A reader writes:
It might interest you to consider that there are whole orders of Muslims who don’t have any problem at all with visual depictions of the Prophet. It just happens that they’re Shi’a.
I find it fascinating, even as a Muslim myself. We’re worried about getting into an arms race with a part of the Muslim world which, on a lot of matters, is a good deal more practical than the Sunnis. What’s also strange to me is that I didn’t hear anyone complain about visual depictions of the Prophet (or anyone else) for much of my Muslim up-bringing. It was only when the Bosnian imam of our mosque fell in, albeit briefly, with a Sufic fundamentalist crowd that he started to make any mention of not having pictures of anybody hanging in one’s house. As a 14-year old, I told him that simply doesn’t make any sense, since my very devout mother had all sorts of pictures of all sorts of people hanging around our house and it certainly wasn’t with the intention of idolizing any of them. The imam got visibly annoyed at the time; my views remain the same to this day but his, luckily, have matured.
This is the risk of living in a pluralistic society; sooner or later you have to accept the reality of that pluralism (which only works, btw, if that plurality is willing to accept you on equal terms). Otherwise, the only alternative is to isolate, double-down, and become ever more extreme in one’s views.