Can you give detailed information about pictures and photographs?

Details of the Question
I heard that drawing pictures of which Allah created is forbidden. But most of the women have designs like flowers and leaves. Is this shirk or not? Thanks...
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Islam, being a divine religion, has been sent to improve people’s earthly and heavenly lives. It is impossible for its every rule to appeal to everyone’s wit and desire; faces do not look alike; similarly, logic and personalities are not alike either. Allah the Almighty, who created logic and wit, knows which rules are more suitable for the good of people, which regulations are better and, He sends them. For this reason, we need to believe in all divine rules and regulations about prohibitions, forbidden (haram) and permissible (halal) things and make researches on them rationally, even though we may not understand the essence of some of them. Denying without research may lead to infidelity. Therefore, saying “why should this or that be forbidden? I do not find it logical.” is a great sin. Many people dislike it when it is said that sculptures and photographs are forbidden; by saying “Sculpture is a kind of art, why should it be forbidden?”, they reject the rule of Islam without any hesitation. When researches are made on the sculptures in museums, it will be understood that people showed great care to those sculptures, worshipped them and fell into the vortex of paganism at the times when Romans and Byzantium ruled. Allah, the Almighty, who appointed human beings as the protectors of faith on the Earth, prohibited sculpture and drawings of all living beings in order to prevent people from worshipping sculptures which they made with their own hands using stones and wood and to elevate them to the position they deserve.

Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) narrates: Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) returned from a military expedition. (When he was away) I put a curtain with pictures in front of the cupboard. When Allah’s Messenger saw the curtain, he torn it away angrily and his face was red with anger: “O Aisha!” said he, “know that who will suffer the most on the Judgment Day are the ones who imitate Allah’s creatures”. Aisha continued: “We cut off that curtain into pieces and made a few cushions out of it.” (Bukhari, Libas, 91, 95)

That hadith indicates that a picture which is forbidden when hung on wall can be permitted to be used when it is made into cushions and put on the floor.

Ibn Hajar summarizes the issue as follows: Scholars came to the following conclusion depending on the evidence of that hadith: Having pictures without shadows is permissible, however; it must not be used in a glorifying way. Pictures must be on something that is put on the floor and stepped on such as cushions and pads.

Nawawi indicates that this conclusion is the view of majority, that the majority of the Prophet’s companions and Tabiin (people who met the companions) came to this conclusion, that mujtahid imams (who are qualified to make judgments from the Quran and hadiths) such as Sufyan-i Thawri, Imam Malik, Imam Azam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafi’i adopted this view.

However, it is considered to be forbidden when pictures are on the wall, on garments or turban, whether they are shadowed or not, because in this case the pictures would be glorified.

Imam Nawawi said the following on the issue: “That hadith is evidence that it is forbidden to draw pictures of living beings, yet drawing pictures of beings which do not have a soul such as trees and making money out of it is not forbidden.

Tahawi says the following on the issue: “The reason why our Prophet prohibited all kinds of idols, pictures and drawings is that it was not a long time since paganism had been quitted. All kinds of pictures and drawings were prohibited in order to prevent people from worshipping idols and similar things again. Then, when Islam spread and its essence was clearly established, this prohibition continued, however; pictures made on cloth, paper, etc were not regarded as forbidden, they were somewhat permitted, because no one would glorify such pictures anymore."

As for the photographs taken with special devices in our time, they did not exist in the time of our Prophet or of mujtahid imams. Therefore, the judgment about them can be made according to the judgment about three-dimensional pictures and sculptures.

However, the pictures of our time are also decided by analogy to be forbidden if they are pornographic, or made for worship and glorification.

According to this explanation, it can be said that pictures which are not morally and religiously against Islam do not fall within the prohibition. We think that pictures made on the computer and with other technical methods can be evaluated likewise. It is possible to state that prohibition on pictures is about the three-dimensional pictures, reliefs, and the ones against Islam.

Praying in a Room in Which There are Pictures

Photographs should be divided into two: photographs of living beings and photographs of non-living beings. Photographs of living beings show either the whole of the being, in a form that it can live or the half of in a form that it cannot live.

It is certain that photographs of non-living beings, for instance landscape photographs, are permissible. Photographs of flowers, lakes or forests can be taken and hung on the walls to watch Allah’s might with appreciation.

Hanging the photographs of living beings such as humans, animals and others on the walls of a room in a way that it can easily be seen makes it “makrooh” (abominable yet not exactly forbidden) to pray in that room. In this respect, prayer in such room can also be makrooh.

Reprehensibility increases if the pictures or photographs are in the direction of Qibla (Makkah); it decreases if they are next to it and decreases even more if they are behind. Those kinds of photographs must be put down or covered before praying. Full-length photographs must be kept in a closed place, yet it is permitted to keep them somewhere visible if essential.

Passport photos on money or identity cards are permissible. They are pictures of beings which are half and also too small to live if they came to life. Moreover, the passport photographs which are taken in order to recognize registered people are permissible. They are necessary photographs. Burglars and other criminals can be brought to justice only with the help of those photographs. Photographs of our day, except the pornographic ones, can be excluded from the judgment about pictures made to worship, for they are not made to worship. All kinds of pornographic photographs are against morality, human dignity and Islam.

Evaluation of the issue in the catechism prepared by the Presidency of Religious Affairs is as follows:

It is forbidden in our religion to make pictures and sculptures in order to worship and glorify them. Islamic scholars and mujtahids considered pictures of non-living beings which are not against Islam such as landscape, trees, rocks and dealing with that art permissible. Islamic scholars also considered it permissible to make pictures of living-beings which are not made for worshipping and glorification purposes if  they are not immoral.

In classical literature, as the judgments about drawing and sculpture are mostly made according to the words “surah (image, picture)” and “taswir (image, depiction) which are derived from the same root, we would like to explain the issue of drawing and sculpture by the analysis we are going to make on the concept of “surah”.

“Surah”is mostly used as “shape, appearance and picture” in Arabic. The word “timthal” is close to “surah” in meaning. In addition to the ones who consider “surah” and “timthal” synonyms, in some hadiths “timthal” was replaced by “surah” in some places. However, in general, linguists divide “surah” into two. First, shadowed pictures (timthal=sculpture); second, other drawn things. For instance, the verse “We created you and then gave you shape” (al-A’raf, 7/11) is interpreted as “first we created your souls, then your bodies”. In some hadiths, the word “surah” means physical appearance and shape of people. (for other hadiths in which surah means the physical appearance of people, see Ibn Majah, “Ru’ya”, 2; Musnad, II, 118). Is is also stated that while surah covers all beings with soul or without soul, timthal covers only beings with souls. Accordingly, it will be truer to say the word “surah” means something shaped or put into a form. In some verses (Aal-i Imran 3/6; al-A‘raf 7/11; al-Mu’min 40/64; at-Taghabun 64/3), the word “taswir” means shaping or giving form, and according to some other views, in addition to the former meaning, it means “to adorn with spiritual traits (good deeds). It is more suitable to understand the word “taswir” which is the infinitive form of “surah” with a broad meaning including both drawing and shaping, instead of the meaning known today “drawing” or “picture”. In the same way, the word “tasawir”, which is derived from the same root, means both picture and sculpture. The fact that Allah describes Himself as “shaper” (musawwir) in the Quran and that this word is interpreted as “creator” by the interpreters supports the meaning above.

The word “surah” takes place in the Quran three times, once in singular form and twice in plural form, and it is generally interpreted as the shape and appearance of human. The word timthal (plural form: tamathil) also takes place in the Quran twice and in plural form. The meaning of one of these verses is as it follows: “He (Ibrahim) said to his father and his people, "What are these idols (tamasil), to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?" (al-Anbiya 21/52). In another verse, it is mentioned that idols were made for Solomon (Sulaiman (Saba’ 34/13). One of the interpretations of the verse indicates that those “idols” in the verse are sculptures or pictures of angels, prophets and saints or of the birds such as peacocks and hawks on Solomon’s throne and its steps.

The verb “to shape (sawwara) is used in the meaning of “created” in many verses and it seems impossible to relate it directly to drawing. However, there have been many people who think the prohibition of drawing in Islam has its source in the Quran because people who draw pictures of human beings are characterized as “imitators of Allah” (ones who desire to play God) and it is stated that they are going to be punished. Yet, this point is not considered sufficient to attribute the prohibition of drawing to the Quran. In this respect, it seems righter to accept that the prohibition of drawing was imposed by judging from the Sunnah and to explain the reasons of prohibition, basing them on some other rationale.

Primary narrations related to the prohibition of drawing can be listed as follows:

a) Hazrat Aisha narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) broke something on which there was a crucifix (picture depicting Jesus crucified on cross). (Bukhari, Libas, 90)
b) The ones who will suffer the most violent torments on the Day of Judgment are musawwirs (artists who paint or draw pictures) (Bukhari, Libas, 89).
c) In the day of Judgment, people who draw those pictures will be said, “Bring these you created into life” and they will be punished severely (Bukhari, Libas, 89).
d) Acording to what is narrated from Hazrat Aisha, once Aisha bought a pillow with an animal depiction on it. When the Prophet (pbuh) saw it, he waited at the door and did not enter the house. When Aisha saw the expression of unpleasantness on the Most Noble Messenger’s face, she said:  “O, Messenger of Allah! I beg for forgiveness from Allah and His Messenger. Have I made a mistake?” The Prophet pointed to the pillow with animal depiction and said, “Why is that pillow here?” Aisha said: “O Messenger of Allah, I bought it for you so that you can sometimes sit on it or sometimes lean on it. In reply to this, the Prophet said: “People who draw those pictures will be punished severely on the Day of Judgment and they will be said ‘now bring these pictures you made into life’ Angels will not enter the houses in which there are pictures.” (Bukhari, Libas, 95; for the interpretation of the hadith see: Ibn Hajar, Fath’al bari, 5, 228-229; Kamil Miras, Translation and Interpretation of Tajrid-i Sarih, 6, 414).
e) “Angels do not enter the houses in which there are dogs and pictures” (Bukhari, Libas, 88).
f) “Angels do not enter the houses in which there are pictures, except patterns and ornamentation on fabric.” (Bukhari, Libas, 92).

g) Hazrat Aisha hung a cloth with pictures on it in her house’s hall. When the Prophet saw it when he returned from a military expedition, he said: “Those who will suffer the most on the Judgment Day are the ones who try to imitate Allah’s creatures”. Aisha said that then cut off that cloth into pieces and made a few cushions out of it.” (Bukhari, Libas, 91)
h) Aisha had a cloth with pictures on and she hung it in on one side of her room. When the Prophet (pbuh) saw it, he said: “Take this cloth away; the pictures on it keep catching my eye during prayer.” (Bukhari, Libas, 93).

It is said that having pictures in the house is only abominable (makrooh) and does not invalidate prayer because there is no record in neither Bukhari’s nor Nasai’s hadiths stating that the Prophet performed his prayers again because of the pictures in question. What is understood from that hadiths is that the cloth that had pictures on it was not liked by the Prophet because it distracted the Prophet’s attention while he was praying.

i) Hazrat Aisha had a cloth with a bird picture on and she hung it somewhere in the house where anyone entering the house would see first. When the Prophet saw it, he said: “Aisha! Put this cloth somewhere else. I remember the worldly life when I enter the house and see it.” (Muslim, Libas, 88).

j) It is narrated that Hazrat Aisha had toys such as dolls and winged horses and that the Prophet saw them and welcomed them with a smile. (Abu Dawud, Adab, 62)
k) According to a narration, a depicter called upon Ibn Abbas and said: “I make a living by drawing these pictures you see. Give me fatwa about it. Ibn Abbas wanted the man to come closer to him, placed his hand on man’s head and said: “Now I will narrate a hadith I heard from the Messenger of Allah. The Prophet said that every depicter will be in Hell and Allah will continue to punish them severely until they give souls to the pictures they made. Verily, it is impossible for them to give souls.” When the man was terrified by these words, Ibn Abbas continued: “If you are obliged to pursue your art, depict the things which do not have souls such as trees.” (Bukhari, Buyu, 104; Muslim, Libas, 99).

As evidence to Ibn Abbas’ fatwa, Abu Huraira’s narration is put forward: Once, Gabriel asked for permission from the Prophet to come in near him. Though the Prophet gave permission, Gabriel did not get in and said: How could I enter a house in which there is a cloth hanging  with depictions of horses and humans on? You should either cut the heads of these depictions off or spread it on the floor. We, angels, will not enter the houses in which there are pictures” (Tahawi, Ma’ani’l asar, 4, 287).

Tahawi who is a prominent hadith scholar and an eminent Islamic jurisprudent from Hanafi sect, makes this interpretation after narrating the hadith,: It is understood from the hadith that the depiction of beings with souls is permissible on condition that their heads are cut off. Accordingly, that hadith indicates that the depiction of beings without souls is permissible and depiction of beings which cannot have souls because of their physical appearance is excluded from the extent of this prohibition (Tahawi, Ma’ani’l asar, 4, 287).

Ibn al-Arabi, who is an Islamic jurisprudent from Maliki sect, summarizes this judgment depending on all hadiths on this issue: If the depictions are in the form of sculpture, there is a consensus of Islamic scholars that it is forbidden. However, if it is in the form of a pattern or ornamentation on a fabric, there are four views about it. First, depending on the expression “except the ornamentation on fabric” in the hadith, pictures, patterns and ornamentations on fabric are permissible. Second view considers it forbidden depending on the general content of other hadiths. According to the third view, which brings a limit for drawing, it is forbidden if the picture is whole in physical appearance, thus can live on its own. Nevertheless, if the wholeness of the picture is deformed, it is permissible. According to the last view, a picture is forbidden if it is hung on wall or somewhere high, and it is permissible if it is spread on the floor or on a furniture without being glorified (Ibn’al-Arab, Arizat’al-ahwazi, 7, 253).

Nawawi, one of the Islamic jurisprudents from Shafi’i sect, said about the issue of depiction that it is forbidden and it is one of the great sins to draw pictures of living beings (animals and human beings) regardless of with what it is made or on what it is (fabric, spread, money, plate, wall etc.) with regard to serious threats mentioned in hadiths and that depiction is given the meaning of trying to imitate Allah’s creation. As for using items with pictures of living beings on, he said that the judgment of it depends on where the item is used and for what purpose. He said that if the pictures are in a place where it cannot be considered as disregarded, such as hung on walls or on clothes, it is forbidden. He also said that it is not forbidden if pictures are on a spread or pillow, put on floor and stepped on, though whether angels could enter or not can be discussed. Nawawi added that this judgment is valid for both pictures with shadows and pictures without shadows. According to what Nawawi says, some earlier scholars defended that the prohibition in question is valid only for pictures with shadows and drawing pictures without shadows is unobjectionable (Nawawi, Sharhu Sahihi, Muslim, XIV, 81-82).

Scholars have said drawing pictures of beings except humans and animals and earning money out of it is permissible depending on the expression “bring these you created into life” stated in many hadiths and which will be said to depicters on the Day of Judgment, and also depending on Ibn Abbas’ fatwa written above. In addition, when the evidence on the issue is examined carefully, it can be concluded that the serious threats in hadiths are for those who draw pictures or make sculptures with an aim of worshipping or challenging Allah about creating. These threats are too harsh for innocent pictures which are not made with this aim. As a matter of fact, the chronology of the hadiths on this issue shows that threats are gradually decreasing.

The majority of the scholars stated that children’s toys are excluded from the extent of prohibition.

On the other hand, scholars indicated that depictions (sculpture and picture) were not forbidden in the prophet Solomon’s religion and it was even permissible, in order to reconcile the freedom of depiction in the prophet Solomon’s religion and prohibition of depiction in Islam. For instance, Zamakhshari indicated that depicting and sculpture are not rationally as nasty as tyrannizing and fornication; eventually its judgment can vary depending on sharia (Islamic laws).

As the evidence of prohibition of depiction is Islam, the concept of “trying to imitate Allah’s creation” is offered, concluding from the Prophet’s hadits “It is the depicters who will suffer the most violent torments on the Day of Judgment”, “Allah will continue to punish depicters severely until they bring their depictions into life”. Though that reasoning is not wrong, it seems that the true reason of prohibition is what Ibn’al-Arabi also incisively emphasized: Arabs in pre-Islamic age of ignorance had the habit of worshipping idols and they made those idols with their own hands to worship them. Islam paid attention to protect the belief of Tawhid (oneness of God) by prohibiting the things which paved the way to idol-worshipping (Ibn’al-Arabi, Ahkamu’l-Qur’an, 4, 1599-1602). The position of the Cross in Christians of the era must be added to this as well. For this reason, it can be said that the main reason for probable prohibitions about drawing and sculpture is the concern of idol-worshipping. Islam is the religion of Tawhid. Arabs used to worship drawings and sculptures they made with their own hands. Worrying that Arabs would return to their old habit, the Prophet favored the prohibition of pictures and sculptures reminding this habit. In fact, a similar practice is seen after the certain prohibition of alcohol drinks. After that prohibition, the Prophet also prohibited the use of pots called dubba and naqir, in which Arabs kept their wine although it was unobjectionable to use them normally. With this method, the Prophet prohibited the things which might remind Arabs of their old habits, by means of “preventing the means of evil”. It is possible to evaluate the prohibition of drawings in this context and to state that the aim is to protect the belief of Tawhid from the nastiness of polytheism at all costs through this method.

Explanations of some scholars stating that serious threatening prohibitions of drawing in Islam was in the first years of the religion and those threats gradually decreased support the point of view which considers the reason of prohibition as concerns.

In conclusion, scholars indicated that drawing pictures of trees, mountains, rocks and using them, and pictures which do not show the whole body of human beings are permissible. Taking into consideration that some scholars such as Nawawi explained that fabrics such as cloths and spreads with pictures of living beings can be used, and that some other scholars such as Tibi explained that the use of such things is certainly permissible, it can be said that drawing pictures and using items with pictures on today will be excluded from the extent of this prohibition and is not forbidden as long as there is no doubt of falling into polytheism.

Using Items with Pictures and Depictions

Hanafis consider it permissible to pray on a spread or sajjadah (prayer rug) on which there is a picture of human being or an animal because as the spread is under the feet, it means the picture is not glorified. However, as it would look like worshipping the picture, it is advised not to do sajdah (prostration) on pictures of the spread. In addition, praying while pictures are in the same level of height with the person praying, or above his head or hung in front of him is said to be abominable. The reason why having pictures inside the house is abominable is what Gabriel said: “I do not enter a house in which are dogs or pictures”.

Though wearing clothes with pictures is considered abominable, prayer performed in those clothes is valid. However, it is appropriate to perform it again as a precaution (Marghinani, al-Hidaya, I, 362-364). Hanbalis indicated that wearing clothes with pictures of living beings is not forbidden but abominable (Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, I, 590).

It is unobjectionable to use pictures so small that they would not attract attention at first sight. In fact, it is narrated that Abu Musa had a ring on which there was a picture of mosquito and Ibn Abbas had a kind of oven ornamented with small pictures.

Abdurrazzaq narrates that Ibn Abbas considered praying in a church inside which are depictions detestable, that one of the eminent Christians had a meal prepared for Umar when he went to Damascus, and Omar refused the invitation saying, “We cannot enter your churches, because there are depictions inside”. The narrator indicated that Hazrat Umar meant sculptures by “depictions” (Bukhari, Salat, 54).

Trade of Illustrated Items 

Majority of the scholars said that trade of illustrated items is permissible depending on that the Prophet did not make Hazrat Aisha return the illustrated pillow she had bought and permitted her to use it in a different way and for a different purpose by changing its form and place.

Ibn Hazm, the well-known jurisprudent of Islamic law from Zakhiri sect, states that trade of all depictions is forbidden, except children’s toys (Ibn Hazm, al-Muhalla, 9, 25). However, when considered that Ibn Hazm said trade of illustrated fabric was permissible, it can be understood that what he meant by “depiction” is things like sculptures.

In conclusion, Arabs in pre-Islamic era of ignorance used to believe in Allah as the only creator, yet, they used to think they could reach Him through some agents; consequently, they accepted several pictures and sculptures most of which were in the form of human beings as mediator-gods. Those pictures and sculptures, which looked like productions of humans’ aesthetic sense, creative thinking and creativity at first, gradually lost its simple appearance and function and started to represent metaphysical powers, and even to gain sacredness to meet needs for worship, for people who had difficulties in reaching abstract concept of god. Appearing in a time of this human fallacy and such community and focusing on the idea of that there is no other creator and no other almighty one than Allah, Islam consequently was very careful and precautious about any danger which would divert people from the belief of Tawhid and lead them to polytheism. The Prophet was precise about pictures and sculpture exactly for this reason. However, it is observed that Islamic scholars started to be more tolerable towards pictures in parallel with the decrease of threatening statements about pictures in the Quran and Sunnah in the later years of Islam and with people’s getting away from this primitive fallacy and the decrease of danger of people’s falling into polytheism. The reason of being stricter with sculptures is the result of that view. In this sense, what is forbidden is not the pictures and depictions themselves, but the possibility of them to lead people to polytheism, and of making them an agent of sacredness and worship. Besides, what is meant by saying it is not the things which are subject to haram and halal but the acts in religion is exactly that view. Therefore, it will be appropriate to say it is permissible when the danger of falling into polytheism disappears and drawing becomes just an expression of aesthetic sense, and the prohibition will continue if the danger in question still exists.

On the other hand, some scholars did not find it right to draw pictures and make sculptures, considering them as imitating Allah’s creation and trying to overshadow His creation even though it is just in thought. In fact, it is wrong for a person, who has the skill of shaping, discovering and power of art, to be proud of this skill considering its source in him; it is also right to consider this skill as Allah’s blessing. When the reason of the prohibition mentioned above is explained this way, it is clear that photographs and pictures taken with cameras or other technological devices and projected on screens cannot be included in the concept of “depiction” in classical literature. They are not shaping or drawing of a non-existing being with creativity, but filming with technological devices and displaying existing beings again. They may be regarded within the issue of humans’ or other beings’ reflection on water and mirror. In this sense, what should be primarily emphasized about photographs and movies is their fitting with the essence of religion and ethics. They must not lead to sexual stimulation and sedition. These conditions are limitations which can be applied according to the aim of photographs and movies, rather than the legitimacy of them.

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