CHAPTER 11: A SUBTLE POINT REGARDING IMAGES AND TASAVVUR-E SHEIKH

Hazrat Mirza was a regular contributor to the periodical The Review of Religions. His articles, written for a target audience of Europeans and Americans, focused on the core message of Islam, and on his own claims. Some of his followers suggested that hismessage would be more efficacious if it was accompanied by his photograph because it was customary in the West for readers to forman opinion about the truthfulness, or otherwise, of a claimant by looking at his picture.

Without providing any information regarding the identity of the person in the photograph, one of Hazrat Mirza’s disciples, MuftiMuhammad Sadiq, sent a copy of Hazrat Mirza’s photograph to an American lady who was an expert in physiognomy (the study of facial features to reveal character), and asked her to make a judgment using her professional skills regarding the identity of the person in the photograph. The lady replied that based on appearance, the face appeared to her to be similar to that of Israelite prophets. Her evaluation was a wonderful illustration of Prophet Muhammad’s saying in the following Hadith:

The Ulama (religious scholars) of my community will be the like of Israelite prophets.

Hazrat Mirza agreed to have his photograph taken merely for the purpose of facilitating the propagation of Islam and not for any other purpose. It was his hope that those who observed his photograph might be favorably impressed to pursue the path of truth. However, when a trader used the photograph to make postcards for sale, Hazrat Mirza expressed his displeasure at the misuse of his photograph.

Hazrat Mirza’s opponents were always seeking pretexts to raise objections, and cared not a whit about Hazrat Mirza’s intention. They objected immediately to the taking of the photograph and argued that the creation of images was prohibited in Islam. These objectors exceeded all limits in their vilification by claiming that the purpose of taking the photograph was to facilitate the followers in Tasavvur-e Sheikh. When this objection was presented to Hazrat Mirza, he responded as follows:

This is just an attack on a person’s intentions. I have explained several times what my motivation was for having my photograph taken. The fact is that we wanted to undertake propagation abroad in Europe, particularly in London, and the residents of those places do not pay attention to preaching and the invitation to truth unless they are familiar with the particulars of the preacher. For this purpose, they have greatly advanced the knowledge of making deductions from photographs. They can look at a person’s features in a photograph and form an opinion regarding that person’s righteousness and purity of character. Similarly, they are able to form an opinion regarding many other aspects as well. This was my real purpose and intention, which thesepeople, who want to oppose me in everything for no rhyme or reason, have distorted in order to mislead the world. I reiterate thatthis was my only intention in getting photographed.

If they object because they consider imagery to be a sin then they should not keep any coins with them; better still, they should get their eyes gouged because the eyes too form images of things. These ignorant peo- ple do not even know that at the back of an actionis an intention. They read (the hadith) “Actions are judged by intentions,”2 but do not understand its import. If someone performs his prayers merely as an act of hypocrisy, would they call it a virtuous act? 

Everyone knows that such prayers do not yield any benefit but are only a nuisance for the worshipper. Is prayer bad then? No! Instead it is the misplaced intent of the person thatdegrades the outcome. The case of the photograph is similar. Our intent and purpose was to assist in extending the invitation of Islam to the West in accordance with the temperament of its residents.3 

To make this into Tasavvur-e Sheikh and calling it other names is simply a fabrication. Everything that God and His Prophet have saidis the truth. If the saying of a religious teacher is contrary to that of God and the Messenger, then that person’s words are unacceptable.

If you inquire about Tasavvur-e Sheikh then it is not a recognized religious concept. The reality is that love ofrighteous people and those who devote themselves to God is commendable. But it is necessary that the etiquette be observed. It is heresy not to observe the etiquette. Give God the place that God deserves, and give the Prophet the place that the Prophet deserves and make the word of God your modus operandi. (As for Tasavvur-e Sheikh,) there is nothing more than this in the Quran: “Be with the truthful.” Seeking the company of truthful people and those devoted to God is essential, but nowhere is itstated that you should con- sider this as your only pursuit. The Quran gives this directive: “If you love Allah, follow me: Allah will love you” (3:31).

This verse does not state that Prophet Muhammad should be considered as God. Instead, what has been stated here is that if you want to become the beloved of God, then the only way to achieve this is through obedience of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The command for obedience has been given but there is no directive for Tasavvur-e Sheikh inthe Holy Quran.

At this juncture, the person who had posed the question stated that those who believe in Tasavvur-e Sheikh say that they do not considerthe religious men- tor to be God. Hazrat Mirza responded:

I agree that this is indeed what they say. But idol-worship starts with having an image (in mind). Idol-worship has slowly evolved to its present state. Initially, there must have been an image (in someone’s mind). Then it was deemed that it would be better to have a picture through which to focus one’s imagination. Then, the idea was elaborat- ed until idols began to be carved out of rocksand metals in place of the picture. Finally, the notion progressed until the spirituality of the idols was further expanded and theywere accepted as gods. These days they just put stones and believe that the Supreme Being (Permesher) shall descend into those stones when they utter their mystical incantations. The name they give to these incantations is awaahun

In short, the concept of Tasavvur-e Sheikh is the invention of the Hindus, and has been borrowed from them. The concept of Qalb jari hona (an innervoice from the soul that furnishes guidance) has also been borrowed from the Hindus…

I bear witness, and state on the basis of my experi- ence that unless a person brings about a change in himself in accordance with the dictates of God and the example of the Prophet, and treads not the path of purity, the poison that destroys a man’s spir- ituality cannot be dispelled, no matter how much a person feels that he can be guided by an inner voice that comes forth from within the soul.

God the Most High has prescribed one and only one means for the nourishment of spirituality and (spiritual) life, and that is obedience of the Prophet. Those who go around with the deceit of an inner voice from the soul that guides have heaped a big insult on the tradition of the Prophet. Has there ever lived a man greater than Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in this world? Was he exercising his inner voice while sitting in the Cave of Hira or did he adopt the ways of self-annihilation? Nowhere in the entire lifetime of Prophet Muhammad do we find any instance wherein he directed his Companions to adopt the practice of seeking guidance from the inner voice. None of the proponents of guidance from the innervoice give any example or say that the Prophet of Allah was guid- ed by an inner voice. All such practices that do not have any basis in the Holy Quran, are mere human conjectures and ideas that do not pr duce any results.

Hazrat Mirza also responded that the practice of holding one’s breath following certain incantations was a concept of Hinduascetics and that it did not have any basis in Islamic practice. (Newspaper Al-Hakam, dated October 24 and 31, 1901)

Prohibition of photography

The following incident took place in October of 1905. It was mentioned in the presence of Hazrat Mirza that a certain person had prepared picture postcards with Hazrat Mirza’s photo on it. These postcards were available for purchase and could be mailed to friends and family. Hazrat Mirza responded:

I do not consider this appropriate. It is the first step in spreading innovations. I had agreed to be photographed so that theresidents of Europe and America, who live far away from us, may be able to derive some spiritual benefit from it as they haveknowledge of physiognomy and use it to their benefit. The restriction on making pictures is of a nature that it cannot be generalized. Sometimes a person using his rea- son decides that the use of a picture is beneficial, not causing any harm, then he may use photography according to the situation.

I granted permission to be photographed specifically to fulfill the need in Europe. Accordingly, some letters have been received from Europe and America in which it is written that it appears by looking at the picture that the photographed is the very same Messiah. Similarly, pictures can be helpful in diagnosing disease. Under the Islamic religious law, Shariah, any matter considered beneficial for men is made long lasting.

But picture postcards should not be purchased; image is the root of idol worship. When a person acceptssomeone as a religious mentor, some of the respect of the mentor is also shown to his picture. One should abstain from such things, and give them a wide berth. I worry that some affliction may not befall our organization as soon as we ven- ture out.(Newspaper Badar, dated October 26, 1905).

Footnotes

  1. Tasavvur-e Sheikh is a term used by Sufis and means concentrating on visualizing the face and form of one’s spiritual leader.
  2. Al-Bukhari and Muslim.
  3. In another speech, Hazrat Mirza stated: “In respect of pictures, it is necessary to see whether any religious purpose is served or not. If a picture is kept for no purpose, and there is no religious objective then this is a vain act, and God says: ‘and when they pass by what is vain, they pass by nobly,’ (25:72). Shunning what is vain is a characteristic of a believer; hence it is a thing to be avoided. However, if some religious service can be performed by it then it isnot prohibited because God does not want knowledge to go to waste. .. It should be remembered that prohibition of making pictures is not absolute butrelative. It is forbid- den to make or keep pictures vainly. ..making the picture of a murderer so that he may be identified and arrested is not only permitted but is obligatory.”

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