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I am Jewish but I have a question about Islam.

My rabbi bought a bronze statue of the famed Greek pagan philosopher Aristotle. However, he does not consider it an idol despite what the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and Arab/Moslem philosopher Averroes says.[1] He bought the statue because Aristotle is one of his favorite philosophers, as well as a rationalist. Aristotle taught Alexander the Great and later Maimonides and Averroes would inspire many when they later taught both Jews and Moslems Greek truths.

But isn't this a violation of the Decalogue which states: “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness”?

Yes, it is. But my rabbi explained that most, if not all the biblical and fatwas commands were changed. For example, contrary to the second prohibition, all rabbis and imams allow making and owning pictures and statutes. Be it as it may, many ancient synagogues and mosques had statues like modern cathedrals today.

My understanding is that Islam says that Allah (G-d) forbids drawing pictures of Allah and forbids Muslims from depicting pictures or statues of Muhammad. However, many Muslims today own pictures of their families or loved ones and own statues of great philosophers. Some even have paintings of Jesus who they consider to be a prophet.

My question:

If Muslims and Jews can own pictures of families and statues of philosophers, why does the Qur’an forbids having a statue of Muhammad?[2] I understand that G-d has no body and is one; and so it is impossible, indeed the Torah and Qur’an forbids to imagine any image of G-d, much less praise Him, but what is the harm in having statues of people, like Muhammad in order to dismiss any notions of divinity. Surely, you do not wish to place him on the same pedestal of G-d, for Muhammad was not incorporeal.

[1] I say Maimonides and Averroes since both were born in the same city in Spain and both were rationalists.

[2] To my understanding Jews do not prohibit statues or pictures of prophets. This is why I focus only on Islam, and because that is my question.

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The Quran does not forbid any image except for idols which are worshiped. Rather it narrates about images at the time of Solomon [1] and Jesus [2] عليه السلام. The view of most exegetes is that such images were permitted to the previous nations but were forbidden in Islam because of its nearness to the time of idolatry.

Hadith forbid images of a living thing (being with a soul), not just an image of Muhammad ﷺ. For example there are ahadith that tell us that angels of mercy do not enter a place where there are images [3], those that curse image makers [4], those that warn of severe punishment for them [5] and those that command the obliteration of images [6] .

As for the Imams, I will summarize the views of the Ahl al-Sunnah: There is agreement that all statues\sculptures of a living thing are forbidden. The view of the majority is that pictures (two dimensional) are also forbidden. A minority has considered any image (not made for the purpose of worship) to be permitted, but this is not an orthodox view and I do not know of any reputable scholar who has taken this stance.

Photography is a relatively new issue, and the view of the majority is that it is not a forbidden image but is more akin to a reflection (like in a mirror) and so is permissible. [7]

Regarding your question, the reason cited for the prohibition of images are: [8]

  • To avoid imitation of Allah's act of creation. Having the intention to do so is Kufr.
  • To avoid extremity in reverence for a being, as that can lead to misguidance.
  • To avoid resemblance with the idolaters.
  • To avoid causing an impediment to the entry of angels of mercy.
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    Thank you for your answer. I thought you made a good point about the photos acting like mirrors. I agree that people should not always imitate G-d. For example, Jews rest on Shabbat and Muslims rest on Fridays. But doesn’t G-d want people to be creative on other days? For example, if being creative is kufr, what would you say about pottery? Surely people still practice pottery and art, even today? And what about thinking in general because that is like G-d? – user36084 Feb 18 at 6:21
  • And isn’t a painting technically a visual representation of a person? Also, a lot of history is derived from art. And if Islamic law prohibits images of living people, does that imply not even statues to leaders or great scientists? Because when these people pass away, in ancient times, only a painting or drawing could retain their likeness, for memory sake. – user36084 Feb 18 at 6:22

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