Photography in Oman delivers more than its title promises. Abdullah Khalfan Al-Sauty, head of the photography department at Sultan Qaboos University, Oman, not only offers beautiful photographs, but he describes the technical aspects of still life, portrait, landscape and candid photography, offering explanations about how each of those uses is affected by Islamic law.
Bound by Shariah (Islamic law), Islamic countries have numerous rules regarding what subjects can be photographed, when photography can take place and how those photographs can be used or displayed.
Some examples of this complexity, as explained by Al-Sauty: Muslims are not allowed to have a landscape painting in their home; however, landscape photographs reflecting peaceful scenes are allowed. A man’s family photographs cannot be viewed by strangers. Children can be photographed in public before the age of puberty – but not if any item of their clothing or person is in disarray or if the image shows them in a way they may later find disrespectful as adults. Women may be photographed only for research or technical purposes. However, if the photographs serve Islam and show the beautiful creations of God, then photography of women in public or at cultural events is permitted.
Al-Sauty points out that one benefit of using digital cameras in regard to Islam is that female photographers don’t have to venture out into the wider world for processing or printing.
Al Sauty’s photographs – everything from medical/dental pictures (also ruled by Shariah), architecture, landscapes and portraits – are sharp, stark, well executed and well composed. They serve mostly to illustrate to his text.
Photography is new to the Muslim world and the rules regarding it are complicated, under constant debate and open to wide ranging interpretations by scholars. Photography in Oman is instructional, educational and well-illustrated, a must read for anyone who plans to visit an Islamic country, camera in tow.