Capturing the Islamic World
Jan 22, 2007
Josh Scholar asks in the comments:
For a long time I've wondered if there was (to some small extent) a connection between Islam's prohibitions on art and it's emphasis on triumphalism (conquest, hostility etc). It's as if without fantasy, Muslims have nothing to dream about but paranoid conspiracies and conquest...
But looking at those beautiful photographs made me think, there may not be a prohibition on photography because it isn't drawing or painting, it's a mechanical reproduction... Is that the case? What is the state of photography as an art form in the Muslim world?
Photography is not considered a respectable profession among the umma. I can think of three different and possibly overlapping reasons for this. (My apologies for the fragmented nature of this post.)
1. Islam. (Shocking!)
Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 34, Number 318.
Narrated Aisha: 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! I repent to Allah and His 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."
Oh yes, all you Muslim artists out there have a reserved space in Hell. Of course, this is grade-A superstition: somehow drawing or photographing an animate object is bad behavior because it's like mimicking Allah!
And we can't have that. One can do a search for "pictures" at the Hadith database and find tons of stuff that showcases the moronic musings of Muhammad -- the guy who is the moral gold standard for Muslims.
Very often, your average Muslim is not aware of these sayings, so they ask imams about the matter. A few examples:
- Is it okay to take pictures with a digital camera?
- Is it okay to store pictures that aren't "printed" (like on a computer)?
- Is it okay to wear pyjamas with pictures on them?
- A detailed question with a long answer.
- This one made me :) and :(
2. So Uncouth!
One finds an asphyxiating view in the desi community when it comes to education: there are only two fields that are respectable. Medicine and Engineering. (During the 90s, anything computer-related became acceptable as well.)
Now, I do not have a problem with these courses of study. However, there is overwhelming pressure on desi kids to "choose" from these two fields. Other higher education pursuits are politely referred to as useless. Art and music fall in that category. So, while one can find artistic desis, it's quite rare for them to truly pursue their passion to the maximum.
Narrowing the field to Pakistanis, I've met families that never display a single photo in their home and then others who can't wait to show you the photo albums and talk about the background history of each individual in there.
I have also met well off Pakistanis who refuse to buy a computer or get cable for their TVs. They'd rather have their children be technologically inept, then risk their exposure to naughty pictures. Though, it's odd for them to have a TV, which shows 30 "pictures" per second, for a few local channels. And then there are Pakistanis who have a computer and who get the latest cable and watch all the haram stuff. Baywatch was a big hit in Saudi Arabia in the 90s!
My dad recorded the Miss World 1994 pageant and then later gave the VHS tape to one of his friends.
He never got it back.
One can also see that Muslim kids have no qualms about having their pictures taken. In fact, they love it. Whenever American soldiers pass by in Iraq, kids come out and behave like monkeys on acid. As soon as a camera appears, they calm down and offer a massive smile.
It's schizophrenic behavior. Muslims love to take up the frame for a picture during their lavish wedding ceremonies but offer lukewarm support as a community to the profession of photography or art in general.
The strong religious component might be the answer: they're fine with a few tasteful photographs with a cheap camera but having that as a hobby might elicit bad publicity. Parents will tell their wayward progeny to stop by saying, "Loog kya kahain gay? (What will people say?)"
3. Totalitarian regimes.
Islamic nations don't want people to take photographs within their borders. A lot of damaging material can get out. So, draconian laws are enforced to ensure this state of affairs. Note the case of Zahra Kazemi.
My dad once visited a friend in Europe. He later brought back many photographs of his stay there. He got more photos from that brief visit than he had taken in all the many years in Saudi Arabia.
For the purposes of ID, we would go to a photo studio where results can be had within an hour.
The rulers of Arabia certainly do not mind showcasing their perverted mugs. For example, one finds large frames of theirs in the airports; the king and a few other assorted thugs of the Saud family welcome newcomers to the center of modern evil.
Of course, a photo can also show their deprave and ostentatious nature. See this page for more info.
I think photography can do a lot of good -- mainly by demonstrating to the world just how truly hideous the Islamic sphere really is.
Imagine if a student could put a camera to record the events of a classroom. Nothing can showcase better that Islam is a Religion of Peace than Muslim teachers who repeatedly slap, punch, kick and hit the young and helpless students throughout the day.
It's kinda tough to take that "out of context".
It took me only a couple of seconds to verify that what you say is correct in all of the Islamic world.
I just googled "Muslim photography" and the search came up empty except for false hits.
Google can tell you everything, if you know how to use it.
Bad news this time, though.
Posted by: Josh Scholar | Jan 22, 2007 at 01:48 AM
There was this sad hit though.
Muslim Art Forum.
Topic: Still blank - hiks!
:( Well well, mashaallah....
Could i find a muslim Photography to be linked with??
anyone could help me to catch some friends on this side??
There shall no fear nor worries for the Slave of Allah
Posted by: Josh Scholar | Jan 22, 2007 at 01:53 AM
Above it is a board whoes subheadings are "Muslim Art->Muslim Artists->photography" with three posts, the one shown, one mentioning photos of Koranic verses, and one mentioning an "abstract graphics section" posted on limited bandwidth Geocities with avatars and the like. All three by the same poster, none with any answers.
And oddly enough he or she uses a non-abstract avatar of some sort of cartoon bird in a hat.
Posted by: Josh Scholar | Jan 22, 2007 at 02:02 AM
Ironically enough all the most brutal of Muslim leaders have their mugs painted all over the place in countries like Iran and Lebanon.
And you're right about the kids in Iraq, except it's not only the kids. ALL the people there are attention-whores as soon as the camera comes out. I read an article just recently by Michael Yon where he talk about running into a wounded Iraqi Policeman. The guy was lying on the ground in agony, grimacing and groaning, and holding his leg. But as soon as he saw the camera, he smiled and struck a pose.
Posted by: Alex | Jan 22, 2007 at 07:33 AM
Ah, but muslims are all in favour of photography when it suits them,especially if it's by a photographer with Photoshop and an anti-Israel bias!
Posted by: Rob | Jan 22, 2007 at 11:42 AM
Total bullshit. All of what you just said. Not one ounce of truth. I guess you are a white guy from the sates reporting on what uve heard in the news. Fox? CNN? I suggest you do your research from acutal people who know and live there.
Posted by: hidi | Sep 05, 2012 at 10:32 PM