Friday, 18 May 2007

Spiritless Pictures

A Common Misconception

A common doubt is that the use of pictures during the blessed time of the Holy Prophet SAW could have become the source of idol-worshiping, but in our time, pictures may serve many purposes - such as establishing the identity of criminals, advertising trademarks, meeting friends and relatives, investigating events and circumstances and numerous other things. For this reason, it has been included in one of the necessities of life. Thus the apprehension of any idol-worship is far too remote to conceive. As such, the prohibition that was made to offset the danger of idol-worship should now be lifted! THIS IS INCORRECT.

A Logical Explanation to Complement the Order of Shari'ah

The answer to this doubt is that first of all, it is not correct to say that in our time, pictures are no more a source of idol-worship or power. There are so many sects and groups even today who worship their peers or attempt to derive power or safety from their images or sculptures. Sometimes it is in the form of statues or mounted framed pictures and other times it is as small as a key-ring, locket, or tattoo. From people who bow their heads to fans or disciples who hold pictures or idols sacred and hang them in widows, cars or lockers, these varying acts are all forms of worship/prayer which in contra should only be reserved for Allah alone.

Let's take the case of a person who was shown a black & white photocopy of the passport photo of his Sheikh's Sheikh. To keep any person's photo is very dangerous to Imaan. Someone at some point would hold the person's photo in high regard. The risks are explained below.

If he were to throw the image on the floor or rip it, the owner of the photo would feel image was disrespected and be distressed more so than if it was some other image. In contrast the person would put it in a safe place away from the floor; it would be looked at when one wanted to be reminded of piety and pious predecessors. Tears would flow reminiscing and remembering one's own shortcomings and the person would raise his hands in prayer to Allah and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes they would feel their prayer is incomplete or lacks spirituality without the use of the image. Even if this was not felt other people including children would see this act and misunderstand it to be a method of their predecessor's meditation. They would replicate the act but be confused in to thinking they must keep the image on display whilst praying. It would not be long before they would be praying in front of and then actually to the image as intermediaries.

The idol worshippers said:

"Wajadnaa aabaa ana kazalika yufaluun"
("We found our forefathers doing like this")

This is Shirk (polytheism) and results in the person losing his Islam.

Another example is the keeping of pictures of heads of state in the entrances of business, this to assert allegiance in front of authorities. A common misconception from this show of allegiance is "If you keep the picture of so and so you will be safe". Pledging allegiance is normally a good thing, however understand that The Protector is Allah alone and not good or bad leaders, royalty, or politicians.

All this can occur in our own time; we just do not know our own future misunderstandings and actions let alone that of others. The risks above are high and cannot be mitigated by knowledge alone, since incorrect actions are more likely to propagate and mutate than correct understanding even if undistorted. It is often said the "a picture speaks a thousand words", however it is not the spiritless picture that speaks but Shaytaan that whispers most of those words to misguide man. The remaining words are filled in by man’s limited Nafs (inner-self).

Pictures, Scultures, etc.

Plays that depict living objects can all mean different things to different people. That is why Shaytaan often uses them to confuse people. In addition it is not necessary either that the wisdom behind an operative divine order should be found in every individual case. The prohibition of pictures due to it being a conduit of idol-worship is not the only reason. In fact, there are authentic Ahadith in which other reasons for this prohibition have also been given.

For example, picture/sculpture making is a duplication of the special attribute of Allah. The name (Musaawir) meaning The giver of form, shape, colour and real presence is of the most beautiful names of Allah and making of pictures and the giving of form, shape and presence is in reality befitting for him and it lies within his power to create among his creations thousands in terms of genes, race, class, category and kinds with millions and billions of living units in each kind. Each being different in shape also.

Take the example of human beings. The form and shape of men is different. So is the form and shape of women. None of them were absolutely the same as anyone else, even identical twins have some features that allow those who know them like their parents differentiate and recognise them. The distinct features of every person are so manifest that an onlooker would easily recognise him without much hesitation. Who can claim to give the creatures such marvellous shapes other than the Almighty Allah?

A human being who makes a sculpture, picture or a painting of someone is claiming for all practical purposes that he or she too can make the same form or image. Therefore it appears in the Sahih of Imam Bukhari and in other Ahadith that on the Day of Judgement, those who will make pictures will be told, "When you have tried to imitate us, make the imitation perfect too - if you have the power to do so. We did not simply make an image. We have invested it with a spirit too. If you claim to have created it then you better put a spirit inside the thing you have made."

Another reason why a picture is prohibited appears in authentic narrations of Hadith where it is said that the angels of Allah hate pictures and dogs. Angels do not enter the house that has these and so the bliss and radiance in the house is removed and the ability of the residents to worship and remain obedient to Allah is reduced.

Yet another reason appearing in some Hadith that pictures are unnecessary embellishments of this world. Of course in our time, pictures yield many benefits but thousands of crimes including those that range between immodesty and pornography, also breed and flourish from these very pictures. In short, it is not simply one reason alone that was made the basis for it's prohibition, rather there is a host of reasons why the Shari'ah of Islam has declared it prohibited to make and use pictures of the living.

Now if we were to suppose that there is some particular person in whom these causes are not found, then from this stray incident, the rules of the Shari'ah cannot change.

According to the narration of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud RA appearing in the Sahih of Imam Bukhari and Muslim, the Holy Prophet SAW is reported to have said:

"Of people the most affected by punishment on the Day of Judgement shall be the makers of pictures." (Bukhari)

Then a narration from Abdullah ibn Abbas RA:

"Every picture maker will be in Jahannam." (Bukhari & Muslim)

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