Pictures and Images

The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “Allah has said, ‘Who is more transgressive than the one who tries to create the likes of My creatures (i.e. drawing or painting living images). Let him create a grain or barley seed (i.e. something lifeless).’”

[Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]


The basic principle concerning making pictures of any animate being, whether it is a human or any animal, is that it is haram, whether the pictures are three-dimensional or are drawn on paper, cloth or walls, etc., or are photographs (taken with a camera), because of the reports in the Sahih ahadith which state that that is not allowed, and threaten the one who does that with a painful torment, and because they may lead to shirk in the form of standing respectfully before them, humbling oneself before them, drawing close to them and venerating them in a manner that is only befitting for Allah.

They are also forbidden because this is a kind of trying to match the creation of Allah, and because of the temptation inherent in some of them, such as pictures of actresses and naked women, and so-called beauty queens.

Among other ahadith which state that this is haram and that it is a major sin is the Hadith of Ibn ‘Abbaas (radi Allahu anhu) who said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) 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.’” [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Ibn ‘Abbaas (radi Allahu anhu) also narrated that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) 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.” Ibn ‘Abbaas (radi Allahu anhu) said: “If you must do that, then make trees and things that have no soul.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim] The general meaning of these ahadith is that it is absolutely forbidden to make images of anything that has a soul.

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy upon him) said in ‘Fataawa al-‘Aqeedah’:

“Firstly:  Image-making is of two types: one by hand and the other by means of machines.

Image-making by hand is haram (prohibited), and is in fact a major sin, because the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) cursed the one who does it. He did not differentiate between images that have a shadow (i.e., three-dimensional) or those that are simply drawn (two-dimensional), according to the more correct scholarly opinion, because of the general meaning of the Hadith.

With regard to image-making by means of machines, i.e. cameras, there is a difference of opinion among the later scholars on this matter. Some of them forbid it and some of them allow it.

In order to be on the safe side, it is better to avoid that, because it is one of the doubtful areas. And whoever is careful with regard to doubtful matters will protect his religious commitment and his honour. But if he needs to do that for a specific purpose such as proving his identity, there is nothing wrong with that because if there is a need, the matter is no longer doubtful.

Secondly: With regard to keeping pictures, this is also of two types:

The first type is keeping images that are three-dimensional. Keeping them is haram. Ibn al-‘Arabi (may Allah have mercy upon him) narrated that there is consensus (ijma) on this point. [See Fath al-Baari]. He said: This consensus has to do with things other than girls’ dolls.

It was narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (radi Allahu anha) said: “I used to play with dolls in the presence of the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) I had friends who would play with me. When the Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) entered they would hide themselves and he would call them to come and play with me. [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

The second type is images that are not three-dimensional. These are of different types:

  1. Those that are hung up to be venerated and respected, as in the case of pictures of kings, presidents, ministers, scholars etc. This is haram because it involves exaggeration about a created being.
  2. Those that are hung up for the sake of memory, such as hanging up pictures of one’s friends. This is also haram, because of the Hadith narrated in Sahih Al-Bukhari [and Sahih Muslim] from Abu Talhah (radi Allahu anhu), who said: “I heard the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) say: ‘The angels do not enter any house in which there is a dog or an image.’”
  3. Those that are hung up for the purpose of adornment. These are also haram because of the Hadith of ‘Aa’ishah (radi Allahu anha) who said: “The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) came back from a journey and I had hung a patterned curtain on which there were images over (the door of) a room of mine. When the Messenger of Allaah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) saw it, he tore it and said, ‘The most severely punished of the people on the Day of Resurrection will be those who tried to imitate the creation of Allah.’” She (radi Allahu anha) said: “So I made it into one or two cushions.” [Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim]
  4. Those that are treated with disrespect, such as images in carpets and pillows. Imam Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy upon him) narrated from the majority of scholars among the Sahaabah and Taabi’een that these are permissible.
  5. Those that have unfortunately become widespread and are difficult to avoid, such as images engraved on coins etc which have become a problem for the Muslim ummah. It seems to me that there is no sin on the one who acquires these without wanting to acquire images.

Thirdly: With regard to dolls that children play with:

An exception is made in the case of children’s toys, which are not regarded as haram or makrooh. But what are the toys which are exempted? We know that the toys of the past did not have eyes and lips and noses as they do nowadays. I think it is better to avoid these toys and limit oneself to those the kind of toys that were known previously.”

With regard to pictures on cell phones, computers and videos, these do not come under the same ruling as photographs, because they are not tangible, unless they are printed. Based on that, there is nothing wrong with keeping them on the cell phone, so long as they do not include anything haram, such as if they are pictures of women.

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (may Allah have mercy upon him) said:

“With regard to pictures made in the modern fashion, they fall into two categories:

The first category is those which have no tangible substance (and can only be seen by running them through a machine), as I was told is the case with pictures on video tapes. There is no ruling at all concerning these, and they do not come under the prohibition at all. Hence the scholars who forbid making pictures with cameras on paper (photographs) permitted this (video pictures), and said that there is nothing wrong with this. Then it was asked, is it permissible to film lectures which are given in the mosques? The (scholarly) view was that it is better not to do that, because it may disturb the worshippers and because they may film things that may not be appropriate, and so on.

The second category is fixed or still pictures on paper (photographs) …

But the matter needs further discussion if one wants to make these kind of permissible pictures. For they are subject to five rulings which depend on the intention. If the intention is something forbidden, then it is haram. If he intends something waajib (obligatory), then it is waajib. Sometimes pictures may be essential, especially moving pictures. For example, if we see someone in the act of committing a crime against a person’s rights, such as an attempt to kill and so on, and we cannot prove it in any way but by taking pictures, then in this case taking pictures becomes waajib, especially in cases where pictures may decide the case. The means are subject to the rulings on the ends. If we make these pictures in order to prove the identity of a person for fear that someone else may be accused of the crime, this is also acceptable, indeed it is essential.

But if we take these pictures just to enjoy looking at them, this is undoubtedly haram… And Allah knows best.” [Sharh al-Mumti’, 2/197-199]

And Allah knows best!

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