What Do These Hadiths Mean?

Footnote 2519 (p.1160) says, “The ahadith pertaining to the preparation of pictures whether with the help of colour, paint, or pencil or photographic cameras, declare this art to be unlawful in Islam. The famous scholar of Hadith and an eminent jurist of the seventh century of Hijra, Ibn Daqiq al-Id, has made the following observation in regard to this art:

‘The reasons of the Shari’ah are so eloquent and clear in regard to the prohibition of making pictures that they need no comment and elucidation. That person is missing the mark who says that this prohibition comes under the category of disapproval and is not absolutely unlawful and the stress which had been laid upon its prohibition was not because of the fact that idolatry had been quite recently curbed, … in the ahadith the reason put forward for the unlawfulness of pictures is this: Those who prepare pictures would be asked to breathe soul on the Day of Resurrection in these pictures made by them. And then they would not be able to do this, they would be punished … (Ihham al-Ahham, Sharh ‘Umdat al-Ahham, Vol II, pp 171-2).” The footnote goes on to give a lengthy discussion as to why all pictures are forbidden, but we will not quote those for the sake of space.

What about Muslims in more modern times? Footnote 2520 (p.1161) says, “A well-known scholar of our times ‘Allama Muhammad Munir (of Damascus) has clearly stated that the photos of the modern age fall under the category of pictures. He says: ‘The words of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) that every maker of the photo would be tormented on the Day of Resurrection, include every artist whether he makes pictures with the help of his hand (with pencil or with the help of colour paint) or with the help of camera.” (marginal notes on the book Ihham al-Ahham, Sharh ‘Umdat al-Ahham. Vol. II, p.37).

Conclusion: “No pictures” includes no photos (still or moving). “No pictures” might reduce idolatry, but the reason given is not that, but that Allah will torment all who have made pictures.

Observation: It is clear that making pictures is a horrible sin in Islam. There are dozens of narrations that emphasize and reiterate this point. However, it is always said that Allah will punish those people on the Day of Judgment. There is no command for Muslims to go out now and punish those painters themselves. This is particularly relevant since Muhammad was not shy in this regard. He ordered severe punishments, and at times even commanded torture, of many people who in his opinion had broken the law of Allah (c.f. this summary article for issues like whipping people who drink alcohol or gamble, cutting off the hands of thieves, etc., and this one for the issue of torture). Despite condemning the making of pictures as an especially grieveous sin, Muhammad does not prescribe earthly punishments for those who do.

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