Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Drawing images of living beings

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Forgive my bad English (I’m from Spain).
I heard that Prophet Muhammad said that making a picture of a human or animal being is haram (prohibited) and in the Day of Judgement God will ask us to turn our pictures to life. Is it true? Can’t we paint this beings?
God bless you

Your English is just fine! Thanks for writing. And may God bless you too for doing the research and verifying what you hear. Too many people simply take for granted what they have been told, without ever attempting to ask themselves if it is true.

The hadeeth you refer to is authentic. It was narrated by Ibn Abbaas (RA) and reported by Al-Bukhaari. Another version of it, also reported by him, was narrated by Ibn Umar (RA).

Those two hadeeths, and there are other, use the Arabic word صورة “Şoora”, which in today’s Arabic is often used to mean a picture, but it actually means “likeness” and that is how it was used by the Arabs of the Seventh Century. The word for picture is actually رقم “Raqm”, which in today’s Arabic has come to mean marking or engraving.

This distinction can be discerned from another authentic hadeeth, reported by Muslim and narrated by Abu-Talha, where the Prophet (PBUH) made an exception from the prohibition a raqm on a cloth. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the prohibition applies only to three-dimensional images, i.e., statues, figurines, embossed images, etc.

The ending of the two hadeeths of prohibition give away the reason for the prohibition. It’s what Americans call “playing God.” That is, the attempt by humans to do things that only God may do. Creation of living beings is God’s domain only.

This prohibition is not unique to Islam. The exact same thing is said in the Second Commandment, prohibiting making engraved images and bowing to statues.

This is the key to understanding the prohibition of sculpting images of living beings. It is God’s protection of us from Shirk (associating others with Him in worship).

One may think that shirk is far-fetched in today’s educated world. One, therefore, may think that this prohibition may have been called for in ancient times, when shirk was rampant, but not relevant in today’s sophisticated societies. But that is not actually the case! There are millions of people in today’s sophisticated world who pray to statues. Many even bow down to images on the wall. Many believe that a token or a figurine will bring them good fortune, heal them or stave evil away from them. All of that is shirk.

Why is shirk so dangerous? Because it creeps on people’s psyche, with enthusiastic help from Satan, until they are detached from God. That is the greatest loss.

Tawheed (the oneness of God) is the central teaching of Islam. It is also the subject of the First Commandment. God is teaching us to worship Him only and abandon any hint of worship of anyone or anything else – not because He needs it, but because we do. Human nature is such that we look for idols, literal or figurative. We keep aggrandizing the people we admire. Americans have coined a good term for that: hero worship. Shirk can be subtle.

The issue at hand is not art, creativity or expression, all of which are allowed in Islam. Rather, it is the kind of art, creativity or expression that is dangerous to our souls.