The U.S. Supreme Court and Islam
By Elias Abdullah
The United States Supreme Court honors Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, as a source of law and justice alongside Moses, Solomon, and Confucius. He is depicted in the Courtroom Frieze among the great law-givers of mankind.
Muslims understand that depictions of the Prophet are unlawful. However, in this case, this depiction created by a non-Muslim was done with the intention of honoring Islam and making the statement that Islam is an important part of American life and history. From the Supreme Court’s website:
The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur’an. The Qur’an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad’s teachings explain and implement Qur’anic principles. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.
At this critical time in America’s relationship with the Muslim world, it is important to recognize this work of art as a symbol of the friendship America’s founding fathers had with Islam, as reflected in the Treaty of Friendship, one of the earliest treaties between the United States and a Muslim country, Morocco:
This is a Treaty of Peace and Friendship established between us and the United States of America, which is confirmed, and which we have ordered to be written in this Book and sealed with our Royal Seal at our Court of Morocco on the twenty fifth day of the blessed Month of Shaban, in the Year One thousand two hundred, trusting in God it will remain permanent…
This sentiment is repeated again the the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and Tripoli:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims), and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
In the same tradition, the 96th United States Congress (1976) passed a resolution honoring Islam on its 14th centennial:
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
- Sec. 1. That Islam is hereby recognized for the rich religious, scientific, cultural, and artistic contribution it has made to mankind since its founding.
- Sec. 2. The Congress takes note of the contribution of Islam and wishes success to the fourteenth centennial commemoration.
- Sec. 3. On the occasion of this anniversary, the Congress pledges its efforts to achieve better understanding, reductions of tensions, and the pursuit of improved relations with all nations of the world.
- Sec. 4. The Congress requests that the President forward a copy of this resolution to the Chief of State of each country where Islam has a significant following and where celebrations will mark this important international event.
In conclusion, while Muslims will disagree with the artist’s method, they certainly can agree on the artist’s respect for Islam and its fundamental tenet, Justice.
Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (Quran 16:90)
Narrated Anas: Allah’s Messenger said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one.” People asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.”
[Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624]