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I am aware that the prophets may not be depicted in art works, but recently I've been told that people can't be drawn either. What are the specific Quran verses or hadiths that support this view? What is the reasoning behind it?

If drawing people is not permitted, does that mean that you may also not take pictures of people or engage in photography? What about movies - can you use a video camera to make a movie of your family (i.e. baby's first steps)? How is taking a picture different from drawing something?

If limitations on paintings are only limited to divine bodies, where is that supported in the Islamic religion? It seems it was once allowed (warning: link has paintings of Prophet Muhammad). Also, Iran (Sh'ia) permits depictions of the Prophet, and even has a collection of artwork surrounding it. Is that considered haram by Sunnis?

  • are you sure Iran allows depiction of Prophet (peace be upon him)? It might be Ali (May Allah be pleased with him). – Abdullah Jun 27 '12 at 20:55
  • I am pretty sure they do, if not they at least did. Many of the painting I've found tend to be Persian: zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/islamic_mo_full (WARNING: The link has images/paintings of Prophet Muhammad.) – user83 Jun 27 '12 at 21:25
  • The page that you link is collection of traditional paintings. Nowadays it is not permitted. (even that page is filtered by government of Iran) – PHPst Sep 7 '12 at 8:39
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The Prophet SAAWS strictly prohibited the drawing of beings with souls; there are many hadiths in Bukhari and Muslim to support this.

Most people believe this commandment came after the angel Jibrael said he would meet the Prophet but then did not show up. Later, Aisha found a puppy hiding in their house and made it go away. Following this, the angel Jibrael appeared and explained to the Prophet that angels do not enter a house with pictures or dogs. Some angels bring the mercy of Allah and bring blessings to our homes; without them being able to enter our homes, they cannot bring mercy.

Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said: The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) visited me after returning from a journey, and I had a shelf with a thin cloth curtain hanging over it and on which there were portraits. When he saw it, the colour of his face changed (because of anger) and he said, "O Aishah! the most grievous torment from Allah on the Day of Resurrection will be for those who imitate (Allah) in the act of His creation.'' `Aishah said: We tore it into pieces and made a cushion or two cushions out of that. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Muslim :: Book 24 : Hadith 5246
A'isha reported that Gabriel (peace be upon him) made a promise with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) to come at a definite hour; that hour came but he did not visit him. And there was in his hand (in the hand of Allah's Apostle) a staff. He threw it from his hand and said: Never has Allah or His messengers (angels) ever broken their promise. Then he cast a glance (and by chance) found a puppy under his cot and said: 'A'isha, when did this dog enter here? She said: By Allah, I don't know. He then commanded and it was turned out. Then Gabriel came and Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to him: You promised me and I waited for you, but you did not come, whereupon he said: It was the dog in your house which prevented me (to come), for we (angels) do not enter a house in which there is a dog or a picture.

However, the Prophet did allow the drawing of inanimate objects such as trees and rocks -- anything which does not possess a soul.

Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them) said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) saying, "Every painter will go to Hell, and for every portrait he has made, there will be appointed one who will chastise him in the Hell.'' Ibn `Abbas said: If you have to do it, draw pictures of trees and other inanimate things. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].


Photography

The issue of photography has no definite position. There are two arguments:

  1. First, that photography would not fall into the category of pictures since it is an absolute copy of God's creation, and it would not be recreating God's creation.
  2. Second, that pictures and photography are the same thing and that a picture cannot fully depict God's creation no matter how accurate it becomes.

Both arguments have persuasive points to support them. However, there is a hadeeth that says if something seems haram, it is better to avoid it:

"Both legal and illegal things are obvious, and in between them are doubtful matters. So whoever forsakes those doubtful things lest he may commit a sin, will definitely avoid what is clearly illegal; and whoever indulges in these doubtful things bravely, is likely to commit what is clearly illegal."

One must also keep in mind that religion shouldn't be very complicated and getting too much into little details may cause more difficulty on you:

The Prophet said, “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshiping in the mornings, the nights.”

And this is why many scholars have agreed that government photos and other vital situations where one must take a photo necessary for a person to own is permitted. If it it is not apparent that something is haram, one should try to determine what is haram and halal in terms of moderation (and not be an extremist or to take every situation too lightly).

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    I don't understand this reasoning "photography would not fall into the category of pictures since it is an absolute copy of God's creation, and it would not be recreating God's creation." How photography can be an absolute copy of God's creation? This is terrible to belief and to read. I strongly disagree with this. But +1 for your overall answer. – Anwar Jun 28 '12 at 13:16
  • that is why i including two point of views and not one you must agree with the second while others may agree with the first – NesreenA Jun 28 '12 at 18:45
  • @AnwarShah I believe the word absolute here refers to the fact it does not alter what is trying to be represented. – Pureferret Jul 25 '12 at 21:57
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    @Pureferret I knew that meaning. But think, is it really? A photo is an one-angled, static, imagery presentation which if far from a real creation. We cannot say, A photo is representation of God's creation. That sounds very illogical. – Anwar Jul 26 '12 at 4:28
  • Drawing is prohibited because there is an attempt to represent God's creation. Not for the fact that, he failed to clearly represent God's creation and fall into the catagory of people who wanted to alter God's creation. So, representing human in Photography has the same effect. But, yes, the majority of Scholars agreed that, that can be done, if needed. But, generally is prohibited. – Anwar Jul 26 '12 at 4:32
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I found several other fatwas listing a different opinion on the issue.
Some key arguments,

1) 3d objects(statues) are strongly disallowed but 2d images are ONLY detestable.

Muslim has also reported from 'Aisha that she said, "We had a curtain with the figure of a bird on it. When the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) entered the house, he saw it right in front of him and he said, 'Remove it from here. When I enter and see it, I am reminded of this world .' "

The Prophet (peace be on him) did not tell 'Aisha to tear up the curtain but only to remove it from the place where it hung facing the entrance; he disliked seeing it there because it brought to his mind the world and its attractions

...

It is quite clear from the preceding ahadith that the Prophet (peace be on him) did not disapprove of having a curtain with a picture of a bird and a drape with figures in his house. On the basis of this and other similar ahadith scholars of earlier times have commented, "What is prohibited are figures which cast shadows (meaning those which are solid) and not those which do not cast shadows (meaning on plane surfaces)."
(Al-Nawawi mentions this opinion in his Sharh Muslim but rejects it, saying that it represents a wrong position. In Fath al-Bari, al-Hafiz has traced this opinion on sound authority back to al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, who was a jurist of Madinah and the best of his time.)

The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam by Sheikh Yusof Qardawi.

2) The role of intention in determining permissibility.

The question of a person aspiring to create like Allah is really a question of that person’s intent. It is an action of the heart and it is tantamount to unbelief. A person who acts with such intent is in a state of unbelief, regardless of whether he is making replicas of animals or of inanimate objects like trees, rocks, rivers, or mountains.

This is the reason for the prohibition against the image making in the hadîth. This is the reason why the image makers are being cursed. This is clarified by another hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah says: ‘Who does a greater wrong than one who aspires to creates as I create – a grain of corn, a seed, or a barleycorn?” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (7559) and Sahîh Muslim (2111) – The wording accords with al-Bukhârî]

Therefore, if the reason for the prohibition is that of aspiring to create like Allah creates, then the subject matter is irrelevant. It makes no difference if the image is that of an animal or an inanimate object.

Taken from a fatwa discussion elucidating 3 distinct positions on the issue,
Drawing Pictures & Producing Animated Cartoons | Sheikh Sa`ûd al-Funaysân | IslamToday - English

I'm not sure how this opinion compares to the accepted answer above. Maybe some comments is helpful in order to facilitiate the decision making process. But since these are also opinions of scholars, its best to mention it here as well, and let the proofs do the talking.

  • A nice summary from the now defunct site, islamonline.net, web.archive.org/web/20010505110100/http://www.islamonline.net/… – tinker Aug 11 '12 at 15:56
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    Salaam and welcome to Islam.SE! This is a pretty good first answer mashaAllah. Please take a few moments to go through the FAQ and highly upvoted questions and answers to get a sense of what we're all about here (Stack Exchange is different from many other forums or Q&A sites out there). I look forward to seeing more contributions from you :) – Ansari Aug 11 '12 at 18:33
  • A resource attempting to rebut Shaikh Yusof Qardawi's opinion, abdulmateenkhan.com/mail_archive/2003/march/religious/… Perhaps it can be highlighted as another answer. – tinker Aug 12 '12 at 17:18
  • A suggestion on the use of English: saying 'detestable' is harsher than 'strongly disallowed' ; but you have it reversed. – Mozibur Ullah Sep 19 '15 at 16:03
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This is partial answer just addressing the first part of your question.

I am aware that the prophets may not be depicted in art work

This is the mainstream tradition of Islam; there is no direct Surat in the Qu'ran that supports this - that is mentions both image and prophet; however there is one that solely mentions image:

And the people of Moses made after [his departure] from their ornaments a calf - an image having a lowing sound. Did they not see that it could not speak to them or guide them to a way? They took it [for worship] and they were wrong-doers

  1. 138 The Heights (Al-A'raf)

When an image is taken for worship is called an idol; and just before this ayat we have also:

We took the Children of Israel across the sea, but when they came upon a people who worshipped idols, they said "Moses, make a god for us like theirs". He said, "You really are a foolish people: [the cult] these people practise is doomed to destruction, and what they have been doing is useless".

7.138-139 The Heights (Al-A'raf)

There is however a direct reference to prophets and image in the Hadith.

When Allahs Apostle arrived in Mecca, he refused to enter the Ka'ba while there were idols in it. So he ordered them to be taken out. Theo pictures of the (Prophets) Abraham and Ishmael, holding arrows of divination in their hands, were carried out. The Prophet said "May Allah ruin them (ie the Infidels) for they knew very well that they (ie Abraham and Ishmael) never drew lots by these (divination arrows) . Then the Prophet entered the Ka'ba and said "Allahu Akbar" in all its directions and came out and not offer any prayers therein".

Bukhari 5.584

What's surprising here is that the Prophet says nothing about the images of the prophets themselves, but what they were made out to be doing in the image - divination - and this aligns with another injunction in the Qu'ran:

You who believe, intoxicants and gambling, idolatrous practises and [divining with] arrows are repugnant acts - Satans doings - shun them so you may prosper.

5.90 The Feast

And again here we have the injunction on idolatrous practise.

The question that needs asking is whether whenever an image is made should it be taken that it must be for idolatry; and if not, then by what do we distinguish?