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Parody of the Comedy Central logo by Nate Beeler

The television network Comedy Central has once again this month shown its cowardice and hypocrisy by censoring all images of Mohammed from Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s cartoon “South Park.”

For those with short memories, the “once again” part of that sentence refers to the previous time — back in 2006 — Stone and Parker tried to depict Mohammed on “South Park,” and had the episode censored by network executives afraid of Muslim violence.

Which only goes to show that terrorism works. Because Mohammed had already appeared, with no controversy, on a “South Park” episode called “Super Best Friends” back on on July 4, 2001. Note the exact date carefully. If that episode has been scheduled to appear three months later, it almost certainly would have been canceled or censored too. Tellingly, that original 2001 “Super Best Friends” episode has itself now been removed from Comedy Central’s site and is no longer available for reruns.

Mohammed, as he appeared in the original 2001 “Super Best Friends” South Park episode.

The difference between July, 2001 and now is that these days, Muslim extremists threaten to kill anyone who draws or displays an image of Mohammed. Actually, that’s not true: Muslims have for centuries threatened to kill anyone who draws Mohammed; it’s only that now, since 9/11, we in the West are aware of the threats. Before, the warnings and prohibitions were distant bleats which didn’t scare those few artists who even heard them. But with 9/11, the murder of Theo van Gogh, the fatwas against and attempted murders of the Danish cartoonists, and global riots over the mildest of caricatures, the atmosphere has changed: Suddenly, the threats by Muslims are widely publicized and feel quite real indeed.

What mystifies me is the Islamic fundamentalists’ unaccountable obsession with television and newspapers: It is only when Mohammed appears on a TV screen or is printed in a newspaper that the extremists go berserk. But when he appears elsewhere, such as in museums, books, or the Internet — all of which feature innumerable portraits of Mohammed on essentially a permanent basis — there is a general silence. But why? Why does it cause a cultural explosion when a simplistic drawing of Mohammed appears on a TV screen, when anybody can walk into a museum, or open a book, or simply turn on a computer, and see hundreds upon hundreds of Mohammed portraits whenever they want?

I think the answer is simple: Neither the Islamic extremists nor the general public are aware of just how commonplace and numerous Mohammed depictions really are.

The Mohammed Image Archive is born

The Crybaby Mohammed.

Back in September of 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten started the recent wave of controversy by publishing 12 (mostly innocuous) Mohammed cartoons as a commentary on the absurd dilemma endured by a Danish author who was having difficulty finding any artist willing to illustrate his upcoming book about Mohammed. To everyone’s astonishment, the publication of the cartoons sparked worldwide outrage on the part of Muslims, who apparently thought that there were no images of Mohammed in existence, and thus these 12 Danish cartoons were breaking some kind of taboo.

Within hours of that story hitting the American media nearly five years ago, I began (out of curiosity) to poke around the Internet looking for other pictures of Mohammed, aside from the Danish cartoons. It didn’t take long before I found one, then two, five, ten, forty! On a whim, I downloaded them all and quickly posted a page on my site zombietime which I ambitiously titled: “The Mohammed Image Archive.”

And at that moment my life changed.

The page was an instant hit in the blogosphere, and by day’s end was linked far and wide. And I discovered that I was not the only one curiously poking around the Internet looking for Mohammed pictures: My in-box was quickly flooded with submissions from readers who had discovered this or that unusual Mohammed portait in some forgotten corner of the Web.

So I updated my page. And then updated it again. And again. And then I had to split it into two pages. Then three. Before long the Archive had 13 different themed sections, ranging from respectful and scholarly Islamic Depictions of Mohammed in Full to the outrageously blasphemous Extreme Mohammed, and everything in between. Updating the Archive practically became full-time job — unpaid, needless to say, since I have no ads or other income-generating widgets on my site. The page design was (and still is) minimalistic; my excuse is that the simple design helps the pictures load quickly, but the real reason is that my HTML skills are rudimentary at best.

Within a few months, the Archive had grown to become far and away the largest assemblage of Mohammed imagery anywhere in the world. And since that time, it has quadrupled in size, at least. I now find myself the curator of a global resource, mankind’s only repository of every known image of Mohammed, “the 7th-century founder of Islam” (as I carefully describe him with studious neutrality). This is the curse of perfectionism: once you start on a project like this, you can’t stop until you have every single Mohammed picture ever created, regardless of era, quality, style or intent. Several examples from the Archive’s massive collection are featured throughout this essay.

Detail of Mohammed riding his magical steed, from a miniature in the illuminated manuscript called The Apocalypse of Muhammad, written in 1436 in Herat, Afghanistan (now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris).

Why do I maintain the Archive? Do I hate Islam? Am I a Muslim? Am I trying to start a war? No, no, and no. The reason is simple: The Archive is an unambiguous declaration of my devotion to the principle of free speech, and free thought. No one can tell me what I can or cannot say. The very fact that millions of people are trying to impose a ban on something is motivation enough for me to shout it from the rooftops.

I fully admit that I am no scholar. I don’t have a PhD in art history or theology. But neither am I some ignorant Internet troll. The Archive is not just a collection of gorgeous medieval Islamic paintings of Mohammed; nor is it just a compilation of the most obscene and insulting Mohammed cartoons ever drawn; nor is it just a museum of the astounding variety of both respectful and satirical Mohammed-themed images that have been created throughout the centuries; it is all those things and more. No restrictions. No censorship. That’s the whole point.

And 70% of Americans agree with me.

(I had originally planned to mention in this essay Draw Mohammed Day, an anti-censorship event dreamt up by Seattle artist Molly Norris. But after her post received massive media attention, Molly backed down and said it was all a joke, admitting her retraction was partly out of fear. Booooo! No matter. Because at the Mohammed Image Archive, every day is Draw Mohammed Day!)

The Archive’s reputation continued to grow, and links from major media portals, blogs, and other Web sites kept coming in, and I soon got what every webmaster craves: A top-ten Google search ranking for a common term. Now, if you do a Google search for the simple word “Mohammed,” the Mohammed Image Archive is the #4 result on the first page, right after Wikipedia, The Catholic Encyclopedia, and a Christian site called Bible Probe.

If you’ve ever gotten a top-five Google listing for a common word, you know what this means: A continuous uninterrupted stream of visitors, day in, day out. If you have ads, this makes you happy; if you don’t have ads, all it means is that your site is constantly burdened by excess traffic, which is one of the reasons why zombietime often is slow-loading or overwhelmed. Even on a slow-news day, people looking for Mohammed arrive by the thousands to view the Archive.

Hate Mail and Death Threats

Not all of those visitors are happy with what they encounter at the Archive. In fact, a substantial percentage of them are Muslims out looking for info about their favorite prophet, completely unaware that any pictures of Mohammed even exist, naively assuming that Islam has always banned portraits of its founder (not true), and also assuming that other societies obey Islamic laws (also not true). What happens when they first lay eyes on the Archive is a cultural collision of epic proportions that often as not causes immediate head explosion.

In the Archive I include a page called Emails From Readers on which I reprint a selection of my Archive correspondence, both pro and con. In truth, it generally runs about 10% pro and 90% con, but the page would quickly grow out of control if I posted every email I get, since I get dozens every day. And about half of those are fatwas or death threats or demands that I shut the site down immediately. It’s gotten so bad that these days I generally just hit the “Delete” button without even reading half of them; if I see a subject line that says “Remove all pictures NOW!” or “Allah throws you in hellfire,” I pretty much know what to expect. Reading death threats can get wearisome at times, I do admit.

Many people have told me, to my great surprise, that “Emails From Readers” is not just their favorite page at the Archive, but their favorite page on the entire Internet, and they re-visit it again and again because of the incongruous amalgamation of base emotions they get from reading the emails: hilarity, fear, outrage, mockery, disgust, anger, and stupefaction.

Since I assume the Archive will be overwhelmed with traffic yet again due to this essay, I’ll reprint below a few of my “favorites” from the feedback page, if it’s even possible to have such a thing as ” favorite hate mail.” Note that it is my policy to reprint the emails EXACTLY as they appeared when they arrived, with no editing or fixing up whatsoever (except to abbreviate the senders’ full names), so be prepared for some creative use of the language — which is half the fun.

Excerpts from The Mohammed Image Archive

The rest of this essay is composed of sample images from the Archive, alternating with emails I’ve received. If your interest is piqued, you can see the whole thing here.


I put this email at the top of the feedback page, since it can be seen as sort of a template for the structure of so many others, but rendered with masterful brevity:

From: r. javed
Subject: fuck you drower

fuck you dont drow muhammeds pictures. if i can see you I will kill you son of bitch.

In 1928, Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company (a German firm which had developed concentrated beef extract and bouillon cubes) issued a series of advertising trading cards to promote its canned beef extract products. The 1928 card set (one of hundreds of different designs issued by the company over the years, on various themes) illustrated six different pivotal points in Mohammed’s life. The most beautiful of the cards was the second one, seen here, which showed the Archangel Gabriel escorting Mohammed up to the presence of Allah in Paradise — the climax of his legendary “Night Journey.” (The full set of all six cards are visible on the Archive’s Miscellaneous Mohammed page.)

From: Sonny K. (UK)

i swear by Allah SWT, d stupid pict is not my PROPHET MOHAMMAD, thats ur fucken futher after fuck ur whore sister. u all disgusting people, fuck ur own sister, daughter, mother, ur granmother, or whatever i dont care, u are animal. life no rules, eat and fuck pick at the same time, we are different level.

very glad to see ur nasty pagan butt in hell, LOSEEERRR….

U ARE NOTHING, just piece of SHIT in the peace of world. u kill 86.000 moslem people in Granada, 72.000 in Bosnia, and a million moslem people murder on Iraq,kosovo,chech,jakarta,etc.

ill see u burn in HELL ….promise…

ALLAHU AKBAR, ALLAHU AKBAR…..

Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. Miniature illustration on vellum from the book Jami’ al-Tawarikh (literally “Compendium of Chronicles” but often referred to as The Universal History or History of the World), by Rashid al-Din, published in Tabriz, Persia, 1307 A.D. Now in the collection of the Edinburgh University Library, Scotland.

Despite the fact that nearly half the pictures in the Archive (like the one above) are by Muslim artists who worked in eras when there was no prohibition against depicting Mohammed, many of my correspondents (such as “R. Septyawan” below) are under the impression that it is and always has been “forbidden” to draw him. In fact, this misapprehension is basis for the entire controversy, even though there is no specific rule against depicting Mohammed mentioned anywhere in the Koran. Note also the end of his letter, where he disagrees with terrorism — unless the terrorists were to kill me or any or the artists, in which case it would be perfectly OK:

From: R. Septyawan (Indonesia)
Subject: go to hell

dear hell man
i hope you erase all of your false picture. Cause every picture are false, even the picture from persian(it from sect syiah who derived from jews and they are syirik)

you say freedom of expression but we all know that freedom has limitation. Respect other people, it’s forbidden to draw picture Rasulullah SAW. i don’t know what your purpose to post that picture, but all i know is you are kafir and stay in hell forever if you don’t taubat.

Freedom in expression, i think it same with any some terorrist guy who bombing around. i don’t agree with them, they false and get prohibited by many muslim teacher cause they translate verse in Qur’an especially about jihad wrong, without knowledge and stupidity. But i’m agree if they bombing your place or everyone who draw that picture.

The North Frieze on the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC features a bas-relief sculpture of Mohammed, among several other historical law-givers. He is in the center of this image holding a curved scimitar; on the left is Charlemagne, and on the right is Byzantine Emperor Justinian. You can download a detailed pdf of the Supreme Court friezes here. The urban legend site Snopes.com has info about the frieze in this entry. A slightly less clear photo of Mohammed in the frieze can be found here, as part of this article which gives some background on the sculpture.

It’s hard to pick a “favorite” email I’ve ever gotten, but this one is certainly in the running — a masterpiece on so many levels:

From: Saber K. (France)

You are really funny with your democracy you sun of whores

As you want to spread your democracy over the world

can you start talking about the jews religion and all it’s sublime teaching have you ever had a look what the jews are beleiving, you will not have the courage sun of bitch!!!!!!!!!!

Can you start talking about the jews holocauste and how the jews refused to get out from german after a hitler proposal and accepted to be killed in order to make the whole world guilty and give them palestine

Show all this the world your democracy and free speech you are enjoying, the jews will kick your ass son of pig

Are you able to seach and discuss why the the sattelites in the orbists in the scandinavian countries have a jews name !!! Can you show this reality to all the world son of bitch, son of pig

You know what you are doing of course, these are orders from the grand lodges !!!!

The jews are known by their hypocracy and hate towards all faith and they use their monopoly in europe and the world to transmit these stupidities

Can you show to your reader why the american (sorry) (the masons controlling america) in the world war 2 selected NAGAZAKI in japan to kill hundred of thousand of innocent people, it’s not because they have gun factories there, but IT’S THE BIGGEST AND BOOMING CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN ASIA …this what the jews wanted

Can you show all this to your readers,,,,,,,,,, hola democracy!!!!!

This picture from the “Extreme” page shows daisy-chain anal sex with a demonic Allah, Mohammed, and a Muslim sheep. Needless to say, it is this page above all others which sends many of my Muslim readers into an apoplectic fury.

From: maqbool a
Subject: Pakistan will set you right

Pakistani law forces the people to respect the prophet of Islam. If they don’t they are hanged. Now we will bring an amendment to the constitution (our favorite pastime) and then this law will apply to all the inhabitants of all the worlds (AALMEEN). You just wait and see!

MAQBOOL

Mohammed, along with Buraq and Gabriel, visit Hell, and see a demon punishing “shameless women” who had exposed their hair to strangers. For this crime of inciting lust in men, the women are strung up by their hair and burned for eternity. Persian, 15th century. Persian, 15th century, from a manuscipt entitled Miraj Nama, which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Taken from The Miraculous Journey of Mahomet, by Marie-Rose Seguy.

From: Wahab M. (Canada)
Subject: i will not say hi to stupid people

this is intolerable and unbearable. we as a Muslim we love our prophet very much we love him even before our self.
god will send u in hell shame on you shame shame shame on you

Further on, Mohammed sees a red demon that is torturing women by hanging them up by hooks through their breasts, as they are engulfed in flames. The women are being punished for giving birth to illegitimate children whom they falsely claimed were fathered by their husbands. Persian, 15th century. Persian, 15th century, from a manuscipt entitled Miraj Nama, which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Taken from The Miraculous Journey of Mahomet, by Marie-Rose Seguy.

From: S. Saeed
Subject: you are Anti-Christ

After looking at all the ‘art’ you collected, I don’t even like to think about you bastards as humans.
You never see any disrespect of any prophet by Muslims.
Why you pagan bastards don’t understand the respect of a monotheist Prophet?

Yours mothers are whores and your fathers are pimps. How can you understand what reality is? You guys can fuck even your own sisters and mothers.

You are irrelevant and we all are waiting for the time of your complete destruction and annihilation along with your mentor the Satan.

You don’t deserve any attention or notice.

Wait for your painful end, which will come soon.

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