Answered by Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
I was just wondering what is Shaykh Muhammad ibn Adam’s position regarding photos. I know there is a difference of opinion between the scholars on the issue, but I recently saw a photo of him on a website. Is he of the opinion that photos are permissible?
In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,
There are separate issues relating to picture-making (taswir), hence it would be good to understand each issue separately and the Shariah ruling on it:
1) Drawing/Painting Pictures of Humans and Animals
As it is common knowledge, there are countless Hadiths narrated from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) that strictly prohibit painting pictures of animate objects, for example:
Sayyiduna Jabir (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) forbade the keeping of pictures at home and making them.” (Sunan Tirmidhi, no: 1749)
Sayyiduna Abu Talha (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Angels (of mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 5609)
Due to these and many other similar narrations, most classical scholars are of the opinion that painting and drawing pictures of humans and animals is unlawful and sinful. They state that ‘picture-making’ (taswir) of human or animal life has been explicitly forbidden by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and as such it will be sinful. Only Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him) is reported to have differed with this position of general prohibition.
In one of his narrations, Sayyiduna Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him), contrary to the other three Imams and most other Mujtahids, is reported to have stated that only those pictures are unlawful that are three-dimensional and have a body to them, such as statues and sculptures. A picture that does not have a body or shadow to it will not be unlawful although somewhat disliked, such as drawing a picture on a paper, cloth or on any other object. This is one of two positions narrated from Imam Malik, with his other position being similar to that of the vast majority of classical scholars.
The position of the vast majority of classical scholars is based on the fact that there is no distinction in the various Hadiths between a tangible and intangible picture. The Hadith indicating the permissibility of intangible and non-solid pictures refers to pictures of other than humans and animals. (See: al-Mugni, 7/7 & Takmila Fath al-Mulhim, 4/155)
Based on this, the reliable and mainstream opinion of the classical jurists is that picture-making is unlawful, whether by painting a picture on an object or making a sculpture. This is the position held by the three main Sunni Schools of Islamic law (i.e. Hanafi, Shafi’i & Hanbali) and also one of two positions related from Imam Malik (Allah have mercy on him). It would be better if one referred to a Maliki Scholar to determine the relied upon (mufta bihi) position of that School. As such, one should avoid drawing/ painting pictures of humans and animals.
In view of the above-mentioned one position of Imam Malik, there is no question with regard to the permissibility of taking photographs, for according to that position, painting pictures of human or animal life on a paper or fabric is allowed, hence camera pictures would hold the same ruling.
However, in view of the mainstream and majority position of classical scholars, the question arises as to whether photos of humans and animals fall under the type of picture-making prohibited by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in numerous Hadiths. Camera photos were not in existence when classical scholars were discussing the issue of picture-making, hence one will not find an express ruling regarding photography in their works. As such, it was left to contemporary scholars to determine whether photos held the same ruling as that of painting and drawing pictures.
Contemporary scholars have differed on this issue:
a) The position of the overwhelming majority of Indo-Pak and some Arab scholars is that photographs of human or animal life are not permissible for the very same reasons that paintings of these are not permissible.
They state that the ruling on picture-making does not change by changing the tool with which the picture is produced. Whether an image is produced by painting it or using a camera, as long as it is an image of a human or animal, it will remain unlawful (haram).This is the position of Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani and most of my other teachers. It is, without doubt, the more precautious and arguably stronger opinion.
b) The second position on the issue, held by most Arab Scholars (from all four Madhabs) and some from the Indian Subcontinent, is that there is a difference between photos and the prohibited picture-making (taswir).
Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti’i of Egypt, a 2oth Century scholar known for his knowledge and piety, wrote a whole treatise titled al-Jawab al-Shafi fi Ibahat Surat al-Photography in support of this view of permissibility.
His basic understanding is that the reason behind the prohibition of painting pictures (in the words of the Hadith) is challenging Allah in His Creating of living creatures. In camera photos, however, one does not produce an image through one’s own imagination; hence one is not challenging the Creating of Allah as such. It is merely a reflection of a living being already created by Allah Most High.
These are the two positions of contemporary scholars on the issue. There are great scholars of knowledge, wisdom and piety on both sides of the fence; hence, it would be wrong to criticize anyone for following any one of these positions.
It is a matter of genuine and valid difference of opinion. It is not an issue where one may condemn another, and one must respect others’ right to follow their conscience.
As you have asked about my personal stance, firstly I am by no means in a position of having a ‘personal’ opinion as such. I follow my teachers and learn from them. I have teachers in the UK and the Subcontinent who prohibit photos, but I also have teachers in the Arab world permitting them.
The position which I follow is that of my teachers who prohibit taking photos, for that is a more precautious and safe position. However, I have complete respect for the position (and practice) of those who permit taking photos.
As such, my practice is that I do not willingly pose for a photo unless there is a genuine need like for a passport or something similar. If I am asked, I politely refuse. At the same time, if someone is taking photos and I am also in attendance going about my own business, I do not go out of my way to prevent him taking my photo. Thus, if you did come across a photo of mine, it is probably because I may have been present in a place where photos were being taken. The recent photo of mine you have referred to was taken in the same context. I had knowledge that photos were being taken and that I may appear in one, but I did not willingly pose for a photo. I hope that makes sense!
3) Live Broadcasting
Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) and many other scholars have declared that live broadcastings of images do not fall within the ambit of picture-making (taswir). A picture is something that is permanent and static, whilst the image broadcasted live is not permanent hence cannot be termed a picture. A live broadcast is in reality a reflection of the actual image, similar to seeing an image in a mirror.
Therefore, if an image of a human or animal is broadcasted live, then this does not fall into the unlawful picture-making. It will be permitted to broadcast something live or view a live programme, provided the content of the programme is lawful (halal). (Taqrir Tirmidhi, 2/351)
4) Video Recording
According to Shaykh Taqi Usmani, that which is recorded in a videotape or DVD is also not considered a picture. In a videotape, the particles of an image are gathered and then re-opened in the same order to view the image. This is the reason why it is not possible to see the picture in the rail of the tape without playing it. (ibid)
Therefore, if a permitted and Halal event, such as a lecture of a scholar, is played and viewed on a videotape or DVD, it will be permitted, Insha Allah.
Note that the above discussion does not in any way relate to watching Television. Watching TV and keeping it at home is another matter altogether, for which a separate answer is needed. The many harms and evils of keeping a TV at home are known to all. This answer only relates to the permissibility of viewing a Halal image through a live broadcast or a videotape/DVD.
Shaykh Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) sums this up in one of his Fatawa:
“The images appearing on live programs or recorded programs on television are not the pictures in the strict sense envisaged in the Ahadith of the Holy Prophet (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) unless they are printed in a durable form on paper or on any other object. But the basic reason why Muslims are advised not to keep TV sets in their homes is that most of the programs broadcast on the TV channels contain impermissible elements.” (Taken from the al-Balagh website, http://www.albalagh.net/qa/video_chips.shtml)
And Allah knows best
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
Darul Iftaa, Leicester, UK