I recently drew my first picture of Muhammad. It was a 10-centimetre coal pencil sketch on the back of a serviette I made while waiting at a coffee store. Normally I prefer to draft with 24-H pastels on 300g/m2 hot press medium grain paper, but all I had at the time was the charcoal and the napkin, so I made do.
On a scale of new things to try in 2015, sketching the prophet Muhammad probably ranks below flying a kite or eating salmon in terms of benefits to your health. The hadith of Sunni Muslims are pretty clear in their distaste for it, and among fanatics it’s not difficult to inspire ire.
My friend Aamir is Muslim, but I don’t think he’d mind if he saw it. He’s not very concerned with poorly sketched representations of Muhammad. He’s into hip-hop and Emily Ratajakowski and I’m not sure he’d even tell me to throw the napkin away, let alone try and hurt me for it. One time he did punch me in the arm. I forget what it was for, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with religious figures.
I guess if someone does try and hurt me for it I only have myself to blame. Rules are rules after all, and the incentive for Islamic martyrs in protecting the reputation of Muhammad does provide a logical excuse, even if the reward itself doesn’t seem personally appealing. In my opinion 72 Virgins is far too many. Most of my friends are virgins, and to be honest none are very good for conversation. 3 would be the maximum number I could stand to spend eternity with. Still, that’s just me, and I don’t want inflame tensions between those wanting virgins and those wanting free speech.
I’m not even 100% sure anyone would be able to identify my sketch as Muhammad. He has a beard and a turban, but so does Aamir, and I don’t think anyone would get mad at me for drawing him. My Muhammad is wearing a tuxedo, which I know isn’t strictly traditional, but if he’s never been factually represented, there isn’t a consensus on what he normally wears, no? I was thinking to clear it up maybe I should add a small plastic name tag or a speech bubble elucidating his true identity, but right now the sketch is going for more of an early Charles Addams type vibe and I think stylistically neither would work.
Sketching a new subject is an intimidating prospect for any budding cartoonist, and the hype surrounding this particular figure makes me more nervous than usual about showing it to anyone. Recently a lot of people have been talking about the power of the pencil, and how free speech can’t be stifled. If you want to know the truth, I think I’ll throw out my sketch. Francois Hollande yesterday wore a pin that read ‘We are not afraid,’ but the truth is we should be. If we weren’t afraid of a drawing causing 12 deaths then we wouldn’t be talking about it. Acts of terror are intended to intimidate people, and they do. We must stay optimistic that in the future religious fanatics will be subdued, but for now we exist in a period where something as small as a French cartoon can incite terror. No one is safe from fanaticism, and I think that to be scared is to be sensible. The sketch will be discarded. I’ll fly a kite, eat salmon, and wait patiently until the pen really is mightier than the sword.