Is truck art Islamic?

It seems that the more conservative strains of Islam could take issue with truck art. After all, there are abundant depictions of animals and occasionally humans. This could provoke objections for two reasons. First, the truck art might represent forms that do not fit with Islamic norms such as unveiled women. Second, the pictures themselves are similar to idols and an affront to Islam’s staunch monotheism.

When I first saw truck art in Pakistan, it was striking that just to west, across the border in Afghanistan, the Taliban defaced not just depictions of women, but any art depicting natural forms, including animals. In the most remarkable instances, Taliban obscured the animals on traffic signs. The underlying concern is still evident today in Peshawar, a hotbed of truck art, where billboards using female models are sometimes defaced. Asking truck artists about the contrast between the social norms and the content of their art, I’ve been told that some truck drivers with fully jingled vehicles are, themselves, Taliban or Taliban-sympathizers.

Some motifs in truck art are wholly Islamic. Many of the panels in truck art murals depict the Kabaa, which probably balance any concerns over the other panels of animals and other figures. At least one Islamic-oriented website shares my appreciation of truck art.

A Nawaz Sharif mural on a truck in Punjab

In the end, its probably a matter of taste and values of the viewer. Yet its clear that truck art does not shy away from controversy. The political representations in truck art, which appear frequently, may be more objectionable than the images that challenge religious mores. This truck, which prominently features the polarizing leader Nawaz Sharif, would probably be abhorred in parts of the Sindh heartland, where he has beenburned in effigy.