People are created in the image of Allah

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

In Islam, we believe that all people have been created in the “image” of Allah. But what does this mean?

Allah is the creator of everything, including all people. That people are in the “image of Allah” means they are in the form that He has chosen and honored for them, not that they resemble Allah or share in the Divine Essence. Just as we say a righteous person is the “servant of Allah” and a mosque is the “house of Allah” as a way to honor them, likewise is it an added dignity for people to be acknowledged as existing in the “image of Allah.”

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

خَلَقَ اللَّهُ آدَمَ عَلَى صُورَتِهِ طُولُهُ سِتُّونَ ذِرَاعًا

Allah created Adam in His image, sixty cubits tall.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5873, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

In another narration, the Prophet said:

إِذَا قَاتَلَ أَحَدُكُمْ أَخَاهُ فَلْيَجْتَنِبْ الْوَجْهَ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ خَلَقَ آدَمَ عَلَى صُورَتِهِ

If one of you fights his brother, then let him avoid the face. Verily, Allah created Adam in His image.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2612, Grade: Sahih

Adam, from whom we are all descended, was originally created in the image of Allah and therefore we should honor all of his children. To honor human beings is to honor the creation of Allah. Even in the unfortunate case that fighting becomes necessary, a Muslim should still avoid disfiguring and mutilating his enemy’s face and body.

The pairing of the human image with Allah is an expression meant to bestow inherent dignity upon every human being, simply by virtue of their humanity.

Al-Nawawi comments on this tradition, saying:

وَقَالَتْ طَائِفَةٌ يَعُودُ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى وَيَكُونُ الْمُرَادُ إِضَافَةَ تَشْرِيفٍ وَاخْتِصَاصٍ

A group of scholars said the ‘image’ is attributed to Allah Almighty and the meaning is an additional honor and privilege.

Source: Sharḥ al-Nawawī ‘alá Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2612

Allah is Al-Musawwir, the Maker of images. He has chosen and honored the human form, so it must not be desecrated and disrespected in any way.

Allah said:

هُوَ اللَّهُ الْخَالِقُ الْبَارِئُ الْمُصَوِّرُ ۖ لَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ

He is Allah, the Creator, the Originator, the Maker of images. To Him belong the best names.

Surat al-Hashr 59:24

And Allah said:

الَّذِي خَلَقَكَ فَسَوَّاكَ فَعَدَلَكَ فِي أَيِّ صُورَةٍ مَّا شَاءَ رَكَّبَكَ

It is He who created you and fashioned you into whatever image He willed to assemble you.

Surat al-Infitar 82:7-8

Allah has specifically singled out human beings for special recognition, having been privileged with a unique capacity to reason and ability to serve Allah more so than any other creature.

Allah said:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُم مِّنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِّمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

We have certainly dignified the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided them with good things and preferred them over much of what We have created with decisive preference.

Surat al-Isra’ 17:70

We recognize that people are the creations of Allah and subsequently we are obligated to be merciful to the creation in general, even to the wicked as long as it is not at the expense of vulnerable victims.

Abdullah ibn Amr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

الرَّاحِمُونَ يَرْحَمُهُمْ الرَّحْمَنُ ارْحَمُوا مَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ يَرْحَمْكُمْ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاءِ

Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1924, Grade: Sahih

Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

وَلاَ تُعَذِّبُوا خَلْقَ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

Do not torture the creation of Allah Almighty.

Source: al-Adab al-Mufrad 188, Grade: Sahih

Human beings also have the potential to be conduits for the beautiful attributes of Allah to manifest in creation. For instance, mercy is one of the beautiful attributes of Allah. When a person or even an animal shows compassion to another being, this is a result of the mercy of Allah in action.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

جَعَلَ اللَّهُ الرَّحْمَةَ مِائَةَ جُزْءٍ فَأَمْسَكَ عِنْدَهُ تِسْعَةً وَتِسْعِينَ جُزْءًا وَأَنْزَلَ فِي الْأَرْضِ جُزْءًا وَاحِدًا فَمِنْ ذَلِكَ الْجُزْءِ يَتَرَاحَمُ الْخَلْقُ حَتَّى تَرْفَعَ الْفَرَسُ حَافِرَهَا عَنْ وَلَدِهَا خَشْيَةَ أَنْ تُصِيبَهُ

Allah has made mercy into one hundred parts. He kept ninety-nine parts with himself and sent down one part to the earth. From that one part, the creation is merciful to each other such that a horse raises its hoof over its child for fear of trampling it.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5654, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

Human beings in particular have the remarkable potential to achieve a union of will with Allah, through surrender to the teachings of His religion. This is not a union of essences, as Allah is unlike anything He created and cannot be compared to His creation. Rather, it is a union of purpose. A true servant of Allah is guided by the will of Allah, such that Allah is acting through them and benefiting the creation thereby.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَالَ وَمَا يَزَالُ عَبْدِي يَتَقَرَّبُ إِلَيَّ بِالنَّوَافِلِ حَتَّى أُحِبَّهُ فَإِذَا أَحْبَبْتُهُ كُنْتُ سَمْعَهُ الَّذِي يَسْمَعُ بِهِ وَبَصَرَهُ الَّذِي يُبْصِرُ بِهِ وَيَدَهُ الَّتِي يَبْطِشُ بِهَا وَرِجْلَهُ الَّتِي يَمْشِي بِهَا

Allah Almighty said: My servant continues to grow closer to me with extra good works until I love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks.

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6137, Grade: Sahih

Hence, all people are created in the “image of Allah” at the start. They deserve to be dignified, honored, and treated fairly and compassionately just because they are human beings. In each person is the potential to bring his or her will into union with the will of Allah, and for this reason every human being has been sanctified and is worthy of our respect.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.