Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs

in Varieties of Muslim Experience

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780226726168
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226726182 | DOI:
Why Portraits Hold No Meaning for Arabs

Show Summary Details


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

Chapter.  5436 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.