Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kid Logic

Nose-free art for the children
As I fold strips of colored construction paper accordion-style to make expandable legs for "huggy hearts" (later renamed "heart monkeys"), I start to eye the two-dimensional eyeballs I had cut out for the kids. I flash back to this morning's wooly sheep Eid craft and the reminder from my colleague to be sure that the kids cover the entire body with cottonballs, except for the place where the eye would go. A few minutes later she peeked her head into the classroom and said actually, make sure they cover the entire body with cottonballs, especially the place where the eye would go.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the Hanafi fiqh rulings regarding pictures and drawings because I produce a fair amount of "arts and crafts." I have a tendency to spend from my food budget on "fun supplies" in percentages disproportionate to what is appropriate for real life.
Like most things, crafts are not against my religion. But we do have limitations as to what we are allowed to try to creatively reproduce. I believe that restrictions yield more creative solutions to challenging everyday problems like "what craft should I make?"

The most basic principle to keep in mind as a Godfearing crafter is that it is impermissible to try to recreate that which only Allah can create, particularly anything with a soul.
Here I will quote directly from sources because something about jurisprudential writing has a calming effect on the heart. Sometimes the repetition makes it read like poetry. The writer seems sure that he knows the right thing to do in any situation. He is armed with the knowledge to make good decisions, and imparting this knowledge to you- yes, you! in a clear and meaningful way. He might make you feel like you are definitely going to do the right thing, now that you know the rules.

From SeekersGuidance, complete with sources for the superseeker:

"What is strongly impermissible is to draw the entire human body with all its details, or the face and neck with all its details (except when necessary for immediate educational purposes and the like).

As for drawing an outline of the human body, without detailed features, or drawing the details of a particular part (such as the heart), this is permitted, and this is not disliked if for a reasonable purpose (such as education).

It is mentioned in Imam `Ala al-Din al-Haskafi’s al-Durr al-Mukhtar that, among the types of pictures that are not prohibited to have are those that are:
“(Small) such that the details of their limbs are not apparent to someone who looks down at them standing while they are on the ground, as Halabi mentioned, (or with their head or face cut off) or with an organ effaced out that the body cannot live without, (or of an inanimate object).”

Ibn Abidin clarified in his supercommentary, Radd al-Muhtar:
“(His saying “with their head cut off”) That is, whether it did not have a head in the first place, or it had one and it was effaced.” [Radd al-Muhtar` ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, Babma yufsidal-salatwama yukrahufiha]
And Allah knows best."

(Sheikh Faraz Rabbani)

There are many amazing things to be learned here. First of all, "supercommentary" is a word.
Also, while these rules may seem straight-forward to the casual reader, each situation both requires and allows for interpretation. So there is both responsibility and opportunity. Risky business. Even when it comes to craft-time with the "fun aunt."

Is fun craft time considered a "reasonable purpose?" Are bug crafts educational? How reasonable is the need for a gingerbread cookie in one's belly? Are eyeballs details?

Luckily, the "people" that the kids draw aren't quite the shape of an actual human body- more like a cross between a person and a star- and so we call them "little guys" and don't really worry about it any further. But the third point is the one that most intrigues and concerns me, and has led to several discussions with my doctor friends about what parts of the body various animate objects cannot live without. The first thing I learned is that doctors know very little about dinosaurs. But they do have pretty sound opinions on the topic of survival in general.

Given my fondness for dinosaur crafts, I was hoping we could all agree that dinos cannot live without eyes. No such luck. It was concluded that it would probably wander around for a while before it died of starvation or was eaten. This "wandering around" period is what can make or break a dinosaur craft.  I couldn't convince the kids that it would be extra special to make a headless dinosaur. And even without a head, my sources say, it probably would not die right away. But we were mid-craft and I had to make a reasoned judgment. Make a call or call it off. So I sought validation in the second point listed, the one about the details. We did cut out the dinosaur body, but left the rest of it vague. Of course, even that decision breeds new questions.
Are claws considered details? Are little curvy lines sticking out of a blob considered claws?
My nephew added wings to his, of his own volition, because according to him, he did not want to too closely try to copy Allah's creation. Kid logic.

It is our responsibility to understand the severity of the offense of trying to recreate or depict something that only Allah can create, specifically animate objects. It is widely taught and accepted that "drawings of people are haram," and this is to put it simply.  Maybe it is because "the fiqh of art" is supposed to be one of those simple things in life. But this could be an open door to labeling things as haram that are not actually haram. Tricky territory when you are teaching little kids, because they hold on to those beliefs until they have something more exhaustive to replace or refine them. And I can't guarantee that. I'm the "fun aunt."

Of course, as with any rulings related to anything, the appropriate action to take in the aforementioned dilemmas will depend on one's madhab, or school of thought. I am Hanafi and do not know the rulings according to the other madhabs, but my first obligation is to learn my own, and not without a sense of urgency. In due time, inshallah I can examine the governing rulings for the Shafi' kid in my class who gasps every time I draw a smiley face. Unfortunately, there is a lot that I still don't know about Islamic law, even on non-craft related issues.

Here's what I do know.
It's weird to draw a person without a head. But it's not as weird to draw a person without some of the other main body parts. Or to draw just parts of those parts. Or draw the person on the edge so only half of them is showing. But what seems to be the default is to eliminate eyes or the face in full.

Here's another thing I know from growing up in a family that followed this ruling.
Eyes with big black Xs over them are creepy. So are dolls with eyeballs ripped out. Almost better not to have the doll.

In choosing which part of the crafted human body to eliminate, I turn to my sister, a baby expert. More specifically, an expert on baby survival. I asked about the no eyes versus no mouth thing.
"you could live if you had a tube in your nose and access to pureed food put through the tube and also could live breathing through the one open nostril ? but questionable how long you could live like that. you can't survive without a mouth and nose obviously you cant breathe."
None of this is obvious to me, actually. The human being is a resilient and miraculous creation of Allah. We can survive under even the most unfavorable circumstances. Even if for a moment. The conclusion we made at this juncture has been significant for all members of the family- our beloved, mouthless Hello Kitty gets the go-ahead. Shukr Alhamdullilah.

I could be wrong- I often am. It is possible that although I am reading the legal texts, through some process that takes place in the depths of gray matter, I may in practice be applying kid logic. Inshallah Allah will make things clear, because I work with other people's children and I'm not here to cause trouble. At least I hope I'm not. My greatest enemy at this point is my own ignorance. He's tough and unruly and wakes up in the night and goes searching for the fruits of my labor just so he can eat them. He shows up unannounced and makes a mess of everything he touches. He's an uncouth little monster and keeps getting fatter, with rolls in his belly, no ears, no eyes, big mouth, no heart.