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I would like to see a scholarly commentary or quote explaining why Isa (PBUH) is allowed to form things from clay (3:49) but Muslims are not allowed. Sculpting/forming out of clay is usually frowned down upon far more than drawing, so this should be interesting.

And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of Allah . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of Allah . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers.

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    It's kind of interesting to me that this unique ability of Isa PBUH was mentioned in both of the last two books I read by modernists (The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol and What is Islam by Shahab Ahmed), and both of them mention the lack of explanation for it by jurists. – Avery Jan 19 '18 at 8:12
  • @Uma in this case the question should be asked again about that verse ;) – Medi1Saif Jan 19 '18 at 21:57
  • my understanding is that making sculpture is makru, not haram – 0tyranny 0poverty May 13 '18 at 23:23
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Most scholars have said that making images was permitted for the previous nations and is not permitted to us.

This can be found in the Tafsirs of the related verse:

يعملون له ما يشاء من محاريب وتماثيل وجفان كالجواب وقدور راسيات

They made for him what he willed of elevated chambers, statues, bowls like reservoirs, and stationary kettles.

Quran 34:13

Where we are told that the Jinn made statues for Suleman عليه السلام, here various exegetes have also made a brief reference to the act of Isa عليه السلام.

Note:- The english text is my personal translation. It may contain paraphrasing, mistakes and omissions.

قال النحاس : قال قوم عمل الصور جائز لهذه الآية ، ولما أخبر الله عز وجل عن المسيح

Nihas said: One group has considered making images to be permitted based on this verse and what Allah has informed us about Jesus.

...

فإن قيل : كيف استجاز الصور المنهي عنها ؟ قلنا : كان ذلك جائزا في شرعه ونسخ ذلك بشرعنا كما بينا ، والله أعلم . وعن أبي العالية : لم يكن اتخاذ الصور إذ ذاك محرما

If someone asks: "How could he permit them to make images which have been forbidden?" We would say: It was permitted in their shariah and it has been abrogated in our shariah. Allah knows best. And it is narrated from Abu al-Aalia: At that time it was not haram to make images.

Tafsir al-Qurtubi

صوراً من نحاس وصُفْر وشبة وزجاج ورخام. وقيل: كانوا يصورون السباع والطيور. وقيل: كانوا يتخذون صور الملائكة والأنبياء والصالحين في المساجد ليراها الناس فيزدادوا عبادة، ولعلها كانت مباحة في شريعتهم، كما أن عيسى كان يتخذ صوراً من الطين فينفخ فيها فتكون طيراً بإذن الله

Images made from copper and brass and glass and marble. It is said that they made images of wild animals and birds. And it is said that the images of angels, prophets and righteous people were made in their masjids so that people would be inspired by them. In their shariah making images was permitted, as is also apparent from the story of Isa that he took an image of a bird made from clay and breathed into it and it would become a real bird by the permission of Allah.

Tafsir al-Bagahwy

يدل على أن عمل التصاوير كان مباحا ، وهو محظور في شريعة النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لما روي عنه أنه قال : لا يدخل الملائكة بيتا فيه صورة وقال : من صور صورة كلف يوم القيامة أن يحييها وإلا فالنار وقال : لعن الله المصورين

This verse gives evidence that at that time it was permitted to make images, however in the shariah of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, it is prohibited. It is narrated from him: Angels do not enter a house in which there are images [1] and he said: whoever makes an image will be commanded on the Day of Resurrection to breathe life into it [2] and he said: Allah's curse is on the image makers [3].

Tafsir al-Jassas


There are various other examples of things that were permitted in the previous laws but are forbidden in ours or vice versa:

The prostration of respect (not worship) that is forbidden in our shariah but was performed by the angels and the parents of Joseph عليه السلام:

وإذ قلنا للملائكة اسجدوا لآدم فسجدوا إلا إبليس

And [mention] when We said to the angels, "Prostrate before Adam"; so they prostrated, except for Iblees.

Quran 2:34

ورفع أبويه على العرش وخروا له سجدا

And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration

Quran 12:100

Observing the Sabbath was obligatory on the Bani Israel, although we are not required to observe it:

وقلنا لهم لا تعدوا في السبت وأخذنا منهم ميثاقا غليظا

We said to them, "Do not transgress on the sabbath", and We took from them a solemn covenant.

Quran 4:154

Eating of animals with uncloven hooves (like camel) which was forbidden for the Jews but is permitted for us:

وعلى الذين هادوا حرمنا كل ذي ظفر ومن البقر والغنم حرمنا عليهم شحومهما إلا ما حملت ظهورهما أو الحوايا أو ما اختلط بعظم

And to those who are Jews We prohibited every animal of uncloven hoof; and of the cattle and the sheep We prohibited to them their fat, except what adheres to their backs or the entrails or what is joined with bone.

Quran 6:146

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The key word in this verse is بإذن الله (by permission of Allah). Allah (ﷻ) gave him permission to sculpt it and then He Himself caused the clay bird to come to life. -- Does Allah (ﷻ) put life into any of the sculptures that anyone else creates from clay? No. He actually reprimands it and challenges them to bring life into it themselves [after they were not given any authority to make such sculptures but did anyway].

Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Those who make these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them. 'Make alive what you have created'." - Bukhari (5951).

Some scholarly commentary, from IslamQA:

The one who studies this verse will realize that the words “and when you made out of the clay, a figure like that of a bird, by My Permission” clearly indicate that it is haraam to make figures of clay in the form of birds – and other animate beings – and that what ‘Eesa (peace be upon him) did was only done with the permission of Allaah, so both actions were done by the permission of Allaah: making the figure and breathing into it. The words “by My Permission” indicate that it was forbidden to do that even in the law of ‘Eesa (peace be upon him).

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, explaining that the Messiah is a slave of Allaah and a created being, not a creator:

1 – He made out of clay a figure like that of a bird. What is meant is that he gave it the shape of a bird, and this kind of creation is something that all people are able to do. One of them could make a figure of clay like that of a bird or any other animal, but this image-making is haraam, unlike that which was done by the Messiah, because Allaah gave him permission to do it. What is miraculous is that he blew into it and it became a bird by Allaah’s leave. The miracle is not just that he shaped it out of clay, because that is something that anyone could do. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) cursed the image-makers and said: “The most severely punished of the people on the Day of Resurrection will be the image-makers.”

3 – Allaah told the Messiah that he was only making the image and breathing into it with His permission, and the Messiah told others that he did that with Allaah’s permission. Allaah tells us that this was one of the blessings that He bestowed upon the Messiah (peace be upon him) as He says (interpretation of the meaning): “He [‘Eesa (Jesus)] was not more than a slave. We granted Our Favour to him, and We made him an example for the Children of Israel” [al-Zukhruf 43:59].

Al-Jawaab al-Saheeh (4/46, 47)

And Allaah knows best.

Hope this helps.

Note: Prophets doing something doesn't necessarily make it okay for everyone else to do it by default [especially when that Prophet was sent with different laws]. Even Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) did things which would be too tough on the rest of us to do so we are not allowed to do it. Etc.

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    So you’re saying the miracle that was given to Jesus was a “miraculous sin”? That doesn’t make sense. Allah making Jesus do something haram for the sake of being a miracle sounds odd. The other points don’t answer the question and simply circle around “Done by God and Jesus was His Slave” – Shadi Jan 19 '18 at 22:42
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    It doesn't make sense because you just made it up. No such thing as a miraculous sin. It was by default not a sin since God permitted it to HIM. Surely you are not limiting God on who He can legislate to and how. He doesn't have to make X forbidden to everyone. There can be exceptions. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Jan 19 '18 at 22:48
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    I’m sorry but that’s exactly what your answer amounts to. It’s a general sin, but not for Jesus. And Jesus did it for the sake of being a miracle. Which means 1 thing: Allah gave Jesus the miracle of doing an act that is a sin to other people. - No offense, but that sounds like mental gymnastics- not forgetting that this explanation is not being backed by any evidence. – Shadi Jan 19 '18 at 22:51
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    There's tons of evidence that something can be forbidden for X group and allowed for Y group throughout Islam. Even in secular laws, it's like saying adults shouldn't be sold alcohol (crime) because it is illegal for minors. So adults do crimes by drinking alcohol. -- Not mental gymnastics. – Muslimah يا رب العالمين Jan 19 '18 at 22:57
  • It’s this “Hi watch me commit Zina - it’s only halal for me - it’s a miracle!” No, I’m sorry but the abrogation explanation is far better than this. Even the permissiblity for sculpting would be much stronger than this lacking explanation. – Shadi Jan 19 '18 at 23:05

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