On May 3, there was an altercation between myself and a group of Muslim1 women and children plus an angry Muslim father. Apparently, I had violated their religious sensibilities by photographing2 his children and the supervising women while they played in a nearby playground.

There was a female friend of the father who acted as an interpreter as the man's command of the English language was tentative at best. Before the father arrived, the woman asked why I was photographing the women and children in the playground and insisted that this was at the least wrong and at the worst illegal. I explained to her that I was well within my right to take pictures in public just as it was her right to play in the playground.

Moments earlier, a 12 year old Western girl along with two or three of her Muslim friends came over and said, "You can't take their picture. They're MUSLIM!" At which time I informed the girl that I had every right to take their pictures and that I was not doing anything wrong. After a few rounds of "but you can't" and "yes, I can" she stormed off.

When she left and after thinking about it for 2 seconds, I erased the pictures and put the camera inside thinking that would be the end of it. I returned outside and noticed a gathering crowd. It was the women and children from the playground heading in my direction.

Once the father arrived, in broken English, he insisted I give him the camera. I was in no way prepared to give him the camera as I would never see my $1000 Nikon again. So I started to offer compromises. I told him that I had erased the pictures but he did not believe me as his knowledge of digital photography was limited. I then offered to "show" him the camera. But he insisted that I give it to him. Then I offered to "sell" him the camera at which time I explained that it was worth $1000. Reluctantly, he allowed me to demonstrate how the camera worked and that the "film" (a CompactFlash memory card) was worth $300 and I was not prepared to give him the memory card and that it was not even necessary since it had already been erased.

He was not satisfied and went to call the police, claiming that my action were illegal. I encouraged him to do so since I knew that I was well within my rights to take those pictures.

In the meantime, I continued my conversation with the interpreter and the father's mother (who also did not speak English). In the end, I did manage to convince them that the pictures were in fact erased and they agreed that it was simply a matter of convincing the father.

Shortly there after, two police officers arrived and a policewoman got out of her cruiser and asked "who called the police." I declared that the father of these children called the police and one of the children was sent to fetch their father.

I explained the situation to the officer. When the father arrived, he again insisted that the police officer determine that I had no pictures in my possession. She explained that I had done nothing wrong and that the police get many complaints like this but there is nothing she can do. To ease the situation, I showed her the digital camera and the screen on the back that said, "This card contains no images." She conveyed to the father that the pictures were not in the camera. The father was still not satisfied stating that I had taken the camera inside and could have transferred the pictures to my computer. He wanted the police officer to go inside and search for the pictures. She explained that she could not do this.

In the end, I asked the officer, "What would appease the father?" She asked the interpreter and the interpreter asked the father. He indicated that he wanted a signed document declaring that I had no pictures and that I would not publish them even if I had them.

It was a no-brainer. I agreed and quickly went inside and typed up a simple little document in the form of an open letter satisfying the father's requirement and declaring that I had no pictures, had no intention of taking pictures of his family and had no intention of publishing any pictures of his family. I signed it and dated it and headed back outside. I gave it to the officer and asked, "Do you think this is ok?" She quickly read it and nodded her head. She then passed the letter to the father. He asked the officer (through the interpreter), "Is that his signature?" The officer asked me, "Is that your signature?" I answered in the affirmative and she said to the father, "Yes that is his signature."

The officer thanked me for my help and cooperation and I replied, "No problem, your job is tough enough."

And the father retreated back to his home with his trophy in hand. He had defended his family and his honour vanquishing the evil infidel and his evil ways.


This brings up some interesting issues. When are the rights of one individual paramount to the rights of another? Clearly, if this had happened in a Muslim country, the outcome would have been much different. I recognized (all too late) that the father and his family have the right to believe that photography is wrong. This is covered under freedom of religion. But, I too have a right to enjoy my hobby unfettered by angry Muslims. And, I even have the right to publish said pictures if I so choose. This is covered by freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

But, what gives me the right to supercede his rights just because the law is on my side? Law is more than just what is right and wrong. It's about a fundamental respect for others. I chose to erase those pictures because it was the morally correct thing to do and possibly a little out of fear that if I annoy my neighbours, it would come back and bite me in the ass.

1 It has been pointed out that other religions have similiar restrictions on photography such as the Amish.

2 Some religions prohibit photography of people since it is stated that "You should not make images of God." and "Man was created in God's image."

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Exodus 20:2

In the Judea-Christan tradition (and extending to Islam) the key point to consider is that man is made in God's image. It is not permissible to make an image of God (sorry Michaelangelo) and thus making an image of a person is the same as making an image of God.

Old traditions hold the having the image of something as having a power over it. This can be seen as ancient cave paintings to more recent voodoo with the "spit and image" of a person.


Judaism is likely the most relaxed with respect to religions that have strictures against taking pictures. Some of the more orthodox traditions within Judaism obey the "graven image" very strictly, others less so.

One of the points to consider that along with the 39 melachot, that reverence to God cannot be more important than the a person - that the 39 melachot may be 'broken' if need be - while one cannot carry, burning, or knotting on the Sabbath it is proper to carry an injured person, start a car (burning fuel) and stitching up a wound on the Sabbath if these are needed to take care of the person. Likewise, a photographer tells of once when he was at a Yeshiva in Monsey, New York where a student objected to his taking a picture. The Rabbi in charge explained to the students that while the law covering graven images is important - it wasn't as important as a person making a living.


"On the Day of Judgment, creators of images will be chastised and asked to inject in them life and they will be unable to do so." (Bukhari)

Islam has the restriction upon making an image of God (those who are familiar with Dune may recall the Eyes of Maud'Dib). This restriction extends to the attempt to create something - an act reserved for the Creator.

An alternate reading of some of the scripture of Islam is that this is because of our human inability to create an accurate representation of something and that paintings and sculptures are 'deformed'. In this sense, the camera is acceptable because it takes an exact image of the original object.

Continuing upon the progressing views within Islam many of the restrictions placed upon various activities and items in the past had to do with combating polytheism in ancient times. As such, statues and images were worshiped as gods. Within moderate Islamic cultures photographs, paintings and statues of people are permissible in that they do not violate the spirit of the original rules - to stamp out polytheism - though images that carried any sort of religious nature to them would be disallowed.


This is a significant concern within Pennsylvania where the press photographers often come in contact with members of the Amish community. Within the Amish culture, it is prohibited for an individual to intentionally pose for a photograph because it calls undue attention to the individual. When there is an "overriding news value" to a photo it is permissible. Otherwise, photographs of groups of Amish without showing the faces or from a distance is acceptable (such as a photograph of a barn-raising).

Within the Amish community there is a strict set of rules that are prohibited with respect to artistic expression. Examples of this include music, dance, and photography. Painting and drawing are allowed - given that the subjects themselves are natural (animals, landscapes).

The key point with the Amish is the community aspect of the values. It is the community that is most important within Amish life rather than the individual. As such, individualism is considered a threat to the community and its values. This extends to the use of a name in a publication because to the Amish this would appear to be a way of getting attention and recognition.

Photographs have always been a taboo within the Amish culture to the point of extending the second Commandment and equating photography with idolatry. Amish see the people who pose for a photograph as exalting themselves. An Amish individual who poses for a photograph would need to make a public confession and refusal to do may result in excommunication and shunning.


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