Photos of the ulama

Translated by:

Amongst the issues deemed forbidden in the Islamic shari’ah is the taking of pictures as well as the keeping of pictures. To take a picture of an animate object is Haram without qualification; be it a large picture or small, be it made by hand or new technology such as a camera etcetera. The ruling relating to making pictures is that if there is an extreme need such as [images in] passport and the like, it permitted due to necessity or else it is banned and prohibited [regardless] if the picture is large or small but the parts visible. Thereafter, if in keeping the picture there is a semblance of adoration the prohibition becomes even more intensified.

Nowadays the desire and impetus is growing day on day to collect and hold, for barakat and adoration, the pictures attributed to the elders of Deoband such as Hakim al-Ummat Thanwi , Shaykh al-Islam Hussain Ahmad Madani, Mufti A’zam Mufti Kifayat Allah Sahib, Amir Shari’at Sayyid Ata Allah Shah Bukhari, Mawlana Yusuf Sahib (Hadrat ji of the Tablighi Jamat), and Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Zakariyyah - قدس اسرارهم.

Let alone the unqualified, the qualified are even becoming indulged in this disease. They assume that if such photos were prohibited, these Akabir (elders) would have never allowed their photos to be made and it would not have reached us. They assume, “We were prohibited from making pictures so that gradually a culture of shirk does not start, and since we are not going to indulge in shirk it is permitted for us”. Hence, [I] felt the need to suggest a few points on the matter. It is possible that some slave of Allah will read these words, realise their error and become repentant.

و ما ذلك علي الله بعزيز و هو ولي التوفيق و لا حول و لا قوة الا به.

Note! Here there are a few matters worthy of consideration and thought:

Firstly, if amongst the elders some, without an Islamically valid acute need, had photos, such an action of theirs cannot be used as evidence of permissibility. The Shar’i edicts are proven through the adillah araba’a1 and this is not evidence at all.

Secondly, the attribution of some of these pictures to the elders is dubious. As such, the ascription of images to these senior [scholars] will be a slander.

Thirdly, it is possible that some of our elders, at the time when the camera was invented, differentiated between taking photos and drawing pictures by hand; holding that hand drawn picture as prohibited and picture via camera as permitted. However, the reality is that it is not based on any strong basis. It is an established [rule] in shari’ah that that which is haram or non-prescribed in shari’ah in principle, its ruling does not change if the apparatus changes. Khamr (wine) is haram; be it made by hand or the new machines. Similarly, murder is haram; be it with a knife or a bullet. In the same way, the shari’ah has forbidden the making and keeping of pictures. So this is regardless if it was made with the brush of an artist or prepared with a photographic device.2

Hadrat Mawlana Abd al-Haq Madani, the principle of Shahi Murad Abad writes, "I had the opportunity of a lengthy company with Mufti Kifayat Allah – this was an accompanying journey to Egypt to participate in an Islamic conference in Cairo. On returning a sizable number of leading ulama of Egypt arrived to give farewell. As per the custom of Egypt, they wanted to take a picture of the group. Hadrat Mufti Sahib declined. Some of the ulama of Egypt held photos to be permissible. They started debating. The debate was short but very interesting. As far as my memory goes I still remember the words of the questions and answers. The words are as follows:

Egyptian scholars: التصوير الممنوع إنما هو الذي يكون بصنع الإنسان و معالجة الأيدي، و هذا ليس كذلك، إنما هو عكس الصورة – Forbidden picture are those that are made with people’s engineering and manufacture of the hands. (Photo) is not like that, it is a reflection (of a form)
Mufti Sahib: كيف ينتقل هذا العكس من الزجاجة الي الورق – How does the reflection transfer from the (camera) lens to the paper?
Egyptian scholars: بعد عمل كثير – After a lot of action (it transfers to the paper)
Mufti Sahib: ايّ فرق بين معالجة الايدي و صنع الانسان و العمل الكثير؟ – What is the difference between manufacture of the hands, people’s engineering and a lot of action?
Egyptian scholars: نعم! هو شيئ واحد – Yes! (There is no difference), they are one.
Mufti Sahib: إذًا حكمها واحد – Then the ruling for all is the same.

The scholars of Egypt were astounded by Mufti Sahib’s sharp responses and were silenced such that they found no response."3

Hadrat Mawlana Ahmad Bijnori Sahib (نور الله مرثده), the author of Anwar al-Bari, writes regarding this matter:

    I asked (Hadrat Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri) regarding photos that the Egyptian ulama differentiate between photos and pictures; they consider the first allowed according to shari’ah and the second prohibited. He responded, the mas’ala there is wrong. The ruling of photos and pictures are one. The exception made for necessity is another matter. (Similarly, Allamah Shabbir Ahmad Sahib Usmani also said the same)."4

The point being, there is no difference between drawing a picture and taking a photograph. Like it is prohibited to make pictures equally it is prohibited to take pictures with cameras.

Fourthly, those of our elders who at that time might have been of [the opinion of] permissibility, it is possible that they have rescinded from it. Hence, Allamah Qadi Muhammad Zahid al-Hussayni writes in a letter to his closest khalifah, Muhaqqiq al-Asr Abd al-Qayyum Haqqani (قدس سره):

    As has always been the practice of the rightful ulama, as soon as they became aware of their error, immediately they made a retraction. They did not consider it an embarrassment or flippancy for themselves. Rather, they focused on protecting themselves culpability in both worlds. So these two seniors (Hadrat Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad and Hadrat Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi) at first gave fatwa for permitting photos. However, with the grace of Allah, they made retractions. In 1919, Hadrat Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi wrote an article permitting pictures but in January 1943, with the strength of choosing the truth, published an announcement making a retraction of his position of the subject at hand.

Also consider the brave statement of Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad (Tazkirat Abu al-Kalam Azad):

    To have pictures taken, kept and published is not permissible. This was a grave mistake of mine that I had my picture taken and published ‘al-Hilal’ with images. I have repented from that mistake. My past mistakes should be hidden rather than publicised anew.”5

Fifthly, [It is incorrect] to assume that due to a picture being published of an Alim or elder that it is done with their consent or that they believe that (camera) photos are permitted. This does not prove that. Hence, in the periodical published from the Indian Madrasahs entitled, ‘Badr al-Islam’, after clarifying the position of the prohibition of photos taken of Mufti A’zam Hadrat Mawlana Kifayat Allah Sahib and the past leader of Jamiat al-Ulama Hadrat Mawlana Sa’id Sahib Dihlawi, they write:

أما اشاعة بعض الجرائد تمثال فوتو غراف بصورنا، فنحن لا ندري من أخذها وأين أخذها و متي أخذها، و لا يخفي أن أخذ رسم الفوتو غراف لا يحتاج إلي علم صاحب الصورة فان الأحد يتمكن من أخذها مع غفلة صاحب الصورة و كذلك اخذ مثالنا من أخذها

    Some magazines that have published our photo, we do not who took the photos, where it was taken, and when it was taken. It is clear that it is not necessary that a person will know when a photo is taken. It is possible to take a picture without their knowledge. Whoever took our photos, also took it without our knowledge."6

He also writes in an answer to another question like this:

    To assume when an individual’s picture is published that it was taken with their knowledge and consent, that picture is permitted according to them is the result of naivety or bias."7

Sixthly, it is possible that these elders agreed on the prohibition of pictures without acute necessity. Thereafter, due to an Islamically valid severe necessity they had their picture taken which then fell in the hands of another.

Seventhly, the elders whose photos are thought to be honourable (which in reality is reprehensible) to keep and gather, they themselves through statement and action have reported it being prohibited and dishonourable. They have declared their distance from it. Hence, the writing of Mufti Kifayat Allah has passed your eyes, “The Ahadith (which he has written proves that) taking picture, keeping pictures … all are established as haram8

Shaykh al-Islam Hadrat Madani (قدس سره) writes in a letter to Mawlana Ahmad Hussayn Lahorpuri, “[I] received your letter with the cutting of the photo. I thank you for remembering me. I have never knowingly or intentionally had my pictures taken. This happens without my knowledge and I do not consider it permitted. Those who do it they are responsible for it.”9

The famous Muhaddith Hadrat Mawlana Habib al-Rahman A’zami Sahib (نور الله مرقده) writes, “The youth tried to take photos of the stage (upon which Hadrat Madani and ulama were present). Hadrat (Madani) in a very loud voice scolded them and did not allow them to take photos.”10

Eighthly, one should think that if they are supposedly collecting the pictures due to respect and love, if those elders were alive and they were to know of our action, so would they have been happy with our action which is manifestly against the shari’ah? [Would they] have considered it their respect? It is clear, they absolutely would not have been happy and would have thought it against their love. Our elders used to be happy with adherence to the shari’ah and the disobedience to Shari’ah used to be a source of heartfelt hurt. That which is a source of hurt has become something of pride that we have the picture of so and so elder!

ع بریں عقل و دانش بباید گریست - The sound and wise would cry

Ninthly, some people consider the keeping and gathering of the elder’s photos as a source of barkat (blessing) whereas it is the source of rejection as it comes in some Sahih Ahadith that it restricts the coming of angels.

Tenthly, the prohibition of making and keeping pictures in the shari’ah is not restricted to a particular time rather it is until the day of judgement (acute necessities are an exception as has passed). This prohibition is for both the lay and learned.

Some learned assume that the prohibition of animate pictures in so that shirk does not start and since we are not going to do that the prohibition for collecting the pictures of elders does not apply to us. The fact is that is notion is corrupt. First, we have no guarantee or pledge of remaining protected against shirks; ‘الايمان بين الخوف و الرجاء’ - keep that in mind at all time. Second, we may become the cause of [others] becoming involved in shirk; ‘الدال علي الشرك فاعله’. Third, this is assumed to be the only cause of prohibition whereas there are many causes (cf. Ahkam al-Quran of Thanwi, v. 7 p. 517) such as the angels of mercy disliking it; a cause which is still found. So how can our action not come under prohibition? In other words, it can be said,

ع سخن شناس نہ دلر با! خطا ایں جاست – Professionally speaking, not as a fan; this is wrong

The aforementioned lines establish clearly that the holding and collecting of the photos of the elders for love and respect is not permitted. So if those who are repentant want to discover what should be done the pictures which are in our possession? The pronouncement in al-Ifadat al-Yawmiyyah (v. 7 #447) is quoted below for them which will give an easy solution to their query.

    A person mentioned (to Hakim al-Ummat Thanwi) that, ‘A man has a nominal picture of the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم), what is the ruling? What should be done with it?’ (Hadrat Hakim al-Ummat) said, ‘This occurred in the time of Hadrat Mawlana (Shah Isma’il) Shahid Sahib (رحمة الله عليه) and Shah Abd al-Aziz Sahib (رحمة الله عليه). A man came and asked Hadrat Shahid, ‘I have a picture of the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) which is a nominal representation, what shall I do with it?’ He responded, ‘What should happen! The ruling of shari’ah does not change even if it is a nominal representation of the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم)’. Thereafter this person went to Shah Abdul Aziz Sahib and said the same. Hadrat Shah sahib asked, ‘Is it with or without life?’ [The man] responded, ‘without life’. He said, ‘When he who has been drawn passed what was done’. He said, ‘He was bathed, shrouded and buried'. He responded, 'You do the same. Wash it with fragrance and rose [water], cover it with very expensive cloth and bury it in a place where no one’s feet falls’. The point is the same that remove it; just the subject matter is different. The second is more palatable, then gradually the first will become acceptable. After hearing this, the questioner told (Hadrat Hakim al-Ummat) that the man who has that picture says, ‘I will come to hadrat and give him the picture. He may do with it what he please.’ He responded, ‘[He] is very clever, he wants to remain respectful according to him. No problem! I will do with it what is commanded by shari’ah. On the one side is ‘هذا تمثال رسول الله صلي الله عليه و سلم’, just see who is ahead? And there is the judgment which is even better that if this was presented in front of the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) what would the prophet (صلي الله عليه و سلم) have done? It is apparent that he would not have said even that which Hadrat Shah sahib had said rather his fatwa and action would have been that Mawlana Shahid’. Then (Hakim al-Ummat) said, ‘the difference between the solutions of Hadrat Mawlana Shahid and Hadrat Shah Sahib is that one is a general benefit whilst another is a complete benefit’. The solution of Hadrat Shah Sahib has general benefit and Hadrat Shahid Sahib has complete benefit. It is clear that complete benefit is superior even if general benefit is easier.11

Consider the meaning of another pronouncement, Hadrat Hakim al-Ummat (رحمة الله عليه) once in Khatoli (Muzaffarnagar, India) was asked about respecting the nominal pictures of the prophet of Allah (صلي الله عليه و سلم) and some Sahabah (رضي الله عنهم) - which had come from Haydrabad. So, Hadrat Thanwi (رحمة الله عليه) replied that these [pictures] are not worthy of respect. The evidence is that of the pictures that were removed from the Ka’ba was that of Hadrat Ibrahim and Isma’il from the Ka’bah which were handled in the same manner like the other pictures – (they were destroyed). However, the self wants to respect but the self should not interfere or take precedence over the order of Shari’ah; following the hukm (command) is respect.

واللہ الموفق للصواب

Mufti Umar Faruq Lawharwi
Akabirin ke photo haqiqat ke ayne mein
In Fiqhi Jawahir. 1422. 3rd Ed.
Kosamba, India; Jamia Abu Hurayrah.

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Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami (Translator)
9 Rabi 1434
21 January 2013

  • 1. Quran, Hadith, Ijma' and Qiyas Shar'i. cf. Nur al-Anwar and Talwih - Saif
  • 2. الواقع ان التفريق بين الصور المرسومة و الصور الشمسية لا ينبغي (كذا في الاصل، و ينبغي ان يكون هكذا – لا يبتني) علي اصل قويّ، و من المقرر شرعا ان من كان حراما او غير مشروع في اصله، لا يتغير حكمه بتغير الالة. فالخمر حرام سواء خمرت باليد او بالماكينات الحديثة، و القتل حرام سواء باشره المرء بسكين او باطلاق الرصاص. فكذلك الصورة، قد نهي الشارع عن صنعها و اقتنائها، فلا فرق بينما كانت الصورة قد اتخذت بريشة المصور، او بالآلات الفوتوغرافية. و الله سبحانه اعلم - تكملة فتح الملهم ص 163 ج4
  • 3. Mufti A’zam ki Yad, p.146
  • 4. Malfuzat Muhaddith Kashmiri, p 256
  • 5. Kashkol Ma’rifat, v.2 p. 125-126
  • 6. Kifayat al-Mufti, v. 9, 237, 240, 241
  • 7. Kifayat al-Mufti, v.9 p. 245
  • 8. Islah al-Rusum, ch. 9 p. 36-39
  • 9. Maktubat Shaykh al-Islam v. 4 p.214
  • 10. Roz Namah al-Jamiat Shaykh al-Hadith p. 41
  • 11. al-Ifadat al-Yawmiyyah,v. 7, p. 254-255

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Cite: 

Lawharwi, Mft. Umar Faruq. (2013). Photos of the Ulama (Nawhami, Muhammad Saifur Rahman, Trans.). Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ), Number 2. Available at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/130121501

Comments

The late grand mufti of Gujrat Mufti Abdur Rahim Lajpuri (may Allah almighty have mercy upon him) writes regarding this article, "I heard the photo article fully. Masha-Allah, in a very nice manner misconceptions regarding the past scholars have been removed through their own writing. I wholeheartedly pray Allah almighty accept this effort and make it beneficial for the reader..." - 23 Zul Qa'dah 1421 (21 February 2001)

Shaykh al-Hadith Hadrat Ml. Muhammad Ayyub Sahib Surti (damat barakatuhum) writes regarding this article, "The article regarding the photos of the elders in particular is very good. It was necessary to mention the vice of this practice. To my reckoning this is the first article that I have come across on this matter." - 1 Sha'ban 1421