Posted by: wasim | 7th Jun, 2006

Drawings and Islam

Revisiting a major issue this year: drawings and Islam.  I am continuously confronted with Muslims who do not understand that there is no specific prohibition against making images of the Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, anywhere in the ahadith or Qur’an.  Instead, such a prohibition does not seem to be limited to the Prophet Muhammad saws, but in fact applies to all animate figures in general!

The whole cartoon controversy earlier this year sadly prompted very few Muslims to look into their canon and investigate why such imagery was prohibited.  It is clear that the images were offensive and degrading, but where did the oft-mentioned prohibition against images of the Prophet Muhammad saws come from exactly? 

 When I began to do some research on this topic, I discovered is that the prohibition we apply to images of the Prophet saws, is in fact based upon a general unrestricted iconoclast tradition in Islam. 

I consulted a local hanafi scholar on this issue last February at the height of the controversy, and he was unaware of any explicit prohibition of images representing religious leaders or the Prophet, peace be upon him.  Instead, his understanding was that there is a prohibition on drawings of animate creatures generally.  He also mentioned, however, that there are extra precautions to take because man has a natural tendency to corrupt Revelation.  Muslims — all of whom venerate Muhammad as a Prophet and leader — could slip into worshipping his image instead of the true Creator Himself.  Moreover, there are precautions to take with the Prophet saws specifically because we should be very worried about misrepresenting him.  Some have exaggerated what he did, looked like, etc, which is obviously not cool.

 So the issue, then, is if images are haraam carte blanche, then why do we have drawings of animate objects everywhere of other things?  I know that traditionalist sunni groups, like the shuyukh that give fataawa on sunnipath.com and Shaikh Nuh Hah Mim Keller, all oppose images to the point that they don’t have any photos of their faces, but most of lay Muslim society seems to be comfortable with a drawing representing them on Facebook.com or Naseeb (not that I’m on it!). 

 I can see how drawings would be permitted if there is a utility to them, like for medical textbooks or to help demonstrate important concepts to children in books and cartoons.  So intention seems to be crucial here, and reason certainly plays a part in how we determine what is religiously acceptable or not (at least for me).

 I wonder where Orthodox Jews stand on this issue…  And protestants of yesteryear….

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