Monday, February 13, 2006

Images-of-Muhammad Controversy: Pictures in Islam

I've been meaning to post this hadith from Sahih Bukhari since it seems to play a major role in Islamic 'prohibitions' on images:
Volume 7, Book 62, Number 110:

Narrated Aisha (the wife of the Prophet):

I bought a cushion having on it pictures (of animals). When Allah's Apostle saw it, he stood at the door and did not enter. I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. What sin have I committed?"

Allah's Apostle said. "What is this cushion?"

I said, "I have bought it for you so that you may sit on it and recline on it."

Allah's Apostle said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, 'Give life to what you have created (i.e., these pictures).' " The Prophet added, "The Angels of (Mercy) do not enter a house in which there are pictures (of animals)."
Bukhari is considered one of the greatest compilers of authentic hadith, so I assume that the isnad for this is considered reliable by Muslims.

I'm no expert on Islam, but knowing something about how religious texts can be used, I'd say that this hadith could be interpreted in various ways.

The most aniconic reading would delete the parenthetical "of animals," which is not in the original text, and take the prohibition to refer to all pictures. This would include even photographs and television images, as one Christian evangelical site points out, citing the strictest Muslims on this point.

Less aniconic readings would attempt to limit the prohibition on images by arguing that the prohibition refers only to the sort of images on the cushion. The line of reasoning could run as follows: The specific images were idolatrous, and the hadith prohibits only idolatrous images. Clearly, such an interpretation might allow all images so long as they are not used for idolatry.

One would need to look at the various schools of Islamic law to know what official, institutional Islam has decided on this issue and how these schools link it to the specific 'prohibition' on depictions of Muhammad.

At any rate, we've already seen that images of the Prophet of Islam pervade the Muslim world, so these schools of law would appear to have been unable to enforce their rulings very effectively.

It seems that they're trying to do so now.


At 7:39 AM, Blogger Scottage said...

Yes, amazing how quickly the scope of the contreversy changes to fit the political expediency of the groups masterminding this.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From what I've seen, Islamic law operates a lot like case law, which means that there's a great deal of flexibility and room for interpretation.

That also leaves room for expediency.

Jeffery Hodges

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