Remove All Images From Worship
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
Editor's note: A number of questions are received each month by the column "Muhammad Speaks. " This response by Imam Warith Deen Muhammad is in answer to many of those questions and gives clear direction to the American Muslim Mission's efforts in this area.)
THE MAIN activity of the Committee for the Removal of All Images that Attempt to Portray the Divine (C.R.A.I.D.) is carrying the signs that bring attention to the problem of depicting God in any image, and the main problem we have is the human image — the human image of God — white and/or black. The Rev. Clege in Detroit -- and there have been two or three other reverends — and one in the South that 1 learned about within the last year have put a black image up. And we think that's just blind reaction to the white image. I think racial sentiments are behind it and that's bad.
OUR CRITICISM of it and the defense for our position are in the American Muslim Journal and the C.R.A.I.D, committees themselves; they carry the language on signs, and parade around busy areas where there is a lot of traffic.
Sometimes they go around churches, but I, myself, have tried to discourage that because we don't want them to think of themselves as marchers.
I don't like the idea of marching against the church because that's not what we want. We are really moving in the spirit of friendship and in the spirit of great respect for the Christian ideals.
WE CONCEIVE the imaging of God as an un-Christian idea. We see from study of the Old Testament and the New Testament that this imaging of God or the depicting of God in human form is not supported by the teachings of the Bible. In fact, the Bible clearly says that it shouldn't be done. We believe that this is something that has come with the transition from Roman idolatry and Greek idolatry -- western Europe idolatry.
The transition from that idolatry to Christianity brought along with it the old customs and habits of the pre-Christian people and we think it's time church leaders realize that the mind of the masses now is too sophisticated for that. And we are not so primitive or savage in our mind or soul that we need these symbols to attract our attention or attract us to faith. We don't need them anymore. The intellect of the masses of people throughout the world has grown so that that is not even necessary -it's disrespectful.
I don't think it was ever necessary, and now, because of the higher awareness of the civilized world and the minds of the masses of the world, it disrespects the intelligence of the people. It creates problems — psychological problems — that work against the hopes and aspirations of modern civilized society.
So, we appreciate the C.R.A.I.D, Committee, the work that they are doing, and we see them as really making a great contribution.
THE OTHER PART of their program is gathering signatures. They have been soliciting signatures from people in support of a dialogue between the Pope and me. I feel that what we wanted to get out of that has already been achieved.
What we hoped for out of the signature campaign was to learn if there was significant support for the removal of imagery, and the hundreds of thousands of signatures we've gotten have already convinced me that there is enough support out there to justify or warrant a new study of imagery in religion on the part of religious leaders — to see if this thing (images) now is helping or hurting the intent in religion; is religion being helped or hurt by imagery.
I THINK our findings are evidence enough to justify them at least looking into the matter. We have signatures from the Phoenix, Ariz, area, the St. Louis area, and from other areas where there is a sizable Catholic population, and I was surprised to learn that the percentage of Catholics supporting the idea is greater than the percentage of support from Protestants. And we know the Catholics have more images than the Protestants. I think it is revealing! I think it tells us something.
One man, a Christian man, asked me "What's wrong with that? I think you should see God in your own image. If you are black, see him as black; if you are white, see him as white. The Chinese, they make their Buddha a Chinese. So, I guess all people do that."
BUT THIS IS primitive and for a society like ours, made up of many races of people — this just helps to divide us. I am sure that an intelligent person would not say we should be seeing ourselves as blacks, as Chinese or as whites; we should be seeing ourselves as Americans.
So I think putting God in your own image is really a sign of immaturity, a lack of mental and emotional maturity on the part of the person.
In fact, our belief is that God is not human; God is not creation, God is Divine. A human being is not Divine, he is just a creature made by God. But, his heart, his soul, if he would make it right, if he would just be innocent and sincere in his heart, his heart is a meeting place for him and God. And if you look at cold images, that's no meeting place.
AMJ: Recently there have been a number of people who have nailed themselves to crosses and made a public spectacle of themselves?
IMAM: Yes. I've been taking note of that, and again I think that's the appeal in that kind of cruel and sad portrayal of the image. I think that it (images) appeals to the savage, animal instinct, the animal urges, the animal sensitivities in the human being.
And man can become more animal than an animal because he has intelligence and he has free will. The animal can only be animal to the extent that his instinctive makeup will allow. But a man goes beyond instinct and can use his imagination. He can create new areas of outrageous behavior with his imagination.
Man can imagine new dimensions of insanity, and I think that's what happens. A savage image provokes that kind of savagery in a person.