The Victoria and Albert museum has attempted to conceal its ownership of a devotional image of the religious character Muhammad, citing security concerns, in what is part of a wider pattern of apparent self-censorship by British institutions that
scholars fear could undermine public understanding of Islamic art and the diversity of Muslim traditions .
Similar images have been shown in exhibitions across Europe and America without prompting outrage, much less protests or a violent response.
British museums and libraries hold dozens of these images, mostly miniatures in manuscripts several centuries old, but they have been kept largely out of public view. Fear of displaying them is apparently driven by controversy about satirical or
offensive portraits of Muhammad by non-Muslims, despite the huge difference in form and purpose.
When the V&A was asked if it held any images of Muhammad after the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo , it said there were none. A US expert later provided a link to a poster in its collection, with the inscription Mohammad the Prophet of God
. That page in the database was deleted last week, but can still be found in a cached version. A spokeswoman said their original response was an honest error .
Other British institutions with images of Muhammad in their Islamic art collections show some on websites, but have shied away from exhibitions.