Article: Jains and Muslim iconoclasm

Contributed by Audrey Truschke

Later Jain reactions

Lay men and women kneel in prayer before a large idol of a Jina in a temple. The idol's plain style and downcast eyes are characteristic of Digambara images.

Lay people worship a Jina
Image by Sheetal Shah © Sheetal Shah

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Jain thinkers began to address Islam directly in discussions on the use of religious images. Some connected Jain groups that disagree with idol worship to Islamic ideas. Others pointed out inconsistences between Islamic ideas and practices regarding icons.

Some mūrti-pūjak authors, such as Jñānsundar, attributed Loṅkā Śāh’s rejection of icons to Islamic influences. This suggestion also carries the implicit and deliberately unfavourable comparison of aniconic Jains to the meat-eating Muslims. All Jains are vegetarian, because of the key principle of non-violence towards living beings, so likening any group of Jains to meat-eaters is insulting.

Many Jain thinkers in the colonial and modern periods explicitly traced the origins of Muslim iconoclasm to Muhammad’s misunderstanding of the world. Bhadrankarvijay articulates this idea in the greatest detail, although several others shared it. Bhadrankarvijay argued that religious images are part of the very nature of reality, which Muhammad ignorantly opposed.

Other intellectuals provided alternative ways of undermining Christian and Islamic criticisms. For example, Kalyanvijay wrote that all religions use icons, including Christianity and Islam. Buddhi-sagar provided numerous examples of such contradictions between doctrine and practice in Islam, such as Muslim veneration of the Qur’an and the required pilgrimage to Mecca.

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