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In Christianity, paintings frequently portrayed the figure of Jesus, both as a baby and as a mature figure, usually depicted in a scene inspired by Biblical passages. Art has long tracked Christianity closely, and the Italian Renaissance saw an explosion in images inspired by religion. Paintings, for example, Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper and Michaelangelo's paintings for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, are intended to glorify God and religion, and remain among the most respected works of art in human history.
Islamic art experienced a vastly different history. While there are no explicit prohibitions on depictions of God in the Quran, interpretations of the Quran and of Muhammad's teachings by Islamic clergy over the centuries have lead to the belief that depictions of God and Muhammad are strictly prohibited. In fact, in the more extreme interpretations of the Quran as practiced by the Afghanistan Taliban, any depictions of human beings, whether Muhammad, Jesus or the Buddha, were strictly prohibited. That is why, before they were forcibly removed from power in late 2001, the Taliban systematically, and against the protests of nations across the world, destroyed centuries-old art depicting the human figure. The most infamous example was the Taliban's destruction of the giant Buddhas of Bamyan in central Afghanistan.
Rather than portray human figures, let alone God or Muhammad, Islamic art is rich in calligraphy citing passages from the Quran, along with geometric shapes and patterns. Walk into a Muslim home, and one is almost certain to gaze upon a beautiful painting with swirling calligraphy that reads "There is no god but God, Mohammad is the messenger of God." This educator has been inside the homes of Muslims in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Indonesia (the largest Muslim country in the world), Singapore, and Israel. In each has been prominently displayed a work of art with that passage dominating the image.
Where Christianity and Islam converge is in the absence of depictions of God. Christianity, as mentioned, has long been glorified in artistic depictions of Jesus. Catholic Churches prominently display the figure of Christ crucified on the cross. Islam, in contrast, abhors depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Both, though, resist depicting God. The closest an artist has been willing to come is Rembrandt's famous painting of Belshazzar's Feast, in which a hand and part of the arm appears to the sinners and writes in Hebrew on the wall, "You have been judged and found wanting," from the book of Daniel.
A key distinction is in how Muslims view Jesus. They believe that Jesus was a prophet, but not the son of God. They believe that Muhammad is the last and only true prophet, and that he ascended to heaven on a white horse. To Muslims, there have been no more prophets since Muhammad, although disagreements between Muslims regarding the rightful successor to Muhammad is the basis of the split between Sunni and Shi'a Islam.
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