When are the ‘Image-Makers’ in Hell?!

Meta Yakoun al-Musawirun fil-Nar?!

Sawt Al-Umma, Issue 95
September 23rd, 2002

In the beginning there was the word. Allah created it as light and with it was faith. Allah created it as a letter and it was literature and poetry. Allah created it as rhythm and it was music. Allah created it as color and it was a canvas. Allah created it as compassion and it was the love in our hearts. It is difficult to imagine that what Allah granted to people in the way of talent and feelings are haram. They are human creative impulses made by man’s consciousness that raise us above the rest of creation. And yet there is a hadith narrated by Sayedna Abdullah [r.a.a.] in which Allah’s Messenger [s.a.a.w.s.] said: ‘Among those who will be punished most in hell on the Day of Resurrection will be the image-makers [al-musawirun ]’ [Ahmed Ibn Hanbal Part 7, pp 141 #4050]. This hadith has been cited by some to justify a prohibition on photography, sculpture and painting. Some have even gone so far as to prohibit the use of illustrations in the study of life sciences or banknotes because they have pictures or designs on them! But who are the image-makers who will be in hell? It is difficult to accept the idea that the paintings of Van Gogh, Goya, Mahmoud Saied, Picasso or Sief Wanly are haram? It is difficult to accept that pictures of landscapes or the statues in our city squares are haram ! They are artistic expressions that elevate our feeling and suppress our aggressiveness and cruelty against others. But who are the image-makers who will dwell in hellfire according to the above mentioned hadith?

The image-makers in hell are those who attribute an image or form to Allah even in their hearts and worship Allah in that image. They are those, for example, who liken Allah to the form of a cow and believe the cow to be sacred or those who liken Allah to the sun and make an image of the sun as if it is Allah, or those who liken Allah to a star, a snake or moon or other created thing which they worship. Image-making (taswir) in this sense is haram and the image and the person who makes the image are thrown into hell. They have forgotten that Allah cannot be conceived of in terms of quantity [al-kam] form [al-kayf] or place [al-ayn] and that Allah has no peer [an-nid], adversary [ad-did], similar [ash-shabih]. Allah [s.w.t.] cannot be compared to something [al-mathil]. He does not have an associate or partner [ash-sharik], wife [az-zawja] or offspring [al-walad]. Allah is other than anything one can possibly conceive or imagine.

When Allah revealed the verse ‘wa anna hadha sirati mustaqiman fat-tabia’uh’ which may be translated as ‘this is my straight way so follow it’ [Al Ana’am: 153], the prophet [s.a.a’w.s.] drew a straight line in the sand and then drew two lines on each side of it  making it look like a palm branch stripped of its leaves. This was narrated by Sayedna Jaber Bin Abdullah [r.a.a’.] who said ‘We were with the prophet [s.a.a’w.s.], who drew a line and then drew two lines on the right of it and two lines on the left. He then placed his hand on the middle line and said ‘ This is Allah’s Way’. He then recited the verse ‘This is My Straight Way so follow it and do not follow other ways that will divide you and divert you from the Way’ [ Al Ana’am: 153]. This is a kind of illustration that cannot possibly be haram An illustration is a teaching aid. We apply them in military planning, geological mapping, topology, hydrology engineering and physics. Even the letters we write are a form of illustration. It is not possible that Allah’s Messenger [s.a.a’w.s.] would prohibit things we need and we should not treat what Allah’s Messenger [s.a.a’w.s.] says with such superficiality. His words contain all meaning. A word with few letters uttered by Allah’s Messenger [s.a.a’w.s.] is constant even though different meanings may be ascribed to it at different times until the earth and everything on it is repossessed by Allah. All explanations of the meaning of the Quran whether they be by old or new commentators is like a group of  blind persons describing an elephant. Each of them should accept the explanation of the other. Whoever’s hand falls on a hard part will describe the elephant as hard.  Whoever’s hand falls on a soft part will describe the elephant as soft. Whoever’s hand falls on a hair will describe the elephant as hairy. Whoever’s hand falls on a smooth part will describe the elephant as smooth. No-one can claim to have a comprehensive understanding of the treasures and secrets contained in the Quran.

Sayedna Suliman [a’.s.] who was a prophet,  a messenger, a king and the khalifa of his time ordered the jin to make statues – ‘They made for him what he willed – niches, statues, bowls as large as reservoirs and round deep pots.’ [Saba:13]. Angels do not enter into a house in which a statue or an image is taken as an object of worship or as an intermediary or a means of drawing nearer to Allah. This is haram. However, if the statues or images are simply objects of beauty and decoration this is halal and the angels are invited to visit the house.

Only Allah preserves from error and gives strength to do right