Arab Political and Cultural Life$
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Lawrence Rosen

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226726168

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226726182.001.0001

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Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs

Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs

(p.93) Seven Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs
Varieties of Muslim Experience
University of Chicago Press

In most places and times, detailed portraits are not common in cultures of Islam, but in other moments and portions of the Arab world—especially in the medieval period in Iraq, to say nothing of Persia and South Asia—figurative art was extremely common. Indeed, the assumed bar to such portraits is either misleading or simply untrue, notwithstanding the common aversion to representational art in Arab culture. Text and history must, however, be considered before an alternative explanation to the general aversion to portraiture in Islam. The usual claim is that human representation is forbidden by the Quran itself. However, that is not strictly accurate, as there is no such straightforward prohibition in sacred text. While the Quran is clear on the issue of idolatry, it is not explicit on the subject of portraits.

Keywords:   portraits, Arab culture, Islam, Arab world, portraiture, human representation, Quran, idolatry

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