Question: What is the ruling on drawing illustrations of living creatures and especially caricatures of people? What is the Islamic ruling on the art of sculpture, and on having lifeless models in clothing stores?
Drawing paintings, caricatures or making sculptures of living creatures are not forbidden by any verse in the Qur’an. Contrarily, in the verses that we are going to refer below, their benefits are mentioned.
God the Almighty speaks favorably about Jesus’ (pbuh) making a sculpture of bird:
إِوَإِذْ تَخْلُقُ مِنَ الطِّينِ كَهَيْئَةِ الطَّيْرِ بِإِذْنِي فَتَنْفُخُ فِيهَا فَتَكُونُ طَيْرًا بِإِذْنِي وَتُبْرِئُ الْأَكْمَهَ وَالْأَبْرَصَ بِإِذْنِي وَإِذْ تُخْرِجُ الْمَوْتَى بِإِذْنِي وَإِذْ كَفَفْتُ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَنْكَ إِذْ جِئْتَهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ إِنْ هَذَا إِلَّا سِحْرٌ مُبِينٌ
“And when you made a figure of bird out of the clay by My permission, and then you breathed into it, it became a bird by My permission.” (Al-Ma’idah 5:110)
Messiah (pbuh) had made a figure of bird out of clay. No doubt this was a sculpture. Afterwards, this sculpture had become a real bird by the permission of God. This incident was one of the proofs that Jesus (pbuh) was the messenger of God.
Some people may think that this verse cannot serve as evidence for the permissibility of making paintings and sculptures of living creatures, as it can be defended that such a miraculous event will not be an evidence for a general ruling on painting and sculpture.
This objection is not reasonable, because no Prophet (nabi) can do something forbidden (haraam) and then present it as a miracle to people. The following verses absolutely eliminate the suspicions. The Almighty God uses these favorable expressions about the jinn (invisible creatures) that were subjected to Prophet Solomon (pbuh):
يَعْمَلُونَ لَهُ مَا يَشَاءُ مِنْ مَحَارِيبَ وَتَمَاثِيلَ وَجِفَانٍ كَالْجَوَابِ وَقُدُورٍ رَاسِيَاتٍ اعْمَلُوا آَلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا وَقَلِيلٌ مِنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ
“They made for him whatever he willed; as of elevated chambers, statues, bowls like reservoirs, and affixed cooking-pots. Work, Oh family of Dawood for fulfilling your duties! Few of My slaves fulfill their duties.” (Saba 34:13)
This verse certainly proves that Prophet Solomon (pbuh) commanded the jinn to make sculptures. No nabi (prophet) can command something forbidden to be done. Contrarily, God the Almighty, speaks favorably of the jinn making sculptures for Prophet Solomon (pbuh). He even mentions at the end of the verse that those affairs are a part of fulfilling their duties.
Most of the scholars had difficulties in understanding the critical narrations about painting and sculpture because they didn’t care about the relation between the narrations from the messenger of God (pbuh) and the verses that we mentioned above. On the other hand, they didn’t look through the reasons for the occurrence of these hadiths. Eventually, they couldn’t make the right judgment about this subject.
How Should We Understand the Narrations (Hadiths) that Disapprove Painting?
There are some narrations (hadiths) that disparage painting. The reason of it –as it is understood from the hadiths- is the idea that paintings imitate God’s creation and extoll others than God. The hadiths beginning as “Those who imitate the creation of God…” or “Those who try to resemble God in the matter of creating…” are examples of this idea.
Worshipping anything other than God is doubtlessly an instance of blasphemy. Worshipping a sculpture, a person or objects of nature, such as the Sun and the Moon are all instances of idolatry which cause blasphemy. However, no one can tell that a certain thing or its production is forbidden just because it is used as a means of idolatry. Christians worship Jesus (pbuh) and his mother, but we pray for those two and support them. Some tribes worship the Sun and the Moon, but we believe that they are of the signs of God.
Had a tribe worshipped cars, this would not cause the cars which are manufactured for transportation to be forbidden in religion.
As for the claim of imitation, Quran can refute it with just one verse. The following verses express that human can never imitate the way God creates:
أَمْ جَعَلُوا لِلَّهِ شُرَكَاءَ خَلَقُوا كَخَلْقِهِ فَتَشَابَهَ الْخَلْقُ عَلَيْهِمْ قُلِ اللَّهُ خَالِقُ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ وَهُوَ الْوَاحِدُ الْقَهَّارُ
“Have the partners they associate with God created anything like His creation so that their creation is indistinguishable from His? Say, ‘God is the Creator of all things: He is the One, the All Compelling.” (Ar-Ra’d 13:16)
This verse clearly expresses that there is no logical reason for a person to worship anything or anyone other than God, because the qualifications of the Creator God are so unique that they cannot be compared to someone else’s creation. Additionally, the verse draws attention to the inability of the alleged associates in the matter of creating things like God has created.
God the Almighty decrees:
أَمْ خُلِقُوا مِنْ غَيْرِ شَيْءٍ أَمْ هُمُ الْخَالِقُونَ. أَمْ خَلَقُوا السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ بَل لَا يُوقِنُونَ
“Or were they created of naught, or are they the creators (of themselves)? Or did they create the heavens and the earth? Nay, they are not certain (either of their own ideas).” (At-Tur 52:35 36)
This verse reveals that human is nothing more but a created being.
If all the people came together in order to create something like God has created, they cannot even create a fly.
God the Almighty decrees:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ لَنْ يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ وَإِنْ يَسْلُبْهُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَيْئًا لَا يَسْتَنْقِذُوهُ مِنْهُ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ وَالْمَطْلُوبُ. مَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ
“O mankind! You are given an example, so listen to it! Indeed, those whom you invoke besides God will never create a fly even if they all gathered for it. And if the fly snatched away a thing from them, they could not take it back from it. So weak are the seeker and the one who is sought. They have no grasp of God’s true measure. God is truly most strong and mighty.” (Al-Hajj 22:73 74)
Human beings cannot even create a fly, no matter how much the science is developed. For the people who think that they can create something like the Creator does, the expression “they have no grasp of God’s true measure” stands out.
No doubt, the parts about imitating God’s creation in the narrations, contradict to the verses notifying that it is not possible to imitate God’s creation.Then, narrations must be evaluated in the light of the Quran. Through this method, we would be more cautious about weak and false narrations (hadiths). It is not right to make judgments without considering the verses about the subject.
Let’s see the following narration of the Messenger of God that is related by Aisha (r.a.):
“Oh Aisha, the ones that will have the most violent torment on the day of judgement are sculpturers.” 
This hadith must be referring to the people who make idols for people to worship.
We see a similar example in the verses narrating Prophet Abraham’s (pbuh) objections against his tribe’s worship to idols that were sculpted out of wood and stone:
إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ وَقَوْمِهِ مَا هَذِهِ التَّمَاثِيلُ الَّتِي أَنْتُمْ لَهَا عَاكِفُونَ . قَالُوا وَجَدْنَا آَبَاءَنَا لَهَا عَابِدِينَ. قَالَ لَقَدْ كُنْتُمْ أَنْتُمْ وَآَبَاؤُكُمْ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
“When he said to his father and his people, “What are these statues which you are devoted to?” They said, “We found our forefathers of them worshipers.” He said, “Verily, you and your forefathers were in manifest error.” (Al-Anbiya 21:52 54)
Similarly, Prophet Moses (pbuh) had protested the sculpture of calf that people regarded as a deity, which was made by Samiri. It was because the aim of making this sculpture was diverting people from God. The Qur’an does not oppose making sculptures, but worshiping them.
The difference between Solomon’s (pbuh) commands to make sculptures and Abraham and Moses’s (pbuh) objections against the worship of sculptures proves that the Islamic ruling on sculptures depends on their aim of being made.
There is no doubt that it is forbidden (haraam) to make sculptures with the aim of worshiping something other than God. Yet, when we consider the Qur’an verses above, we see that there is no room for doubt about the legitimacy of making sculptures for permissible reasons, just like Solomon (pbuh) did.
It is narrated by Ibn Masud that Nabi (pbuh) had broken the idols around the Ka’ba:
“The Prophet (ﷺ) entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred-and-sixty idols around the Ka`ba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: “Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished.”. Indeed, the falsehood is bound to vanish. (Al-Isra 17:81)” (Bukhari, Oppressions, 2478)
These idols were means of transgression that were being worshiped. The Messenger of God (pbuh), just like his forefather Abraham (pbuh) did, broke them in order to show that they are nothing to extol.
Similarly, painting and drawing caricatures would be lawful, unless they are used as instruments of forbidden (haraam) deeds.
Author: Jamal Najim
Arabic to Turkish Translation: Vedat Yılmaz
Turkish to English Translation: İrem Kurt, Zeynep Dönmez