What is the ruling on statues and plastic arts?
Many people inquire about the issue of statues and plastic arts. Islam prohibited statues due to its prohibition of idolatry and the worship of idols. Polytheists used to glorify idols and believed that they had the power to harm and benefit and they worshipped them to draw close to God. When Al-Husayn embraced Islam, the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] asked him, “How many deities do you worship?” He replied, “Seven on earth and one in the heavens.” The Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] said, “Renounce those on earth and worship the One Who is in the heavens.” This is how simple and clear Islam was about the prohibition of worshipping idols and statues. But if statues are made for reasons other than worship such as they are made for education and decoration. Or if they are made for a certain benefit such as the Pharaonic wind talismans or if they are made for reasons other than worship or if they are crafted in a manner free of any glorification. These are all permissible acts.
Imam Muhammad Abdu [may Allah the Almighty grant him mercy] explained this in an in-depth article in Al-Manar magazine which is published by Mr. Rashid Reda in which he elucidated that the statues inherited from the ancients were meant to record history and to record some geometrical or astronomical facts and to preserve their monuments as a standing witness of their civilization and not meant to be for worship. These are permissible and must be preserved.
Some people read in the Sunnah that angels do not enter a house where there is a dog or a statue. The hadith is authentic as the angels refuse to enter a place where there is a dog. This hadith is based on a narration that Jibril was once late in visiting the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him] although he had promised him that he would visit him. The Messenger went out of his house to meet him and inquired about the reason for his delay.
Jibril said, “You have a puppy.” which is a small dog that was
under the bed of the Messenger of God [peace and blessings be upon him]
The point is that the angels’ refusal to enter a place where there is a dog does not evidence the impurity of dogs but it rather evidences that the angels, who are among the matters of the unseen, do not like to enter such a place where a dog is present.
In our lives, a person may refrain from something although it is permissible. Therefore, whoever wants to raise a dog at his home, must allocate a place for it or allocate a place for his prayers so that the angels may enter his house.
The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] once contemplated exterminating dogs on the basis that angels dislike them. So Jibril came to him and said, “ no,they are a nation among nations.”
When it comes to the prohibited statues, it is the complete statue which is glorified, venerated or worshipped. There is no legal objection to figurines or those which children play with such as dolls or those which are for educational or other purposes. There is no harm in these and they are lawful.
Furthermore, when some people hear the word ‘surah’ they inquire about photography. Photography does not fall under this category
Photography is translated as ‘surah’ in Arabic figuratively
Sheikh Mohammed Beikhit Al-Muti’i wrote a book called Al-Jawab Al-Shafi Fi Ibahat Al-Taswir Al-Fotoghrafi (the Sufficient Response regarding the permissibility of Photography)
In which he said: “Photography involves capturing light.” The light reflects off the subject and is captured by the [optics of the] camera. This light is then transferred to light sensitive paper, a memory card and so images are created using photons.
Statues were erected for our master, Prophet Solomon, statues are therefore not prohibited per se but the prohibition comes for the unlawful purpose of worship for which they are made and used.
It is similar to when you stand before a mirror which captures your image and then you leave. This has nothing to do with the prohibited ‘surah’ i.e. image. Many people confuse between designated objects and their appellation. A ‘surah’ has a meaning, it has a certain designation in Islamic law which is meant for a complete worshipped statue. If we go to India for example, we will find the people worshipping statues, prostrating, glorifying and seeking blessings from them. This amounts to associating partners with God and this is polytheism. This is prohibited and rejected by Islam and is inconsistent with the Oneness of Allah.
However, the statues that are used for decoration and not for worship are lawful. We have learnt that the meaning of ‘surah’ is the complete statue that is glorified. This meaning of the word makes us understand all the Prophetic traditions and not deny any of them.
When the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] says, “The depicters will receive the severest torment on the Day of Judgment,” he does not mean the photographer in the studio. But the depicter who makes a statue to be worshipped. This is because he participates in creating shirk [associating partners with Allah]
And he will be asked on the Day of Judgment to breathe life into it as he drove people away from worshipping Allah through his sculptures. However, the photographer’s work may be great and may be of benefit in conveying knowledge
When coffee was introduced, the Arabic word ‘qahwa’ [coffee] means alcohol. So people asked some sheikhs whether it is lawful.
They said that it is unlawful because the word only denoted alcohol.
For 200 years we continued to research whether coffee is lawful
because scholars refused to drink it although they knew that it is not intoxicating. But a beverage made from coffee beans which, although erroneously called ‘qahwa’, is not prohibited.
I found that it was indeed the water left over from the salad and they call it by this name
Once I was at a restaurant and I heard a man ordering two glasses of whiskey. I was horrified because I know that this restaurant does not serve alcohol. So I asked the waiter, “What is this whiskey you are talking about? Do you serve alcohol?” He said, “No, this whiskey we have is called the whiskey of the righteous.” I asked him, “What is the whiskey of the righteous?” He said, “It is the water left over from the salad.” This is how it is called ‘whiskey of the righteous’. I told him, “Get me some of this whiskey to taste.”
So, does the designation prohibit a thing? No, because if we call sugarcane juice alcohol, this designation will not render it prohibited. Similarly, when we call the ‘khamira’ [yeast] we use to make bread by this name, it will not be prohibited because names do not render something prohibited. What makes something prohibited is its substance.
When you read the hadith, you must resort to its exegesis, the catastrophe is that non-specialists interpret the words of the hadiths literally and become carried away by their apparent meanings. And maintain that something is unlawful, an act of disbelief or wrongdoing without being aware of its meaning.
Because of their misinterpretation, we find that there are those who want to destroy the pyramids and the Sphinx. The Sphinx and the pyramids were made to prevent dust from reaching Giza.
Ali pasha Mubarak said that the fourth pyramid [the Sphinx] was destroyed by Napoleon and not by the Muslims. But Al-Sherief Al-Idrisi said that when the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) came to Egypt, they prayed in the pyramid courtyard because it is a place where prophets prayed. And that is the difference between the Companions and scholars and the ignorant and those who misunderstand Islamic law Ahmad pasha Taimor reported from Al-Sherief Al-Idrisi Al-Husaini that the Companions wrote their names on the pyramids.
And that they were not built for worship but for other scientific, astronomical and mathematical objectives. This is the difference between ignorance and knowledge.
Some people claim that the issue of idols and the like is what prevents students from joining the sculpture department at the Faculty of Fine Arts. This is not the case, because the sculpture department is first of all very costly and this is why very few students join it.
Secondly, it is difficult and thirdly, the students do not find jobs after graduation. They cannot find jobs as photographers and so on.