I'm in Tehran at the moment; when I walk down the street, I see many statues of animals and humans. For example, here's a photo I took of the inside of a shop in Tehran:

the inside of a shop selling many animal statues

This seems surprising, since (as I've just learned) tasweer (picture-making) is haram.

I've also seen statues in Istanbul and Tashkent. Here are some of my photos:

statue of a soldier in Istanbulsmall statues for sale in Tashskent

It seems statues, and three-dimensional depictions of animals and humans are common in Muslim-majority cities.

Question: If statues are haram, why are there statues in Muslim-majority cities?

(Related questions: Is drawing people prohibited in Islam?, Can Muslims make statues for non worship purpose?, Is it haram to use a wallet which has a design like a horse and a deer?)

Motivation: As a revert, I'm bewildered by the enormous number of claims that "X is haram", "Y is haram". There's so many claims, it's impossible to avoid all of them while still functioning in society and retaining some enjoyment in life. As a result, I intend to prioritize avoiding major haram matters.

In this case, I simply don't know if "statues are haram" is regarded as serious, but given that I see Muslim-majority cities from diverse countries having statues on display, I think this is low priority. However, it is possible that I'm simply wrong about this (for some reason I'm unaware of). It's possible different sects have different attitudes; it's possible different countries have different attitudes; I don't know, as I haven't experienced them all. My current impression is that some strict scholars online forbid statues, but Muslims in general don't mind.

Having just learned about tasweer, I'm wondering if I should e.g. change the background image on my phone (it's a cartoon drawing of a punky Asian woman, which I thought looked cool). But it seems strange to do so when Muslims far more educated than me don't seem to care about these things.

  • This is far more to do with culture and politics than with anything to do with the religion of Islam itself; why any Muslim, or group of Muslims, chooses to do or not do something is a very personal and subjective matter. – goldPseudo Jul 26 '16 at 6:17
  • I think i understand your motivation, but the objection of goldPseudo is also true and an acceptable close reason. I think the given answer is somewhat helpful, as it tries to explain the main disputable points: Are statues and drawing haram (in general) or is it related with acts of worship? What is the relation to blasphemy and pretending one has created something? – Medi1Saif Jul 26 '16 at 8:01
  • Maybe the jafari school has a different verdict on the matter; that would explain why you see statues in Teheran. As for the sunni schools, make no mistake, they take this prohibition very seriously. That muslims ignore clear injunctions of sharia is so widespread, it shouldn't surprise anyone. I've seen a picture of Ataturk hanged up in a mosque, and he called Muhammad a raving lunatic; I don't think the status of such a comment in Islam needs to be elaborated. – G. Bach Jul 26 '16 at 8:31
  • @RebeccaJ.Stones If you're genuinely interested, there is some debate about the acceptability of pictures, paintings ect of animals/people. 3d is a no-go according to orthodoxy, but 2d might not fall into haram depending on school of thought, if I recall correctly. – G. Bach Jul 26 '16 at 10:31
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    This is a very interesting question... I wish it was still open & had more answers on it. – Ahmed Nov 1 '16 at 19:02

I think this is matter based on different opinions. Some may say statues were haram at a time where the Muslims were close to kufr (at the time of the Prophet etc.) and as those statues are not meant for worship they are somewhat halal or makroh.

Because people who were former pagans may easier have a fall back, while people who grow up in a monotheistic environment may not easily be influenced with such a thing.

What really is haram is (with shari'a evidences) drawing living things and idols (for worship) anything else is debatable. Note that the major reason for it being haram is that people used to worship these things (this is my understanding and conclusion of all those hadiths prohibiting it). So even drawing living things these days might be questioned. If you think of many pagans and their worshiped deities you may easily understand that in fact idols and anything which is related to them are really meant by this prohibition.
Maybe when it comes to drawing the fact that one might try to copy or by any means create something which is considered as a kind of blasphemy or a kind of competing with God in matters of creation may be taken into account. That's why I don't see no harm that children draw pictures, as it is a kind of form to express themselves and we know that children are still on the fitra (God's nature), so how would they by any means intend or do any thing which has the meaning of blasphemy.

On the other hand I'm not sure whether you may find such things in all Muslim countries. For example the only statue I know in Morocco was a statue of a Lion made by a German resident during the French colonization in Ifrane.

Also note that Turkey is until now a secular state in western style, so the fact that there are sculptures or statues there doesn't mean that the religious people may not reject it (at least in their hearts).
And Tashkent until a few decades ago was part of the USSR, so maybe people got used to this.
Tehran so far is the only example, which also includes a special case. Iran as a country which is lead by the shi'a doctrine. As I don't know much about it I just want to point at this.
We also know that there have been statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq etc.. But we must again consider that the country itself is a Muslim country but the leading party was a socialistic or communistic regime. Therefore you may often find a reason out of the rules of Islam which may be the "excuse" for a statue being there.

Finally when it comes to shari'a there are three kinds of statues and drawing which have been made or clearly declared as halal:

  1. Anything that has neither soul nor shadow for example trees are allowed as clearly stated by ibn 'Abbas.
  2. Anything which is not complete, for example a hand or feet or fingers, but not a whole body this is concluded from the hadith.
  3. And toys some say explicitly dolls for girls as stated in the hadith of 'Aisha.

[Source in Arabic]

See also this fatwa.

According this "fatwa" or Article it is allowed to have museums with statues, which show a part of history, as they are not worshiped.

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  • I think the orthodox schools of all times have all been explicit and pretty much unanimous that sculptures, no matter their purpose, are haram. I looked into this once; the earliest fatwa that I could find saying that if the intent of the sculptor is not to rival god in creation and the sculpture is not intended for being worshiped, then sculpting it is halal, was from the late 19th century by the very controversial, and probably unorthodox, Muhammad Abduh. This reinterpretation of classical legal thought seems to me to necessitate more than just some hand waving, though. – G. Bach Jul 26 '16 at 8:25
  • Modern orthodox scholars even go so far as to say that building a snowman is at least fishy and probably haram. – G. Bach Jul 26 '16 at 8:26
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    @G.Bach these people still live in the 6th or 7th century. And in many of the ahadith they provide you may find a clear hint to the relation to the former pagan worship. So either they are blind or big headed. And as said most of their sources are from hadith, a questionable source, they sometimes use to prove their opinions and sometimes reject as it has a weak chain etc. so as long as they take parts and reject parts I don't take that as a proof. – Sassir Jul 26 '16 at 8:40
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    @G.Bach It was not considered an indipendent fiqh madhab all early books until the 4th century when discussing madhbas quoted opinions of Imam Ahmad as a hadith scholar among others but never referred to a hanbali madhab. See for example ibn 'Abd-al-Barr in his istidhkar who is speaking about the 3 fuqaha': Abu Hanifa, Malik and a-Shafi'i. The hanbali schoool has established as a school maybe in the 5th century, as until then there has not even been one book on the osol of the madhab. – Medi1Saif Jul 26 '16 at 9:42
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    @G.Bach it is a matter where there are different opinions about. Some say it is due to the fact that the scholars of Maghreb namely ibn 'Abd-al-Barr and ibn Rushd (the grandson) didn't know about the madhab. But even a middle eastern scholar like at-Tabari has done the same. This doesn't mean that a hadith scholar was not considered a faqih, but they are clearly following text sources in first place and relay on them they hate using opinions or the mind which are related to fiqh. The sources (osol) of the madhab have been compiled after ibn Qudama's great book al-Mughni. – Medi1Saif Jul 26 '16 at 11:38

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