Are Pictures of Mohammed Really Forbidden In Islam?

July 2016 version

While some Muslims were outraged by a magazine depicting pictures of Mohammed, we have to step back and calmly ask, are pictures of Mohammed really forbidden in Islam? - the answer might surprise you.

Numerous passages in the Qur'an prohibit idolatry, and worshipping any statues or pictures, but there is no single verse in the Qur'an that explicitly says not to have any pictures of Mohammed. However, the vast majority of Muslims are Sunni Muslims, who regard six authorized collections of hadiths, as the highest written authority in Islam after the Qur'an. The hadiths are records, often very detailed, of what Mohammed taught and did. We give multiple quotes to show that these teachings are not confined to just writer, but are spread throughout the different hadith collections.

But where multiple trustworthy hadiths agree, Sunni Muslims will take this as binding: in other words people today are kicked out of Islam, or even killed based on the hadiths.

Pictures of Mohammed "not exactly" forbidden in the hadiths either. The hadiths do not single out Mohammed's picture. Rather, they go farther and prohibit all pictures of people or animals, which would include pictures from a camera. 

For example, Sahih Muslim vol.3 no.5268 (p.1160) says, "Ibn 'Umar reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) having said: Those who paint pictures would be punished on the Day of Resurrection and it would be said to them : Breathe soul into what you have created.2519"

Notice that the prohibition was not just against idolators who made pictures, or even Muslims who made pictures for other reasons, but for anyone who made pictures.

Sahih Muslim vol.3 no.5271 (p.1161) gives a little more detail: "This hadith has been reported on the authority of Abu Mu'awiya though another chain of transmitters (and the words are): 'Verily the most grievously tormented people amongst the denizens [inhabitants] of Hell on the Day of Resurrection would be the painters of pictures.2520..."

"Narrated 'Aisha : Allah's Apostle said, 'The painter of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, Make alive what you have created.'" Bukhari vol.9 book 93 ch.56 no.646 p.487. no.647 p.487 is the same except it is narrated by Ibn 'Umar.

No pictures of people or animals according to Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.45-46 no.447-450 p.297-299. 

Conclusion: It is clear the hadiths and Muwatta Malik prohibit pictures of animals or people, especially in homes.


What Do These Hadiths Mean?

Footnote 2519 (p.1160) says, "The ahadith pertaining to the preparation of pictures whether with the help of colour, paint, or pencil or photographic cameras, declare this art to be unlawful in Islam. The famous scholar of Hadith and an eminent jurist of the seventh century of Hijra, Ibn Daqiq al-Id, has made the following observation in regard to this art:

'The reasons of the Shari'ah are so eloquent and clear in regard to the prohibition of making pictures that they need no comment and elucidation. That person is missing the mark who says that this prohibition comes under the category of disapproval and is not absolutely unlawful and the stress which had been laid upon its prohibition was not because of the fact that idolatry had been quite recently curbed,... in the ahadith the reason put forward for the unlawfulness of pictures is this: Those who prepare pictures would be asked to breathe soul on the Day of Resurrection in these pictures made by them. And then they would not be able to do this, they would be punished... (Ihham al-Ahham, Sharh 'Umdat al-Ahham, Vol II, pp 171-2)." The footnote goes on to give a lengthy discussion as to why all pictures are forbidden, but we will not quote those for the sake of space.

What about Muslims in more modern times? Footnote 2520 (p.1161) says, "A well-known scholar of our times 'Allama Muhammad Munir (of Damascus) has clearly stated that the photos of the modern age fall under the category of pictures. He says: 'The words of the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him) that every maker of the photo would be tormented on the Day of Resurrection, include every artist whether he makes pictures with the help of his hand (with pencil or with the help of colour paint) or with the help of camera." (marginal notes on the book Ihham al-Ahham, Sharh 'Umdat al-Ahham. Vol. II, p.37). On one hand, many other Muslim scholars do have photos and videos of people and animals. On the other hand, the hadiths are clearly against them.

Conclusion: No pictures includes no photos (still or moving). No pictures might reduce idolatry, but the reason given is not that, but that Allah will torment all who have the pictures. A good Sharia Muslim would have no picture of people or animals; but see the following counter-examples in the hadiths

Any Counter-Examples?

That is always a good question to ask when looking at the hadiths. Yes, there are two types of counter-examples, counter-example does not necessarily mean contradiction with what the rest of the hadiths say. Rather one is a qualification, and the other counter-example is "an exception that proves the rule."

Counter-example 1: Dolls, pictures of non-living things, and even some churches are OK

Dolls: A'ishah ['Aisha/A'isha] played with dolls when she was with other girls. When Mohammed came in, the other girls went out, and when Mohammed went out, they came back in. Sunan Abu Dawud vol.3 book 36 chapter 1769 no.4913 p.1373

Footnote 4288 on this verse says, "This tradition show that playing with dolls by children is permissible. The dolls used as toys for children are not prohibited. They do not fall under the category of pictures of animate objects that are prohibited. But these dolls should be meant only for children."

'Aisha and Mohammed married when she was seven years old, and 'Aisha was "taken to his house as a bride when she was nine and her dolls were with her;" Sahih Muslim vol.2 book 8 ch. 551 no.3311 p.716

'Aisha played with dolls while her husband Mohammed was with her. Sahih Muslim vol.4 book 29 ch.1005 no.5981 p.1299. One was a horse with wings. Sunan Abu Dawud book 36 chapter 1769 no.4914 p.1373.

Bukhari vol.8 book 73 no.151 p.95 says very similar. On the other hand, the English translator of Bukhari (Muhammad Muhsin Khan) has a different opinion. The parenthesis below it says, "(The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for 'Aisha, at that time as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty. Fateh - Al - Bari Page 143 Vol.13)." However, the parentheses are not in the Arabic.

Inanimate patterns: A'isha had a curtain with pictures. Mohammed told her to remove the picture, so she cut it in pieces and made pillows out of it, according to Sunan Nasa'i vol.1 chapter 454 no.764 p.471

A young girl from Ethiopia with a patterned dress made Mohammed happy. "214 Narrated Um Khalid bint Khalid: When I came from Ethiopia (to Medina), I was a young girl. Allah's Apostle made me wear a sheet having marks on it. Allah's Apostle was rubbing those marks with his hands saying, "Sanah! Sanah!" (i.e. good, good)." Bukhari vol.5 book 58 no.214 p.137

Churches: It might surprise some to hear that the hadiths are not against going to church, as long as there are no pictures. "(54) CHAPTER. To pray in a church or in a temple etc. 'Umar said, 'We do not enter your churches because of the statues and pictures.' Ibn 'Abbas used to pray in the church provided there were no statues in it." Bukhari vol.1 chapter 54 p.254

Counter-example 2: What happens if there are pictures in a Muslim house?

Angels do not enter a house with a dog or a picture Sahih Muslim vol.3 book 22 no.5246-5252 p.1157-1158 as well as Ibn-i-Majah vol.5 book 32 no.3649-3652 p.108-109; Muwatta' Malik 54.3.6 

Sahl ibn Hunayf agreed with Abu Talha that they could not have pictures, but Sahl said there was an exception for markings on a garment. Muwatta' Malik 54.3.7

Angels do not enter a house where there is a picture or a dog or a junubi (someone who is unclean because of sex). Sunan Nasa'i vol.1 no.264 p.240 also Sunan Abu Dawud vol.1 book 1 ch.92 no.227 p.55-56
Narrated 'Aisha, the mother of the faithful believers: I bought a cushion with pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he kept standing at the door and did not enter the house. I noticed the sign of disgust on his face, so I said, "O Allah's Apostle (Please let me know) what sin I have done." Allah's Apostle said, "What about this cushion?" I replied, "I bought it for you to sit and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The painters (i.e. owners) of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection. It will be said to them, 'Put life in what you have created (.i.e. painted).'" The Prophet added, "The angels do not enter a house where there are pictures." Bukhari vol.3 book 34 ch.41 no.318 p.180 

No pictures, even of animals. "Narrated 'Aisha: The Prophet entered upon me while there was a curtain having pictures (of animals) in the house. His face got red with anger, and then he got hold of the curtain and tore it into pieces. The Prophet said, 'Such people as paint these pictures will receive the severest punishment on the Day of Resurrection.'" Bukhari vol.8 book 73 no.130 p.83-84. See also Muwatta' Malik 54.3.8

Mohammed went to Fatimah's house, but turned back when he saw a figured curtain. Sunan Abu Dawud vol.3 book 21 ch.1411 no.3746 p.1060

When 'Ali [Fatima's husband] invited Mohammed over for food, Mohammed saw in the house pictures and then went back home. Ibn-i-Majah vol.4 book 29 no.3359 p.481


Muslims and Pictures Today

No pictures in the home includes no television in the home. When television in Saudi Arabia began having pictures of people and animals, there were violent riots. On the other hand, in the west at least, Muslims do not observe any prohibitions against pictures.

Moustapha Akkad was the Muslim who produced and directed the movie "Muhammad Messenger of God", which of course had actors. It is ironic that the producer of this flattering movie was himself killed by Muslims. Moustapha was one of the people who died in the hotel bombing in Amman Jordan on November 9, 2005. Probably the bombers did not know he was there, but it would make sense if they killed someone who made pictures of Mohammed.

On the other hand, you can see many pictures of Mohammed, drawn by Muslims themselves, on web sites such as Most of the Muslims who painted pictures of Mohammed lived 700 or more years after Mohammed and were from Turkey, Persia, and India according to the site.

The following are example of a picture of people from Muslim books prayer. While probably the majority of Muslims would have no problem with the book covers below, Sharia Muslims who tell people to follow the hadiths would see that this disobeys the previously mentioned hadiths.


The second picture is also at:


All of these pictures were on this sites as of February 6, 2006

Sharia Law, Pictures, and the Hypocrites

Moderate Muslims have no problem with pictures, as long as they are not used in idolatry. But for Sharia Muslims, are you criticizing what non-Muslims do based on the hadiths, when you as a Muslim break the same hadiths? 
I you have been a Muslim hypocrite, but do not want to be anymore, I am ready to help. I will be happy to go over to your house, and help you destroy all of your books and newspapers that have photographs of people or animals in them, and break your TV, VCR, and video camera. When can I come over? ;-)

So if a conservative Muslim tries to tell you that Sharia Law should be practiced today, or is outraged over a picture, ask them if they have a TV. If following the hadiths does not work for them, they are a hypocrite to tell others to follow it.

Now God does not want us to be hypocrites. If you teach other people to follow something, then you should try to follow it yourself. But if do not think you should follow something, such as Sharia, then do not tell others they should follow it.

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