Photography in Islam and Capturing the Islamic World in Images
24 Jan, 2007
For a long time I've wondered if there was (to some small extent) a connection between Islam's prohibitions on art and it's emphasis on triumphalism (conquest, hostility etc). It's as if without fantasy, Muslims have nothing to dream about but paranoid conspiracies and conquest...
But looking at those beautiful photographs made me think, there may not be a prohibition on photography because it isn't drawing or painting, it's a mechanical reproduction... Is that the case? What is the state of photography as an art form in the Muslim world?
Photography is not considered a respectable profession among the umma. I can think of three different and possibly overlapping reasons for this. (My apologies for the fragmented nature of this post.)
1. Islam. (Shocking!)
Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 34, Number 318.
Narrated Aisha: I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. (Please let me know) what sin I have done." Allah's Apostle said, "What about this cushion?" I replied, "I bought it for you to sit and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, 'Put life in what you have created (i.e. painted).' " The Prophet added, "The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures."
Oh yes, all you Muslim artists out there have a reserved space in Hell. Of course, this is grade-A superstition: somehow drawing or photographing an animate object is bad behavior because it's like mimicking Allah!
And we can't have that. One can do a search for "pictures" at the Hadith database and find tons of stuff that showcases the moronic musings of Muhammad -- the guy who is the moral gold standard for Muslims.
Very often, your average Muslim is not aware of these sayings, so they ask imams about the matter. A few examples:
- Is it okay to take pictures with a digital camera?
- Is it okay to store pictures that aren't "printed" (like on a computer)?
- Is it okay to wear pyjamas with pictures on them?
- A detailed question with a long answer.
- This one made me :) and :(
2. So Uncouth!
One finds an asphyxiating view in the desi community when it comes to education: there are only two fields that are respectable. Medicine and Engineering. (During the 90s, anything computer-related became acceptable as well.)
Now, I do not have a problem with these courses of study. However, there is overwhelming pressure on desi kids to "choose" from these two fields. Other higher education pursuits are politely referred to as useless. Art and music fall in that category. So, while one can find artistic desis, it's quite rare for them to truly pursue their passion to the maximum.
Narrowing the field to Pakistanis, I've met families that never display a single photo in their home and then others who can't wait to show you the photo albums and talk about the background history of each individual in there.
I have also met well off Pakistanis who refuse to buy a computer or get cable for their TVs. They'd rather have their children be technologically inept, then risk their exposure to naughty pictures. Though, it's odd for them to have a TV, which shows 30 "pictures" per second, for a few local channels. And then there are Pakistanis who have a computer and who get the latest cable and watch all the haram stuff. Baywatch was a big hit in Saudi Arabia in the 90s!
My dad recorded the Miss World 1994 pageant and then later gave the VHS tape to one of his friends.
He never got it back.
One can also see that Muslim kids have no qualms about having their pictures taken. In fact, they love it. Whenever American soldiers pass by in Iraq, kids come out and behave like monkeys on acid. As soon as a camera appears, they calm down and offer a massive smile.
It's schizophrenic behavior. Muslims love to take up the frame for a picture during their lavish wedding ceremonies but offer lukewarm support as a community to the profession of photography or art in general.
The strong religious component might be the answer: they're fine
with a few tasteful photographs with a cheap camera but having
that as a hobby might elicit bad publicity. Parents will tell
their wayward progeny to stop by saying, "Loog kya kahain gay?
(What will people say?)"
3. Totalitarian regimes.
Islamic nations don't want people to take photographs within their borders. A lot of damaging material can get out. So, draconian laws are enforced to ensure this state of affairs. Note the case of Zahra Kazemi.
My dad once visited a friend in Europe. He later brought back many photographs of his stay there. He got more photos from that brief visit than he had taken in all the many years in Saudi Arabia.
For the purposes of ID, we would go to a photo studio where results can be had within an hour.
The rulers of Arabia certainly do not mind showcasing their perverted mugs. For example, one finds large frames of theirs in the airports; the king and a few other assorted thugs of the Saud family welcome newcomers to the center of modern evil.
I think photography can do a lot of good -- mainly by demonstrating to the world just how truly hideous the Islamic sphere really is.
Imagine if a student could put a camera to record the events of a classroom. Nothing can showcase better that Islam is a Religion of Peace than Muslim teachers who repeatedly slap, punch, kick and hit the young and helpless students throughout the day.
It's kinda tough to take that "out of context".
Isaac Schrödinger is a Pakistani ex-Muslim currently lives in Canada. Visit his personal blog.