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Takmilah: On pictures and photography
By Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim Vol. 4 pp. 133-43
Translated by Mft. Zameelur Rahman - 11 July 2010.

Yahya ibn Yahya, Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah, ‘Amr al-Naqid and Ishaq ibn Ibrahim narrated to us: Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (Yahya and Ishaq said: informed us and the other two said: narrated to us): from al-Zuhri: from ‘Ubayd Allah: from ibn ‘Abbas: from Abu Talhah: from the Prophet ﷺ: he said:

“Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture.” (Sahih Muslim)

The Issue of Picture-Making [Taswir] in Islam

His statement “Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture”: this hadith proves that making an image of animate objects [dhawi l-arwah] and using pictures in homes is prohibited in the Shari‘ah. The majority of the fuqaha [jurists] have agreed upon this. Since picture-making, today, has become prevalent everywhere, we will first cite the hadiths prohibiting the use of them, then we will discuss the positions of the fuqaha on this subject.

Narrations prohibiting pictures

As for the hadiths prohibiting [them], they are as follows:

  1. [It was narrated] from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Verily those who make these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them ‘Bring to life what you have created!’” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Bab ‘Adhab al-Musawwirin, and Muslim in this chapter.
  2. [It was narrated] from ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Verily, of the most grievously tormented people on the Day of Resurrection are picture-makers.” Al-Bukhari and Muslim transmitted it.
  3. Abu Zur‘ah said: I entered the house of Marwan with Abu Hurayrah, and he saw pictures therein and said: I heard Allah’s Messenger ﷺ say, “Allah (Great and Glorious is He) said, ‘And who is more unjust than one who set out to create a creation like My creation? Let them create an atom, let them create a grain, or let them create a barleycorn!’” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Bab Naqd al-Suwar, and Muslim in this chapter.
  4. The hadith of Abu Talha in this chapter: “Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture.”
  5. [It was narrated] from Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) in marfu‘ form: “Angels do not enter a house in which there are sculptures or pictures.” Muslim transmitted it in this chapter.
  6. [It was narrated] from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said: I heard Muhammad ﷺ say, “Whoever makes a picture in this world will be charged with breathing spirit [into it], while he is not one that breathes [spirits].” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Bab man Sawwara Suratan kullifa Yawm al-Qiyamati an Yanfukha fi ha l-Ruh wa laysa bi Nafikh.
  7. Sa‘id ibn Abi l-Hasan said: I was with ibn ‘Abbas when a man came to him and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbas! Indeed I am a man whose livelihood is from my manual profession and I make these pictures.” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “I will tell you only what I heard from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. I heard him say, ‘Whoever makes a picture, Allah will punish him until he breathes spirit into it, and he will never be one who breathes spirit into it.’” Thereupon, the man heaved a sigh and his face turned pale. [Ibn ‘Abbas] said, “Woe to you! If you insist on making [pictures, I advise you] to [make a picture] of this trees and all inanimate objects.” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Kitab al-Buyu‘, Bab Bay‘ al-Taswir
  8. [It was narrated] from Abu Juhayfah (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said, “Indeed the Prophet forbade [taking] the price of blood and the price of a dog and the earnings of a prostitute, and cursed the one who took or gave usury [riba], and the one who tattooed and was tattooed, and the picture-maker.” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Kitab al-Libas, Bab man La‘ana l-Musawwir.
  9. [It was narrated] from ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) [that] she said: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ returned from a journey when I had concealed a chamber of mine with a curtain containing images. When Allah’s Messenger ﷺ saw it, he tore it and said, “The most grievously tormented of people on the Day of Resurrection will be those who imitated the creation of Allah.” She said: so we tore it up and turned it into one or two cushions. Al-Bukhari and Muslim transmitted it and this is the wording of al-Bukhari in Bab ma Wuti‘a min al-Tasawir. A comprehensive discussion on it is to come in the commentary of this hadith if Allah wills.
  10. [It was narrated from] ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar [that] he said: Jibril promised [to visit] the Prophet ﷺ but he delayed until it became unbearable for the Prophet ﷺ. Then the Prophet ﷺ came out and Jibril met him and he complained to him of [his] grief. And (Jibril) said, “Verily we [Angels] do not enter a house in which there is a picture or a dog.” Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Bab la Tadkhul al-Mala’ikatu Baytan fihi Surah, and the hadith of ‘A’ishah and Maymunah (Allah be pleased with them) on this event [in which a puppy was in the house unbeknown to the Prophet] has passed at the start of the chapter.
  11. [It was narrated] from Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said, “Allah’s Messenger ﷺ forbade pictures in the house and he forbade making them.”
  12. [It was narrated] from ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) that he said to Abu l-Hayyaj al-Asadi, “Should I not send you on the same [mission] as Allah’s Messenger ﷺ sent me? Do not leave an image without obliterating it or a high grave without levelling it.” Muslim transmitted it Kitab al-Jana’iz, Bab al-Amr bi Taswiyat al-Qubur, al-Tirmidhi in Kitab al-Jana’iz (no. 1049) and Abu Dawud in Kitab al-Jana’iz (no. 3218)
  13. [It was narrated] from ‘Abd Allah ibn Najiyy al-Hadrami from his father from ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) in a long hadith from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ that he narrated from Jibril (peace be upon him) that he said, “Indeed an angel will never enter [a place] so long as there is in it three things. One of them is a dog, or a sexually impure person or the image of an animate object.” Ahmad transmitted it in his Musnad as [mentioned] in Fath al-Bari (17:279), and al-Nasa’i and ibn Majah also transmitted it in summary-form [mukhtasaran], and its chain is good [jayyid] as [mentioned] in al-Fath al-Rabbani
  14. [It was narrated] from ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) [that] she said: When Allah’s Messenger ﷺ was ill some of his wives mentioned a church called Mariyah. Umm Salamah and Umm Habibah had been to Ethiopia and they reflected on [the church’s] beauty and the images therein. So he lifted his head and said, “When a righteous man died amongst them, they would build a place of worship at his grave and make these images in it. They are the worst of creation.” Al-Bukhari, Muslim and al-Nasa’i transmitted it.

Thus, these are fourteen marfu‘ hadiths, all of which prove pictures are prohibited in general, and there is nothing in them differentiating between pictures that have bulk, and pictures imprinted on clothes, papers etc.

The Statements of the Companions and their [Manner of] Dealing with Picture-Making

Similarly, many narrations have been reported from the Companions and Successors, proving that they would prohibit pictures absolutely. We will mention thereof what follows:

  1. [It was narrated] from ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) that he said to a Christian, “Indeed we do not enter your churches because of sculptures which contain images.” Al-Bukhari mentioned it without chain [ta‘liqan] in Kitab al-Salah, Bab al-Salati fi al-Bi‘ah, and this narration was sourced [wasalahu] by ‘Abd al-Razzaq through the route of Aslam, the slave of ‘Umar, [that] he said: When ‘Umar entered the Levant, a man from the Christians who was one of their dignitaries made food for him and said, “I wish you would come with me and honour me”, so ‘Umar said to him, “Indeed we do not enter your churches because of the images therein”; he meant the sculptures.
  2. It has passed from ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) that he sent Abu l-Hayyaj al-Asadi and said to him “Should I not send you on the same [mission] as Allah’s Messenger ﷺ sent me? Do not leave an image without obliterating it…”
  3. Al-Bukhari transmitted from ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him) that he saw a picture in the house so he turned back. See Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Nikah, Bab hal Yarji‘u idha Ra’a Munkaran
  4. It was narrated from Abu Mas‘ud al-Ansari (Allah be pleased with him) that a man made food for him and invited him. So he asked, “Is there a picture in the house?” He said, “Yes.” And he refused to enter, until [the man] destroyed the picture, and then he entered [the house]. Al-Bayhaqi transmitted it in his Sunan (7:268), Kitab al-Nikah, Bab al-Mad‘u yara Suwaran
  5. Ahmad transmitted in his Musnad (2:289) from Abu Hurayrah that he saw a horse [made] from pieces of cloth in the hand of a slave girl, so he said: Do you not see this? Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Indeed only those disgraced on the Day of Resurrection make these.”
  6. Al-Bayhaqi transmitted in his Sunan (7:270) from Shu‘bah, the freed-slave of ibn ‘Abbas, that al-Miswar ibn Makhramah entered upon ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas when visiting him and saw on him a silk garment and said, “O Ibn ‘Abbas! What is this clothing?” Ibn ‘Abbas said, “and what is [the matter with] it?” He said “[It is] silk.” He said “That is only disliked for one who is arrogant [when wearing] it.” He said, “What are these pictures on the chaffing-dish?” He said “Certainly, don’t you see that I burn them in the fire?” Then he went out and said “Remove this garment from me and sever the heads of these pictures which are in the chaffing-dish,” so they were severed. Ahmad also transmitted it in his Musnad (1:353)
  7. [It was narrated] from Ka‘b (Allah be pleased with him) [that] he said, “As for those who harm Allah, they are those who make images. It will be said to them, ‘bring to life what you have created.’” It was transmitted by ‘Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf (10:400, no. 19492).
  8. [It was narrated] from Qatadah [that] he said, “All sculptures of animate objects are detested, so as far as [sculpting] a tree is concerned, there is no harm in that.” ‘Abd al-Razzaq transmitted it in his Musannaf (10:400, no. 19493)
  9. Ibn Sa‘d transmitted in his Tabaqat (5:134) that Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab would not allow his daughter to play with ivory dolls.

The Positions of the Fuqaha (Jurists)

As a result of these hadiths and narrations, the majority of the fuqaha have opined that picture-making and using pictures in homes are prohibited, whether they are bulky and have a shadow or not bulky and do not have a shadow.

Thus, al-Nawawi (Allah, Exalted is He, have mercy on him) said under the hadith of the chapter,

Our [Shafi‘i] scholars and others of the ‘ulama have said: making the image of an animal is strongly prohibited [haram], and is from the major sins because it is met with this grievous punishment mentioned in the hadiths. It is the same whether its construction is on something that is lowly or not. Thus, its construction is prohibited in all cases because it resembles the creation of Allah (Exalted is He)…As far as using a picture made of the image of an animal is concerned, if it hangs from a wall, is [an item of] clothing that is worn, a turban and the like of these which are not regarded as lowly, it is prohibited, and if it is [used] on a sheet that is trod on, a cushion, pillow and the like of these which are lowly, it is not prohibited…There is no difference in all of this between that which has a shadow and that which does not have a shadow. This, in brief, is our [Shafi‘i] position on the matter and a similar view was expressed by the majority of the ‘ulama from the Companions and Successors and those after them, and it is the position of al-Thawri, Malik, Abu Hanifa and others.

Al-‘Ayni expressed the same [opinion] in ‘Umdat al-Qari (10:309) and thus the position of the Shafi‘is and Hanafis becomes clear. It is also the position of the Hanbalis. Al-Mardawi said in al-Insaf (1:474),

It is prohibited to make an image of an animate object. It is not prohibited to make an image of a tree and the like of it, nor the image of that which does not resemble an animate object, according to the correct [opinion] in the [Hanbali] madhhab…It is prohibited to hang whatever contains the image of an animal, covering the wall with it, and making an image of it, according to the correct [opinion] in the madhhab.

Ibn Qudamah expressed the same [opinion] in al-Mughni (7:7), Kitab al-Walimah.

The narrations from Malik (Allah have mercy on him) on the question of picture-making differ. For this [reason], a disagreement on this [issue] occurred between the Maliki ‘ulama. That which the narrations and statements in the madhhab of the Malikis agree upon, is the prohibition of bulky pictures which have a shadow. The dispute is in regards to something that does not have a shadow, which is drawn on paper or clothes. Al-Ubbi said in his commentary of Muslim (5:394),

Making a picture that does not have a shadow has been disputed. Thus, Ibn Shihab disliked images on anything, whether a wall, clothes or anything else. Ibn al-Qasim permitted making an image on clothing due to his statement in the following hadith ‘except an imprint in the garment,’ and likewise al-Muwaq transmitted in al-Taj wa ‘l-Iklil (4:4) from ibn ‘Arafah that he limited the prohibition to bulky pictures only.

'Allamah al-Dirdir said in his al-Sharh al-Saghir ‘ala Mukhtasar Khalil,

The upshot is that pictures of animals are prohibited by consensus if they are complete, have a shadow, and are [made] from something that is lasting; as opposed to a partial limb whereby there would be no life if [the image] were an [actual] animal; and as opposed to that which does not have a shadow like painting on paper or a wall; and with regards to something that is not lasting, like if [the image] was [made] from [something] like the rind of a watermelon, there is disagreement, and the correct [opinion] is it is prohibited.” See Hashiyat al-Sawi ‘ala l-Sharh al-Saghir (2:501).

What becomes evident with reference to the books of the Malikis is that most of their ‘ulama say pictures are disliked even if they do not have a shadow except when it is [on something] lowly. Al-Kharshi said (3:303),

It says in al-Tawdih: if the image is not of an animal like a tree, it is permissible, and if it is of an animal, that which has a shadow and is lasting is prohibited by consensus, and it is likewise prohibited if it is not lasting like [drawing in] dough, contrary to [the opinion of] al-Asbagh…If [the image is] something that does not have a shadow [and] is not lowly, it is disliked [makruh], and if it is lowly, leaving it is better [tarkuhu awla].

Al-Dirdir mentioned [something] similar in al-Sharh al-Kabir. See it, along with al-Dasuqi (2:338) and al-Zurqani on Mukhtasar Khalil (4:53)

The upshot is that the prohibition of using pictures is agreed upon amongst the four imams when it is bulky. As far as non-bulky [images] thereof are concerned, the three imams also agree unanimously on its prohibition, and the preferred [view] according to most Malikis is it is disliked, but some Malikis have opined that it is permissible.

Those who opine that non-bulky pictures are permissible adduce as proof that which is to come in this chapter from the hadith of Busr ibn Sa‘d that Zayd ibn Khalid al-Juhani narrated to him while ‘Ubayd Allah al-Khawlani was with Busr that Abu Talha narrated to him that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Angels do not enter a house in which there is a picture.” Busr said: Zayd ibn Khalid fell sick and we visited him. As we were in his house, [we saw] a curtain with pictures on it. I said to ‘Ubayd Allah al-Khawlani, “Did he not narrate to us [the Prophet’s prohibition] of pictures?” Thereupon he said, “Indeed he [also] said: ‘except an imprint on a cloth.’ Did you not hear this?” I said, “No.” He said, “Yes indeed! He had in fact made a mention of this.”

Al-Tirmidhi transmitted in Kitab al-Libas (no. 1750) from ‘Ubayd Allah ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Utbah that he entered upon Abu Talhah al-Ansari to visit him. He said: and I found with him Sahl ibn Hunayf. He said: then Abu Talhah called someone to tear up the sheet which was under him, so Sahl said “Why tear it up?” He said, “There are pictures on it, and you know what the Prophet ﷺ said concerning that.” Sahl said, “Did he not [also] say, ‘except an imprint on a cloth?’” Whereupon he said, “Yes indeed, but it is more pleasing to my soul.”

[Those who permit non-bulky pictures] said it is proven by these two hadiths that pictures imprinted on garments are excluded from the prohibition, so its permissibility is established. The majority respond that the meaning of “an imprint on a cloth” is what it includes of drawings of trees and its like which are inanimate. The proof of that is what is to come of the hadith of ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) [that] she said: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ entered upon me and I had concealed a chamber of mine with a curtain containing images. When he saw it, he tore it and the colour of his face changed, and he said, “O ‘A’ishah! The most grievously tormented of people on the Day of Resurrection will be those who imitated the creation of Allah.” So if pictures drawn on clothing were permissible, the Prophet ﷺ would not have condemned this picture drawn on the curtain, which is a screen [made] from a cloth. As regards to what occurred in this event, due to the variation of the narrations, its verification is to come if Allah (Exalted is He) wills in the commentary of this hadith in this chapter. We will clarify there that the incident in all the narrations is one, and understanding the hadith as multiple events is very farfetched.

Some modernists in our time have claimed that picture-making was prohibited at the start of Islam due to the closeness of their era to Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance) and idolatry and the lack of rootedness of Tawhid in the hearts. Thus, when the belief of Tawhid was rooted in them, the prohibition of pictures was lifted. This assertion, in fact, has no proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah. If the ruling of the prohibition of picture-making was abrogated, the Prophet ﷺ would have clarified this explicitly and the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) would not have prohibited pictures. You have seen that the fuqaha of the Companions withheld from entering houses containing pictures and all of this was after the Prophet ﷺ [passed away], and this is a decisive proof that the ruling of the prohibition of picture-making continues to remain, and nothing abrogated it. How so, when the Prophet ﷺ rationalised the prohibition of picture-making by [its] imitation of the creation of Allah, and this is a rationale that is not specific to one period and not [another] period.

Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id (Allah have mercy on him) said in Sharh al-‘Umdah (1:172) (Kitab al-Jana’iz, Hadith 11),

“Indeed the one that says: ‘This [prohibition] is understood as undesirability and that the severity [of the prohibition] was for that time due to the closeness of the era of the people to idol-worship and, since Islam has spread in this age and its principles have been laid out, [the prohibition of picture-making] is not equivalent to this in severity [anymore]’ is removed far beyond [the truth]…This statement according to us is absolutely false because it is narrated in the hadiths and reports in regards to the reality of the afterlife that picture-makers will be punished and it will be said to them, ‘Bring to life what you have created!’ This is a rationale contrary to what this speaker says. He clarified this in his ﷺ statement, ‘the imitators of Allah’s creation,’ and this rationale is general, independent and applicable [for all times] and is not qualified by one period and not [another] period. It is not [appropriate] for us to use our own discretion in the [face of] demonstrable concatenated evidences, using a fanciful interpretation.”

‘Allamah Ahmad Shakir said in his footnotes to Musnad Ahmad (12:151) (hadith: 7166) after citing the statement of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id quoted [above],

This is what ibn Daqiq al-‘Id said more than 670 years ago, refuting those people who played with these texts in his time or before his time. Then these misguided muftis, and their ignorant blind followers or the destructive apostates came, impatiently restoring it and playing with the texts of the hadiths just as those before played [with them]. Consequently, an effect of these ignorant verdicts is that our lands have been completely filled with manifestations of idolatry. Thus, statues have been erected and the lands have been filled with them, in honour and glory of the memory of the one to whom it is attributed!…Another effect of these ignorant verdicts is that the state, while claiming to be an Islamic state within the Islamic nation, built what it calls the School of Fine Arts or the College of Fine Arts, created as an institution of absolute and clear profligacy! It is sufficient as proof of this that shameless youth, both men and women, are admitted into it, being permissive and mixing freely, and uninhibited by religion, decency or anything else from taking pictures therein of profligates of attractive women who are not ashamed to stand naked, sit naked and lie naked…Then they say to us: ‘This is art!!’ Allah curse them and curse those who approve of this from them or remain silent about it.

Some modernists adduce as proof for the permissibility of picture-making His (Exalted is He) statement in the story of Sulayman (peace be upon him), “They made for him what he willed: arches and sculptures, basins like wells and boilers built into the ground. Give thanks, O House of Dawud! Few of My bondmen are thankful.” (34:13) They say that the verse proves that Jinn would build sculptures for Sulayman (peace be upon him) and Allah mentioned, in the context of His blessings, that the construction of sculptures is not prohibited. However, this reasoning is incorrect for two reasons.

First, “sculpture” [timthal], linguistically, is all that is made into an a picture in accordance to another image that is similar [to it], as al-Lisan and other [dictionaries] clarify, so it is possible that the sculptures which the Jinn were making for Sulayman (peace be upon him) were not of animate objects. Al-Zamakhsari said in al-Kashshaf in the explanation of the verse cited, “It is possible that it is not a picture of an animal, like the pictures of trees etc., because timthal is all that is made into a picture in accordance to another image that is similar [to it] from animals and non-animals.” This is supported [by the fact] that making an image of animate objects is prohibited in the Torah too. This ruling is found till today in the distorted Torah in our hands. It appears in the Book of Exodus, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (20:4) and it appears in the Book of Deuteronomy “so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below.” (4:16-18). It is acknowledged that our master Sulayman (peace be upon him) would follow the Torah, so it is far removed that he would command the construction of sculptures which the Torah forbade. Thus, it is clear that the sculptures which the Jinn would construct for him are the images of inanimate objects like trees and flowers and natural places of existence.

The second reason is that if it were established that Sulayman (peace be upon him) allowed the building of animate pictures, it is incorrect to use the laws of those before as proof, since the opposite of this is found in our Shari‘ah. You have seen that the Prophet ﷺ resolutely forbade pictures, and his ﷺ prohibition is proof for us. Allah (Exalted is He) said “To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way” (5:48).

The Ruling of Photographs

As for photographic pictures, do they have the [same] ruling as drawn pictures or not? The contemporaries differed about it. ‘Allamah Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit, the Mufti of Egypt (Allah have mercy on him) compiled a treatise entitled al-Jawab al-Shafi fi Ibahat al-Taswir al-Futughraphi, in which he opined that photographic pictures, which is an expression about capturing a shadow by means known to the experts of this art, is not from the prohibited [kind of] picture-making, because the prohibited [kind of] picture-making is bringing into existence an image and creating an image which was non-existent, nor made previously, imitating thereby the animals Allah (Exalted is He) created, and this sense is not found when taking pictures with this instrument [i.e. a camera].

However, many of the ‘ulama from the Arab lands and most or all of them from the Indian lands have given the verdict that there is no difference between drawn pictures and photographic pictures in [their] ruling. We will relate to you the statements of some of the contemporary ‘ulama from the Arab lands:

Shaykh Mustafa al-Hamami said in the book al-Nahdat al-Islahiyyah (p. 264, 565),

I hope that a firm resolution will be made that picture-making with a camera is exactly like manual picture-making, so it is prohibited for the believer to use it for picture-making and it is prohibited for him to facilitate its use in order to take his picture with it, because by this facilitation he specifies a severely prohibited act; and it is not correct at all what one of the ‘ulama of our time opined of the permissibility of picture-making by this instrument [adducing] as proof that picture-making is what is [done] manually and manual [work] is not included in picture-making with this instrument, so it is not prohibited. According to me, this resembles [the statement of] one who sends a predatory lion to kill the one it kills, or opens an electric current that shocks all those who pass by it, and places poison in food and kills all who take from that food, for when accusation is directed at him he says, ‘I did not kill, only the poison, electricity and lion killed’…

Shaykh Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani said in his book Adab al-Zifaf,

Close to this is the distinction some of them made between manual drawing and photographic picture-making, claiming that it is not from the work of man! His work is nothing but to capture a shadow only! This is what they claim. As for that vigorous effort which the maker expends in [making] this instrument, so one can take a picture in a moment of something he would be unable to do without it in hours, it is not from the work of man according to these! Furthermore the picture-maker directing the instrument and pointing it in the direction of the object desired to be made into an image, and prior to this, arranging what they call ‘the film’, then after that, its development and other than that of what I know not, this too is also not from the work of man according to these…The result of the distinction, according to them, is that it is permissible to hang a picture of a man, for example, in a house when the image was made photographically and it is not permissible when the image was made manually!…As for me, I do not see an example of this except the inflexibility of some of the literalists [ahl al-zahir] of old, like the statement of one of them about the hadith ‘the Messenger of Allah ﷺ forbade urinating in stagnant water’ [about which] he said: so it is prohibited to urinate directly into water and as regards to urination in a vessel which then flows into the water, this is not prohibited.

Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Sabuni said in his treatise Hukm al-Islam fi l-Taswir (p. 15) and in the explanation of the verses of rulings,

Indeed, photography is not excluded from being a type from the types of picture-making so whatever is produced by the camera is designated as a picture and the [camera]-man a picture maker. Moreover, although a clear text does not include it because it is not manual picture-making and there is no imitation of the creation of Allah, it is, however, not excluded from being a type from the types of picture-making, so it is required that permission is restricted to the limit of necessity.

Ustadh Dr Muhammad Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti said in his book Fiqh al-Sirah (p. 380),

The truth is that one should not make-believe that there is any difference between the types of various picture-making, out of precaution in the matter, and taking into consideration the generalisation of the wording of the hadith. This is what is related to picture-making. As for using [them in the house], there is no difference between photography and other [forms of picture-making].

The reality is that distinguishing between drawn pictures and photography is not justified on a strong basis. Something that is agreed upon in the Shari‘ah is that which was prohibited or illegal in its origin, its ruling does not change by changing the instrument. Hence, intoxicants are prohibited whether they intoxicate manually or by use of modern mechanisms, and killing is prohibited whether the man [i.e. the murderer] comes into contact with him [i.e. the victim] using a knife or by shooting a bullet, and similarly, the Lawgiver forbade making images and procuring them, so there is no distinction between what was made an image, and made use of, by the brush of the picture-maker or by cameras. Allah (Glorified is He) knows best.

Picture for a Need

This is the ruling of pictures in principle. As for using photographs for a necessity or a need, like its requirement in the passport, visa, personal cards or in [some] places [where] they are required to recognise the identity of a person, it is justified that a dispensation be allowed therein, since the fuqaha (Allah Exalted is He have mercy on them) made an exception to the prohibition in places of necessity. Imam Muhammad said in al-Siyar al-Kabir, “If the need is realised for one to use a weapon on which there is an image, there is no harm in his use of it” and al-Sarakhsi (Allah have mercy on him) followed this up in his commentary (2:278) by saying, “because contexts of necessity are exceptions to prohibitions, just as in eating carrion.” Al-Sarakhsi also mentioned that “Muslims sell goods using foreign coins containing images [of kings] with crowns, and no one prohibits transaction with these.” He said in another place in his commentary (3:212), “There is no harm in a man carrying foreign coins in the state of prayer, even if they contain the image of a king on his bed wearing his crown.” It is established in authentic hadiths that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ permitted ‘A’ishah to play with dolls, and the fuqaha have permitted a woman to show her face when giving testimony.


As for television and video, there is no doubt of the prohibition of their use by consideration of what they contain of many abominations, of licentiousness and impudence, and exposing women in wanton display or nakedness, and other kinds of profligacy. However does the ruling of picture-making arise in them when television or video are completely free from these abominations? Is it prohibited by consideration of it being [a form of] picture-making?

This weak servant (Allah pardon him) hesitated at this because the picture that is prohibited is that which is imprinted or sculpted, whereby it has the quality of stability [istiqrar] on something, and is the [kind of] image which the disbelievers would use for worship. As for pictures which do not have durability [thabat] and stability and are not drawn on something with lasting quality, they resemble more a shadow than they do pictures.

It is clear that the images of television and video do not settle on any part of a stage from among the stages [of the film], except when it is in the form of a film. If the images of men are live, whereby it appears on the screen at the very same time in which men appear before the camera, then the pictures do not settle on the camera, nor on the screen, and they are only electrical parts transmitted from the camera to the screen, and appear on it in their original sequence, then they disappear and vanish. As for when it is preserved as an image on a video cassette, the pictures are not drawn on the cassette and it is only the electrical parts that are preserved in it which do not contain a picture, so when these [electrical] parts appear on the screen another time in that natural sequence, but they do not have durability and stability on the screen and they only appear and go away, then it does not appear that there is a stage from among the stages [of the film in which] the pictures are drawn into it at all in a stable or lasting form. According to this, bringing this picture down to the level of a stable picture is problematic. Allah have mercy on a man who guided me to the correct [view] on this. And Allah (Glorified is He) knows best.

  • Type: Article, Book section

  • Subject: Hadith

  • Author: Mft. Taqi Usmani

  • Translator: Mft. Zameelur Rahman

  • Collection: Notebook, Curated

  • ID: 100711801

  • Tags: Pictures

  • Updated: 05-November-2023