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What is the ruling on Digital Pictures?

Answered as per Hanafi Fiqh by DarulIftaBirmingham

Digital Pictures

In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful.


Contemporary scholars have differed on the issue of camera photos whether they come under the prohibition of picture making (tasweer) or not. The majority of the Indian subcontinent and some Arab scholars are of the view that photographs of living things are impermissible. There reason being that the Prophet of Allah Sallallahu Alahi Wasalam declared picture making unlawful and not the means of producing the picture. Even during the Prophet of Allah Sallallahu Alahi Wasalam’s time there existed various ways of producing images like carving, drawing, painting etc but the Prophet of Allah Sallallahu Alahi Wasalam never referred to the method of image production but directly banned picture making. (Photography, Picture making & Islam p.20) This view is the most precautious view.

I will take this opportunity and mention a few things in regards to the camera.

The Readers Digest Great Encyclopaedic Dictionary defines the camera as follows:

“Apparatus for taking photographs, consisting essentially of a box holding at one end a plate or film which is sensitised so as to retain the image protected through a lens at the other.”

The Encyclopaedia International states; “Photographic film is a light sensitive material used in a camera to record the image being photographed. In the presence of light, the form of electromagnetic radiation most commonly used to expose film-a chemical change takes place to produce an invisible image bought into view by developing…”

The Home University Encyclopaedia says; “The camera in which the image is impressed on the sensitive surface is a light-tight box in which the plate is fixed in such a position that the image of the object to be photographed is projected on to it by a lens or pinhole…”

The following points are deduced from the afore going discussion:

1.      The camera is not a mere image viewing device like the mirror

2.      All cameras are picture-recording devices.

3.      Experts and scientists are agreed on the fact that the camera produces pictures and not reflections.

4.      Image through the camera lens is retained on the film, which is sensitised. The image thus retained is not a temporary phenomenon like a reflection but is a permanent picture.

5.      Final emergence of photo picture is not dependent upon the presence of the object whereas the image in the mirror is dependant upon the presence of the object for its existence.

6.      Various materials and chemicals are used in order to produce the final result on the photograph. From this we can understand that the image on the photo paper is a picture, which has been produced by chemical means. (Photography, Picture making & Islam p.12-p.17)

The majority of the Arab scholars are of the view that picture making through camera is permissible. They say that in camera photos one does not produce an image through ones own imagination, but it is merely a reflection of a living being already created by Allah (SWA).

Regarding your question on whether one is allowed have pictures on his computer or mobile, I am going to relate a passage from a Fatwa in Arabic written by Mufti Rafi Uthmaani on the issue of Photography, Camera, Videos and Drawing, translated into English by Shaykh Yusuf Badat.

The Ruling of Animate Images Captured by the Digital Cameras

For a long time, the discussion has continued among contemporary Islamic scholars (Ulama) regarding the images that are retained by the digital system or digital cameras in the computer memory, floppy discs, computer disks, hard drive, video and cassette ribbon and that which appears on the screens of these mentioned devices through the digital technology. Would it be the prohibited picture or not? The reason for this discussion is that this is an ‘ijtihaadi’ matter. This did not exist nor was it known during the period of the

Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings upon him) and the era of the companions. This was also the case during the periods of the tabioon (pious predecessors) and the past Islamic jurists (may Allah’s mercy be upon all of them). This only came into existence and discovery later. This is why; there is no clear verdict on the matter in the Holy Quran and the noble prophetic hadith and the speech of the previous jurists in this specific type that is clear cut.

For indeed there was no such existence during their time. This has only been debated amongst the contemporary scholars and they have differed in its ruling.

There are those who have included it (digital images) under the prohibited images, linking it to the generality of the terming of it as ‘picture’ regarding which the authentic evidences have labelled as impermissible.

There are those who have excluded it out from the issue of falling under the ruling of prohibited imagery (tasweer) looking at its reality. For indeed, the digital image is a combination of tiny electronic rays, that do not have a physical structure, and are in the form of many pixels that cannot be counted. The electric signals move from the digital device and the digital camera to the screen, walls or curtains. These pixels appear in a specific sequence, which bring into existence visible forms (images) on the screen. But these forms do not remain on the screen or walls etc.

There are those scholars who have a disagreement with the two verdicts and have adopted a middle position between the two groups.

The more acceptable view according to us is that it is permissible, since what appears on the screens from the imagery and scenes, under the digital system is not a ‘picture’ in actuality, nor a reflection, shadow or trace.

As for this digital image which appears on the screen, not being a shadow is evident because the shadow is a subservient to it’s object. And this image (on the screen) is unlike this.

As for it not being a picture; because a picture in its true meaning, comes into existence when it is carved, drawn, or formed onto something with the quality of permanence and perpetual continuity in its existence. These digital images that appear and are visible on screens etc. have no permanence or perpetual continuity in their existence on something. Rather the image comprises of divisions of electronic rays that continue to be transmitted from the camera to the screen and appear on it in such a manner that there is no permanence in terms of it appearance and its disappearance, meaning that it either appears or disappears on an immediate basis without any form of permanence on it, with exemplary speed. The extent of this, is that one digital image comprising of 19 390 000 pixels originates 60 frames which appear and disappear in one second on a screen of an average resolution computer. Then one can recall the image again and again without any break. With this method, these rays appear on the screens and disappear immediately and are followed subsequently by others electronic rays and disappear like this very quickly.

It therefore is apparent from this description that the images and scenes that appear on the screens do not have permanence nor perpetual continuity, rather they appear and disappear in a second 60 times. This is the reason the digital image cannot be regarded as a ‘picture’ ‘surah’ in actuality.

As for the digital image that appears on the screens, not being a real reflection; This is because the reflection is a subordinate of the actual object. As long as the actual object or person remains in front of a shiny physical object the reflection can be seen. When the object or person moves away from in front of the shiny physical object or there comes in between them a veil, the reflection is now no longer present also.

This is unlike the images captured by the digital camera that are visible on the screen, they are not subordinates to their actual objects. This is due to the reason that it is possible for these images to be seen without the existence of the actual objects also. Thus, it is established from this that these appearances and images are not reflections in actuality, unless these appearances are accompanied with the reflection in this sense that both of them comprise of electronic rays. Keeping this in mind, we give preference to the verdict that these appearances resemble the reflections in the aspect that they are similar to the resemblance of the actual prohibited pictures.

Then, if these digital scenes and appearances are stored in a video cassette, computer memory, computer disk and so on, these images are not engraved, carved on the CDs or video cassettes etc. It is only the information of the images that are stored in the form of electronic codes. There is no concept of a picture in actuality nor symbolically.

Looking at the above mentioned difference between the actual picture and the figure that appears on the screen, the experts of this field have specified the difference in terminology also; where they have termed the figure captured by the photography camera as “PICTURE” and the visible figure on a screen as an “IMAGE”.

The ruling of keeping these devices (excluding the television) in the homes and their usage for various purposes, is permissible with the condition that one refrains from religiously impermissible and prohibited matters such as nudity, pornography,exposing the nakedness of women and mockery, because video, computer and other such equipment are mere devices established, in essence, for information. Yes this is definite that when there is no reasonable objective connected to them, or there is no need for them, the most appropriate thing to do is, abstain from capturing figures of animate objects (live creatures) and also refrain from using such devices. By doing so, one also stays far from doubts and the differences in opinions.

The religious limits in the ruling of making and using pictures has been mentioned in detail previously, in what has been discussed at length, the summary of which is that pictures are categorized as follows:

a) The category of pictures that are permissible, with the consensus of the entire Muslim nation; that being pictures of inanimate objects.

b) The category of pictures that are prohibited (haram) with the consensus of the entire Muslim nation; that being the picture making in the form of a statue, as explained in detail in the above discussion.

c) The category where there is difference of opinion amongst the Ulama (Islamic scholars) which is of two types:

a. Drawing animate pictures with the hand is prohibited by the majority

b. Picture taking with a device of photography: The permissibility of this is differed amongst the contemporary scholars. Some have stated they are pictures that fall under the general prohibition while others suggest that these images are not ‘pictures’ but rather the capturing of a shadow (trace), hence this would not fall in the religious (sharee) prohibition. The stronger opinion according to us, in this category, is prohibition in general circumstances and permissibility at the occasions of necessity such as;

i. Picture for identity cards to recognize a persons appearance

ii. Pictures for passports

iii. Pictures for obtaining visas

iv. Pictures for driving license of vehicles and driving

v. Pictures for the necessity of identifying criminals and their arrests

vi. Pictures for the necessity of identifying students in schools, colleges and universities

vii. Pictures for employee ID cards to set apart company workers and outside visitors.

viii. And in other such necessities, it would be permissible

ix. Similarly, it would not be prohibited to use pictures (of animate objects) if they are so small that the detailed body limbs are not clear for the onlooker who is in a standing position, while these pictures are on the floor or spread on the ground without being revered. (Extracted from www.mathabah.org)

Only Allah Knows Best

Mohammed Tosir Miah

Darul Ifta Birmingham.

This answer was collected from DarulIftaBirmingham.co.uk, which is run under the supervision of Mufti Mohammed Tosir Miah from the United Kingdom.