Muhammad image

Petition seeks to remove images of Muhammad

An online petition trying to get Wikipedia editors to remove images from an article made headlines in the mainstream news media after continued pressure failed to bring about the desired result. The effort focused on pictures of Muhammad, based on the notion that this offends Islamic tradition.

A self-uploaded image of Faraz Ahmad, the editor who started the petition

Story of the petition

The petition in question is hosted on, which allows anyone to create free online petitions (it is hosted by Care2, a social network with roots focusing on environmentalism and human rights). The stated purpose of the petition was "To request wikipedia editors to respect other peoples religion [sic]". It called for the removal of illustrations depicting Muhammad. Noting that some of the images show Muhammad's face while others leave the face blank or veiled, it said these would still be "offensive to Muslims."

In a little over two months, the petition has attracted well over 100,000 signatures. While this undoubtedly includes duplicate signatures, and some of the accompanying comments don't necessarily support the premise, the volume of participation is impressive. Over time it helped prompt a steady influx of attempts to actually remove the images, as well as a growing number of emails to the Wikimedia Foundation. Ultimately it also came to the attention of the media and the story was covered in such publications as the New York Times.

The petition was started in December by Faraz Ahmad, who edited Wikipedia as User:Farazilu and identified himself as a Pakistani programmer living in Glasgow. He initially got involved in the debate over images of Muhammad in April 2007, saying "I think we should remove all images showing imaginary portraits of Muhammad". Similar requests had been made off and on over the years. Shortly before Ahmad started the petition, the suggestion was renewed by an unregistered editor apparently located in Kenya, but generally dismissed by other editors.

Ahmad did not immediately rejoin the discussion after launching the petition. He did get into a renewed debate a few weeks later, after the petition had begun steadily attracting signatures. The debate turned acrimonious, and his account has been blocked indefinitely since 26 December. Initially he was blocked because of a comment that if the petition and a request for arbitration were rejected, he might "take Wikipedia into court to resolve this issue", which some editors interpreted as a legal threat. Although the block was quickly reconsidered, Ahmad thereafter made a few posts to talk pages for The Holocaust and Adolf Hitler, suggesting that sections be added to cover Holocaust denial (currently linked only as a "See also") and to discuss the view of "some people in this world" that consider Hitler a hero. This prompted another indefinite block.

The 17th century copy of a 14th century Persian manuscript image showing Muhammad, specially singled out for removal by the petition

Debating the issue

Whether the religion of Islam really would require the removal of the images has been the subject of some debate. One oft-claimed position is that Islamic tradition forbids all images of humans or even animals. Academic experts consulted by reporters generally indicated that images, especially of Muhammad, might be "discouraged" but are not universally prohibited. In Shia Islam, the predominant faith in the Persian culture that produced the images (most come from medieval Persian manuscripts), the prevailing attitude tends to be more relaxed on the issue. Perhaps reflecting this, the Farsi Wikipedia is one of 37 Wikipedia languages displaying one of the images in question, while other languages such as Arabic or Turkish limit themselves to illustrating the article with a calligraphy of Muhammad's name.

Since the attention drawn to the issue by coverage of the petition, the Muhammad article and its talk page on the English Wikipedia have been the focus of intense activity. The talk page now has a FAQ explaining the situation and a separate subpage for discussion of the issue. Meanwhile, also ended up hosting a counter-petition, which has gathered over 300 signatures so far.

Muhammad is not the only founder of a world religion whose image has generated controversy on Wikipedia. In the Bahá'í faith, displaying images of Bahá'u'lláh is avoided except in a context of veneration. The Wikipedia article nevertheless includes an actual photograph taken of him, although the compromise was reached to display it at the bottom of the article, with a note to that effect near the top so that readers can avoid it if they wish.

Also this week:
  • Muhammad image
  • Audit released
  • Pope
  • WikiWorld
  • News and notes
  • In the news
  • Tutorial
  • Dispatches
  • Features and admins
  • Technology report
  • Arbitration report

  • Signpost archives

    + Add a comment

    Discuss this story

    Include image of Ahmad?

    The picture of Faraz Ahmad was removed with a concern that it's "a bit like harassment". While I considered this problem carefully before including it, I disagree and think it is important to the article. The premise of the petition is based on a particular interpretation of Islam, which would in varying degrees prohibit images of humans or possibly animals. The extent to which people apply it differs, but it's one reason why so much Islamic art is abstract or geometric. The fact that Ahmad was willing to upload a picture of himself, and had it on his user page for a time, provides useful information by indicating that at least then, he didn't have a problem with images of people generally, it seems to be specific to Muhammad. --Michael Snow (talk) 19:35, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Firstly, the word "harassment" was probably wrong; I was looking for something like the Norwegian term "å henge ut" (which directly translates as "to hang out", which obviously isn't right ). "Harassment" was the closest I could think of, but it sounds too harsh.
    Secondly, as far as I have understood, the Islamic rules on disallowing images of Muhammad and other prophets is based on the fourth commandments, and so doesn't apply to non-sacred people. Having Faraz' image in the article reminds me of when criminals' pictures are shown in the newspaper – even if that's not the intention. Jon Harald Søby (talk) 19:41, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    Well, in the broadest interpretation of that commandment it can be applied to almost any image that might become an idol, because that interferes with monotheistic worship. To borrow an expression from a friend of mine, it could be a Harley-Davidson, it doesn't have to be something other people would consider sacred. There definitely exists a strain of thought, whether in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, that would support taking a prohibition on images that far.
    I understand that a comparison with criminals is problematic, and certainly don't mean to suggest that he is a criminal. Even in Wikipedia terms, his actions on the wiki strike me as relatively mild to try and justify the block that was placed. But it's not a mugshot, it's his own portrait, and similar portraits are commonly used by the media to identify individuals in a positive light as well. --Michael Snow (talk) 19:55, 13 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    But it's highly unusual for the Signpost to use editor's pictures. It feels like singling him out. — Laura Scudder 17:07, 14 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    I'll admit that it's unusual, but for my stories that's because I've mostly stuck to situations where the picture adds real value related to the story, as outlined above. Using a random photo of Jimbo every time some event involves him doesn't qualify, but coming up with a handy picture of Danny and Erik together, for the story about Danny blocking Erik a couple years ago, does. I've also tried to think of more ways to illustrate Signpost articles, so that it would go beyond merely slapping in photos of contributors, but never had time to do it systematically — I'm sure ideas for how to do that would be welcomed. --Michael Snow (talk) 23:51, 18 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    I feel it is appropriate, it is not some mug shot that the police took but one that he has taken and uploaded himself (thus obviously the picture must meet his approval to some degree in that he likes it). And secondly this illustrates this is not some far out extremist who wants all photos of people removed, just muhammad (a picture can too say a thousand words! And I'd rather not have the article be a thousand words longer... lol). Mathmo Talk 19:14, 14 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    I think that his picture shouldn't be in the article. While it may not qualify as harassment, it does come too close to paparazzi-ism (is that a word?) for comfort. There is a risk, no matter how unlikely, that this issue may have real world implications for him. Do we want that? Has Ahmad given permission to use his picture, btw? Requesting permission might not be necessary under GFDL, but it would be courteous and considerate. AecisBrievenbus 22:07, 14 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    The picture should remain. We should not have articles censored because of dubious religious beliefs. Mike0001 (talk) 11:58, 15 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    What does having "dubious religious beliefs" have to do with respecting Ahmad's real life privacy? AecisBrievenbus 12:59, 15 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    His dubious religious beliefs have put him in the limelight and hence out of the scope of real life privacy. Mike0001 (talk) 17:26, 15 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    The question of whether his religious beliefs are dubious is a personal opinion that is not relevant here. He is still a living person, and still deserves courtesy and consideration. Starting a petition against Wikipedia does not mean that someone will forfeit a right to privacy. AecisBrievenbus 12:55, 17 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    That his beliefs are dubious is not POV, there is no evidence to support them. That he has thrust himself into the limelight and donated his picture to WP because of those dubious beliefs forfeits him the right to privacy. Mike0001 (talk) 14:58, 18 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    No, it is your opinion that there is no evidence to support them. And you may be right or wrong in that opinion, it's an opinion nonetheless, and as such, the question of whether Ahmad's view are dubious or not is completely irrelevant. And having certains views doesn't forfeit anyone anything. AecisBrievenbus 15:31, 19 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    I feel it might be inappropriate to showcase the image in article space, per WP:BLP. Since Fazar uploaded the image under GFDL, there can be no doubt it is being used legally, and since this is Wikipedia: namespace, there can be no discussion on its relevance under content policy. This is obviously an image showing how Fazar himself wishes to depict himself. We have no way of verifying if it is in fact him, or his younger brother, or his boyfriend. It is the face he decided to give to himself. Incidentially, he is not squeamish about online privacy at all, on youtube you can inspect his entire flat, his flatmate, and if you know your way around Glasgow, could probably even identify his address. As for "real world" consequencey for Faraz: he decided to thrust himself into the limelight with his petition stunt. To a certain extent, that makes him a figure of public interest. He has not crossed the notability threshold to warrant mention under our content policies, but nevertheless, if you take action within the real world, you have to live with resulting consequences for your real life, both positive and negative. dab (𒁳) 13:46, 29 February 2008 (UTC) This is a picture of Caliph Omar instituting the Hejri calendar. If it be of the Prophet,the face would have been veiled. An ignorant Orientalist has wrongly ascribe it. Another person who ought know better,has taken offence, for the wrong reason.AptitudeDesign (talk) 07:21, 21 February 2013 (UTC)[reply]


    I think the article should have mentioned a some cases of professionally produced Western, Muhammad-specific content that has shown Muslims this courtesy. One that comes immediately to mind is the History Channel's Muhammad The Prophet. It's there at about the 2:00 mark:

    "Out of respect for the beliefs and practices of Muslims, no image of the Prophet Muhammad, or his immediate family, will be shown in this biography."

    And they go on to have dramatic re-creations of episodes, military battles, etc. I think that it would be fine for Wikipedia to have a separate online gallery of suppose images of this guy, but not necessarily mingled with the biography. The biography should use words to present fact.-- (talk) 22:10, 15 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Beliefs which have no evidence to support them are not deserving of respect from anyone! Just because some guy possibly said something 1400 years ago, that doesn't mean that I or anyone else should respect those who believe him. Mike0001 (talk) 14:55, 18 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    Mike0001, you are now being plain disrespectful and uncivil. If you have nothing useful to say, then shut up. Jon Harald Søby (talk) 00:02, 21 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    It's not offensive

    I am a Christian and I am not offended by pictures of God. This person is either taking it too far or has no idea of what religions find offensive. Pictures of Muhammad with a bomb, or any other stereotypical terrorist object, I can understand but this takes it too far! Thanks, George D. Watson (Dendodge).TalkHelp and assistance 23:39, 15 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    He's trying to impose his culture upon us and advocating for censorship. That should be grounds for terminating his Wikipedia account. ( (talk) 07:17, 18 February 2008 (UTC))[reply]
    What is wrong with pictures of Muhammad with a bomb? Sam Harris quotes five pages of references to incitations to violence in the Koran in his book The End of Faith. Islam is just a violent religion and a bomb is entirely appropriate. A picture of Allah with a bomb would be even more so. Mike0001 (talk) 14:51, 18 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    I was referring to the pictures in that Danish newspaper a while back. That would be offensive as most Muslims are non-violent and you appear to have a discriminatory view of them. I agree with entirely, his account should be terminated (if it hasn't been already). Thanks, George D. Watson (Dendodge).TalkHelp and assistance 09:55, 19 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Protection tag

    Please add a protection tag such as {{pp-vandalism}} since the page is in fact fully protected and vandalism was the reason originally cited in the protection (see history). --Thinboy00 @740, i.e. 16:45, 22 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    I've changed it to semi-protection instead, since the vandalism was from IP addresses. --Michael Snow (talk) 17:00, 22 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Article space mention

    See Depictions_of_Muhammad#Wikipedia_article. dab (𒁳) 13:17, 23 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    it should be noted that the images in question were drawn by Muslims, which immediately debunks as absurd the blanket claim that they are "offensive to [all] Muslims". dab (𒁳) 15:05, 23 February 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    Summary of the debates

    I had summarized the essays written on this topic and added them to the article but it was removed [1] .

    I think the passage was relevant to the article and clarifies the issue better. --Be happy!! (talk) 01:09, 2 March 2008 (UTC)[reply]

    The story is more than two weeks old now, and it's not the place to be advertising some page that was created well after the facts being covered. --Michael Snow (talk) 06:19, 2 March 2008 (UTC)[reply]
    I agree. I also feel it contrasts rather poorly (in editorial style, stance, quality e.t.c.) with what was there already. Dreaded Walrus t c 06:25, 2 March 2008 (UTC)[reply]


    The Signpost · written by many · served by Sinepost V0.9 · 🄯 CC-BY-SA 4.0