Al-Islam's Position On Photos of Human Beings
By Imam W Deen Mohammed (ra)
Imam Ronald Shaheed: Brother Imam, the first question says: "Some Muslims do not display or keep photos, yet the United States has photos of the believers and Imam, what is our stand on this subject?"
Pictures not make unless for science, Narcism
Imam W.Deen Mohammed: Yes, one of the major sins is to be a vain person. We know in Greek legend or mythology a certain creature that came to water and saw his picture in the water, reflection, picture, in the water; became so much involved with the picture in the water that it destroyed him. In Al-Islam, we are taught not to make pictures of human beings unless it is for the sake of knowledge or science. So in science we can have the anatomy of the human person, study the human body for science purposes. That is, to get away from this tendency. The human interest in human beings is described in Al-Islam or in the Qur'an in three types:
Qur'an 12.53; Nafs Ammarah
"Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely my Lord is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
Qur'an 75.2; Nafs Lawwamah
And I do call to witness the self-reproaching spirit: (Eschew Evil).
Qur'an 89.27; Nafs Mutmaennah
(To the righteous soul will be said:) "O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!
1. Qur'an. 12.53; Nafs Ammarah That the human being tends to be given to impulse, to act without thinking and to demand, place demands, put demands, always putting forth demands, demanding things, demanding something of another. And that leads to commanding, ordering people, just always giving orders, orders. And this is Nafs La Ammara, it is called.
2. Qur'an. 75.2; Nafs Lawwamah There is another one, second description is given, second description of these three is that the person is occupied with himself. You become occupied with your own self, with the human make up, the human person. And its is called Nafs Lawwamah. And the word "Lawwamah means that this person is critical. People tend to be critical and if you're not critical then you tend look for the positive. I used critical in the negative way, negative sense. You tend to look for the positive things, for the good, for something to praise. So these two go together because the critical person doesn't necessarily have to be looking for fault, doesn't necessarily have to be a fault finder. The critical person could be critical of something that's unsuitable for human excellence, you see?
The tendency to be tied up with this, looking at the human person, admiring or holding the human being up, high merit or putting the human down, that tendency can lead to many things; to hard heartedness, coldness where you don't value the human person at all, the human being as a human creation at all. And then it can go to the other extreme where you are just enamored by what you see in human beings. You fall in love. That was the Romance Period for Rome and the old world. That was the Romance Period where the artists were just all in love with the body of the human person. And they called that whole period the Romance Period to show you that this tendency really rose to be a mark on history, itself. Man's interest in himself, or the human person's interest in himself as a great human creation and the Romance Period was accompanied by those two, one putting the human being down, others putting him up. So we know those great artists who drew the beautiful pictures of human beings and described the human being in such wonderful terms of language. But there was, also, at the same time, those artists who were putting the human down, making the human being demons, making figures of demons for the human being. So that's what this is for, pictures. Al-Islam came behind that time when the Greeks had a pantheon of gods, males and females. Egyptians had it. Africa had it. The nations were just preoccupied with the human figure. So in the time of the Prophet (pbuh,) he did not encourage, in fact, he discouraged making images of human beings or pictures of human beings, not to be sculptured, not to be drawn with the pen or ink or paint, no images of the human person. There were no pictures of the Prophet (pbuh) in His time, no pictures of his companions who followed him. They didn't do those things.
I do not like to look at pictures of myself and that's because I've trained my soul to not to want to admire myself or to be looking at myself. It's just natural for me when I'm going to prayer to avoid looking at a mirror that will show me to myself. If I'm walking through the room and I know there's a mirror there I will turn my head away from the mirror while I'm walking to the place where I'm going to pray. And I think we have to be aware that human beings have this weakness in them and if we like our pictures too much, the pictures may make us vain, may spoil us. So my position is, dear questioner, that we should follow the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) and his best followers, his companions, and not want to see our pictures up on the wall, or everywhere. But for the sake of science and knowledge and history you can have those pictures. But don't display them. Have the pictures of your babies and your family, picture books. Then if you just want to produce them say, "This was your father". I'm not sure that, that's not even tainted a little bit. But I will say that I do that and I think the interest in preserving the record, history etc., so that it will be in the family, this person, how they looked, I think we will be excused for that as long as we don't let it feed our weakness or make us vain and idol worshipers. Should I say more? That took care of it? The answer is no, we shouldn't attach ourselves to photos.