Is the selfie halal or haram? We asked ulema

May 23, 2018
What are the interpretations of Islamic scholars on the issue of photographs or say, selfies? SAMAA TV programme Subah Sehri Samaa ke Sath set out to seek a few answers.
Host Bilal Qutb began the discussion by asking Mufti Muhammad Zubair to discuss what the Shariah says about pictures and music.
Mufti Muhammad Zubair: Digital images are allowed in Islam
“A perception prevails in our society that a lot of ulema first declare something haram and later declare the same thing halal,” he said. This is not a weakness on part of the ulema, he said. “In fact, this can be appreciated. You can see that the ulema are flexible in accordance with changing society. Through ijtihaad, we propose solutions.”
However, ijtihaad cannot happen over issues that Allah (swt) or the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) gave clear instructions on, he said. “When we talk about pictures, it’s very clear that they are haram. There are various hadiths. Hazrat Ali (RA) has clearly said that whatever image or statue you see, remove it.” He also cited how the Holy Prophet (PBUH) expressed discontent over a curtain with an image that his wife, Bibi Ayesha (RA), had put up.
“One more hadith in Sihae Sitta says that on the Day of Judgment, the hardest punishment will be for the musavvir [artist],” he said.
However, he added, the situation is entirely different in today’s age. According to him, digital images are permitted in Islam. “The image that was declared haram used to havenaqsh, which was printed and could be touched and held. It was zildaar, which means it had a shadow. Such an image is haram and nobody can declare it halal. But the image of a digital camera, according to our research, is not included in the category of haram images. Why? It’s not touchable, it cannot be held.”
“Zubair bhai, I can stand with a digital image in front of me and I can also put it in the third dimension,” Qutb interrupted to ask.
“Bilal bhai, it is not like that,” said Mufti Zubair. “You cannot touch the image. You can only touch the device that has the image. Once you destroy the phone, where is the image? In computer terminology, it’s software not hardware. Remember this. It’s in the form of 0101 code. You may ask an IT expert.”
The scholar then clarified that if you print a digital image, it is haram as you will be able to touch the image then.
 
Allama Hisham Elahi Zaheer: Capturing a reflection is not shirk
According to Allama Hisham Elahi Zaheer, the ulema agree that any image made by the human hand is haram. “The artist will be asked to put a spirit in the image on the Day of Judgment,” he said.
He said that in a camera image, the artist is Allah (swt). “Just like a human sees their reflection in a mirror, the camera captures a digital image the same way,” he said. According to him, the creator and owner of this image is still Almighty Allah.
“Taking a photo is like capturing a human’s reflection in the mirror,” said Allama Zaheer. “Science students know very well that a person’s actual reflection is captured by the camera. The artist, on the other hand, is copying Allah’s (swt) creation. He or she is putting Almighty Allah’s creation in a mold, which is why it is prohibited. Capturing a reflection in digital form is not shirk.”
He said that some ulema have declared this haram because once the image is printed, it takes a tangible form.
 
Allama Kumail Mehdavi: Some ID card, passport photos are halal
According to Allama Kumail Mehdavi, the hadiths prohibiting drawing images also exist in the books of Fiqh-e-Jafaria. “If a printed digital image is haram, this means that all the passports and identity cards [bearing pictures] are haram,” he said.
Responding to this, Mufti Zubair said that Islam allows leniency at times when an individual is not in control of things. “When it is a matter of need, of identity, of a country’s laws or of the needs of the state, a common person’s power does not work,” he said. “Having no other choice, (s)he can take advantage of this. You or I did not make the law about pictures on the currency note, passport, identity card and all other paperwork.”
Allama Zaheer also said that printed photos on identity cards and passports are allowed. “We should end this disagreement, let’s unite,” he said.
Allama Mehdavi then quoted a fatwa of Egypt’s prestigious Al-Azhar University, which allows you to have photos on passports and other ID documents as long as you don’t feel any engravings on the picture. Just like when you run your fingers on a mirror and can’t feel any engraving.”

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