Video and photography

Q661 :Does Islam prohibit the use of video cameras or taking pictures, for any purpose? Could you cite any reference to such a prohibition in the Qur'an or the Hadith?

A661 : A number of Hadiths are quoted which make it clear that it is forbidden to create a likeness of Allah's living creation. Among the most telling of these are a sacred or Qudsi Hadith and a statement by the Prophet. In the sacred or Qudsi Hadith, the Prophet quotes Allah as saying : "Who does a greater sin than one who tries to create something like My creation. Let them create a particle or a seed or a barley seed." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). The authentic statement by the Prophet quotes him as saying: "Those who endure the most grievance or suffering on the Day of Resurrection are the ones who create a likeness." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim). In many of these Hadiths, the Arabic word used for the "creation of a likeness" is the same as we use today for photography. Hence, some scholars have tended to pronounce photography as forbidden on the basis of these Hadiths. However, photography was invented long after the Prophet and, therefore, it is not possible that these Hadiths refer to photography unless there was some technique at the time of the Prophet which was used to create photos in the same way as a camera does. Since there was none, we should determine what the word signified at that time. If we consider how the word is used in the Qur'an, we find that it is invariably used to denote how Allah creates people, animals and things. In its original use the word sawara means "to give shape and form." Hence, majority of learned scholars are of the view that these Hadiths refer to sculpture and making statues and shapes and engravings on stone or wood to create likenesses of Allah's creation. Hence, there is no disagreement among scholars that such works are forbidden not only to produce, but also to buy, possess or display. Photography does not enter into that. The late Sheikh Muhammad Bakheet, a former Mufti of Egypt, has made it clear that photography is not included in such prohibition. He states that this art is no more than capturing a shade or a reflection by special technique. He clarifies that what is forbidden is to create a likeness which has no previous existence in order to produce something like what Allah has created. Using a camera to take a picture is similar to fixing what we see in a mirror. No one says that looking into mirror is forbidden because it shows a likeness of Allah's creation. We use lenses in cameras in order to capture a mirror picture of the person or the object for which we need a photo. This is perfectly legitimate. The same applies to using a video camera because it does no more than taking a large number of still pictures which, when shown rapidly, create the image of movement. Having said that, I should add that the purpose for which the photos and videos are used is certainly significant in arriving at a ruling concerning them. We can, therefore, conclude that the likenesses, whether shaped or painted which carry the strictest prohibition are those which have for their objects persons or other creatures whom some people worship, such as the statues of Jesus Christ. Such likenesses are forbidden to make, sell or own or to photograph. Similarly, statues of people who are not worshipped but are given a position of majesty are also forbidden. All statues and sculpture work are forbidden as well unless they are treated as toys for children. Paintings of people who are glorified are forbidden to hang, particularly if they are paintings of dictators, unjust rulers, atheists or people whose conduct is anti-Islamic. On the other hand, paintings of natural scenery are permissible. Photographs are permissible to start with, unless they are photographs of someone or something which is forbidden. Take, for example, a person who is worshipped by his followers or glorified in an exaggerated way. To have his photograph hung on the wall as a sign of respect is forbidden, particularly if he is a disbeliever or an atheist. For example, Communists glorify Lenin and have his picture everywhere. It is forbidden for a Muslim to display a photograph of Lenin, because Lenin was a man who denied the existence of Allah and who sought to replace religion with a creed of his own. Whatever is applicable to videos and video tapes of the above uses, have the same ruling. Moreover, a video camera may be used for a variety of purposes. The purpose dictates the ruling. If we use a video camera to study animal life in order to understand Allah's creation, knowing that when we learn something new about the universe and Allah's work in it, we feel that our faith gets stronger, then there is no harm in such use. Any other permissible use is approved. But when we use a video camera to, say, film a woman dancer who displays a part of her body which Allah has forbidden to reveal, then we are using a video camera for a forbidden purpose. Hence, its use becomes forbidden. I have dwelt in detail on this question hoping to clarify its different aspects. I am particularly keen that there remains no misconception about the use of photography and video cameras.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )