Photography: Reliability of our views

Q423 :You carried a long piece on "photography as mentioned in Hadith" in response to a reader seeking a ruling on whether photography is permissible or not. On a previous occasion, a friend mentioned that he did not hang pictures of family members on his wall at home, as it was forbidden to do so. In a conversation with a different person, the same kind of opinion was expressed, but with the added question of what should a reader do in order to establish the final Islamic ruling on a question over which he disagrees with you. Your comments will be greatly appreciated.

A423 : Abu Jafer Al Mansour, a great Muslim ruler, who was in power for over twenty years in the beginning of the Abbasid regime, once requested Imam Malik to write a comprehensive book outlining Islamic verdicts on matters that occurred to people in daily life. He wanted that book to be the standard by which all matters are resolved. Imam Malik, the founder of one of the four major schools of thought, counseled Al Mansour not to do so. He argued: "The Prophet's companions settled in different provinces with each of them having his share of knowledge about Islam. If you were now to enforce a single opinion on them all, this will inevitably lead to a great deal of chaos and trouble." These were words of great wisdom by Imam Malik. What applied then, applies today even in greater measure. We have the fruits of a great wealth of Islamic research and scholarship. Yet people are always impatient. They want a "final" ruling on every question. But rigidity is alien to the nature of Islam. It has always been a characteristic of Islamic thought to respect other people's views and to hold other scholars in high esteem. Hence, it is practically impossible to seek a "final" ruling on every matter without establishing a religious hierarchy. Had it been the intention of Islam to do so, the Prophet would have indicated that. But there is simply no clerical order in Islam. Everybody's opinion is respected, but the opinion which is correct is the one which is supported by the strongest evidence from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. In answering readers' questions, we certainly try to give what we think to be the answer based on the stronger evidence. We try to steer away from rigidity and controversy, and we do not confine ourselves to the views of a single Imam or a single school of thought. We try to give opinions applicable at present. We do not hesitate to make a verdict clear, even though it may be unpleasant to the reader asking the question. We will never go against a Qur'anic statement or an authentic Hadith or try to impose a subjective interpretation. If we come up with an answer that differs with a prevailing view, then that is the result of our endeavor. We hope to be rewarded for it. The Prophet has made it clear that a person who does his best to arrive at a clear ruling on something and hits upon the right ruling will have a double reward, but a person whose efforts end up with a mistaken conclusion will have a single reward. It is this type of tolerance, which is characteristic of Islam that sustains our efforts. Now, if a person reads in Arab News a ruling that is at variance with an opinion he has held for a long time, he may find our line of thinking convincing and supported by evidence, which means that he should take our view. If he is hesitant, then he will need to examine, either on his own if he has the knowledge and ability or with the help of a scholar, the foundation of our view and his own view. He should then take the verdict supported by the stronger evidence. There is simply no other way. In Islam, there is no single person or institution which has the final word. That final word belongs to Allah and He has stated it in the Qur'an or allowed His messenger to express it in the Hadith. I fail to understand why should this tolerance, which I say is characteristic of Islam, be a problem to anyone. After all, if we are mistaken, even then we will be rewarded. Hence, we should be happy in God's great mercy that assures us of a reward even when we are mistaken. Take the question of photography which has led you to raise this point. You have learned from our view that photography is perfectly permissible unless it is intended or used for a forbidden purpose. We have outlined our arguments, stating that photography as we know it was not known to mankind at the time of the Prophet. Hence, the Hadiths that use the Arabic word which we nowadays use for photography must have referred to something else. We looked at the usage of that word in the Qur'an and concluded that it meant, "shaping, fashioning, molding, the giving of a definite form, etc." This is totally different from the use of lenses in cameras and the printing of films. We likened the printed photograph to the image reflected in a mirror which is perfectly permissible to have at home or anywhere. We also drew a comparison with what is printed on cloth, and which is definitely permissible as clearly expressed in a Hadith. That was our line of argument. If someone can find another evidence in the Hadith or the Qur'an to arrive at a different verdict, then let him please refer us to that. For our readers who are still reluctant to accept this view, it is still open to them to discuss the matter with other scholars. If they prefer to hang on to what they had believed in the past, then they are perfectly entitled to do so and may God reward them for their efforts. Why should there be any hassle over that? Such an insistence on a single and final opinion is rather alien to Islamic thought.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )