Article 5: The ruling on pictures and images

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What is the ruling on photography, taking photos and images?

The answer given by the marja`, Imam `Abdul Qadir ibn Badran Ad-Dumi (d. 1346 AH), is as follows below:

This issue has been spoken about by the scholars, both in the distant past and today. There are authentic ahadith that exist showing the impermissibility of picture making and that has been specified regarding any thing that possesses a soul.

The proof used for that ruling is what was collected by Imam Muslim and narrated from Abu Talhah with an attributed chain to the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, who said, “The angels do not enter into a house that has in it a house or an image.”

It was also narrated in the same collection from the chain of transmission of Al-Laith according to the wording, “The angels don’t enter a home with a dog or picture therein unless it is the markings on a piece of cloth.”

There is also the hadith of `A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, where the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, “The people to be punished most sternly on the Day of Resurrection in the sight of Allah are those who tried to make semblance with the creation of Allah, the Exalted.”

In this issue are numerous ahadith in the Sahih collections of Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim and also the Sunan collections of Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and An-Nasa’ii. All of this shows the impermissibility of pictures of animate life, i.e. humans and animals.

The wisdom in such an injunction of prohibition was that the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was sent to efface all idolatrous images and also stop the worship of idols and the pictures at that point were worshipped and so the way to stop that was to prohibit images and making them out of the fear that they would be venerated by the people.

This type of veneration is a branch of worshipping them in some sense and led the ignorant into the trap of worshipping them. It is this area that most of the scholars have spent a great deal of time on and there are quotes from them that would fill these pages at great length.

The questioner did not ask about pictures in general but was rather asking about a particular branch of it and it is what is referred to in this time as “photography portraits.” So due to the specifics of the question we will speak on the matter requested.

In the case of pictures of animate life, then it is impermissible by decisive texts. In the case of these things being on clothes, bed spreads or things such as that, the scholars differ in making use of these things. Some of the people – and this would include some Shafi`iis – such as:

Imam An-Nawawi in his Commentary on the Collection of Muslim would declare as impermissible wearing any clothes that had the image of an animal on them. 1 Imam Ahmad remarked, “These pictures should not be hung up, used as curtains on the wall or made.” 2 Some scholars – and this would include some of the Imams of the Hanbalis – held a different opinion.

Imams Ibn `Aqil Al-Baghdadi and Taqi ud-Din Ibn Taymiyyah ruled that it was neither impermissible to have a picture of an animal on clothing and nor was it disliked, 3 the reason being that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, had a cushion that he was reclining on that possessed an image like this on it. This hadith was collected by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad and is authentic.

So when we look at the statement, “unless it is the markings on a piece of cloth,” and the fact that he had a cushion that he was reclining on that possessed an image like this on it, these specify and limit the general ruling of the ahadith mentioned above. Photographs are less in severity than these images as they are not made by hand and there is no shadow for them.

The only issue with photographs is that in the end result they are like an exact replica of the one so as to appear as if one is looking in the mirror. This particular type of picture making did not exist in the times gone by so the analogy for it is based on the pictures and images made by hand but the analogy does indeed hold in spite of this difference.

Once you understand that which came before with a careful mind, then you will know that our statement on the permissibility of photographs does come with a clarification and consideration on the matter.

If the photograph is of a man or woman and one or both of them are naked or the genitals are exposed or the picture shows sex acts or perversions that would corrupt people or the picture was taken out of honour, reverence or respect of the one or thing photographed, then there is no doubt in the impermissibility of the picture and the impermissibility of taking such pictures.

One such incident happened when I and a group of brothers entered into the house of a man that claimed to be “Sufi inclined” and was famous among the people for his piety. When the brothers and I entered one of the rooms in the house, I found that there was a picture hanging on the wall.

Every one of the people in the group except me stood to kiss the photo before he sat down as a way of seeking blessings from it. They did this as the picture was reputed to be a photo or image of Muhy ud-Din Ibn Al-`Arabi, the author of Pearls of Wisdom.

When I saw this happening I said, “Listen, everyone! Indeed this is the origin of the worship of idols and idolatrous images.” So this action is categorically impermissible with no dispute.

In the case when the picture is taken out of necessity – such as in our time when every individual travelling has to get permission from his government with documents and that involves his photo being put inside of the documents or photographs being taken of a fugitive or captured criminal so that the one who sees him will know him or photos are taken to remember loved ones, preserve the family tree, landscapes and historical sites in lands faraway that one visited or of ancient artefacts or lands or of boats trips or other things that have a utility or benefit – then this falls under the ruling of permissibility.

It is at this point that the writer of these words has stopped his pen as the research has been completed and Allah is the One that gives success.

This ruling was written by `Abdul Qadir Ibn Ahmad ibn Badran, who praises Allah, prays and is Muslim.

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