Music in Islam


By Alia Adil – Freelance writer

Music has always topped the list whenever it comes to so-called ‘controversial’ issues. Some simply hush up anything even remotely related to it, terming it Haram, whereas others have declared it to be permissible. For a layman, there is always confusion as to what is right and what is wrong. In an attempt to clear the fog, let us take a look at what is mentioned in our Shariah regarding singing and music.

In Surah Al-Isra, Allah (swt) mentions the time when Shaitan was granted respite until the Last Day to misguide mankind. Allah (swt) allowed him to use all weapons he could for this purpose, including his voice, Sawt: “And Istafziz [literally means: befool them gradually] those, whom you can among them with your voice (i.e. songs, music, and any other call for Allah’s disobedience)…” (Al-Isra 17:64)

According to Ibn Abbas (rta), Sawt (voice) mentioned in this verse refers to every form of invitation, which calls to disobedience to Allah (swt). Ad-Dahhak said it was the sound of wind instruments. Mujahid interpreted Sawt as Ghina (singing to cause enchantment or sensual pleasure), Mazamir (wind instruments) and Lahw (distraction from important matters).

Then Allah (swt) says:“And of mankind is he, who purchases idle talks (i.e., music, singing, etc.) to mislead (men) from the path of Allah without knowledge, and takes it (the path of Allah, the Verses of the Quran) by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell-fire).” (Luqman 31:6)

According to Imam Qurtubi, this is one of the three verses, from which scholars have deduced the dislike and prohibition of Ghina(the third one being An-Najm, 53:59-61). The keyword here is Lahw Al-Hadeeth (idle talks).

Abdullah Ibn Masud (rtam) said: “I swear by the One other than Whom there is no god, Lahw al Hadeeth refers to Ghina.” Ibn Abbas said: “It means Ghina and the like.” Mujahid said: “It means Ghina and listening to it.” Hasan Al-Basri said: “This verse was revealed in relation to Ghina and musical instruments.”

Abu Malik Al-Ashari narrated that Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “There will be groups of people from my Ummah, who will seek to declare fornication, adultery, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful.” (Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad (sa) also said: “A people of my Ummah will drink wine, calling it by other than its real name. Merriment will be made for them through the playing of musical instruments and the singing of lady singers. Allah (swt) will cleave the earth under them and turn them and others into apes and swine.” (Ibn-Majah and Bayhaqi)

Moreover, it is recorded that Abdur-Rahman Ibn Awf (rta) reported: “The Prophet (sa) took my hand and I went with him to visit his (ailing) son Ibrahim. He was in the throes of death. The Prophet (sa) took him to his breast and held him until he breathed his last. Then he put the child down and wept. I asked: “You are weeping, O Messenger of Allah, while you prohibit crying?” The Prophet (sa) replied: “Verily, I did not prohibit weeping but rather, I forbade two sounds that are foolish and sinful: the sound of musical amusement and Shaitan’s Mazamir in time of joy and blessing; and the sound (of wailing) at the time of adversity accompanied by striking the face and tearing of garments. But this (weeping of mine) stems from compassion, and whoever does not show compassion will not receive it.” (Al-Hakim)

Ibn Taymiyah writes: “This is among the best Ahadeeth that are used to show the prohibition of Ghina.”

Thus, it is clear beyond doubt that Islam establishes a general ruling of Tahreem (prohibition), when it comes to music. However, Islam, being a balanced religion, gives room for amusement and sport that is free from sin and evil consequences. There are some occasions, such as weddings and the days of Eid, where singing and use of Duff (one-sided drum without bells) are permissible (women and girls only). It is recorded that Muhammad Ibn Hatib (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “Duff and singing in weddings distinguish the permissible from the prohibited.” (Bukhari)

Likewise, singing is allowed in order to gain strength at the time of Jihad and to ease laborious work, as was done by Prophet (sa) and his companions, while digging the trench around Madinah, in preparation for the Battle of Trench. To determine all such occasions and the extent of their permissibility, one must refer to authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (sa).

Instrument-free singing is permissible by consensus, provided certain conditions are met: it must be for a rightful purpose, it must comprise pure, non-erotic lyrics, and one must not excessively indulge in it. Moreover, one can occasionally enjoy Islamic Nasheeds, as long as the content is wholesome, virtuous, and free from polytheism and use of musical instruments.

Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyah says: “From among the artful machinations and entrapments of Allah’s enemy (Satan), with which he has snared those possessing little good sense, knowledge and Deen, and by which he has stalked the hearts of the false and ignorant people, there is the listening to whistling, wailing, handclapping and song to the accompaniment of forbidden (musical) instruments. Such things block the Quran from people’s hearts and make them devoted to sin and disobedience. For song (to musical accompaniment) is the Quran (recital) of Ash-Shaytan. It is a dense veil and barrier, preventing nearness to Ar-Rahman.”

Later on in his treatise, he says: “Therefore know that songs have particular characteristics, which faint the heart, causing hypocrisy to sprout therein, just as water sprouts plants. Among its qualities is that it distracts the heart and prevents it from contemplation and understanding of the Quran and from applying it. This is because the Quran and song can never coexist in the heart, since they are mutually contradictory…”

It is often said that music leads to tranquility of the soul. However, the tranquility that one acquires from remembering Allah (swt) is entirely different from the one experienced through music. Allah (swt) says in the Quran “… Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.”(Ar-Rad 13:28)

Dear Haadia

Question: What is the place of music in Islam?

Answer: There is considerate confusion concerning music in Islam, which necessitates an explanation. In his Tafseer, Imam Al-Qurtabi mentions that there are three verses, which have been used by the Ullema as proofs of the contempt for and the prohibition of music.

The first of these verses appears in Surah Najam (53:59-62): “Do you then wonder at this recital (the Quran)? And you laugh at it and weep not, wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing, etc.). So fall you down in prostration to Allah (swt) and worship Him (Alone).” The important phrase here is “wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements” (Wa Antum Saamidoon). ‘Saamid’ means ‘one who plays idly with musical instruments or other objects of play.’

According to Ibn Abbaas, the word ‘Saamidoon’ refers to the Mushrikeen’s habit of singing and playing noisily, whenever they heard the Quran recited, in order to drown out the reciter’s voice, so that others would not hear it.

The second verse is from Surah Bani Israel (17: 64): “And befool them gradually, those whom you can among them with your voice, make assaults on them with your cavalry and infantry, mutually share with them wealth and children and make promises to them. But Satan promises them nothing but deceit.” After refusing to bow before Adam (as), Satan requested Allah (swt) to grant him respite until the Day of Resurrection, so that he may misguide the descendants of Adam (as). Thus, Allah (swt) addressed Satan with the above verses.

Some commentators among the Taabieen, such as Mujaahid and Ad-Dahhaak, interpreted Satan’s exciting mankind with his voice to mean through music, songs, and amusement.

The third verse is from Surah Luqman (31: 6): “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah (swt) without knowledge, and takes it by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating punishment.”

Here Allah (swt) reveals the condition of the miserable ones, who refuse to benefit from hearing the word of Allah (swt) and devote themselves to idle talk and empty amusements. The term ‘Lahwal Hadeeth’ (idle talk) means:

(a) singing and listening to songs;

(b) purchasing of professional singers;

(c) purchasing of idle amusement instruments, in short, music and songs.

This view has been held by a number of companions, such as Ibn Masood, Jaabir, and Ibn Abbas. When questioned regarding the meaning of this verse, Ibn Abbas replied: “I swear by the One, other than Whom there is no God, it refers to singing (Ghinna),” and he repeated this thrice. Music and singing distracts people from Allah’s (swt) remembrance, thereby inviting them to His disobedience.

Prophet Muhammad (sa) stated: “From among my followers, there will be some people, who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk (for men), the drinking of alcoholic drinks, and the use of musical instruments as lawful…” (Bukhari) Analysis of the Hadeeth’s wording clearly indicates the unlawfulness of music.

The Prophet (sa) said: “Indeed, Allah (swt) prohibited wine, gambling, and Al-Koobah; and every intoxicant is prohibited.” When the narrator Ali Bin Badheemah was asked: “What is Al-Koobah?” he answered: “It is the drum.” (Ahmad)

However, songs minus the music, whose lyrics heighten spiritual consciousness and encourage people to pious works, are praiseworthy, but these too must encompass proper decorum. Upon the Prophet’s (sa) arrival to Madinah and his return from the battle of Tabuk, joy was expressed by the Ansar in praise of the Prophet (sa). They sang: “The full moon has risen on us over the hills of Waada.”

Therefore, it is incumbent of every Muslim to strive his utmost to find lawful alternatives to the prohibited forms of music. He may recite and listen to the Quran as the Prophet (sa) said: “Adorn the Quran with your voices.” (Abu Dawood) Remembrance of Allah (swt), brings tranquility to the human soul, as opposed to music, which is fleeting and superficial.