About images in Islam

About images in Islam

Today, with the development of technology, vivid illustrations and images have rapidly burst into everyone's life: photos, pictures, clips, videos and so on. Images are present on clothes, art objects, billboards. Even on social media we regularly flick through our feeds and put "likes" on photos and pictures.

Meanwhile, the situation related to the widespread dissemination of photographs and various images raises many questions and misunderstandings on the part of Muslims. The fact is that Islam has a ban on images and says that making images is an imitation of the Almighty in creation. In Islam imitating Allah is the greatest sin. There is also a very famous hadith that says: Allah will subject the creators of images to the most severe punishment. Considering that we live in a society where images and pictures are an integral part of our lives, the natural questions for many Muslims are: what is the sinfulness of such images, and how do we protect ourselves from sin?

All the Prophets and the Messengers of Allah have in fact spoken about the harmfulness of the images.But it is important to understand and investigate from what images the Prophets and Messengers of Allah warned against? And why are the creators of the seemingly harmless images, as it is stated in the hadiths, punished by Allah Himself? Let's start with a ban on the image of Allah. Due to this prohibition, from the very beginning of the formation of Islam to the present day, it has not been customary to depict or imagine Allah. Islam categorically rejects the visual or verbal depiction of Allah. Islam teaches that all the characteristics inherent in creatures cannot be attributed to the One Who created them. It is not permissible to depict Allah the Almighty in creatures created by Him, especially in human being. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: "Think about everything, but do not think about the essence of Allah." The meaning of this hadith is that Allah cannot be known through perception, imagination or judgment. Any judgment leads to delusion. On this subject there is a statement of Ubay ibn Kaba who said: "He is beyond the reach of the thoughts of the slaves, by the thoughts one cannot comprehend Him".

It is also not customary in Islam to depict the Prophets and Messengers of Allah the One, including the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This prohibition is to protect believers from idolatry, and also because it is impossible to depict the greatest spiritual essence of the Prophets. Any images only convey an external, visible image. But behind the visible image there is an immense part that the human mind cannot grasp. The greatest love and mercy of the Prophets for people, their kindness and justice cannot be conveyed through images. Any image diminishes the spiritual essence and greatness of the Prophets and reduces everything to a visible image, to a depiction.

The prohibition on depicting Allah and the Prophets in Islam is due to the limitations of the human consciousness, which is incapable of knowing the Spiritual World. The only way to know Allah is through sincere love and piety. And this is stated in many ayats of the Holy Qur'an. 

While the prohibition on images of Allah and His Prophets is clear, the prohibition on other depictions and images surrounding us in everyday life is not so simple. In connection with the emergence of new technologies and professions, there are many questions and misunderstandings among Muslims, which they voice on various Islamic forums and sites. At the same time, the opinion of Islamic theologians on this issue was divided. Some theologians claim that Islam prohibits all kinds of images, while others speak of a partial prohibition, allowing photographs, landscapes of nature and things that do not take people away from monotheism.

As a Muslim, I, like many other Muslims, struggled for a long time to understand the prohibition of images in Islam. I did not understand and did not find the point in removing pictures from the house. At the same time, the answers from theologians that pictures and images lead to polytheism did not satisfy me. To my great joy, the issue of images was comprehensively revealed in the video with the participation of I.M. Danilov "Obsessive Images", as well as in the Kaleidoscope of Facts "The power of images" on AllatRa TV. Thanks to the information provided in these videos, today I know for sure that the hadiths spoke about the perniciousness of images on the spiritual path of a person. In order to understand this, I suggest that we consider some of the well-known hadiths:

— "Angels do not enter the premises of 'tamasil', 'tasawir'; [1]

— "Angels do not enter the premises where 'surahs' are located"; [2]

— "Angels do not enter the premises where there is a dog or 'tasawir', 'sura'; [3]

"Tamasil" translates from Arabic as "statues, statuettes, monuments", that is, artistic and sculptural statues of animals or people capable of casting a shadow. "Tasawir" translates to "idols, sacred images" depicted on canvas. "Sura" (spelled with a "sod") translates from Arabic as "image, picture, depiction, figure, face".

Grammatically, "tasawir" is derived from "sawwar", meaning the action of giving something some external shape or appearance — sura (one-rooted with tasvir). From the same root is formed the verb tasawwar (to imagine, to visualize, to fancy) and its derivative tasawwur (imagination). In contrast to "tasvir", both of these words express the process and the fact of not man-made, but imaginable creation of images. The etymology of the words makes it clear that in the above hadiths it is not only about creating visible images but also about creating mental images. And this is the key point.

We've all noticed that we constantly have different images spinning in our heads. It could be a conversation with someone in your head, an argument. Proving to an imaginary opponent that you are right. It may be memories of what happened long ago. But the vast majority of them are dreams. Dreams are about a beautiful dress, a car, a house, a family, a soulmate and so on. Each of us has a constant flow of different desires, dreams and conversations in our heads. There are also many trainings and courses that teach people how to imagine and visualize what they want to achieve in life. But when we imagine various things in our heads, none of us even realizes that by doing so we are creating images. We do not even think that by putting our attention on those images, considering them, admiring and enjoying them, we enliven them. The images start to move, to respond, to talk. Thus a whole storyline with dramatic elements is created. We do not notice that we live in dreams and illusions.

Meanwhile, in the Holy Qur'an in surah 119, 'An-Nisa', the Shaitan, referring to Allah, says that he will definitely lead people astray by stirring up dreams. The outstanding Muslim scholar of the 13th century Ibn al-Qayyim also wrote about the fact that dreams are harmful to a person. In his book "Ad-Da'a wa Dawa’a" he said: "The lowest of people by zeal and humiliated in soul is the one who is satisfied with false dreams, which he prefers to reality, and attracted them to himself, and began to adorn himself in them. This, I swear by Allah, is the capital of the bankrupt, the trade of the unprofitable, and it is the food of an empty soul which is satisfied with fantasies and false hopes, leaving reality.”

Dreams are not able to help a person in comprehending the outside world, and even more so they cannot help him in comprehending Allah. The dreamer creates the desired image for himself and imagines that he has already achieved it. He enjoys them and strokes his ego by winning imaginary disputes, competitions, and so on. Moreover, a person giving his time to his dreams, directing all his attention to them, does not notice that at this time he is not commemorating Allah. At this time he puts material goods and desires above Allah. He becomes attached to the temporal and perishable world and distances himself from the Eternal and the Living.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) knew about the destructiveness of images for a person. Therefore, he taught his followers not to dream of a happy and unclouded life, but to take responsibility for their Spiritual and material life. He taught to love Allah, to constantly work on oneself, to be diligent and patient on the path to Allah, and to do good deeds with pure intentions.

The interior work upon oneself in Islam is called Great Jihad, and it begins with inner purity and control of thoughts. Ibn al-Qayyim wrote that thought is the beginning of good and evil. Desires, zeal and determination are generated from it. He said that the one who controls his or her thoughts will be safe from the wiles of Shaitan. But the one who does not keep his or her thoughts clean will be led astray by Shaitan and seduced by this world’s goods. Thoughts will keep coming to him until they become false dreams. However, he also wrote: "Know that there is no harm in the coming of thoughts, but, indeed, there is harm in calling them and talking to them; a thought is like a passerby on the road, if you do not call and leave him, he will pass by and move away from you, but if you call him, he will charm you with his conversation, deceit and seduction”.

Indeed, Shaitan leads a person astray from the straight path. And it happens when the Shaitan substitutes internal work, the inner diligence of a person for external actions. Today, Muslims, following the interpretation of theologians, avoid keeping images and pictures in their homes. But at the same time many miss the importance of inner diligence and the interior work upon oneself. One's inner work on the spiritual path begins with constant control of thoughts and avoidance of various images throughout the day. And inner diligence begins with cultivating love and gratitude for Allah within oneself. 

Understanding that you cannot create images in your head and indulge in daydreaming reveals the essence of the prohibition of creating images. You must not divert your most precious resource — your attention and time — to nothing, nor must you stroke your ego and delusions of grandeur by winning mental disputes. All this is from the Shaitan. By accepting what Shaitan offers us, we ourselves distance ourselves from Allah. We attribute co-creators to Allah and unknowingly succumb to shirk, i.e. polytheism. The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were intended to eradicate polytheism in all its manifestations and affirm the Oneness of God in a person himself. 

Going back to the hadith that says that angels do not enter a house in which there are images, then it turns out that where Shaitan lives and rules there cannot be angels. Allah is not there. But when love for Allah is born in us, when we start loving and thanking Allah sincerely, when we start receiving the love of Allah in return, then a home for Allah is created in us. The only home we can make for Allah is a home within ourselves. Whatever beautiful buildings we build and call Allah's house, Allah's house cannot exist in the material world. "My heavens and earth cannot encompass Me, but the heart of My servant accommodates Me.”

Life is too short and every moment in which we can love Allah is precious. The essence of Islam is the interior work upon oneself, the taming of our nafs and increasing our Love for Allah. Today, as always, it is vital that everyone understands and realizes the destructiveness of images, learns to ignore them in one's head and constantly cultivates love and gratitude for Allah.


  1. Al-Munziri Z. Mukhtasar sahih Muslim. p. 408, hadith no. 1364.
  2. Ibn Manzoor. Lisan al-'Arab. Т. 4. С. 473.
  3. Al-Fikr, 1996. Т. 11. С. 578, hadith no. 5949.
  4. Kaleidoscope of Facts "The Power of Images", issue 23 on AllatRa TV — The Power of Images | Kaleidoscope of Facts 23 (allatra.tv)

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