Is taking photos allowed and do they (photos) prevent someone from praying?

The Details of the Question
Is taking photos allowed and do they (photos) prevent someone from praying?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

A photo in a bag does not impact on prayers.

Photos need to be considered in two classes: those which belong to animate beings and those which belong to non animate beings. Photos which belong to animate beings are either full body pictures which could live or half pictures which couldn’t. If they are half pictures or too small to be distinguished when looked at, it could be said that there is no danger. However, full body pictures and photos are not allowed without necessity. Pictures of inanimate beings i.e. panorama it is certainly allowed. Flower, lake and forest views can be photographed and hung in certain places in the house to watch the Divine Power with appreciation. Hanging Full body pictures (of humans, animals and other living beings) on the walls of a room and making it fully visible when looked at means to make the room unfit reprehensible to pray in. Therefore it is reprehensible to pray in a room where there are full body pictures of animate beings. If the pictures are in the direction of the Holy Ka’ba the level of reprehensibility increases if it’s on the side it’s less and if it’s behind it’s less. Such pictures should either be taken down or they should be covered before praying. There is no harm in keeping full body pictures in a closed place and disclosing when necessary. Pictures on banknotes or passport photos in ID cards are also allowed.   These if they were to become alive would not live because they are too small or cut in half. There is also permission for some necessary full body photos taken to recognise certain people. These are necessary pictures. Thieves or other criminals can only be caught by powers of justice in this way.  Pictures taken today-non obscene ones- can be discounted from the category of pictures made for worship.

Can you give detailed information on pictures and photos?

The religion of Islam is a heavenly religion which was revealed to develop man’s world and afterlife. It is not possible for the rules that it brought to be convenient for minds and tastes of everyone. Just like faces do not resemble one another so don’t the minds and characters. Allah Almighty who has given mind and reason to humans knows better which rules are better and which regulations are more suitable for humans and descends them. Therefore even if we cannot fully understand some of the Divine laws and regulations about orders, prohibitions, licit (halal) and illicit (haraam); we should accept and believe in them and research the instances of wisdom behind them. Denying without such a research could lead to loss of faith. Thus saying “Why should this or that be illicit? It doesn’t suit my understanding” has serious consequences. A lot of people do not like when it is mentioned that sculptures or pictures are prohibited. Furthermore they say “Sculptures are works of art. Why should they be prohibited?” and deny this ruling of Islam without hesitation. When a research is done on the sculptures in museums it is found out that in the times of “Jahiliyyah”(Ignorance-period before the religion of Islam was revealed) -especially during the eras of Roman and Byzantine States- most people showed utmost respect to sculptures and pictures to the level of worshipping them and were caught in the whirl of idol-worshipping. In order to rescue him from worship of sculptures and pictures he made with his own hands, Allah Almighty who has appointed man as a caliph on Earth has prohibited all sorts of pictures and sculptures of animate beings. Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) visited me after returning from a journey, and I had a shelf with a thin cloth curtain hanging over it and on which there were portraits. When he saw it, the colour of his face changed (because of anger) and he said, "O `Aishah! The most grievous torment from Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be for those who imitate (Allah) in the act of His creation.'' `Aishah said: We tore it into pieces and made a cushion or two cushions out of that. This hadith points out that pictures which are prohibited when they are hung on the walls can be used when they are used on cushions on the floor. Ibn Hajar summarises this matter as follows: Taking this hadith as evidence scholars have reached the following ruling pictures without shadows are allowed however they should be used in such a way that they do not receive respect. They have to be used on items thrown on the floor and stepped on such as cushions. Nawawi says this is the ruling of the majority, most of the Companions of the prophet and their followers have reached this opinion, and mujtahid imams such as Sufyan Assawry, Imam Malik, Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafii have accepted this view. However if they are hung on a wall, drawn on garments or turban it has been commented that pictures are prohibited regardless of them being with or without shadow. The reason is that in these conditions respect is meant. Imam Nawawi says further on this matter: “This hadith points out that pictures of animate beings is prohibited but making pictures of trees and other beings without spirits and making a living out of this isn’t prohibited.” Tahawi says on this matter: “The reason that our prophet (PBUH) prohibited all sorts of idols and pictures in the first years of Islam is because idol worshipping was not a long time ago. In order for people not to turn to idols or similar things for worship, idols and any pictures leading to them were prohibited. Later when Islam spread and its fundamentals were understood the prohibition on idols and similar things continued but pictures on linen, paper or similar things were not criticized in one sense they were allowed. The reason was that no one would show respect to such pictures anymore. When it comes to the pictures taken nowadays with special instruments, they existed neither at the time of our prophet nor at the time of mujtahid imams. Therefore the ruling relate mainly to 3 dimension pictures and sculptures. However ruling for pictures of our present time has been given with comparison (qiyas). The ones made with intention to worship or glorify and obscene ones are definitely prohibited. According to this explanation it can be concluded that drawings which are not against Islam from the moral or religious aspect are not prohibited. We think the ones drawn on computers or with another technical method can be regarded similarly. It is possible to say that the prohibition on pictures are for 3 dimension or embossed ones or for those which are against Islam.

Praying in a room where there are pictures:

In the Islamic jurisdiction book (Ilm ul-Hal) prepared by Department of Religious Affairs the following assessment has been recorded: In our religion it is prohibited to take photos or make pictures or sculptures with intention to worship or to glorify. Muslim scholars have deemed it permissible to make pictures of inanimate beings such as landscape, trees or stones which do not contradict Islamic morals. Muslim scholars have also deemed it permissible to make pictures of animate beings where there is no intention to worship or glorify and where it is not against general morals. In the classical literature, the rulings on sculptures and pictures usually refer to pictures (surat). Therefore we would like to explain the matter of pictures and sculptures with the analysis of the term “surat”. The word “surat” in Arabic is mainly used to mean shape, form, appearance and picture. The word “timsal” is close to “surat” in terms of meaning. Some have deemed the word “surat” a synonym of “timsal”. At times in some hadith (saying of the prophet) surat has been used as a synonym of timsal. Nevertheless linguists usually categorize surat in two: first as the ones with shadow (timsal/sculptures) and second as the ones drawn. For example one of the commentaries on the verse:  “It is We Who created you and gave you shape” Sura 7:11   states an interpretation as “First we created your spirits and then gave shape to your bodies”. In some hadith the word surat is used to mean man’s outer appearance and shape (see Ibn Ma’ce Dream, 2; Musnad, 2, 118 for hadith where surat is used in this meaning). It is also mentioned that the word surat encompasses everything both those which have spirits and those which don’t; whereas timsal is only used for beings which have spirits. Therefore it would be more accurate to understand the word surat as something (sculpture or picture) shaped. In some verses (Aal-i Imran 3/6; el-A‘raf 7/11; el-Mu’min 40/64; et-Teghabun 64/3) the word taswir (sawwara) is used to mean “to give shape” and in certain commentaries as “to give spiritual qualities” apart from physical shape. Therefore it wouldn’t be right to think of the word taswir which is the verb form of the word surat simply as “draw” or “paint” which is the meaning it refers to in current texts. A more accurate meaning would be draw/paint as well as to give shape and form to a matter. Similarly the word tasawir derived from the root usually means picture but also refers to sculpture. The fact that Allah has described himself as Al-Musawwir in the Holy Qur’an (Al Hashr 59/24) and some commentators have interpreted this as “creator” gives strength to the thesis above. The word surat is mentioned  in 3 places in the Holy Qur’an once single twice plural and is usually interpreted as man’s form and shape. In Qur’an the word “timsal” is mentioned twice in its plural form “temasil”. The meaning of one of these verses if as follows:  Behold! he (Ibrahim) said to his father and his people, "What are these images, to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?" (Al-Anbiya 21:52) In the other verse it mentions that temasil were made for Suleiman (Saba 34:13). One of the interpretations made on the meaning of temasil in this second verse is that these were sculptures (or pictures) of angels, prophets and pious people. Another interpretation says that they were pictures of birds such as peacock and hawk depicted on Suleiman’s throne and on its steps. The verb “sawwara” is mentioned in many verses and interpreted as “created” and there doesn’t seem to be any direct relevance between this and making pictures. Nevertheless in some hadith it is narrated that people who make pictures of human appearance are accepted as Allah’s imitators (having a desire to claim godhood) and they will be punished for this deed. This has led to an understanding that the prohibition of pictures originates from the Holy Qur’an. In fact this relation doesn’t seem to be strong enough to claim that this prohibition on making pictures originates form the Holy Qur’an. For if this interpretation is taken out of its context and generalised then we will have to accept that the making and use of the robots used in the technology today which could be named “techno-slaves” is also prohibited. Therefore it seems to be more accurate to base this prohibition of pictures on Sunnah (practices of the prophet) and explain the reasons of prohibition with reasons other than the above.  We can list the narrations on the prohibition of pictures as follows: a)      Narrated 'Aisha:  I never used to leave in the Prophet house anything carrying images or crosses but he obliterated it.  (Bukhari, Libas) b)      Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar : Allah's Apostle said, "Those who make these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them. 'Make alive what you have created.'" (Bukhari, Libas) c)      Narrated 'Aisha : I purchased a cushion with pictures on it. The Prophet (came and) stood at the door but did not enter. I said (to him), "I repent to Allah for what (the guilt) I have done." He said, "What is this cushion?" I said, "It is for you to sit on and recline on." He said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, 'Make alive what you have created.' Moreover, the angels do not enter a house where there are pictures.'" (Bukhari, Libas; for explanation of the hadith see Ibn Hajar, Fath-ul Bari) d)      Narrated Abu Talha : The Prophet said, "Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures." (Bukhari, Libas) e)       "Angels (of mercy) do not enter a house where there are pictures except a design in a garment'?" (Bukhari, Libas) f)        Narrated 'Aisha: Allah's Apostle returned from a journey when I had placed a curtain of mine having pictures over (the door of) a chamber of mine. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he tore it and said, "The people who will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection will be those who try to make the like of Allah's creations." So we turned it (i.e., the curtain) into one or two cushions. (Bukhari, Libas) g)      Narrated Anas: Aisha had a thick curtain (having pictures on it) and she screened the side of her house with it. The Prophet said to her, "Remove it from my sight, for its pictures are still coming to my mind in my prayers." (Bukhari, Libas) Neither in Bukhari nor in Nesai’s narration is there a record that the Prophet (PBUH) repeated his prayers due to the aforementioned pictures. Therefore it is concluded that having pictures at home is only makrooh (reprehensible) and doesn’t harm the validity of the prayers. What can be understood form this hadith in the first instance is that a curtain on which there is a picture is disapproved because it disturbs tranquillity at prayers. h)      A'isha reported: We had a curtain with us which had portraits of birds upon it. Whenever a visitor came, he found them in front of him. Thereupon Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to me: Change them, for whenever I enter the room) I see them and it brings to my mind (the pleasures) of worldly life.  (Muslim, Libas) i)        It is reported that Aisha (RA) had a toys in the form of dolls and winged horses, the Prophet (ASM) saw these and smiled (Abu Dawood, Adab). j)        According to a narration a person came to Ibn 'Abbas and said: I am the person who paints pictures; give me a religious verdict about them. He (Ibn 'Abbas) said to him: Come near me (still further). He came near him so much so that he placed his hand upon his head and said: I am going to narrate to you what I heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). I heard him say: All the painters who make pictures would be in the fire of Hell. The soul will be breathed in every picture prepared by him and it shall punish him in the Hell, and he (Ibn 'Abbas) said: If you have to do it at all, then paint the pictures of trees and lifeless things; and Nasr b. 'Ali confirmed it. (Bukhari, Magic; Muslim, Libas) As evidence for this ruling of Ibn Abbas (RA) the following narration from Abu Huraira is quoted: Once Jibreel (GAbriel) asked for permission from the Prophet to enter and although he was permitted he didn’t enter and said “How can I enter a house in which there is a curtain with pictures of horses and humans. Either cut the heads of those pictures or lay the curtain on the floor” (Tahawi, Meani’l Asar, IV, 287 ) Tahawi, who was a great muhaddith (scholar of hadith) and a leading Hanafi fakih, has made the following comments after narrating this hadith: from the apparent hadith it is understood that pictures of beings with spirits are allowed if their heads are separated. According to this, making pictures of beings without spirits is allowed and those beings which are not possible to have a spirit due to their appearance are also outside the boundaries of the prohibition. (Tahawi, Meani’l Asar, IV, 287 ) Based on the narrations about prohibition of pictures Ibn-Al Arabi, from Maliki scholars, has summarised the matter as follows: if the images made are in the form of sculptures there is consensus among scholars that it is prohibited. However if it is a design or pattern on a cloth there are four different views on this. According to the first of these they are allowed based on the statement in the hadith “except for design on a cloth”. The second view says it is prohibited based on the content of other hadith. The third view which brings limitations on pictures states that if the picture is complete in form and appearance it is prohibited. If the picture’s completeness is interrupted (e.g. cut) then it is allowed. According to the final view the picture is prohibited when it’s hung on the wall or a high place and allowed only when it is used on the floor or used on things which do not receive respect. (Ibn-ul Arabi Arizatu-l Ahzevi VII, 253) Nawawi of Shafi scholars has said on the issue of pictures that based on the severe punishment mentioned in the hadith and it has a meaning of imitating Allah’s creation, regardless of what it was made with and what it was made on (e.g. cloth, money, container, wall etc.) he said it was prohibited and one of the major sins to make pictures of animate beings (human and animal) and and further commented that making pictures of things like trees, mountains or camel saddle wasn’t prohibited. Using things which have pictures of animate beings depends on where and how these things are used. If they are to be used in a situation where they cannot be regarded as insignificant (such as hanging on walls or wearing on a dress), it is prohibited. However if it is used on a rug or a cushion which is laid on the floor, it is not prohibited (whether or not it will prevent angels of mercy from entry is still a matter of dispute). Nawawi continues to say that this ruling is valid for both pictures with shadow and those without. As he states, some scholars of early times (Salaf) have argued that the prohibition mentioned in the hadith is only for pictures with shadows and making pictures without shadows isn’t prohibited. (Nawawi, Sharh-ul Sahih Muslim, XIV, 81-82). When scholars say that it was allowed to make pictures of other beings, except for animate ones like humans or animals, and make a living out of this they referred to a statement in the hadith which says “Come on and give life to what you made” and the aforementioned ruling given by Ibn Abbas. Nevertheless when we examine the evidences on this matter we can conclude that the threats in the hadith is about those who make pictures or sculpture in order to worship or to compete with Allah in creating things. For it would be too harsh for innocent pictures not made with such intentions. Moreover the chronology of the relevant hadith shows that the threats decrease gradually. Majority of scholars have said children’s toys are exceptions to the prohibition. On the other hand scholars explained that in Sulaiman’s (AS) religion making pictures and sculptures were allowed but in Islam it was forbidden. For example Zamahsheri commented that making pictures and sculpture isn’t essentially bad (unlike oppression and adultery) and its ruling can differ from one religious law to another. As a reason of prohibition of pictures in Islam, competing with Allah in creating things- as pointed out in the hadith…. Although this reason is not false, there seems to be a more accurate explanation narrated by Ibn-ul Arabi: the Arabs during the time of Jahiliyya (Ignorance-period before Islam) used to worship idols; they first made them with their own hands and then worshipped them. Islam has shown care to protect the faith system of unity of Allah (tawheed) by forbidding things which lead to worshipping idols (Ibn-ul Arabi, Ahkam-ul Qur’an, IV, 1599-1602). In addition to this the position of the crucifix in Christians’ lives at that time has to be considered. With these in mind it could be said that the main reason for the prohibition of pictures and sculpture is the worry that people would worship them. Islam is a religion of tawheed (Unity of Allah). Arabs used to worship idols and pictures they made with their own hands. The prophet (PBUH), with the worry that they would go back to their former habits, has found it appropriate to prohibit pictures which reminded of those habits. Moreover there is a similar practice after the prohibition of wine. Although there wasn’t normally harm in using them, the Messenger of Allah has also prohibited the use of wine containers with special names such as “dubbah” and “nakeer”. With this method the Prophet (PBUH) has forbidden things which would remind Arabs of their old practices. It is possible to view prohibition of pictures and sculpture from this perspective and this way it was aimed to cleanse the belief in tawheed from the filth of shirk (associating partners to Allah) of any kind. Comments of some scholars that the prohibition of pictures with harsh threats was in the early stages of Islam and they became lighter later on also support the opinion that the reason for prohibition was the aforementioned worries. To conclude scholars have said it is permissible to make and use pictures of trees, mountains or rocks as well as pictures which don’t depict complete human body. Some scholars like Nawawi said cloths with pictures of animate beings can be used as rugs or table cloths, and some others like Teebee said these are all permissible without exceptions. Taking these into consideration we will not be saying something new if we say “As long as making pictures or using them doesn’t lead to a situation contradicting belief in tawheed they do not enter the boundaries of the prohibition in the early stages and therefore they are not prohibited”. Using an object with a picture on it   Scholars of the school of Hanefi have said that praying on a cloth or rug with pictures of animals and of humans is not prohibited because laying such cloths with pictures under feet means that they do not receive respect. However it was advised not to prostrate on pictures because it could seem as if worshipping those pictures. Again praying when these pictures are hung above the head, on the same level as a person or in front of someone is said to be reprehensible. When the pictures are behind the person or under his feet, praying isn’t reprehensible but keeping pictures in the house is. The reason for keeping pictures to be reprehensible is because Gabriel said “I do not enter a house where there are dogs or pictures”. Wearing a garment with pictures is deemed reprehensible but the praying in such clothes isn’t. However for caution it is advisable to pray again (Marginani, Al-Hidayah, I, 362-364). Hanbalis have also said wearing a garment with pictures is not prohibited but is reprehensible (Ibn Kudamah, El Mughney, I, 590). Keeping or using pictures which are too small to draw attention in the first look is not prohibited. Moreover it is narrated that Abu Musa had a ring with picture of two mosquitoes and Ibn Abbas had an oven decorated with small pictures. Abdurrazzak narrates Ibn Abbas (RA) deemed it reprehensible to pray in a church where there are pictures and when Omar (RA) the Caliph went to Damascus, a leader of the Christians prepared a dinner for him and invited him there. To this invitation Omar (RA) replied “We don’t enter your churches because there are images there”. The narrator said he meant timsal (image) when he used the word surat (shape, form) (Bukhari, Salat, 54).

Trading an item with pictures

Majority of scholars have said it is allowed to buy and sell an item with pictures with evidence from a hadith where Aisha (RA) bought a cushion with pictures on it and the Prophet didn’t ask her to return it and allowed her to use it for something else by changing its shape and position. Ibn Hazm, famous scholar of Zahiri school, said it is prohibited to buy and sell any images apart from children’s toys (Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla, IX, 25). However if we consider that Ibn Hazm said it was allowed to sell cloth with pictures, we can understand they meant sculpture with the word “image”. To conclude, Arabs in the pre-Islamic period believed in one creator called Allah but thought they could reach him only through using means in between. Therefore they accepted pictures and sculpture (idols) -most of which were in the shape of humans- as intermediary-gods. These pictures and sculpture which at first seem like products of human aesthetics, creative thinking and imagination gradually grew out of being simple physical appearances and started representing powers beyond matter even to such a degree of divinity to fulfil man’s need for worship-especially for people who had difficulty in understanding the notion of an immaterial deity.  Because Islam was revealed in this era when this error was widespread and focussed on tawheed- the fact that no other god other than Allah exists-, as a matter of course it was very meticulous against any dangerous idea which could distance from the belief in tawheed and lead to polytheism.  That is why the Prophet (ASM) was very sensitive towards pictures and sculpture. However there was a gradual decrease in the threats and prohibitions against pictures and sculpture in the later stages of Islamic era, in parallel to the increasing distance of Muslims from this primitive error and decreasing possibility of falling in the danger of polytheism by these means. Accordingly Muslim scholars started behaving more tolerantly towards pictures. Stricter treatment against sculpture is an outcome of this principle. Therefore what was forbidden wasn’t the picture or the sculpture itself but the possibility of them leading people to associating partners to Allah and becoming holy objects of worship. Furthermore this is what is meant by “what causes something to be allowed or prohibited in religion is not the object but the deed”. Therefore we can conclude that as long as the aforementioned worries and dangers exist the verdict of prohibition will exist and when this ceases to exist and it becomes more like a need or expression of aesthetics such deeds should be considered in their original ruling which is permissible.    On the other hand some scholars have deemed making pictures and sculpture as imitating the Creator and trying to shadow his Creatorship even in the ideological aspect and therefore disapproved of it. In fact it is a great mistake for people with the ability of giving shapes to things, the power of discovery and art to feel pride and arrogance. It will be accurate to see this skill as bounty of Allah. When the reason for prohibition (explained above) is subject to such an explanation, photos, cameras, videos and other images reflected to the screen with similar technological devices should be accepted as exceptions to the tasweer (making pictures or sculpture) in the classical religious references. The reason is that these are not given shape by using the imagination of a being on the contrary they are reappearances of present creatures recorded with technological devices. These could even be considered in the category of reflections of human shape and other living forms on water or mirror. As a result what should be emphasised more is that the themes and the images in photos and films should not violate rules of religion and morality; they shouldn’t cause sexual arousal or mischief. Obviously these are more to do with how and with what intention photos or films are used rather than whether they themselves are permissible or not.

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