Is it forbidden for Muslims to use pictures and photos for useful purposes?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Image-making (tasweer) is a controversial issue among Muslims due to the prophetic traditions that strongly prohibit pictures associated with idolatry and rivaling Allah’s creation. However, the Prophet made a concession regarding images and modern scholars have allowed images if they serve a useful purpose.
All Muslims scholars allow pictures and images of things that do not have a soul, such as trees, rocks, landscapes, and so on. This concession was given by Ibn Abbas when he was asked for a judgment regarding images.
Sa’eed ibn Abu Al-Hasan reported: A man came to Ibn Abbas and he said, “Indeed, I am a man who makes pictures so give me a judgment regarding them.” Ibn Abbas said, “Come closer.” The man drew closer and he said again, “Come closer.” The man came close enough to touch his head and Ibn Abbas said:
أُنَبِّئُكَ بِمَا سَمِعْتُ مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ كُلُّ مُصَوِّرٍ فِي النَّارِ يَجْعَلُ لَهُ بِكُلِّ صُورَةٍ صَوَّرَهَا نَفْسًا فَتُعَذِّبُهُ فِي جَهَنَّمَ
I will tell you what I heard from the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. He said: Every picture maker will be in Hellfire, for every image will have its soul breathed into it and will punish him with Hell.
Ibn Abbas added:
وَقَالَ إِنْ كُنْتَ لَا بُدَّ فَاعِلًا فَاصْنَعْ الشَّجَرَ وَمَا لَا نَفْسَ لَهُ
If you must do so, then make pictures of trees or whatever does not have a soul.
Source: Sahih Muslim 2110, Grade: Sahih
According to some opinions, it is completely forbidden to make images of things with a soul. This is the strictest opinion and is the safest for Muslims who want to avoid unlawful pictures. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that it is not the images in themselves that are unlawful, but rather it is the intention for which they are used.
The Prophet informed us about the reason Allah would punish the image-makers.
Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّ أَصْحَابَ هَذِهِ الصُّوَرِ يُعَذَّبُونَ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَيُقَالُ لَهُمْ أَحْيُوا مَا خَلَقْتُمْ
Verily, the companions of these images will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them: Bring to life what you have created!
Source: Sahih Bukhari 7118, Grade: Sahih
Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ وَمَنْ أَظْلَمُ مِمَّنْ ذَهَبَ يَخْلُقُ كَخَلْقِي فَلْيَخْلُقُوا ذَرَّةً أَوْ لِيَخْلُقُوا حَبَّةً أَوْ شَعِيرَةً
Allah the Exalted said: Who is more unjust then he who considers his creation as My creation? Let him create an ant, or a grain of wheat or barely.
Source: Sahih Bukhari 7120, Grade: Sahih
So the reason image-makers are punished is because they intended to rival Allah’s creation or to use images for idol-worship.
Furthermore, it is confirmed in the Quran that the law of previous prophets did not completely forbid images.
يَعْمَلُونَ لَهُ مَا يَشَاءُ مِن مَّحَارِيبَ وَتَمَاثِيلَ وَجِفَانٍ كَالْجَوَابِ وَقُدُورٍ رَّاسِيَاتٍ ۚ اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا ۚ وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ
They made for Solomon what he willed of elevated chambers, statues, bowls like reservoirs, and stationary kettles. We said: Work, O family of David, in gratitude, and few of My servants are grateful.
Surah Saba’ 34:13
Ibn Kathir reported in his commentary on this verse:
وَأَمَّا التَّمَاثِيلُ فَقَالَ عَطِيَّةُ الْعَوْفِيُّ وَالضَّحَّاكُ وَالسُّدِّيُّ التَّمَاثِيلُ الصُّوَرُ
As for the statues, Atiyyah Al-Afiy, Ad-Dahhak, and As-Saddi said statues means: pictures, images.
Source: Tafseer Ibn Kathir 34:13
Scholars say that this permission was abrogated by the advent of Islam. However, the verse is still evidence that images are not in themselves an unlawful major sin, because previous prophets cannot commit major sins. In fact, the Prophet made an exception to the prohibition of image-making in some specific cases.
Abdullah ibn Utbah reported: He visited Abu Talha Al-Ansari when he was ill and he found Sahl ibn Hunaif with him. He said, “Abu Talha called for someone to remove a sheet that was under him.” Sahl said, “Why did you remove it?” He said, “There are images upon it and you know what the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has said about them.” Sahl said:
أَوَلَمْ يَقُلْ إِلَّا مَا كَانَ رَقْمًا فِي ثَوْبٍ
Did the Prophet not also say: Except for patterns on fabric?
بَلَى وَلَكِنَّهُ أَطْيَبُ لِنَفْسِي
Of course, but this make me more comfortable.
Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1750, Grade: Sahih
In this narration, the Prophet made a clear exception that images stitched on fabric are lawful if they are not being glorified, although some of the companions felt more comfortable if they did not take this concession. This permission was also extended to images of things with a soul as long as the items are not glorified.
The Prophet allowed children to play with dolls that were images of living beings.
كُنْتُ أَلْعَبُ بِالْبَنَاتِ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَكَانَ لِي صَوَاحِبُ يَلْعَبْنَ مَعِي فَكَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذَا دَخَلَ يَتَقَمَّعْنَ مِنْهُ فَيُسَرِّبُهُنَّ إِلَيَّ فَيَلْعَبْنَ مَعِي
I used to play with dolls in the presence of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and my girlfriends would play with me. When the Messenger of Allah would enter, they would hide themselves but he would call them to join me and play with me.
Source: Sahih Bukhari 5779, Grade: Sahih
Aisha continued to keep these dolls, some of which were in the image of a horse, even after she became an adult.
Aisha reported: When the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, arrived home after the expedition to Tabuk, the wind raised the end of a curtain which was hanging in front of her room and it revealed her dolls. The Prophet asked, “O Aisha, what is this?” She said, “My dolls.” Among them was a horse with wings made of rags, so he asked, “What is this I see?” She said, “A horse,” He asked, “What does this have on it?” She said, “Two wings.” He asked, “A horse with two wings?” She said:
أَمَا سَمِعْتَ أَنَّ لِسُلَيْمَانَ خَيْلًا لَهَا أَجْنِحَةٌ
Have you not heard that Solomon had horses with two wings?
فَضَحِكَ حَتَّى رَأَيْتُ نَوَاجِذَهُ
Then the Messenger of Allah laughed so deeply that I could see his back teeth.
Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 4932, Grade: Sahih
This narration is an authentic and clear tacit approval from the Prophet on the permissibility of having images of living beings as children’s toys.
In another narration, Aisha had a curtain with images of birds on it. The Prophet at first prayed toward the curtain, but later he had the images removed because it distracted him during prayer. The Prophet did not command her to tear it up and instead she made it into pillows that he would sit upon.
Aisha reported: We had a curtain that had pictures of birds upon it. Whenever a visitor came in, he would find them in front of him. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
حَوِّلِي هَذَا فَإِنِّي كُلَّمَا دَخَلْتُ فَرَأَيْتُهُ ذَكَرْتُ الدُّنْيَا
Change them, for verily, every time I enter it brings to my mind the worldly life.
Abd Al-A’la added:
فَلَمْ يَأْمُرْنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِقَطْعِهِ
The Messenger of Allah did not command us to tear it up.
Source: Sahih Muslim 2107, Grade: Sahih
Aisha reported: She had a curtain with pictures upon it and the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, entered and pulled it down. Aisha said:
فَنَزَعَهُ قَالَتْ فَقَطَعْتُهُ وِسَادَتَيْنِ فَكَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَرْتَفِقُ عَلَيْهِمَا
So I tore it and made it into two pillows. The Messenger of Allah would recline upon them.
Source: Sahih Muslim 2107, Grade: Sahih
Aisha reported: We had a curtain with images upon it that was placed in a niche and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, would pray toward it. Then the Prophet said:
Take it away from me.
فَأَخَّرْتُهُ فَجَعَلْتُهُ وَسَائِدَ
So I removed it and made it into two pillows.
Source: Sahih Muslim 2107, Grade: Sahih
These narrations show that the Prophet at first prayed toward a curtain that had the image of a bird on it, but he later had it taken down so as not to distract himself during prayer. Had the image been inherently unlawful, he would not have prayed toward it in the first place. The Prophet also did not command the image to be torn and he allowed Aisha to make pillows from it.
In addition, Gabriel once came to the Prophet with an image of Aisha on a cloth in order to show him a picture of his future wife.
أَنَّ جِبْرِيلَ جَاءَ بِصُورَتِهَا فِي خِرْقَةِ حَرِيرٍ خَضْرَاءَ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ إِنَّ هَذِهِ زَوْجَتُكَ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ
Gabriel came to the Prophet with her image on a green, silken cloth and he said: Verily, this is your wife in this world and in the Hereafter.
Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 3880, Grade: Hasan
This narration demonstrates that it is permissible to use an image for the purpose of selection in marriage, as it is lawful for a man to look at the face of a woman he is considering to marry.
Based upon all this and similar evidence, modern scholars have permitted images, pictures, photography, and cartoons if they are used for a good purpose.
Sheikh Sa’ud al-Funaysan, former Dean of Islamic Law at Al-Imam Islamic University, issued a judgment regarding this issue as follows:
In today’s world, images – especially two-dimensional images – are indispensable for people to carry out the necessary activities of life. The ruling that such images are permissible is in harmony with the general ease and facility of Islamic Law. Allah said:
يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ
Allah wants to make things easy for you, and he does not want things to be difficult for you. (2:185)
From all of this, I hold that the pictures used to make cartoon movies are among the images that are permissible to produce – and Allah knows best. Consequently the sale, purchase, and viewing of cartoons is also permitted as long as all of these activities are engaged in according to the dictates of Islamic Law. The cartoons should have appropriate content and be used in an appropriate manner. They should be free from falsehood and immorality. Indeed, the production, distribution, and showing of Islamic animated cartoons that accord to Islamic teachings are ways by which a Muslim can seek Allah’s reward.
Therefore, we do not see any harm in images, pictures, and photography if it serves a useful purpose such as education, identification, and entertainment for children. However, if there is no need for the use of images, then it may be better for Muslims to be cautious and avoid them as was done by some of the companions.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.