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Sculpture and its rulings

By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

It is generally agreed upon among jurisprudents that it is forbidden to make a whole statue of a being that has a spirit, which is not the case for a part of it, just as the head, hand or leg that is permissible. They base their ruling on the fact that these statues resemble the idols that signified gods that people used to worship. Moreover, some have imagined that these statues were the basis of idolism. Thus, the forbiddance of making the whole body a sculpture aims at putting a decisive end to this industry that might lead, once more, to idolism. Some have even asserted that the sculptor would be fascinated by his own sculpture to the extent that he might worship it…

We do not have any proof on the validity of this interpretation and analysis, for the religious texts mention that this forbiddance is derived from the forbiddance of assuming the role of the Ultimate Creator in creating beings with all their organs that one cannot turn into a statue let alone originate them, knowing that it is narrated in several traditions: “Whoever makes a picture in this world will be held responsible of breathing a spirit into it and he would not be able to do so.”

We have reservations on deriving absolute forbiddance from these traditions and on justifying this forbiddance on the basis of assuming the role of the Creator, for apparently, the forbiddance has to do with the sculptor himself who makes sculptures of animals and human beings having a creation mentality that exaggerates his ego in a way that he would picture himself as a creator; thus, Allah’s command to him to breathe a spirit into it is more like a challenge and an implication that creation is not to make a form of a body; but rather, it is to breathe a spirit into that body…

On another level, if the sculptor was a believing Muslim who believes in the Creator and His magnificence and professes that He is the One and Only God and Lord, yet he makes sculptures for other human, artistic or social goals; this does not represent an attempt to assume the role of the Creator, defy Him and share with Him the ability to create. Rather, it is a case that we do not often find in sculptors.

Had the matter been related to assuming the role of the Creator by creating the being’s whole body, it would have also been forbidden to make sculptures of parts of the body, such as the head that entails the utmost level of creativity in the body…

It is worth mentioning that the narrated traditions on owning sculptures confirm that this act is permissible, and jurisprudents unanimously agree on its permissibility, yet they consider that it is abominable to place them before the prayer attendant. This suggests that the problem does not lie in the sculpture itself, but in the sculptor who might indulge in his ego that entails the sense of the ability to create when making statues; however, if this is not the way he views the matter, then there remains no negative aspect for him…

In other words, actual ugliness is manifested when the sculptor deliberately intends to do something that contradicts with belief and not with the nature of the statue itself. Another important point worth mentioning is that Jesus Christ (p.) said: “That I determine for you out of dust like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah's permission.” (03:49). If making a statue is impermissible, Jesus Christ would not have done it, even in the course of performing a miracle. Moreover, it is odd that jurisprudents have generally prohibited the drawing of a picture of humans and animals, on the basis of the exclusivity of the texts, but they permitted photography.

In the light of this, we have reservations on forbidding sculpture-making in cases other than assuming the role of the Creator, knowing that if the Muslim sculptor prefers to be precautious with regard to making sculptures of human and animals, then this is acceptable… 

Actually, we encourage the creative Islamic art in all fields of art that the Muslim artists were ingenious at, having bequeathed us a legacy of arts that handle all the aspects of life. However, the Muslim artist ought to abide by the moral principles that Islam wants the people to follow and that do not encourage pornography or the glorification of tyrannical or perverted personalities…

We call on the experts in the fields of science, arts or philosophy to be creative as they deal with the issue of struggle between nations so as to provide the nation with the power needed in its pursuit of the role of becoming the leading nation…

Source: [The answer of His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra), to a jurisprudential question regarding the legitimacy or not of sculpture in Islam] 

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