Q. I have a few questions:

1) Is wearing trousers that hang below the ankle haraam, and if so, why?

2) Are taking photographs and printing them with no bad intentions haraam?

3) Is painting portraits haraam?

A. Thank you for your questions. I'm going to address them broadly and then more specifically so that you can get the underlying theme. As a religion, the message of Islam is not meant to be a list of rules regulating the minutiae of life, but rather for us to be God-conscious while always striving for social justice. In the centuries after the Prophet's death and with the proliferation of the hadith, Muslims ended up primarily focusing on the former instead of the latter. Many thousands of hadith were fabricated for a variety of reasons (read Jonathan Brown's excellent book "Misquoting Muhammad"). Additionally, several cultural or pre-Islamic beliefs in the region got conflated with Islam, resulting in prohibitions against statues (sometimes interpreted as pictures), music and singing, gold, silk, chess, shellfish, etc. Many of these hadith pronouncements are in conflict with the Qur'anic message; some slander our noble Prophet and are an affront to his character, and his message of love and mercy.

Keep in mind that the Prophet Muhammad lived among an idol-worshiping people, and his message was about the Oneness of God, so statues were associated with idol worship and would have been frowned upon. When considering these questions, ask yourself: what is the harm in something that is prohibited? Everything is permissible unless prohibited, not vice versa. For example, chapter 6:118-121 gives us the Qur'anic view of prohibition: God has to do that, or we must provide absolute proof for proscribing something. Why would wearing trousers below the ankles displease Allah? Some traditions say that it was because that was the type of garment worn by people to show off their elevated status, which went against the Islamic message of egalitarianism. If that was the case, it was certainly limited to a certain people and culture and does not apply.

There is nothing in the Qur'an about photographs. In fact, the word used by many for photographs ("sura") is incorrect, for the assumption is that it comes from what God has given us ("sawwarakum"), and we are supposedly replicating God's shaping. This is absolute nonsense: a photo is explained by the physics of light. The entire proscription against sculptures and imagery comes from the incorrect assumption that one is trying to replicate God's work. No human I know of has ever said that s/he hopes that by taking a photo or rendering a portrait, s/he is trying to put life into it or duplicate God's work. These are all ideas that border on extremist interpretations if they are not themselves actually so. Unless you are creating photos, portraits, or statues to be used for worship or to play God, then there is no harm in them. Our website is called "for people who think," as the Qur’an exhorts us to do so on several occasions. I've also included another link here (not a site that we are affiliated with) dealing with common misconceptions about Islam. The law in Islam, as the Qur’an underlines, is that actions are judged by intention, so let that be your guide.

Posted March 18, 2017