An article about the Prophet Muhammad
in the English-language Wikipedia has become the subject of an online protest in the last few weeks because of its representations of Muhammad, taken from medieval manuscripts.
In addition to numerous e-mail messages sent to Wikipedia.org, an online petition cites a prohibition in Islam on images of people.
The petition has more than 80,000 “signatures,” though many who submitted them to ThePetitionSite.com, remained anonymous.
A Frequently Asked Questions page explains the site's polite but firm refusal to remove the images: Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the
benefit of any particular group.
The notes left on the petition site come from all over the world. It's totally unacceptable to print the Prophet's picture, Saadia Bukhari from Pakistan wrote in a message. It shows insensitivity towards Muslim feelings and should be
The site considered but rejected a compromise that would allow visitors to choose whether to view the page with images.
Paul M. Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at Notre Dame, said: Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammad, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent. Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic
art are manuscript images of Muhammad.
The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammad, dates to the 20th century, he said. With the Wikipedia entry, he added, what you are dealing with is not medieval illustrations, you are dealing with modern media
and getting a modern response.
More than 180,000 worldwide have joined an online protest claiming the images, shown on European-language pages and taken from
Persian and Ottoman miniatures dating from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, are offensive to Islam, which prohibits any representation of Muhammad.
The images at the centre of the protest appear on most of the European versions of the web encyclopaedia, though not on Arabic sites. On two of the images, Muhammad's face is veiled, a practice followed in Islamic art since the 16th century. But
on two others, one from 1315, which is the earliest surviving depiction of the prophet, and the other from the 15th century, his face is shown. Some protesters are claiming the pictures have been posted simply to 'bait' and 'insult' Muslims and
argue the least Wikipedia can do is blur or blank out the faces.
In a robust statement on the site, Wikipedia's editors state: Wikipedia recognises that there are cultural traditions among some Muslim groups that prohibit depictions of Muhammad and other prophets and that some Muslims are offended when those
traditions are violated. However, the prohibitions are not universal among Muslim communities, particularly with the Shia who, while prohibiting the images, are less strict about it.
Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with the goal of representing all topics from a neutral point of view, Wikipedia is not censored for the benefit of any particular group.
So long as they are relevant to the article and do not violate any of Wikipedia's existing policies, nor the law of the US state of Florida where Wikipedia's servers are hosted, no content or images will be removed because people find them
objectionable or offensive.