It is generally believed that the
attitude of Islam towards the fine arts is not very
encouraging; it does not nurture the aesthetic sense found in
human nature; in particular, it totally prohibits the art of
music as well as the art of making human images and portraits.
We believe that this view is not consistent with Islam.
However, before we present our observations on this issue,
it is necessary to keep in consideration two important principles of
interpreting the shariah.
Firstly, it is only the Qur’ān which prohibits anything in
Islam. As far as the Ahaadith are concerned, they only explain something alluded
to by the Qur’ān or state the corollory of some principle mentioned in the
Qur’ān. They are not an independent source of knowledge on Islam and must have
some basis in the Qur’ān, the Sunnat-i-Thaabitah
or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Consequently, if
some Ahaadith mention the prohibition of something, it is imperative to look up
its basis in the original sources.
Secondly, if a particular matter has been elaborated upon
in the Ahaadith, it is necessary to have a complete picture of it by collecting
and analyzing all the Ahaadith on the subject. This is essential in order to
have some idea of the context and background of what has actually been said or
In the light of these two principles, it is evident that:
i) As far as the Qur’ān is concerned, there is no mention
of any absolute prohibition of music or portrait making. On the contrary, it
mentions that the Prophet Solomon (sws) had made many statues and images through
the agency of his obedient army of jinns (34:13). Similary, it is also a known
fact that one of the other divinely revealed scriptures, the Zaboor, is
basically a collection of hymns. The Prophet David (sws) used to sing the
various Psalms revealed to him on his harp.
ii) If the Qur’ān does not apparently mention this
absolute prohibition, it is necessary to re analyze all the Ahaadith on this
subject to see whether they have been interpreted correctly.
By collecting and analyzing all the Ahaadith on portrait
and image making, the complete picture which emerges is that a particular
category of pictures and portraits had acquired the status of idols and were
worshipped like them. They were regarded as deities by the people of Arabia. As
such, they used to consider them alive and capable of granting them their
wishes. They used to bow down before them in adoration. Even in the Ka’aba, as a
study of its history reveals, besides numerous idols, there were many sacred
pictures drawn on its walls. Consequently, there is mention of the fact that the
portraits of Abraham (sws) and Ismail (sws) were sketched on its walls.
Moreover, Ayesha (rta) has narrated some Ahaadith in which it is stated that the
portraits of Maryam (rta) and Jesus (sws) were suspended on the walls of
churches and people used to bow before them.
Similarly, if all Ahaadith pertaining to music are
examined, the real picture which comes to light is that musical gatherings
possessed a great element of immorality. Slave girls used to dance before an
inebriated gathering, where lewdness was let loose and promiscuity prevailed.
They were a means of stimulating base emotions in people. There has been
narrated in the Sahih of Bukhari one such incident from which the extent such
gatherings of music and dance had reached can be imagined. Just after the battle
of Badr, Hamzah (rta) along with a few companions was witnessing the dance of a
slave girl while he was taking liquor. In the meantime, Ali (rta) passed by
along with two camels. At that time, the words of the song which the maiden was
singing were something like this ‘O if you could only bring me the meat of the
humps of these camels...’. At this, Hamzah (rta) got up and slayed the camels
and brought forth the meat to her. Annoyed by this, Ali (rta) stormed off to the
Prophet (sws) and reported the matter to him. The Prophet (sws) got up and
walked across to the scene of the ‘crime’ but after seeing the situation
returned without doing anything.
In the light of this analysis, the prohibition of
portraits and music can be easily understood: only portraits which possessed
religious sanctity and led people into worshipping them had been prohibited,
while music and songs which possessed an element of immorality in them had been
forbidden. Both music and image-making, it is clear, were not condemned because
of any intrinsic evil in them, but because the former contributed to the
polytheistic tendencies of people while the latter was responsible of
stimulating base sentiments in a person.
The main object of the religion revealed to the Prophet
(sws) was to cleanse and purify human souls from evil. All means which promote
base emotions in people certainly could not be allowed in the society. He,
therefore, strongly took exception to the gatherings of music and dance in order
to rebuild the society on healthy lines.
Similarly, the Qur’ān regards monotheism as the
fundamental article of faith and the Prophet (sws) considered it his duty to
eliminate any traces of polytheism in the society; therefore, he ordered for the
elimination of portraits and images which had assumed the status of gods.
Consequently, if the Ahadith are carefully studied, the words which cannot be
helped missing are ‘such pictures.. ‘ and ‘these pictures...’, which point to a
certain type of portraits and not to all forms of it. In this regard, another
hadith often quoted in support of their total and unconditional prohibition, we
are afraid has not been interpreted correctly. The words of the Prophet as
quoted in the Sahih of Bukhari are:
“Creators of images shall be chastised and asked to inject
life in them and they shall be unable to do so.” (Kitab-ul-Libaas?)
The words actually point to the fact we have stated
before. The people of Mecca used to regard these images as living beings and as
such used to invoke their help. The hadith warns such people and says that those
who believe that that these images are living creatures and will save them on
the Day of Judgement from the wrath of the Almighty, shall actually be asked to
inject life in them on that Day, if they can, to redeem them of their
punishment. This demand, of course, would only be meant to add insult to injury.
It is evident from the foregoing discussion that the
prohibition of music and image making pertains to a few specific forms of these
arts. Music which boosts the morale of an army or expresses noble sentiments is
perfectly allowed in Islam. Similarly, the art of image making and sculpture, if
it does not revolves around immorality or cultivate the sentiments of worship
towards something is certainly not disallowed. Similarly, Islam has no objection
against photographs which have become a social need in the form of identity
cards, passports and a means of information.