Islam is not like other religions. The faith is often described as a ‘complete’ system, and it contains rulings for many aspects of a person’s behavior which are not found in other religions. Among these unique rulings are the Islamic prohibitions on certain types of art. Many people, both inside and outside the Ummah, are aware of these prohibitions, but the details surrounding them are often uncertain.
Which prompts the question: What are Muslims allowed to draw?
Muslims are allowed to draw calligraphy and pictures of soulless subjects. Islamic calligraphy is created out of respect and adoration for the Arabic Quran. Muslims are not permitted to draw subjects which have souls, because this is viewed as an attempt to mimic Allah, i.e., shirk.
Below, we cover some of the common Islamic positions on drawing, sculpture, and the devout Muslim’s attitude toward the two. The last section contains a word on Islamic calligraphy.
The View Against Prohibition
The first opinion of the Islamic Scholars is that the Muslims are not prohibited from drawing. They are allowed to draw whatever they like as long as it doesn’t reflect or depict nudity or indecency of any sort. Also, the pictures or drawings must not show something that could be worshipped. As long as the drawing is decent, it doesn’t contain blasphemous content, and isn’t glorified then there is no restriction on it. Within these guidelines, the Muslims are allowed to draw humans, animals, objects from the world or sceneries. So, according to this opinion pictures in magazines, books and newspapers are allowed as long as they don’t portray nudity or indecency. This view is held by a whole bunch of scholars and they believe that all types of drawing is lawful as long as it is not something grotesque or pornographic.
Scholars who believe that all drawing is lawful put this argument forward that at the advent of Islam people were involved in idolatry hence, drawing and sculpting was prohibited. However, when people stopped doing it, there was no need of prohibition anymore.
The View On Prohibiting All Drawing
On the contrary, there is another opinion of some scholars. They believe that all kinds of drawing or sculpting is unlawful and prohibited in Islam. They relate this opinion to a Hadith: “The people who will be most severely punished on the Day of Resurrection will be those who aspire to create like Allah.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5954) and Sahîh Muslim (2107)]. There is another Hadith that is related with this opinion of scholars and it is: “Every image maker is in the Fire. For each image he made, a being will be fashioned to torment him in Hell.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (2225) – The wording accords with al-Bukhârî].
The Islamic Scholars who believe that all kinds of drawing are prohibited are of the view that everything drawn or sculpted is with the intent to aspire to create like Allah.
The View On Sculptures
Then comes another group of Islamic scholars who have a different take on the topic. These Islamic scholars believe that all kinds of drawing are allowed however, making sculptures of living beings is prohibited. This specific point is associated with idolatry. The sculpted object must not be a living being because it can end up being worshipped and that is certainly not allowed. In the same opinion, it is said that Muslims are not allowed to replicate images of people because at the Day of Judgement, Allah Almighty would ask the people to put soul in their “creations”. According to the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, the angels do not enter the houses that have replicated images.
The created of three-dimensional objects or sculptures is associated with the human’s aspiration to create creatures or beings just like Allah Almighty. Hence, it is prohibited. Also, the people can take the three-dimensional objects as objects of worship. People who are of this view also believe that drawings on paper, shirts, magazines or other surfaces are lawful as long as they are not three-dimensional.
The important point to note here is that the drawing of objects, humans and animals is not prohibited but the intent of creating like Allah, or aspiring to create like Allah is prohibited. All those people who believe that they can create Allah is living in a state of unbelief. Islamic scholars of this opinion believe that if there is a number of sculptures or statues, the people will start worshipping them.
Calligraphy in Islam
In Islam, one of the most sophisticated and popular form of art is Calligraphy. It is also very unique and original. Calligraphy has been associated with Islamic Culture for a very long period of time. Islamic calligraphy artists do not only portray their skill but they also express the meaning of the writing in their art.
The Quran was revealed in the Arabic language. Therefore, the calligraphy is in the Arabic language. This is because the verses of the Holy Quran are of great importance to the Muslims. They are sacred and are very respect worthy for the Muslims. Hence, Quranic verses are most commonly seen in Islamic Calligraphy. However, this does not mean that all the Islamic Calligraphy are verses from the Holy Quran. The calligraphy is in Arabic language but it doesn’t necessarily have to be from the Holy Quran.
The Islamic Calligraphy includes names of Allah Almighty, poems, verses from the Holy Quran, praises for saints and leaders as well.
In the earlier times, the Islamic Calligraphy didn’t really involve paint and color. It was just ink on paper in the early times. However, as the time progressed, the techniques and materials changed as well. Ink on parchment, calligraphy using ceramics, calligraphy using wood carving and then paint on canvas was later observed. Some of the other unique materials used in Islamic Calligraphy include fabric, enameled glass, and even metal work. Metal pots and bowl have calligraphy engraved.
One of the very cool things about calligraphy in Arabic is that decoration can be added to it. the Islamic calligraphers very skillfully enhance the Arabic calligraphy by beautifully outlining letters, making the punctuation look beautiful, and then frames and backgrounds are also added to the text. One thing that is noticed while adding decoration to the calligraphy is that it must not interfere with the clarity of the words or calligraphy.
Even in the current times, there are a number of Exhibitions solely of Islamic Calligraphy. The Calligraphers spend hours perfecting the letters and the punctuation. A lot of colors, modern techniques, textures and various other art methods are used in calligraphy. In a number of mosques all over the world, Islamic Calligraphy can be seen.