Well known is the fact that Islam is strongly opposed to depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, a doctrine which has led to much bloodshed in recent years with the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Less well known is the prohibition on any form of artwork depicting any creation of God in Islam. Hence Sunni Islamic art tends to focus on calligraphy and geometric patterns. This Hadith is one of the origins of such a view:
(the wife of the Prophet) I bought a cushion having on it pictures (of animals). When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he stood at the door and did not enter. I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. What sin have I committed?’ Allah’s Apostle said. “What is this cushion?” I said, “I have bought it for you so that you may sit on it and recline on it.” Allah’s Apostle said, “The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, ‘Give life to what you have created (i.e., these pictures).’ ” The Prophet added, “The Angels of (Mercy) do not enter a house in which there are pictures (of animals).”
Sahih Al Bukhari 3:34:318
Many will assume that this Islamic prohibition is extrapolated from Old Testament prohibitions on Idolatry, such as those found in Exodus 20:4. But in my studies I have come to the conclusion that it more likely that the prohibition has an origin with the tribes of Northern Arabia, including our old friends the Qenites, as well as the Nabataeans, who are perhaps best known for the construction of Petra. Perhaps such a view is the common origin of both the Islamic ‘and’ Biblical prohibitions, since we have already established that there was much early Arabic influence on Ancient Judaism. As Professor Israel Knohl at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem points out:
In Judges 1:16, we are told that the Kenites settled in the Arad Valley, and scholars have long suggested that the city of Horvat Uza is biblical Kina, since the stream in its vicinity is called Wadi-el-Keni, i.e., the Kenite Stream. Excavations of the Iron II (monarchic period) city there show that whereas the neighboring (Israelite!) towns had small carvings of people, Horvat Uza had none. Nadav Na’aman, a historian of the biblical period from Tel Aviv University, suggested that this was because the Kenites were especially connected to their ancient, aniconic tradition.
Similarly, one Kenite figure from a later period, Jehonadab ben Rechab (1 Chron 2:55), is described as having joined Jehu’s anti-Baal movement (2 Kgs 10:15-16). In Jeremiah we hear that this group—the Rechabites, a Kenite subclan—lived a nomadic tent-dwelling life, without building houses or planting fields, and eschewed wine consumption. This lifestyle is reminiscent of what we see in later times with yet another Arabic tribe, the Nabateans, who were also aniconic.
So it seems as though Pre-Islamic Arabia had a tradition of strict aniconism, which extended to all areas of life, not just religion. I argue that it is no coincidence that the Prophet Muhammad, an Arab himself picked up on this idea.
I also argue that Qenite theology should take up this idea, and that this idea is only restricted to images for worship, since Knohl tells us elsewhere that the Qenites (Midianites) made decorative images of Ostriches and other animals.
rkb ‘rpt, out!