Muhammad Sculpture Inside Supreme Court a ‘Gesture’ of Goodwill


(WSJ) – Perched above the press seating area inside the U.S. Supreme Court chamber is a marble image of Prophet Muhammad.

Sculpted in a frieze, the Muhammad statue carries a sword and the Quran and stands in the company of more than a dozen other “great lawgivers of history.” They range from Moses to Confucius to Napoleon to John Marshall, some of whom appear in an accompanying frieze along the south side of the room.

In a week in which the right to mock – or even depict the Prophet Muhammad – became the focus of world-wide debate,  the Supreme Court sculpture of the prophet of Islam has drawn little notice. That wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1990s, a controversy erupted that culminated with calls by some Islamic leaders to sandblast the statue’s face off the chamber wall.

Islam strongly discourages depictions of Muhammad. And in 1997, some Muslim leaders called on the Supreme Court to remove the image inside the chamber.

According to a Washington Post article at the time, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups wrote to the court urging that the statue’s face be sandblasted. Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist refused, issuing a letter that said it would be “unlawful to remove or in any way injure an architectural feature in the Supreme Court building.”

The “controversy was generally laid to rest, in part through a fatwa” authored by Sheikh Taha Jaber al-Alwani, an influential Islamic scholar, according to a 2009 article in Hamline University’s Journal of Law and Religion.

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