Is It Permissible to Produce Robots That Don’t Resemble Human Beings?

Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch based on the Fatwa of Dar al-Mustafa (Tarim, Yemen)

Question

Is it permissible to make robots that don’t resemble humans and if their face doesn’t resemble a human? Do robots come under statues?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate

The issue of the robot revolves around the issue of taswir or form-making. It is prohibited to make any 3-dimensional form of any animate creature. Even though the robot does not have a human face or skin – its form and shape are that of a human.

The details below revolve around this issue:

This question is answered in two parts:

  1. The issue of making robots
  2. The issue of using robots.

Making Robots

If the robot is fully formed such that it has all its limbs, it is not permissible to make. In fact, it is of the major sins. This ruling applies even if the robots are used for menial labor, such as cleaning; this is because of the intense warning against those who make 3-dimensional forms (that resemble animate creatures) and because form makers are the most severely punished on the Day of Judgment. [See Bukhari; Muslim]

The Exception of Children’s Toys

Excluded from these rulings are children’s toys, for both boys and girls alike. Thus, if the 3-dimensional object (that resembles any animate creature) is intended as a child’s toy, even if for boys, this is not prohibited. This is because the mother of the believers ‘Aisha used to play with it (i.e. a doll) in the presence of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) as it has been narrated in the Sahih collection of Imam Muslim: the wisdom of allowing children toys (that are 3 dimensional and resemble animate creatures) is to train them in child-rearing.

Deficiency in Form

If the 3-dimensional object that resembles an animate creature is deficient in its form such that it is clearly missing limbs that it would not be able to live without had it been alive, such as missing the lower half of its body — it is then permissible according to some scholars of the Shafi‘i school like Ibn Hajar. This is contrary to the opinion of Imam Ramli and others (Allah have mercy on them all) who did not allow even this.

If, however, there is no outward deficiency (as explained above) rather the deficiency is internal such that they are missing organs, like a liver; or they are missing an outward limb that they could live without had they have been living — it is strictly prohibited (haram). The reason is that consideration is given to the outward resemblance, which is still found even without the above (i.e. the missing inward organ or the outward limb that one could live without).

An Alternative View

However, some scholars said, ‘it is not strictly prohibited (haram) as long as it does not constitute an idol that is worshipped other than Allah Most High.

Having Robots

The basis of the issue of having or keeping robots is an extension of the above ruling. Thus, whatever (of the above details) is permitted to make than keeping or having it is even more clearly understood to be permitted.

As for that which is prohibited to make, then if it is kept or acquired to fulfill some physical desire or devilish aim, to revere, as an adornment – such as it being put on the roof, a wall, or an erect cushion – it is strictly prohibited to have and to attend any place it is in. In fact, it is prohibited to even enter upon it (i.e. into that room which it’s in) according to some scholars due to the narration of Imam Muslim on the authority of ‘Aisha.

She (Allah be pleased with her) said, “The Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) returned from a journey and a curtain that had a winged horse on it was put over the area of Suffa (in the Mosque). He commanded that it be removed.

If these robots are kept for menial labor such that they are used for cleaning, farming, or other services – it is permissible to have them and attend a place in which they are kept. However, despite that, the scholars differed with regards to whether the Angels of Mercy enter into a place in which such a robot is kept.

Shaykh Ibn al-Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) said that the Angels of Mercy will not enter such places. This is because the most that can be said is that this ruling is like that place in which is a person in major ritual impurity (janaba), or a vessel in which their is urine.

Imam Ramli al-Kabir (may Allah have mercy on them) differed from this opinion. He said that the Angels of Mercy are not prevented from entering because the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) kept two pillows that had forms on them, and this is the established opinion in the school of Imam al-Shafi‘i.

Access the original fatwa in Arabic under the following link:
دار المصطفى- رقم الفتوى ١١٩٣

And True knowledge belongs to Allah Most High.
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a teacher of Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he then completed four years at the Darul Uloom seminary in New York where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences. He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he stayed for three years studying in Dar Al-Mustafa under some of the greatest scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib. In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Qur’an and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Qur’anic exegesis, Islamic history, and a number of texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.