Is the U.S. Supreme Court Islamophobic and racist?

January 28, 2012 • 12:58 pm

Here’s a bit of unintended humor from our nation’s highest court.  Inside the court building, above where the justices sit, is a frieze depicting  some great “lawgivers” of history. As The Daily Republican reports,

The 18 lawgivers looking down on the justices are divided into two friezes of ivory-colored, Spanish marble. On the south wall, to the right of incoming visitors, are figures from the pre-Christian era — Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius and Octavian (Caesar Augustus). On the north wall to the left are lawmakers of the Christian era — Napoleon Bonaparte, Marshall, William Blackstone, Hugo Grotius, Louis IX, King John, Charlemagne, Muhammad and Justinian.

Muhammad?  Yes, and here’s his figure in the frieze:

But as you probably know, depiction of the Prophet is a severe violation of the hadith, the post-Qur’anic interpretation of Mohamed’s sayings that is to the Qur’an what the Talmud is to the Torah in Jews.  Many Muslims, and nearly all Sunni Muslims, take severe offense at such violations as a sign of idolatry. You won’t see pictures of Muhammed in any mosques.

So of course there were complains by Muslims.  Cowed, the court responded (also reported by the above link) thusly (also noting as well the aversion of Muslims to depictions of the Prophet):

After last year’s controversy about the image of Muhammad, the Supreme Court included this explanation in tourist materials: “The figure is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor to honor Muhammad, and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad.”

Over at Sneer Review, reader Sigmund gives the only possible response:

How do they know that?

75 thoughts on “Is the U.S. Supreme Court Islamophobic and racist?

  1. How do they know that? I assume that The Supreme Court judges read Jesus and Mo, because the figure in the frieze looks nothing like the man in the cartoon.

  2. <blockquote?
    “The figure is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor to honor Muhammad, and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad.”

    I think the humour there is perfectly intended.

    1. Yeah, we’d like to honor him, but since we can’t depict his image, we used Gandalf instead. It makes sense.

  3. Figures.
    The truthfulness of this reply corresponds, in moral tone and logical stringency, to the general intellectual level and judicial output of a plurality among the current Brethren.

    1. I think the large blade he held is the key — imagine showing jesus with an AK47 ?
      Definitely moslems have to raise funds to change these statue! (without sword, preferably without head as well ..)

    2. The question of the headgear is actually very pertinent. Time for a little iconography.
      First, it’s not a hat, it’s a hood, as a closer look reveals.
      It is not quite clear, based on available photographs, whether the hood is part of the top garment, the thawb (or thobe), or meant to represent the keffiyeh of bedu dress.
      The hood is held in place by an igal (or agal).
      Now, the fun part: the dome of the hood is bulging like a flat cone. The fold over the ear could be mistaken for a flap, and there is a hint of a visor above the forehead. Does that remind us of some other headgear?
      Google Images for the Reformators: Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and the closest likeness of all: Ulrich Zwingli. They all wear variants of the same Renaissance cap, now popular as a “Tudor” cap.

      Did Adolph Weinman, the sculptor, visually assimilate the prophet of Islam to the Reformators? I think it plausible, given the context. The man to be asked about it is art historian David Bjelajac, who did a study of the subject, presented at a conference in Florence:

      “Masonic Fraternalism and Muhammad Among the Lawgivers in Adolph Weinman’s Sculpture Frieze for the United States Supreme Court (1931-1935)”

      I wasn’t able to get hold of the manuscript yet.

      There can be no doubt whatsoever that Weinman explicitly intended to depict Muhammad, period. Witness this early draft, dated September 17, 1932, Weinman Papers at the Archives of American Art, Reel 5890, Frames 756-757:–340488

  4. Isn’t the probability of a good likeness pretty close to nil?

    Meanwhile, weasel words are always hilarious. 🙂


  5. Of course, the figure in Jesus and Mo isn’t actually Mohammed either — the comic explicitly states that he’s a body double.

  6. Classic NIGYSOB. The Muslims would have been just as outraged had Mohammad been left off entirely.

    Of course, they’re also outraged that women are allowed to drive, or even be let out in public with any skin showing, for that matter.

    Me? I’m offended at the suggestion that that motherfucking sonofabitch Mohammad had anything to do with the United States’s legal code — except, of course, as an example of what not to do. I’d say the same of Moses, but Article I §2¶3 makes it all too painfully clear that Mosaic notions of civil liberties had yet to be eradicated….



  7. The actual resemblance is very likely to the sculptor’s model. Including the wardrobe.

    The chance that the model resembled Mohammed is, as another put it, close to nil.

    Someone really, really interested might be able to unearth the name of the model, in fact.

  8. Perhaps they could have gotten by with saying that it was actually a notable judge from the Fertile Crescent of yesteryear who coincidentally happened to be named Muhammad. After all, it’s apparently hunky-dory to name a male child after Muhammad, as a vast multitude appear to be named after him. That would seem to cheapen, or at least make more pedestrian and quotidian, the name.

    What if a Muslim female child were named “Muhammad”?

    Can a non-Muslim be named Muhammad?

    Can a Muslim male change his name from Muhammad to something else? Or is that on the verge of apostasy?

    (Also, just wondering – when celebrating, is it alright for a Muslim to decline to indiscriminantly shoot a gun in the air, and rather throw rocks or sticks, or nothing if he so chooses?)

  9. a frieze depicting some great “lawgivers” of history

    I would argue that the quotation marks is misplaced. It should really be

    – a frieze “depicting” some great lawgivers of history –

    seeing that so many are ahistorical myths.

    Menes: “The identity of Menes is the subject of ongoing debate,”.

    Moses: “The existence of Moses as well as the veracity of the Exodus story is disputed amongst archaeologists and Egyptologists,”.

    Solomon: “Historical evidence of King Solomon other than the biblical accounts is minimal.”

    Lycurgus: “It is not clear if this Lycurgus was an actual historical figure;”.

    Confucius: “many scholars are very cautious about attributing specific assertions to Confucius himself.”

    Muhammad: “Attempts to distinguish between the historical elements and the unhistorical elements of many of the reports of Muhammad have not been very successful.”

    Still, I guess that 12 out of 18 or 2/3 correct is not bad for a legal outcome.

    1. Moses is fun, though. He likely had either a limp or an inner-ear dysfunction if the Exodus holds water.

      Or a shitty GPS.

  10. The depictions of Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, and Confucius, however, were taken from family photo albums.

  11. I’m hazy on why unbelievers should be bound by the rules embedded in the faiths of others anyway. If Muslims have the right to demand that non-Muslims not produce images of Muhammad, why can’t they likewise demand that I not eat pork, or whatever? Maybe they think they do have that right, but it’s less of an issue (lesser sin?) so they’re not inclined to throw fits over bacon.

    1. “I’m hazy on why unbelievers should be bound by the rules embedded in the faiths of others anyway.”

      There’s that, but there’s also the question of whether taxpayer-funded buildings should include details that offend a minority of taxpayers. I mean, we *do* have Muslim citizens in America, and it is a public building.

      1. True. I’m sure we agree about religious figures and symbolism on public buildings. Better not to put that stuff there, period.

        I was off on the slightly different topic of why believers expect the rest of us to follow their rules. Personally, I’m not even interested in their weird prohibitions. Muslims can expect (I suppose) other Muslims not to draw pictures of Muhammad, to avoid pork, and so on, but they can’t expect me to follow their rules. I’m not playing their game. If my eating a ham sandwich offends — sorry.

        That said, if an illustration on a public building of lawgivers(presumably of strictly secular decorative or historical purpose) should transgress some rule about not illustrating one of the persons — what’s to say but, “Sorry, but we’re not playing by your sectarian rules”? We can’t possibly avoid offending all religious sensibilities, and I don’t really think we should try. The Bible says not to illustrate anything or anybody, but luckily Christians have found ways to ignore that command. Maybe Muslims need to come to a similar understanding of their holy book.

      2. I mean, we *do* have Muslim citizens in America, and it is a public building.

        Assuming that America hasn’t rounded up and concentrated their Muslims yet, then the present day Muslim population of America are probably free to construct a facsimile of the Court building, without the offending image, and to donate it to the court for their use, and to then attempt to gain ownership of the old building with the explicit intention of demolition. Assuming of course that America has laws against the wanton destruction of historical buildings – which is a fairly big assumption, I guess. Does America have historical buildings, or do they just get bulldozed next time a property developer comes along?

  12. Typo: “So of course there were complaints by Muslims.”

    And yes, of course there were… It’s not like Muslims have any actual problems to worry about, so they have lots of time on their hands to focus on these lesser issues.


    1. To be fair, you get Italians complaining about The Sopranos and Jersey Shore, and you get Catholics complaining about coverage of the various molestation scandals.

      A better approach to the Muslims’ complaint is probably to point out that it shows the flaws in the “religion in public buildings is okay if we include everyone” approach. Including figures from other cultures that you’re not familiar with, or maybe a little casual about, makes it more likely that you’ll make this kind of a blunder.

  13. Is he actually named on the frieze?

    If not, they could probably find a suitable replacement from history.

    Maybe Suleiman the Magnificent, aka Suleiman the Lawgiver?

    If he is named on the frieze, then it would be easier to just excise the stone with his name on it, and replace it with a block naming Suleiman.

  14. Is the SCOTUS Islamophobic? Why would atheists care? They are relgion phobic anyway.

    Atheist spells Eatshit…that sums it up.

    1. Well, isn’t that just ‘A Rich Snit’.

      ‘Satin Rich’ might refer to the Popes and Preachers who enjoy the bounty of the collection plates.

      And then we have ‘Cairn Sh*t’ which might refer to the myths about the open tomb, maybe.

      1. “Rich at sin” works too.

        As a bonus, Christians makes “rich saints”… so much for Matthew 19:21 and similar verses.

        1. Christian people makes “necrophilia pest”. And, cue Ben Goren’s reference to the Zombie of Zion having his innards fondled. 🙂

          Dear Jouras at #20, thanks for the anagram-related entertainment.

          Finally, Jouras is a theist makes “Oh Jesus! It is a rat!”

    2. I suspect you are a religious radical of some nature and no better than those who kill, torture and oppress in the names of their imaginary gods.

      Show me one fact that proves the existence of one of your deities.

      1. Show me one fact that proves the existence of one of your deities.

        you know, that makes me think of the class of maths problems known as (I think) NP-complete problems. The ones that have no solution known which solves the problem in a number of operations which is a polynomial function of the number of elements in the problem. The classic example is the Travelling Salesman problem ; modern cryptography relies on NP-complete problems being extremely hard to solve. It has been postulated, and maybe proved (maths sense) , that if you find a polynomial solution for ONE of the NP-complete problems, then you’ll automatically have a solution to ALL of the NP-problems.
        So, theoretically, if you have a piece of evidence that applies to the existence of ONE of the deities, then would you have a piece of evidence that applies to the existence of ALL of the deities too?
        I’ve not been getting enough sleep this month.

  15. You might have noticed that Jerry filed this report under “art”, “LOLz” and “religion”. Not “abject fear” or “serious discussion” or even “Eatshit, theists!”

    As far as I know, that last one has never been used.

  16. The frieze is not idolatry, and therefore not an offense to Islam. But even if it is, I am surprised to see Jerry say that it is “Islamophobic and racist” for a govt agency to refuse to respect an obscure religious custom.

  17. This frieze should have had Mohammed speaking with Jesus, as Mohammed did when he visited heaven, and bargained with the Almightly to get the number of required prayers, per day, down from 1000 to five.

      1. Ya mean Mo saved us 995 prayers a day? He gets my vote! Now maybe he can go back for another try and get it down to one…

  18. A couple of points. First a few of the commenters have mentioned that it is inappropriate to have religious images on a public building in a nation which is officially secular, by constitution. And this is true: one would think someone could bring suit against the Supreme Court itself in the same manner as the prayer in the RI school was forced out.

    The other point is that our secular lawgivers are a mixed bunch too. We humans seem to want heroic images in all areas we work in, to inspire us (hence God perhaps), but Napoleon for example is no hero for modern times I think. The very concept of a single great lawgiver ought to be anathema in a modern democratic society.

    1. Napoleon is credited for reorganizing the legal code of France which was a complete and utter mess after the Revolution. Much to the betterment of the common people.

      He also standardized weights and measures (thank him for the decimal system used worldwide), and instituted a wide range of reforms, echoes of which are very much still in use today.

      Yes, he liked to make war…he was very much a man of his times in that regard. And, like every other lawgiver on the frieze, he was authoritarian.

      But those flaws don’t allow us to dismiss his many other accomplishments. It would be like saying nobody thinks much of Thomas Jefferson these days because of his slave ownership.

      They were humans. Complete humans, with flaws as well as accomplishments. One can argue whether Napoleon’s flaws outweighed his accomplishments … but I think if they had, his tomb wouldn’t be one of the most-visited sites in Paris today.

      1. That is a very Hegelian perspective.

        Much of what Napoleon effectuated, as a reformer, was not, as you imply, for altruistic motives, but in order to legitimize and preserve his reign. He was, after all, born a commoner. He restructured French society to palliate the monarchial inclination of the French people, attenuate the reverberations of his ordinary radix, and more efficaciously amalgamate conquered peoples. Reforms were imperative to secure these goals, but Napoleon could give a damn about the lower-class French citizenry the reforms benefited. Well, that is not, entirely, de jure. He cherished them as superfluous men-at-arms. However, I am not endeavoring to diminish Napoleon’s influence or significance, but I don’t think your portrayal of him is veracious. He was, in point of fact, callous, despotic, and egomaniacal.

        Are you asserting we shouldn’t genuinely evaluate Napoleon’s blunders, owing to the fact that, he was adroit and human? That is imbecilic. Napoleon’s mistakes precipitated the wanton ruination of human lives(6 million maybe), insolvency of the French state, expiry of overseas colonies, where he reinstated slavery, the pusillanimous forsaking of his army in Egypt, the peculation of renowned artifacts, pedantic censorship of the press, literature, and the arts, and the election of Napoleon III. (I inculpate Napoleon for this because it was the kinship to Napoleon Bonaparte that enabled Louis Napoleon to capture the presidency in 1848. Louis Napoleon then went on to extirpate the Second Republic in 1851 and inaugurate an empire that prevailed for 21 years. Maybe tyranny is hereditary?) These are not infinitesimal improprieties, I surmise. Regardless, yes, we should proffer him a pardon because he was an authoritative and successful propagandist, military strategist, and tyrant. Let us not neglect remembering he was a tyrant. And I, for one, am controverted to tyranny in all configurations.

        Comparing Thomas Jefferson to Napoleon Bonaparte is like comparing an airplane to a zeppelin.

        As to Napoleon’s popularity, humans possess a propensity to venerate warrior-kings, i.e., Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Genghis Khan, Frederick the Great, Saladin. Not an astoundingly encouraging enumeration of philanthropists, I think.

        What is the relevancy of the contemporaneous prevalence of Napoleon’s tomb?

        1. Persto: your assessment of Napoleon is correct; the critique is infact much needed.
          However, Napoleon III, quite ironically, deserves a more nuanced judgement.
          Yes, he was a farcical dictator and a vainglorious pompous ass, although far from the tyrant his uncle had been.
          On the other hand, he was, of the Bonapartes, the true moderniser and innovator. France’s industrial infrastructure really took off under his régime, and the economic growth was unprecedented. Many of his European and international initiatives are now forgotten, but were farsighted at the time, e.g., the Union Latine monetary zone.

          In its final years, the Empire took a decisively liberal turn, and it would be easy to extrapolate a constitutional development along British and Italian lines, were it not for the disaster of the Franco-Prussian war. The lasting (if, to some, unsavoury) achievement of Napoleon III’s reign is the consolidation of the bourgeoisie as the dominant class of the Republic, and its weaning from any remnants of dynastic nostalgia.

          1. I agree. I was merely attempting, poorly it seems, to inculpate Napoleon for Louis-Napoleon’s ascent to the presidency. The Bonaparte name was the primary rationale for Louis-Napoleon’s election, but other components were involved: economic and monetary instability, implementation of universal male suffrage, the suppression of the June Days Uprising and backlash against Cavaignac for leading the suppression, and ineffective governmental policies.

            I genuinely ween Louis-Napoleon aspired to assuage the disadvantaged with his social reforms and he did wondrously well industrializing France. It is a prevailing misnomer, maybe because France is home to Paris, that France was already industrialized. However, that is spurious. They were in verity, a pre-industrial, agricultural-based economy. In actuality, the principal purpose Louis-Philippe abdicated in 1848–which entitled Louis-Napoleon the favorable occasion to retranspierce France(He was exiled after two failed coup attempts)–was the quandary produced by the dreadful economic and agricultural depression that struck France in the late 1840s. The depression was an undeviating consequence of their agricultural-based economic system and outdated monetary system.

            His social reform was, nay dubiety, far-sighted. However, I was opining, in my anterior post, on his military escapades, which were injudicious and tyrannical. As you correctly pointed out, his military weaknesses squandered his empire. Louis-Napoleon has been predominantly disregarded or diminished to insignificance because of his martial founderings and his intellectual disposition. I am reminded of Marx’s comment on Louis-Napoleon,”Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historical facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” In reality, he was the more than he is perceived to have been, even so he was a tyrant. And if I am going to be consistent I must oppose him.

      2. Kevin: your assertions re Napoleon’s legal and metric merits are technically and substantially wrong. Napoleon reaped the benefits of huge preparatory work achieved during the Revolution; in several instances he diluted and compromised this work.

        1. Code Napoléon: the revamping of the legal system had been prepared during the Convention, the leading legal eagle being Cambacérès. The body promulgated under Napoleon was in many ways far more conservative than what the Convention aimed to achieve.

        2. Metric system: Again, its preparation long ante-dates the Revolution. The Convention gave this reform the decisive political pull. The chief scientific promoters were Condorcet, Lavoisier, Borda, Tillet. The metric system was legally introduced on September 23, 1795. Napoleon himself was very reticent about it: he would have preferred the extension of customary measures, and he rejected the Greek prefix nomenclature. Chapter XVII of his Memoirs contains a very bilious critique of the unified metric system.

        As usual, much of Napoleon’s reputation is usurped.

    1. Indeed he is and yes, some Islamic tradition (remember the banning of images if only part of Sunni Islam – Shia Islam allows depiction of Muhammad, just not the ridicule of him) bans depiction of any of their prophets.
      Which means, in effect, that cartoons of Muhammad are not the only ones that are Islamophobic. Cartoons of Moses, Noah, Jesus and even Adam (of ‘Adam and Eve’ fame) are also banned!
      The worst offender against Islamic prophets is likely to be, not atheist groups, but Catholic Churches with their stained glass windows and crucifixes, all containing images of Jesus (Issa) – one of the main prophets of Islam.

  19. Excellent, Jerry; Brilliant, actually! I’ll be cross-posting this an sending your commentary and insights as far as I’m able, given my lists of 43,000 people and my following on facebook, etc. Fabulous!

  20. Charlemagne? Now there is one murdering bastard – & in the name of religion. What he did to the free Saxons was appalling.

  21. What’s funny is that you an find verbal descriptions of Muhammad’s appearance in hadith that make him look both “handsome” (not in my point of view though) and most importantly, white. Yes, a light-skinned, hard-to-tan one (although he lived in the desert).

    Hell, I was around when the Denmark shit happened right here in Jordan. It was so crazy that no one wanted to even show us the images that supposed newspaper published. And I was so goddamn curious, it kind of killed me inside.

    This only proves one thing: Muslims can be used and moved as desired through propaganda. This has been obvious for many years. If the media makes a big fuss about some pictures of Muhammad, every Muslim shall rise with torches and shit. If no fuss is made, none will care.

    What’s also dead ironic is that Muslims tend to demand respect from all countries and all religions although their allah wants us to eternally torture in hell. I don’t know why that’s not offensive enough for them.

  22. Totally off-topic, petty and nitpicking, but: could be banish “thusly” to the outer void? “Thus” is already an adverb; adding “-ly” makes it a second-degree adverb, a category which does not exist in English, afaik.

    What’s next? “I’m not feeling welly”?

    1. I agree.

      Now, let’s press on with banishing the term “human resources,” and bringing back “personnel,” and reaffirming “persons,” and “people,” and “human beings,” and “people WHO,” and banish “people THAT,” eh?

      1. I couldn’t agree more-ly. ‘Human resources’ sounds like a stock of spare parts for transplant surgery.

        While we’re at it, could we please restore ‘chairman’ and ‘chairwoman’ or even ‘chairperson’ and stop addressing the ‘chair’ of a meeting, which is a piece of furniture.
        (Not sure if that’s an American habit, but it’s prevalent here).

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