Purpose – This paper aims to examine GCC companies' use of visual images to interplay modernity and globalism with tradition, Islam and local culture. The analysis aims to bring attention to the way that businesses in the GCC use visual images to engage with or influence debates in their societies concerning the tension between modernity, globalisation and traditional values in the Arab-Islamic world. Design/methodology/approach – The analysis is critical and discursive and based on a close reading of the visual images reported in the 2005 annual reports of companies listed on GCC stock markets. Findings – The analysis suggests that GCC companies on many occasions used visual images to depict and represent the possibility of a successful profitable, modern and global business that is also sympathetic to tradition and operates within the framework of Islamic principles. Originality/value – While visual images are increasingly used in companies' annual reports they have been largely ignored in accounting research. Furthermore, when this research manifests, it has been concerned with investigating Anglo-American and Western contexts. This paper instead emphasises the significance of researching the use of visual images in a variety of contexts and locations. It critically and contextually explores the use of visual images in a largely unexplored, non-Western and a significantly Islamic context.