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The evidence for the permissibly of drawing and painting in Islam

Salam, I am drawn to the approach of Islam you & others like you take, and when I read the understanding of the permissibility of things like music or drawing it makes sense to me. However, I worry that I'm actually just accepting the rulings that align more with my personal preferences rather than doing what's right because it makes life more difficult. After learning that 3 of the Sunni schools reject the permissibility of drawing, I feel there might be a flaw in the minority opinion. Advice?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I understand your worries. When it comes to the issue of drawing the evidence is very confused, therefore there is room for doubt and interpretation. Unfortunately there is no way to synthesize the evidence to come up with an opinion that completely settles the heart. But the evidence is sufficient to avoid condemning drawings and to let people do what they choose to do. The strongest support for drawings being permissible comes from al-Qasim b. Muhammad, one of Medina’s Seven Jurists who lived after the generation of the Companions. It is incredibly unlikely that this scholar would have supported a baseless opinion.

The two strongest pieces of evidence for drawing being permissible is that:

  1. The Quran does not contain the slightest hint of drawings of living things being prohibited.
  2. This is a case where hadith creates an entirely new category of prohibition not mentioned in the Quran. Should hadith be allowed to create entirely new categories of prohibitions? The correct answer seems to be “no”. Prohibitions should have a basis in the Quran that is further explicated in hadith. If the Prophet had received a revelation on drawings of living things being evil and prohibited, he should have made it clear–so the question is did the Prophet fail to transmit revelation to us? The hadiths on drawings of living things being disliked or impermissible are few and may reflect a personal dislike of the Prophet for drawings, rather than a rule meant to be followed. If there was meant to be a prohibition, the Prophet would have clearly stated it to his Companions and we would have had dozens of hadith narrations mentioning his statement and the Companions’s response to it, similar to the hadiths mentioning the story of how alcohol was banned and how the Companions responded by destroying their alcoholic drinks. Why did the Prophet fail to make a clear statement on prohibition? The answer could be that because there was not meant to be a prohibition. Drawings of living things were very widespread in Arabia at the time and we should have had numerous hadiths mentioning that they were destroyed and prohibited.

Numerous hadiths are mentioned from the likes of Aisha about the Prophet saying angels do not enter houses in which there are pictures, for example:

I purchased a cushion with pictures on it. The Prophet (came and) stood at the door but did not enter. I said (to him), "I repent to Allah for what (the guilt) I have done." He said, "What is this cushion?" I said, "It is for you to sit on and recline on." He said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, 'Make alive what you have created.' Moreover, the angels do not enter a house where there are pictures.'" (Sahih al-Bukhari 5957)

Yet we have hadiths like the following where Aisha refutes the above hadith supposedly from herself, saying she did not hear the Prophet saying angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures:

Abu Talha Ansari reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

I came to 'A'isha and said to her: This is a news that I have received that Allah's Apostle (ﷺ) had said: Angels do not enter the house in which there is a picture or a dog, (and further added) whether she had heard Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) making a mention of it. She said: No, but I narrate to you what I saw him doing. I bear testimony to the fact that he (the Holy Prophet) set out for an expedition. I took a carpet and screened the door with it. When he (the Holy Prophet) came back he saw that carpet and I perceived signs of disapproval on his face. He pulled it until it was torn or it was cut (into pieces) and he said: God has not commanded us to clothe stones and clay. We cut it (the curtain) and prepared two pillows out of it by stuffing them with the fibre of date-palms and he (the Holy Prophet) did not find fault with it. (Sahih Muslim 2106 f, 2107 a)

Below is further evidence for making drawings of living things legal:

  1. Prophet Sulayman had statues built for him. If statues were inherently evil and disliked by God, how could a prophet do such a thing?
  2. The Prophet and his Companions used Byzantine coinage that had human portraits on them, yet there is no mention whatsoever of the Prophet disliking them or considering it impermissible to use such coinage.
  3. As mentioned, the highly respected Successor al-Qasim b. Muhammad, one of Medina’s Seven Jurists, considered drawings of living things to be permissible.
  4. The Prophet ordered Aisha to take away a curtain that had the picture of bird on it because “it reminds me of the worldly life”. He did not say it is prohibited or evil–just that it was distracting.
  5. Aisha used to have a toy horse with wings, the Prophet laughed at it and did not say it should be destroyed.
  6. The Companions did not destroy the paintings and statues in Khosrow’s palaces or in Egypt. Their inaction shows that there was no universal agreement on such things being evil and harmful.

Sources:

And God knows best.

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