In our series Islam and Arts (Q & A), we will try to find answers to many questions that spark controversy about arts in Islam.
For example, what kind of arts is permitted? And what kinds are not? We will highlight a question from one of our readers along with its answer by one of the outstanding Muslim scholars.
Today's question has been answered by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Q: Is photography allowed in Islam? Bearing in mind that it is not the same as painting or recreating a being, it's rather a capture of image through light and lens.
Sheikh Kutty: With regard to this question, Photography as a medium of communication or for the simple, innocent retention of memories without the taint of reverence (shirk) does not fall under the category of forbidden Tasweer which means innovating the features of a person , while the only one who can do that is Allah.
One finds a number of traditions from the Prophet, (peace be upon him), condemning people who make Tasweer, which denotes painting or carving images or statues. It was closely associated with paganism or shirk. People were in the habit of carving images and statues for the sake of worship.
Islam, therefore, declared Tasweer forbidden because of its close association with shirk (association of partners with Allah). One of the stated principles of the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence is that if anything directly leads to committing sin, it is likewise a sin. In other words, Tasweer was forbidden precisely for the reason that it was a means leading to shirk.
The function of photography today does not fall under the above category. Even some of the scholars who had been once vehemently opposed to photography under the pretext that it was a form of forbidden Tasweer have later changed their position on it - as they allow even for their own pictures to be taken and published in newspapers, for videotaping lectures and for presentations. Whereas in the past, they would only allow it in exceptional cases such as passports, drivers’ licenses, etc. The change in their view of photography is based on their assessment of the role of photography.
Having said this, one must add a word of caution: To take pictures of leaders and heroes and hang them on the walls may not belong to the same category of permission. This may give rise to a feeling of reverence and hero worship, which was precisely the main thrust of the prohibition of Tasweer.
Therefore, one cannot make an unqualified statement to the effect that all photography is halal. It all depends on the use and function of it. If it is for educational purpose and has not been tainted with the motive of reverence and hero worship, there is nothing in the sources to prohibit it.