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Sunday, April 27, 2014

What to Consider During Photo Sessions

A challenge for Muslims in the west, or in the English speaking world, is the lack of material from credible scholars. Muslim youths during the 1980’s through the early 2000’s were mostly provided books with a bias towards a particular school of thought, or a particular ethnicity’s cultural manifestation of Islam. As such, there was much Fiqh that remained misunderstood. As Muslims of this generation matured intellectually, and authenticated knowledge was conveyed, there were still some gaps of information. One such example is the ruling on photography. During recent decades, those who were teaching in youth circles had limited understanding of the issue, may Allah reward their effort and pardon their short comings. Some directly associated photography with the ruling of al-Tasweer (image making), in which case it was outright forbidden, per the words of our Prophet, peace be upon him.

حديث ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما قال : سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول : ( من صَوَّر صورة في الدنيا كُلِّف أن يَنْفُخ فيها الرُّوح يوم القيامة وليس بنافخ ) رواه البخاري ومسلم ، وحديثه أيضا عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه قال : ( كل مُصَوِّر في النار ، يُجْعَل له بكل صورة صَوَّرها نفساً فَتُعَذِّبه في جهنم ) قال ابن عباس : " فإن كنت لا بد فاعلا فاصنع الشَّجر وما لا نفس له
لقول النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم : ( لا تَدْخُلُ الملائكة بَيْتاً فيه صورة ) رواه البخاري

Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him), said, “I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: ‘Whoever makes an image in this world will be told to breathe the soul into it on the Day of Resurrection, and he will never be able to do that.’” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari and Muslim). He [Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him)] also narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Every image-maker will be in the Fire, and every image that he made will be made to appear to him and will torment him in Hell.” Somone who was listening to Ibn ‘Abbaas when he narrated this to the people asked what he should do because he was a professional artist. Ibn Abbaas said to him: “If you must do that, then make trees and things that have no soul.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari and Muslim). The general meaning of the ahaadeeth is that it is absolutely forbidden to make images of anything that has a soul. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said, “The angels do not enter any house in which there is an image,” (narrated by al-Bukhaari, and Ahmad).

These are short ahadeeth, but there are other longer and more detailed explanations, that do not deviate from the general meaning of what has been referenced here. Readers are advised to read chapters in hadeeth books about this issue for certainty about what is the right thing to do, and success is with ALLAH. For many, this is convincing enough to avoid photography completely, except for what cannot be avoided, and this is undoubtably the safest position, may ALLAH have mercy and accept those who are most keen to be safe.

As for those who do not see the above applying to photographs today, who may or may not have been inspired by the words of Yusuf al-Qardawi, Allah guide him aright and forgive his mistakes, in his book Al Haraam wal Halaal fi al-Islam. In this book (avoiding this book is recommended), al-Qardawi notes that linguistically, Tasweer means any kind of visual art, be it sculpture, painting or photograph (artistic or otherwise). The clearly forbidden kinds are those which were made by the hand, and deliberately attempt to replicate the essence of a person’s appearance, i.e. a statue or a painted portrait. The scholars agree that this type of image making is absolutely forbidden, apart from those images of plant life. The scholars allow toy making and cartoon sketching because they are not intended to be replicas of walking and seeing (with eyes) creatures.

Qardawi and many scholars differentiated photography from the forbidden tasweer because it is not made by hand, rather it is generated by captured light, similar to a mirror. Also according to them the handiwork required in generating a printed picture likened to painting or sculpting, but other scholars or equal or greater caliber view this in contrast; those who did and did not understand the science of the camera still regarded any manual handling to be making an image in the forbidden sense, and the resulted print to be a manifested forbidden image. Those who permit the printed photograph are not in agreement on the extent to its permissibility. Some hold that it is permissible only for administrative necessity, in the form of personal identification, and not for memorabilia (ibn Uthaymeen), and this kind is clearly separated from veneration and idolatry because it is handled casually or roughly (i.e. on the floor). The other groups believe that hard copy photographs are permissible, but like all images, it is totally forbidden to venerate these images, intentionally or unintentionally, by placing them in a permanent display on walls and framed; rather they must be kept in storage, not displayed, and revealed only to view them as needed or wanted, and then returned to their hiding place. Both groups of scholars hold that photographs can repel the Angels from one’s home, but one group holds that keeping stored away will resolve this problem.

Many contemporary students of knowledge recommend to avoid the controversy by either avoiding taking photos for memory and leisure, or by limiting it only to digital photography and video recording. This restriction to unprinted mediums  is based on the fact they these images are not drawn or hand crafted, but they are generated as needed. This applies especially to digital photographs as they are in fact data that is manipulated into the mirror image it captured. Not all scholars are in agreement with this understanding, hence the contrasting recommendation to avoid photography outside of necessity.
The permissibility of digital photos and videos is notably that of Shaykh Muhammad Saalih ibn al-Uthaymeen, may Allah have mercy on him. It is difficult to find this ruling translated in English. The English speaker will usually be informed by an Arabic speaker, or the speaker of another language to which it was translated to. (This could be due to the fact that people who subscribe to the rulings of the shaykh and his contemporaries, do not favor it over the prohibiting ruling, and do not care to share it with their people, but this is mere speculation, and should not be acted upon.)
Shaykh ibn al-Uthaymeen’s opinion (one particular instance) of photography can be summarized:
  1. 1.      Those stored in a way that does not have any tangible or visible form, as was mentioned in the case of images, such as video tapes. There is no ruling on these at all and they do not come under the prohibition at all. Hence the scholars who forbid photographs printed on paper regarded them as permissible, and said that there is nothing wrong with them. It was said: Is it permissible to film the lectures that are given in mosques? Their opinion was that this should not be done, because it may disturb those who are praying there, and it does not befit the place, and so on.
  2. 2.       Photographs that are printed on paper: if a person wants to make these permissible images, then he is subject to the five rulings according to his intention. If he intends thereby to do something haraam, then it is haraam. If he intends thereby to do something obligatory then it is obligatory. It may be obligatory to make images sometimes, especially moving images. For example, if we see someone committing a crime that is a crime against a person’s rights, such as a murder attempt and the like, and it cannot be proven except by means of a picture, then in that case taking a picture is obligatory, especially in cases where pictures could tell the full story, because the means are subject to the same rulings as the ends. If we use this image-making to prove the identity of a person lest he be accused of a crime committed by someone else, there is nothing wrong with this either, rather it is essential. But if we take a picture in order to enjoy looking at it, this is undoubtedly haraam.

The above summary is paraphrased from a citation from al-Sharh al-Mumti’, 2/197-199. It is not clear in translation, whether the second prohibition on taking pictures for memories is applicable only to hard copy photographs. ALLAH  is the All-KnowingThis; inshaALLAH, this post may be edited after further study of the original statements in Arabic.


The video below features a high-level explanation of three opinions by Dr. Zakir Naik, followed by Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen's answer mentioned above.