You consider photography and pictures to be allowed as long as they were not being worshipped. I agreed with your opinion but after reading the following Hadith I have become confused. Are they authentic or not or perhaps I have not understood their true implication. A detailed account for the basis of your opinion would be appreciated. The Hadith are:
The Prophet said, ‘Angels do not enter a house in which there are dogs or pictures’. (Sahih-Al-Bukhari, 7.833, Narrated by Abu Talha)
Hadith 7.834 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
We were with Masruq at the house of Yasar bin Numair. Masruq saw pictures on his terrace and said, “I heard ‘Abdullah saying that he heard the Prophet saying, “The people who will receive the severest punishment from Allah will be the picture makers.'” (Narrated by Muslim)
Hadith 7.838 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
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. (Narrated by Ayesha)
Hadith 7.840 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
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.'” (Narrated by Ayesha).
Hadith 7.843 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
Once Gabriel promised to visit the Prophet but he delayed and the Prophet got worried about that. At last he came out and found Gabriel and complained to him of his grief (for his delay). Gabriel said to him, “We do not enter a place in which there is a picture or a dog.”(Narrated by Salim’s father)
Hadith 7.844 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
(the wife of the Prophet) I bought a cushion having pictures on it. When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he stopped at the gate and did not enter. I noticed the signs of hatred (for that) on his face! I said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I turn to Allah and His Apostle in repentance! What sin have I committed?” He said, “What about this cushion?” I said, – I bought it for you to sit on and recline on.” Allah’s Apostle said, “The makers of these pictures will be punished (severely) on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, ‘Make alive what you have created.'” He added, “Angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures.”(narrated by Ayesha).
Hadith 7.846 (Al-Bukhari Hadith)
I heard Muhammad saying, “Whoever makes a picture in this world will be asked to put life into it on the Day of Resurrection, but he will not be able to do so.” (Narrated by Ibn Abbas).
I have written in a few of my earlier responses that the information given in Hadith can sometimes be very difficult to understand, merely because of the fact that the context and the environmental picture may not be exhaustively described in it.
It is primarily because of this inherent difficulty in the understanding and interpretation of Hadith that we must try to find the bases of the directives entailed in Hadith in the more reliable and confirmed sources of the Shari`ah – that is the Qur’an and the Sunnah – or in the universally acknowledged values or in the established and acknowledged facts of science and history. Furthermore, it is also obvious that if a particular Hadith is contrary to a direct or even an indirect implication of any information provided in the Qur’an, then such Hadith cannot be accepted in its absolute connotation.
Keeping the foregoing points in perspective, if we analyze your referred narratives in some detail, we are faced with a few very important points, which need to be thoroughly understood before we can derive any aspects of Halaal and Haraam from these narratives.
The stated narratives entail the following points:
Artists, painters, sculptors, photographers and all those who make any form or images – which may come under the ambit of the Arabic word ‘Musawwir’ (i.e. one, who makes images), deserve the severest of punishments on the Day of Judgment;
The great crime involved in making pictures is to try to create something in the like of God’s creation. On the day of Judgment, the makers of these images shall be directed to put life in these images, which he shall fail to do [and shall be put to further punishment for it];
Even though the Prophet (pbuh) disapproved using a cloth with images to be hung as a curtain, yet he allowed to use that cloth in cushions;
In another narrative, the Prophet (pbuh) even disapproved using this cloth in cushions;
Angels do not enter a house, where there are any forms of pictures.
One can easily see some disparity in even the few stated narratives, regarding the issue under consideration. For instance, in one narrative, the Prophet’s household converted the imaged curtains into cushions, which was apparently accepted by the Prophet (pbuh). However, in another narrative, the Prophet (pbuh) did not approve using such cloth even in cushions.
Another point which needs to be stressed is that in the second cited narrative, the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have condemned ‘artists’ in an absolute term. This really implies that all kinds of imaging, whether it is of living objects, non-living objects or imaginary – living or non-living – objects is condemned by the Prophet (pbuh). This condemnation would thus cover images of humans, animals, landscapes, atoms, trees, mountains, stones the Ka`bah etc. Taken in a wider sense, the condemned would also include sketches and designs prepared by architects, engineers and their likes.
Keeping this information provided in the referred narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), the following are some of the very pertinent points that should be kept in mind, before we can safely derive any principles or directives from the narratives:
The reason given for the stated condemnation of ‘artists’ is that they try to create things in the likes of God’s creation. The problem with this statement is quite clear. This point has probably never even entered the wildest imagination of any painter, photographer or designer. I have known a number of artists in my life and have read about a number of others, but I have not come across a single person, who makes any images with the intention of ‘creating’ things in the likes of God’s creation. On the contrary, the intention of these artists is merely to make images of the excellent and beautiful creation of God. I am sure anyone can see that there is a significant difference between making sketches of God’s excellent creations and that of making a creation in the like of God’s creation. It is obvious from this point that the narrative is, in fact, not referring to ordinary ‘artists’ that make sketches and images of God’s beautiful creations, but is actually referred to a special class of artists, who, in fact, attempted to create things in the likes of God’s creations;
Another aspect, which is quite surprising is that if the ‘sin’ involved in making images is actually that of trying to imitate God, in His work of creation, as some of the referred narratives imply, then this ‘sin’ is equally present in making images of humans and animals as in making landscapes and images of trees, mountains, seas, stones etc. In view of this fact, it seems quite strange why some of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) would expressly allow people to make images of trees etc., but disapprove making images of humans and animals. It is narrated that once a person came to Abd Allah ibn Abbas (ra) and said:
يا أبا عباس إني إنسان إنما معيشتي من صنعة يدي وإني أصنع هذه التصاوير
Ibn Abbas, I am a man, who earns his living through the labor of his hands. I make these images. [What do you say about that?]
Ibn Abbas (ra) replied:
لا أحدثك إلا ما سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول سمعته يقول من صور صورة فإن الله معذبه حتى ينفخ فيها الروح وليس بنافخ فيها أبدا فربا الرجل ربوة شديدة واصفر وجهه فقال ويحك إن أبيت إلا أن تصنع فعليك بهذا الشجر كل شيء ليس فيه روح (البخاري، كتاب البيوع، باب بيع التصاوير التي ليس فيها روح و مايكره من ذالك، رقم الحديث ٢٠٧٣)
I will only tell you what I heard the Prophet (pbuh) say. I heard him say: ‘Whoever makes an image, God shall indeed punish him by directing him to put life into that image, but he shall never be able to do that.’ At hearing this, the man was extremely disturbed. Seeing the signs of extreme disturbance on his face, Ibn Abbas said: ‘If you are insistent on making pictures, then make pictures of trees and other lifeless things’.
Another aspect, which is quite stunning is the kind of punishment that these ‘artists’ shall be subjected to on the Day of Judgment. According to these narratives, the ‘artists’ shall be directed to put real life into their lifeless created images. Why should ordinary ‘artists’, photographers and sculptors, who never intended their ‘creations’ to be living things, be asked to put life into their lifeless images? It is once again obvious from this point that the ‘artists’ referred to in the cited narratives are a special class of artists, who, in some way, falsely related and propagated the idea of life with their hand-made lifeless images.
It is clear from one of the cited narratives that even though an item entails the kind of images, which the Prophet (pbuh) so strongly disapproved, yet this did not stop the Prophet (pbuh) from putting that item into a certain different usage. For instance, we see that the Prophet (pbuh) rejected the use of a cloth, which entailed some disapproved images, as curtains. However, when the same cloth was used in cushions, on which a person may sit or recline, the usage was now not disapproved by the Prophet (pbuh). What is the basis of this distinction? If imaging and sketching was prohibited per se, then why would the Prophet (pbuh) allow the cloth to be put in a different use?
Finally, we are informed by the referred narratives that ‘angels do not enter a place where there are images’. This point clearly implies that there should an obvious element of impiety involved in imaging, sketching and sculpturing, due to which, God’s pious angels do not even come near a place where there are images. However, in the case of ordinary imaging – whether of living or non-living things – this ‘obvious’ element of impiety is absolutely lacking. What, after all, is impious in making an image of a man or an animal or a hillside view? Furthermore, one of the obvious questions that needs to be answered is ‘did the angels refuse to enter Solomon’s palace’? It is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an (Al-Saba 34: 13) that Solomon’s palace was decorated by ‘images’. It should further be noted that these ‘images’ have been mentioned as a part of the special blessings of God, which Solomon (pbuh) was bestowed with1
I find it quite strange that ‘images’ be counted by the Almighty among His special blessings upon Solomon (pbuh), while these ‘images’ prevent angels from entering Solomon’s palace. It should be kept in mind that the words used in Al-Saba 13: 34, do not allow us to restrict the referred images to those of non-living things. The word ‘Tamatheel’ has been rendered as a common noun in the verse and, therefore, all kinds of images would be come under the definition of this word. Keeping this verse of the Qur’an in perspective, another very pertinent question that needs to be answered is why would images and imaging be considered a blessing of God for Solomon (pbuh) and an ‘obvious’ impiety for the followers of Muhammad (pbuh)?
Keeping all the stated points in mind, we need to find an explanation of the stated narratives, which does not only remove all the apparent contradiction in the information provided by the referred narratives and that provided by Al-Saba 34: 13, but also explains the various points entailed in the stated narratives. As a starting point, however, it is worth mentioning that the foregoing explanation clearly implies that the ‘images’, the ‘sculptures’ and the ‘artists’ mentioned in the stated narratives do not refer to ordinary ‘images’ and their makers. On the contrary, they obviously refer to a special class of ‘images’ and ‘artists’.
In my opinion, the images and the imaging referred to in the cited narratives are only those, which entailed elements of polytheistic beliefs. There are, in fact, clear indications even in the contents of the cited narratives, support my opinion. For instance:
As stated earlier, the ‘sin’ involved in making images, as mentioned in some of the cited narratives is that the ‘artist’, in his own mind, makes a creation in the likes of God’s creation. Even though this ‘sin’ remains inexplicable in the case of ordinary images and imaging, yet it becomes stunningly apparent in the making of images, which are representative of polytheistic beliefs. An ‘artist’ or a ‘sculptor’, who makes an image for worship, actually claims certain qualities for these images. he claims that these images hear man’s calls; he claims that these images can help man in his hardships; he claims that these images, if they are adequately pleased can be a source of great blessings for their worshippers. All these qualities of hearing, understanding, responding, and, in certain cases, helping are qualities specific to intelligent living-beings. Independently intelligent living-beings are the creation of God alone. Whoever claims these qualities for an image, made by his own hands is, in fact, claiming to have created a creation, which is in the absolute likes of the God’s own creation.
These narratives also inform us that on the Day of Judgment, the makers of ‘these’ images shall be punished by being directed to put life in these images. As mentioned earlier, this punishment remains quite inexplicable for the makers of ordinary images, yet it seems to be a completely justified punishment for those sculptors and artists, who claim life for their sculptures and images. This punishment, thus, seems to be completely in keeping with the deeds of those who make, sell and accommodate polytheistic images.
It was stated earlier that the Prophet’s allowance of using pieces of cloth, which entailed images, for certain purposes and disallowing them for other purposes also seemed quite strange. However, if one were to construe that the images referred to in the cited narratives were of a polytheistic nature, then the referred action of the Prophet (pbuh) is also fully explained. The Prophet (pbuh) disapproved using these cloths in places, where there was a potential of giving these ‘images’ the reverence which was given to them by the polytheists. On the other hand, where these images were given a lowly position – for instance, where these images were made on the seat or on a cushion used for resting one’s back – the Prophet (pbuh) did not disapprove their usage.
Finally, the ‘obvious impiety’ involved in making, installing and accommodating polytheistic images is so clear that one does not even need to explain why God’s pious angels refrain even from entering such places where ‘these’ images are made, sold or installed. Other images, which do not entail such polytheistic concepts, obviously do not come under the ambit of this ‘obvious impiety’.
In view of the foregoing explanation, I am of the opinion that the prohibition of images and the condemnation of the work of imaging, mentioned in narratives ascribed to the Prophet (pbuh), actually refers only to images entailing polytheistic beliefs.
I hope this helps.
September 5, 2001
- These images have been referred to in 1Kings 7: 29 in the following words:
This was the construction of the stands: they had borders; the borders were within the frames; on the borders that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. On the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work.
The details regarding the temple of Solomon are given in 1Kings 6: 23 – 32 in the following words:
In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form. The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one was touching the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub was touching the other wall; their other wings toward the center of the house were touching wing to wing. He also overlaid the cherubim with gold. He carved the walls of the house all around about with carved engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. The floor of the house he overlaid with gold, in the inner and outer rooms. For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers; he overlaid them with gold, and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees. [↩]