Today there are a number of Islamic illustrated books and animated cartoons on the market for children. Due to the prohibition of image making in Islamic Law, people have differing opinions about how to approach these media.
Animated cartoons are, when referred to the corpus of Islamic Law, a recent development. Therefore, we do not find it being addressed in the classical Islamic legal literature, though we occasionally find what could give us an indication of its ruling.
Before exploring the Islamic ruling for animated cartoons, we must first discuss the ruling for drawing pictures.
With respect to depicting human and animal life, scholars of Islamic Law present a spectrum of opinion, running the gamut from those who view all image-making to be lawful to those who categorically prohibit all drawings of animal life.
The First Opinion:
Some scholars hold the view that image making is essentially lawful. It is permissible to make two-dimensional illustrations as well as three-dimensional statues. The scholars who hold this view argue that the texts that prohibit image making are to be understood in the context of the state the people were in at the advent of Islam. The people had just emerged from the times of ignorance and from idolatry. After people became distanced from the worship of images, the prohibition was no longer necessary. This is why we see in some history books that when the Muslims opened up the lands of the Persians and Romans, they did not interfere with the pictures and statues found there.
The Second Opinion:
Some scholars hold the view that all images are unlawful, make two-dimensional illustrations as well as three-dimensional statues. They base their argument on the apparent meaning of a number of texts. These include the following:
`A’ishah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The people who will be most severely punished on the Day of Resurrection will be those who aspire to create like Allah.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5954) and Sahîh Muslim (2107)]
Ibn ``Abbâs relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Every image maker is in the Fire. For each image he made, a being will be fashioned to torment him in Hell.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (2225) and Sahîh Muslim (2110) – The wording accords with al-Bukhârî]
Abû Talhah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The angels do not enter a house wherein there is a dog or images representing (people or animals).” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (3225) and Sahîh Muslim (2106)]
The Third Opinion:
Other scholars hold a view that is intermediate between the former two. They argue that only three-dimensional images are prohibited. Those are the images being referred to by hadîth like “Every image maker is in the Fire.” They argue that only the manufacture of three-dimensional images can possibly be described as “aspiring to create like Allah.”
Moreover, statues and not illustrations are the objects that people are most likely to take as objects of worship.
The drawings and illustrations to be found on cloth, on paper, and decorating walls are, therefore, not objectionable.
After considering all of the evidence, the opinion that appears to be the strongest of the three is the last opinion. The reasons why it is the strongest opinion are as follows:
1. 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.
2. The manufacture of statuary is unlawful because this activity is only carried out in order to aggrandize the subject. Such aggrandizement poses a danger of veneration and worship. The same can be said for photographs of prominent people when those photographs are erected high up in prominent places to be honored. In this case, such pictures become most certainly unlawful.
The story of Noah’s people and how their making of statues in commemoration of their pious forebears led to their idolatry is clear proof of this danger. In our day and age, we see the pictures of many people displayed in public places for the purpose of false veneration.
When we look at the generality of the statement – “Every image maker is in the Fire” –such a general statement cannot literally apply except to a great sin. This sin is that of willfully and intentionally aspiring to create like Allah. The word “every” that begins this sentence is the strongest word for indicating generality. Since it is then annexed to the indefinite noun “image maker” it linguistically indicates that generality is intended. The sentence is similar in structure to Allah’s words: “Every soul shall taste of death.” [Sûrah Al `Imrân: 185]
When we look at the phrase – “those who aspire to create like Allah” – the term “aspire” here indicates a challenge. It means that these image makers are fashioning images in order to imitate Allah’s creative abilities and to present a challenge to Allah.
We see in another hadîth related by Ibn `Abbâs that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Those people who make these images in this world will be punished on Day of Resurrection. They will be commanded to breathe life into what they had created.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5951) and Sahîh Mulsim (2108)]
This specifies for us the meaning of “Every image maker is in the Fire” and the other hadîth mentioned above. All of the hadîth about image making refer to the intent of image maker to aspire to create like Allah.
We find in the texts mention of many other major sins that are certainly worse that the making of images – like adultery, taking usury, and abusing parents – without it being declared that the perpetrators of those sins are consigned to the Fire, like we find in “Every image maker is in the Fire”. This should make it even clearer to us that those who make images without the intention of aspiring to create like Allah are not included in the generality of the hadîth’s meaning. Rather, the hadîth applies to all of those who have the intention of aspiring to create like Allah.
3. If we look at the statements of the Pious Predecessors, we can see that they understood the texts about image making to be merely a severe warning against what is sinful rather than a direct prohibition. For instance, when a man who was a professional image maker came to Ibn `Abbâs asking him for a ruling, Ibn `Abbâs merely said: “If you have to do so, then make images of trees and of that which has no soul. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (2225) and Sahîh Muslim (2110)]
Ibn `Abbâs was neither harsh with him nor did he make any categorical statement. He said nothing more than that. We find that the Pious Predecessors generally made statements about image making that indicated nothing more than pious reserve and avoiding that which can lead to deviance.
4. Many types of images produced today are meant for education and can hardly be dispensed with. One pictorial representation can often suffice for hundreds of words.
We can see that `A’ishah used to play with dolls, and they were three-dimensional images. Such toys are permitted by the sacred texts. Scholars explain this permissibility by saying that the purpose behind such images is one of instruction and educational play.
The ruling, then, applies to the general cause and not to the particular instance that illustrates this cause. If three-dimensional figures are permitted for children for education and constructive play, then it is even more appropriate that such images be permitted for adults, since adults are required to learn a far greater range of more difficult and critical skills.
In today’s world, images – especially two-dimensional images – are indispensable for people to carry out the necessary activities of life. The ruling that such images are permissible is in harmony with the general ease and facility of Islamic Law. Allah says: “Allah wants to make things easy for you, and he does not want things to be difficult for you.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 185]
From all of this, I hold that the pictures used to make cartoon movies are among the images that are permissible to produce – and Allah knows best. Consequently the sale, purchase, and viewing of cartoons is also permitted as long as all of these activities are engaged in according to the dictates of Islamic Law. The cartoons should have appropriate content and be used in an appropriate manner. They should be free from falsehood and immorality.
Indeed, the production, distribution, and showing of Islamic animated cartoons that accord to Islamic teachings are ways by which a Muslim can seek Allah’s reward.
And Allah knows best.
I ask Allah to guide us to what is right.