When I read in the Herald Tribune about an online petition that lists about 80,000 supporters asking Wikipedia to remove images of Mohammed (the venerated religious icon of the Muslim people) from the english version of Wikipedia, I began to wonder what is really going on in this debate.
The Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco have noticed an increase in e-mails that dissuades the public display of Mohammed's images. Among the comments, one individual expresses that the Wikipedia article shows a lack of sensitivity to the beliefs of the Muslim followers.
But Wikipedia explains its 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."
Paul Cobb, who teaches Islamic history at the University of Notre Dame in Indian, said, "Islamic teaching has traditionally discouraged representation of humans, particularly Muhammed, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent." He added, "Some of the most beautiful images in Islamic art are manuscript images of Muhammed."
The idea of imposing a ban on all depictions of people, particularly Muhammed, 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."
This story reminds me of another incident that occured last summer about a British teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who was found "guilty of insulting religion and inciting hatred after allowing her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear in September".
I urge you to go to the BBC website to read the mixed opinions on this incident:
I had never been moved to look for images of the prophet Mohammed, but now that someone is telling me not to look for it... I begin to wonder why.
I would agree with Mr. Cobb that the issue is closer to modern media and modern responses than a religious stand versus the media.