Islamic Iconoclasm

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Complexities in Islamic Iconoclasm
Defined as the rejection and destruction of figural images, iconoclasm in the Islamic world has been seen as the “long, culturally determined, and unchanging tradition of violent…acts". It may be carried out in the context of Islam or against the icons of another faith, as evinced by the destruction of Christian and pagan idols. However, G.R.D. King and Finbarr Barry Flood argue in their articles that Islamic iconoclasm in the past and present must be understood beyond simple and violent religious motivations. While King delineates early-Islamic iconoclasm and discusses its relation to Christianity, Flood extends his argument to the present-day, seeking to answer the role militant groups and museums play
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Flood’s analogy of the overly pious bidder who defaces the illustrated manuscript of the Shāh-Nāma as an individual act of outrage and devotion and his resulting punishment implies the wide-ranging interpretations to iconoclasm in the personal and public sphere. In contrast, Flood uses the unique destruction of the Somnath linga as an example of instrumental, state-mandated iconoclasm. As looted objects were usually “treated with respect and incorporated into the victor’s pantheon in a subordinate capacity”, the political significance on trampling on a defeated rival’s revered icon suggests that politics and religion were closely intertwined in Islamic iconoclasm. Furthermore, Flood posits that the iconoclastic acts often occurred at times of military occupation or political upheaval. Hence, Flood suggests that Islamic iconoclasm may also be seen as a means of imposing the victor’s culture and robbing the victim of its cultural heritage. This religious and political relationship is corroborated by King, who states that Muslims “consciously asserted those elements of Islam that most distinguished it and over which they were most in dispute with their non-Muslim subjects”; especially in an area with many Christians. Consequently, this …show more content…
King posits that the destruction of Christian buildings outside of Yazid’s reign may have been motivated by monetary gains as churches were rich sources of wood, marble and other valuables. Moreover, the ordering of Christian crosses in gold and silver to be destroyed by the governor of Egypt 'Abd al- 'Aziz b. Marwan in 686-689, may be seen as a calculated gesture to deprive Christians of the valuable metals, despite being supplemented by religious actions of attaching Qur’anic inscription on the churches in Misr and Delta to assert their ideological differences. Whilst Flood similarly suggests economic motivations, he complicates the idea of straightforward destruction or proscription by arguing that there were financial negotiations between iconoclasts and iconophiles for the latter to remove existing images. According to Flood, this economic consideration has parallels in the contemporary purchase of idolatrous figures by museums. As museums transmute religious figures into works of art, Flood implies that this act becomes another form of veneration – that of cultural icons, becoming another target of

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