Photographs in Islamic view

Moslimdaily | Thus far, the word picture (surah) has been in reference to what is sculptured or drawn, painted, or imprinted on a flat surface. Photography is a recent invention which was obviously non-existent in the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and the early generations of Muslims.

Thus, the question naturally arises whether the Islamic rulings concerning pictures and artists apply to photographs and photographers.

Those jurists who consider the prohibition to be restricted to statues alone do not see anything objectionable in photographic pictures, especially if they are not of the full figure. Others raise many questions: Are photographs similar to drawing? Is it not true that the reason stated in some

hadiths concerning the punishment of modelers, namely, imitation of Allah’s attribute of Creatorship, does not apply in the case of photographic pictures? Does the absence of the cause of prohibition not nullify the prohibition?

Sheikh Muhammad Bakhit, a late Egyptian Mufti, gave a fatwa that since the photograph merely captures the image of a real object through a camera, there is no reason for prohibition in this case.

Prohibited pictures are whose object is not present and which is originated by the artist, whose intention is to imitate Allah’s creation of an animal, and this does not apply to taking photographs with a camera.

Photographs in Islamic view
Photographs in Islamic view

Even those who are very strict in classifying all kinds of figures, including photographs, as detestable, exempt, according to necessity, pictures retained for identity cards, passports, keeping a record of suspects and criminals, pictures for instructional purposes, and so on, with the provision that there is no intention of respect or sanctification of these pictures which would affect Islamic belief.

The need for such pictures definitely greater than the “prints” on cloth which were exempted by the Prophet (pbuh).

The Subject Matter of Photographs

Accordingly, if any kind of photograph is to be prohibited, the subject matter will be the determining factor. No Muslim would disagree concerning the prohibition of photographing subjects whose portrayal is against the beliefs, morals, and laws of Islam.

Thus there cannot be any doubt concerning the prohibition of photographs, drawings, and paintings of nude or semi-nudes, or of pictures of men and women in sexy poses such as obviously seen in various magazines, newspapers, and on the billboards of movie theaters.

It is haram to make such pictures, to publish them, to buy them, to take them into homes, offices or shops, or to hang them on walls. It is haram to seek looking at them.

The above also applies to pictures of tyrants. The Muslim is required to detest such people and to feel enmity toward them for the sake of Allah. A Muslim is not permitted to make or acquire a picture of a “great” man or

leader who is an atheist and denies the existence of Allah; of an idolater who worships cows, fire, or anything else; of a Jew or Christian who denies the Messengership of Muhammad (pbuh); or of one who pretends to be Muslim yet does not decide matters according to what Allah has revealed.

Likewise, a Muslim should not make or acquire pictures of immoral individuals who propagate obscenity and lewdness in society, from among people such as singers, actors, and other entertainers.

Similar is the case of pictures which portray polytheistic rituals or symbols of other religions abhorrent to the Islamic teachings, such as idols, crosses, and the like. Probably during the time of the Prophet (pbuh) a great majority of rugs, curtains, and cushions bore these types of pictures.

Al-Bukhari reported that the Prophet (pbuh) broke everything in his house which was made in the shape of cross.

Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that during the conquest of Makkah, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) did not enter the Sacred House (the Ka’bah) until all the figures in it were destroyed.

There is no doubt that these figures and images represented the idolatrous practices of the Makkans and were the legacy of generation of unbelief and error.

Ali ibn Abi Talib narrated, “The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was attending a funeral and he said : ‘Who among you is capable of going to Madinah and leaving no idol unbroken, no grave unlevelled, and no picture undefaced?’

A man said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I am able to do it.’ He went, and after a time returned and reported, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I left no idol unbroken, no grave unlevelled, and no picture undefaced.’ Then the Messenger of Allah declared, ‘Anyone who returns to this sort of practice will have rejected what was revealed to Muhammad.

What could these pictures have been of which the Prophet (pbuh) commanded that they be defaced and mutilated except a representation of the idolatry of the period of Jahiliyyah? The Prophet (pbuh) was determined to purify Madinah of the remnants of idolatry, and that is why he described a return to any such practice as rejection of the Message revealed to him.

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