Thursday, 24 December 2015

Seasonal blog, sort of.

Five descriptions the Prophet Muhammad:

"Muhammad was middle-sized, did not have lank or crisp hair, was not fat, had a white circular face, wide black eyes, and long eye-lashes. When he walked, he walked as though he went down a declivity. He had the "seal of prophecy" between his shoulder blades . . ."

"He was bulky. His face shone like the moon. He was taller than middling stature but shorter than conspicuous tallness. He had thick, curly hair. The plaits of his hair were parted. His hair reached beyond the lobe of his ear. His complexion was azhar [bright, luminous]."

"Muhammad had a wide forehead, and fine, long, arched eyebrows which did not meet. Between his eyebrows there was a vein which distended when he was angry. The upper part of his nose was hooked; he was thick bearded, had smooth cheeks, a strong mouth, and his teeth were set apart. He had thin hair on his chest."

"His neck was like the neck of an ivory statue, with the purity of silver."

"Muhammad was proportionate, stout, firm-gripped, even of belly and chest, broad-chested and broad-shouldered."

These are all taken from reputable online sources. Does a coherent picture emerge? Islam, as we all know, prohibits the pictorial representation of Muhammad so I was interested to find these and many other verbal descriptions are in circulation, all of them suggestive without being particularly vivid (apart from "he walked as though he went down a declivity" and that throbbing vein). Christ is never described physically in the New Testament although we all know what artists think the Son of God looked like thanks to countless painted depictions showing scenes in the Nativity to the Crucifixion. No taboo surrounds such representations, although apart from kitsch illustrators of religious tracts it's hard to image a serious artist today producing a painting of Christ unironically or without some subversive conceptual agenda. If you take a look at Google images for "Prophet Muhammad" you'll see some examples that clearly have no satirical intent and are, one assumes, acceptable to most Muslims.

There have of course been other, more provocative, representations of Mohammed with catastrophic results. Before we rush to condemn those who take offence (and after rushing to condemn the radicalised little shits who perpetrated the murderous attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo)  it's worth recalling that there was an enormous public row in Britain in late 1941 when the BBC broadcast a series of plays by Dorothy L. Sayers entitled The Man Born to be King. The very idea of an actor taking the role provoked outrage - there were accusations of blasphemy and (allegedly) one conservative Christian group claimed the fall of Singapore the following year was a sign of God's wrath. The Man Born to be King has since been re-made four times for the radio, and I was surprised and delighted to discover that the 1951 version featured none other than the comic actor Deryck Guyler as the Messiah.

Guyler (1914-1999) is fondly remembered by members of my generation for his portrayal of officious, short-tempered middle-aged men in sitcoms such as Please Sir! and Sykes and (on BBC radio) as Lennox-Brown in The Men from the Ministry (and I can hear the theme music, note for note, as I type this) So here's a seasonal treat for all my readers: a Christmas edition of Sykes featuring Guyler as the eccentric neighbourhood copper, Corky. This is rather marvellous - part of my childhood, in fact, when telly (and Christmas) was like this. Click on the link and do watch at some point over the next few days - but you'll have to skip the ads before you get to Eric and Hattie Jacques (who, despite what we all thought) wasn't really his sister. Imagine Guyler as Corky as Jesus.

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