Islamic Restrictions in the Arts
Islam takes a firm stand against idolatry in any form. As a result, Islamic artisans moved away from the portrayal of people in painting and sculpture and developed their skills in other, more acceptable areas and mediums. The alternative art forms that developed in the Muslim world — calligraphy, geometric and arabesque design, and certain types of architecture — eventually came to be associated with Islamic culture.
Islam prohibits “image-making” — the sculpting or painting of figures such as people or animals. Muhammad once said that people who make such images will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and they will be asked to “make alive what you have created.” Of course, they will be unable to do so.
For the most part, Islamic art is the work of anonymous artists. Religious humility and a focus on the art (rather than the artist) meant that artisans rarely signed their work.
To avoid any perception of idolatry, certain art forms and styles are forbidden in Islam. Any use of figurative art is forbidden, particularly statues, paintings, or other representations of living things. Islam takes the position that such objects have often been used to glorify or idolize people or creatures, in violation of God's law against idolatry. Thus, anything that can be construed as an idol is forbidden.
Today, there is some debate in Islamic circles about whether even photography is permitted, and scholars debate over whether the photographer is creating an image or merely a “shadow” of an image. As with all things, most Muslims choose a path of moderation and stick to what they believe is acceptable.
The Qur'an warns against people becoming consumed by or passionate about the arts at the expense of their spiritual study. Those who are gifted in music are often advised to study the precise recitation techniques of the Qur'an. Those with an interest in poetry are encouraged to study the Qur'an as the supreme example of the classical Arabic language. Arts that have a direct relation to faith, such as the calligraphic writing of the Qur'an or the architectural design of mosques, are also encouraged. In the arts, as with all things, Islam recommends moderation and the use of talent toward spiritual pursuits.
Most Muslims will not hang family photos or portraits on the walls of their home, in keeping with Islamic teachings against idolatry. However, many keep photos in a personal album for viewing by family members and close friends.