Friday, 18 May 2007

Drawings, Photographs, Live Broadcasting & Video Recording

This post intends to further ellaborate on the enquiries forwarded asked by Bro. Ahmad Suffian. InshaAllah.

This post renders a compilation of advices obtained from Sheikh Muhammad ibn Adam Al-Kawthari, based at the Darul Iftaa, Leicester, United Kingdom. It is pretty comprehensive InshaAllah. I have also included some additions.

First of all, let us start by knowing that there are separate issues relating to picture-making (taswir), hence it would be good to understand each issue separately and the Shari'ah ruling on it.


As it is common knowledge, there are countless Ahadith narrated from the Messenger of Allah (SAW) that strictly prohibit painting pictures of animate objects.

Some are narrated here:

"Jabir RA narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) forbade the keeping of pictures at home and making them." (Tirmidhi)

Abu Talha RA narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said:

"Angels (of Mercy) do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or a picture." (Bukhari)

Due to these and many other similar narrations, our Ulama have explained that painting and drawing pictures of humans and animals is unlawful and sinful. The Ulama state that 'picture-making' (taswir) of human or animal life has been explicitly forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad SAW and as such it will be sinful.

The position of the vast majority of classical scholars is based on the fact that there is no distinction in the various Ahadith 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. (Al-Mugni; Takmila Fath Al-Mulhim)

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.


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 SAW in numerous Ahadith. 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 many Arab scholars and the overwhelming majority of the Ulama of Indo-Pak 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. This is the position of Sheikh Mufti Taqi Usmani and many frontline traditional Ulama of today. It is, without doubt, the more precautious and arguably stronger opinion.

b) The second position on the issue, held by many 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).

Sheikh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti'i of Egypt, a 2oth Century scholar known for his knowledge and piety, wrote a whole treatise entitled 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 Ahadith 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 or "shadow" of a living being already created by Allah Most High.

These are the two positions of contemporary scholars on the issue. They are great scholars of knowledge, wisdom and piety on both sides of the fence; hence, it would be wrong to criticise anyone for following any one of these positions.

It is a matter of genuine and valid difference of opinion. Not like the fragile, ill-equipped self-proclaimed do-it-yourself "Mujtahids" of recent years.

Sheikh Muhammad ibn Adam Al-Kauthari mentions:
(a brilliant advice, for weaklings like us, my brothers and sisters)

"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."


Sheikh Mufti Taqi Usmani 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)


Sheikh Mufti Taqi Uthmani further explains 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, InshaAllah.


Note that the above discussion does not in any way relate to watching television. Watching television and keeping it at home is another matter altogether, for which a separate answer is needed. The many harms and evils of keeping a television 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.

Sheikh Taqi Usmani sums this up in one of his Fatwa:

"The images appearing on live programmes or recorded programmes on television are not the pictures in the strict sense envisaged in the Ahadith of the Holy Prophet SAW 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 television sets in their homes is that most of the programmes broadcasted on the television channels contain impermissible elements."