Samia Asghar, a wife, mother and architect always received compliments on her ‘photo wall’-the wall at the entrance of her home, with a myriad of family photographs spanning three generations. Everyone who entered her home, even the installers of her kitchen cabinets, couldn’t help but pause and look at the elegantly displayed personal memories.
Samia, like many who enlarge favorite poses, took great pride in her wall until it dawned upon her. It wasn’t during an Islamic lecture or while reading an Islamic book, but while sorting through her jewellery at the bank locker that she asked herself, “Why do I keep my valuables locked up safely in velvet boxes, and leave my most cherished possessions out for everyone to see? Would I display my diamonds this way? Of course not! I would keep them safe so no one would eye them inappropriately.”
Samia voiced her concerns to a friend who encouraged her to consider taking down the pictures, but with the right intention. Several authentic Ahadeeth explained the issue to Samia:
Narrated by Anas (rta), Aisha (rta) had a thick curtain with pictures on it, and she screened the side of her house with it. The Prophet (sa) said: “Remove it from my sight, for its pictures are still coming to my mind in my prayers.” (Bukhari)
Narrated by Abu Talha (rta), The Prophet (sa) said: “Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures of living creatures (animals or humans).” (Bukhari)
Most scholars permit photographs-as they consider them captured light as opposed to portraits-but within limits. Family photographs in albums or scrapbooks to remember a wedding, birth, or vacation is acceptable by most schools of thought. But having professional photography sessions without the adherence to the rules of Hijab is questionable. Hanging pictures of loved ones who have passed away in imitation of other faiths to remind us of them is not an Islamic practice either. We should also refrain from painting portraits or hanging them based on the following Hadeeth, Narrated by Aisha (rta), the Prophet (sa) said: “… Whoever makes a picture will be punished on the Day of Resurrection and will be asked to give life to what he has created.” (Bukhari)
Many of us lack the courage that Samia had when she took down all her pictures. But we can intend to start today, pray to Allah to make it easy, and proceed gradually one room at a time.
So, now what do you do with those blank walls and empty frames? Replace them with things acceptable in our Deen. Remember, in Islam there are far more dos than don’ts-for out of all beverages only alcohol is prohibited. We need to appreciate all that is permitted rather than brood over what is not.
Allah is Al-Jameel, i.e. He is Beautiful and likes beautiful things. Our homes too should be clean and beautiful without bordering on extravagance and ostentation. Look for reasonably priced landscapes, still-life and Islamic calligraphy – or better still, make your own. An original Picasso landscape for a million dollars would be technically acceptable but would go against the Islamic teachings of modesty. How about painting something using your favorite colours or displaying your children’s artwork creatively?
There are other objects in the home that could cause us to step into gray areas. Many families enjoy collecting statues and figurines from their travels. What can you bring back from your travels? An idea my parents had was to start a collection of a particular object from different parts of the world. My father bought teapots from China, Iran and Russia to begin with, and before we knew it guests started to bring us unique teapots as gifts as well. I have started an inexpensive collection to remember the places I have visited. I hang souvenir pencils from all the places I have visited-Disney World, Dubai, and Niagara Falls-and hang them from wooden dowels in my hallway.
Having a room with a theme is gaining popularity. Here too, there are several permissible alternatives: an Arabian inspired living room with floor cushions and coffee pots; or a Mexican kitchen in bright colours with chili peppers and sombreros cans. They add personality to your living spaces without compromising your belief.
Children love themes. So step in and inculcate good habits in their early years. Instead of encouraging cartoon character murals, we could suggest generic themes that are not only acceptable Islamically but last longer than a Spiderman fad for instance. Flowers or hearts for girls, and cars or sports gear for boys are easy solutions. Before discouraging your children from hanging posters of pop icons and movie stars, explain to them why. Telling them that they should not do it ‘because mom says so’ is insufficient. Rather that they wouldn’t be able to pray in their room and angels of mercy wouldn’t enter their homes.
Having pictures of mosques and Ayahs that are readily available nowadays is a great idea. However, sometimes people go to extremes and over night their homes become calligraphy central. The word of caution here is that the Quran was sent to us as a guide. So, by framing several Ayahs and not understanding or applying them is senseless. Similarly, wanting to appear more religious to those who enter your home, or thinking that such pictures can protect you, only means you are digressing from their actual purpose. A few chosen verses that you act upon is a better idea or perhaps Duas for children to help them learn proper sleeping and eating habits.
Another disturbing trend that is catching on these days is designating one room as the prayer room and filling that with religious artwork. Our entire home should be a reflection of our Muslim identity. Having enlarged close-ups of your daughter’s wedding photos in the living room, and Ayat Al-Kursi in the prayer room makes you appear inconsistent. In other words, picking and choosing where we apply the principles of our religion and where not, we forget how Islam should be intertwined with every aspect of our lives and not just where and when it is convenient for us.
For those of us in non-Muslim countries, having an inviting home to welcome neighbors and colleagues of different faiths is a Dawah tool. A picture of the Kabah is an instant conversation starter as well as a chance to talk about Islam without sounding preachy. A modest yet elegant home reflects well on how simply yet stylishly Muslims live.
Modesty is the key word here. We have to strike a balance as to how much time, energy and money we spend decorating. We know we are travelers, and our life in this world is but a transitory phase before our permanent destination. Would we then spend all our resources sprucing up a hotel room?
Avoid filling your home with priceless furniture and accessories, reserved for occasional guests. The fear of breaking any of it will prevent you from enjoying your home. Your home should be a place where you look forward to spending time with yourself and your family. Let it be your safe haven from endless hours shopping or late nights socializing. By staying away from doubtful matters, avoiding justifications for the temptations of your Nafs, and by accepting the guidelines of the Quran and Sunnah, be confident that you are doing the right thing.
Insha’Allah Barakah and Rahmah will fill your heart, your home and the lives of everyone in it.
Some handy decorating tips you can start on today:
- Think outside the frame. There are so many other things you can adorn walls with. Consider mounting a collection of decorative plates in your kitchen or beautiful rug in the foyer.
- Go 3-D. You can use shadow boxes to preserve special objects-your son’s first pair of shoes or your daughter’s graduation cap.
- Don’t underestimate the power of green. Adding a real or artificial plant or floral arrangement livens up any space.
- Dabble in paint. There is no easier or relatively less expensive way to brightening up a white wall. Experiment with solids, stripes, borders, stencils or a faux finish like sponging. And for a drastic look, don’t forget the 5th wall – the ceiling!
- No cost decorating. Re-arrange furniture for a fresh look. Press flowers from your own garden, mat and frame them and you have a unique piece of art.
- Reuse what you can. Turn old curtains into toss pillows.
- Choose multipurpose pieces. For instance, a decorative trunk in your family room can serve as the coffee table as well as storage for board games.
- Pick up decorating magazines for inspiration. Despite the unavailability of some of the project material, know that any idea you like can easily be adapted for a fraction of the cost in Pakistan.