Music in Islam: Halal or Haram?

I will begin with a disclaimer. I am a student of Islam not an authority on Islam. I do not pretend to speak for all Muslims or even any Muslim other than myself. I fully respect others who disagree with me. My aim is neither to promote nor to deter a certain type of behavior. Rather I intend to present evidence so that readers may make informed decisions.

Listening to music is permissible in Islam, within certain limitations, based on authoritative evidence. Music is not Halal because I say so but because the divinely inspired Sunnah says so.  Only Allah has the power to make something halal (permitted) or haram (prohibited) within Islamic law. If one doubts that Allah alone has this power, one need only look to Surah Tahreem. It says, “O Prophet! Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which Allah has made lawful to thee?” (66:1, Yusuf Ali trans.) Not even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had the power to dictate the permitted and the prohibited.

Only a narrow domain of actions are prohibited while an expansive galaxy of actions is permitted. In a dispute over the permissibility of an action, the burden of proof lies on the person arguing for prohibition.  It would be impractical for the Quran and Sunnah to list all the things which are permitted. Instead Allah has chosen to inform us of the narrow domain of prohibited actions, with the understanding that actions He has not mentioned are permitted. Also, rather than delineating each possible individual case, like saying murdering parents is prohibited, murdering spouses is prohibited, and so on, actions are grouped into broad categories. Islam says, all murder, defined as the unjustified taking of human life, is prohibited. Since the burden of proof is on the one arguing for prohibition, if both I and my opponent present weak unconvincing evidence, I win because my opponent has not met the burden of proof while I have no burden of proof to meet. Pretty cool, huh? I could still lose, however, if my opponent presents strong evidence of the prohibition of music and I present weak evidence of its permissibility.

On joyous occasions, the Prophet (S) not only allowed, but encouraged the playing of music. One tradition that supports this claim comes from the collection of Ibn Majah who reports that Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

Aishah, a wife of the Prophet,  gave a girl relative of hers in marriage to a man of the Ansar. The Prophet (S) came and asked, ‘Did you send a singer along with her?’  ‘No,’ said Aishah. The Messenger of Allah (S) then said, ‘The Ansar are a people who love poetry. You should have sent along someone who would sing, ‘Here we come, to you we come, greet us as we greet you.’ “

What’s interesting about this tradition is that the Prophet (S) is not only saying music is permitted, he is saying that, at a wedding, it is preferable to have music than to go without.  He even suggests a few verses to be sung, lending support to the idea that he himself was one who enjoyed music.

In the authentic collections of Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim, one finds the following:

Aishah narrated that during the days of Mina, on the day of Eid ul-Adha, two girls were with her, singing and playing on a hand drum. The Prophet (S) was present, listening to them with his head under a shawl. Abu Bakr then entered and scolded the girls. The Prophet (S), uncovering his face, told him, ‘Let them be, Abu Bakr. These are the days of Eid.

In his masterwork, Ihya Ulum-al-Deen (Revival of the Religious Sciences), Imam al-Ghazzali, mentions a story of Abyssinians (Ethiopians) dancing with spears in the Prophet’s Masjid. When the Prophet (S) observed this, he said, “Carry on, O Bani Arfidah ( a name applied to the Ethiopians).” In addition, he asked his wife, Aishah, “Would you like to watch?” (WP is acting up and will not allow me to remove this underlining.)

If music were haram, this story would make no sense. Why would the Prophet (S) allow foreigners to come into his own masjid and desecrate it with unlawful entertainment? Why would he invite his wife to partake in something forbidden?

However, the status of music as halal does not mean Muslims can listen to any song, any time, for any purpose. In his book, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam, Dr. Yusuf al-Qardawi, argues that certain limitations apply to music in Islam. In summary, these are the limitations:

1. If the music has lyrics, the lyrics should not conflict with the teachings of Islam.

2. Singing must not be sexually suggestive or obscene.

3. Muslims should not indulge in music to the point of excess. When a Muslim spends so much time on music that it interferes with his obligations as a Muslim, he is in danger.

4. If one finds that a certain type of music impels one to feel or to behave in a way that draws one away from Allah and away from Islam, one should avoid it.

5. Music must never accompany prohibited activities like drinking alcohol or gambling.

One final point remains. Those who say Islam prohibits music point to a specific Quranic verse that states,

And among the people is the one who buys idle talk (at the expense of his soul) in order to lead (people) astray from the path of Allah without knowledge, holdng it in mockery; for such there will be a humiliating punishment. (31:6, English trans. from Qardawi)

A refutation of this point comes from none less than the Andalusian Islamic philosopher, Ibn Hazm, a man so oft quoted that the phrase, “Ibn Hazm said . . .” became a proverb in his time. Ibn Hazm said:

This verse condemns a particular behavior, that of doing something to mock the path of Allah . . . It is this type of behavior which is condemned by Allah and not the idle talk in which one may indulge for mere relaxation, without intending to lead people astray from the path of Allah.

Therefore, the Quran does not prohibit music. I welcome comments from people on both sides of this issue, but please, no spam.

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  1. #1 by ג'רוזלם פוסט לייט on November 4, 2009 - 8:36 am

    I watched a movie about how Yusuf Islam (AKA Cat Stevens) didn’t play music for half of his life because he thought it was haram.
    Later, afew years ago, he moved to a different area, and had a different mentor, who told him that his art is a tool to serve Allah and to bring new followers to Islam 🙂

  2. #2 by @GospelToday on November 5, 2009 - 4:35 pm

    the Friendly Atheist keeps not posting my comments on his blog so I thought I’d answer hoverFrog’s question here.

    “Is the symbol (cross or letter) a mark of religion or not? What is it that atheists are supposed to worship?”

    Both the Christian Cross and the Atheist Scarlet Letter A are religious symbols.

    The Christian Cross reminds the people following Christ Jesus of His suffering and dying on the cross for us and to do God’s will.

    The Atheist Scarlet Letter A reminds those people who do not believe in God that they deny God and that they do their own will.

    BTW, the name “Scarlet Letter” for the “A” I did not name. I found the name at this website:

    http://www.cafepress.com/TheAtheistShops/6878246

  3. #3 by Arsalan on December 3, 2010 - 10:46 am

    The hadith you quote here corresponds to the fact that ONLY DAFLI that is the drum without tinkle is allowed. and the hadith Of Hazrat Aishah R.A (may Allah be pleased with her) and the other two sahabiya’s play Dafli and not any other drum or musical instrument that Our Beloved Prophet Muhammad Sallalaah hu Alaihi Wassallam Allowed them to continue….
    The hadith regarding my words is :-

    “The use of the drum is allowed on the occasion of a wedding, wedding feast (walimah) and both days of Eid. This is concerning the drum which has no tinkle. The drum which has the tinkle is not permitted to be used”.

  4. #4 by asad123 on December 3, 2010 - 1:53 pm

    I respect your opinion, but I disagree. I do not think Muslims need to break down music by instrument. I do not believe there is a group of halal instruments and a group of Haram instruments. Just as you have textual evidence to support your position, I have evidence for mine. Also, many instruments which exist today did not exist in the 7th century, so one has to apply principles from the Shariah to modern situations. Historically, many Muslim cultures have produced music, and not just with drums. I believe this is evidence, not of sin or decadence, but of an informed understanding that making music fits within an Islamic framework.

  5. #5 by umu yasir on February 8, 2011 - 5:47 pm

    ONLY DAFLI that is the drum without tinkle is allowed.

  6. #6 by Hanif on May 30, 2011 - 2:26 am

    The author of the book al-Sama (listening) Muhammad Ibn Tahir Ibn Ali Ibn Ahmad Ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Shaybani Abu al-Fadl al-Maqdisi well-known as Ibn al-Qaysarani a great expert in the field of hadith declared that there is no difference at all between listening to one type of instrument or another since there exist no single textual evidence, whether authentic or inauthentic, for or against the use of instruments. Early scholars such as Shaykh Abdul al-Ghani al-Nabulusi al-Hanafi who has been mentioned previously ruled that the use of such instruments was allowed since there was no evidence to prove otherwise. He also argues that the traditions used by those who are opposed to the use musical instruments, if we assume that they are authentic, they have only condemned music when accompanied and associated with intoxicants, fornication and other immoral behaviour. Almost all such traditions mention these vices as the reason behind the condemnation of music. This is also the view of Ibn Hazm who holds the view that the verdict whether music is allowed or not rests on the intentions of the people involved. Thus, if a person listens to music with the intention to relax and motivate himself before engaging in the obedience of God then he will be considered as a righteous person. However, if he does not make any intention whether good or bad, he will not be taken to account for his action and will be treated just like a person taking a walk in the park or sitting outside his house for fresh air.

    Similarly, the view held by al-Ghazzali (see previously cited sources) quoted by al-Shawkani in the interpretation of the hadith every lahw (amusement) in which the believer engages in is invalid does not in any way prove or mean that lahw is prohibited (haram) even if we assume that the chain of the hadith is authentic. The Quran states: And, for what your tongues describe, do not utter the lie, (saying) This is lawful and this is unlawful, in order to forge a lie against God; surely those who forge the lie against God shall not prosper (al-Nahl: verse 116).

    The argument that is often presented that listening to music, studying it, and attending musical functions is haram based on the legal principles of sadd al-dharia (lit. blocking the ways/ precaution) or that of dar mafasid muqaddam ala jalb al-masalih (prevention of corruption is given preference over the acquisition of benefit) is neither acceptable nor valid because although music is sometimes associated with corruption, this is not usually the case. Therefore, in this case it will be equated to (the early Arab habit of) sitting on the sides of the streets (or street corners). In a tradition recorded by Muslim in his Sahih on the authority of Abu Said al-Khudri, the Prophet said: Beware of sitting by roadsides! The companions then responded saying, O Prophet of God! We do not do any harm apart from just talking important matters. The Prophet then said, if at all you must sit by the roadside then make sure that you give the street its right. They asked him, what is the right of the street/road O messenger of God? Lowering your gaze, removing harmful objects from the street, returning salam (greetings) to those who pass by, and enjoining good while prohibiting from evil (see Sharh al-sunna of al-Baghawi, 12/3338). From this tradition we can deduce that sometimes lawful acts can become prohibited when they are accompanied or associated with immoral and haram behaviour. In such cases the prohibition (hurma) will be contingent upon the existence of such immoral and haram behaviour. In other words, it will not be a purely independent and original ruling.

    Thus, adopting the middle ground in such cases in the best position (see al-Muwafaqat of al-Shatibi, vol.4, p.258). For this reason, we are in favour of the ruling that listening to music, attending musical gatherings, studying music of all genres and all types of instruments is allowed as long as it is not accompanied by immoral and haram acts, or used as a tool to incite people to engage in sinful behaviour, and it does not preoccupy a person away from observing the obligatory acts of worship as stated in the chapters of al-Bukhari (see Irshad al-Sari, vol. 2, p.171, the marginal notes of Sahih Muslim). In such cases, it will become haram just like sitting on the side of the road without observing the rights of the road mentioned in the hadith. We take this position because only God and then his messenger have the responsibility to declare things halal (permissible) and haram (prohibited) (see Ilam al-muwaqiin of Ibn al-Qayyim, vol. 1, p. 32). God also states, Say: Who has prohibited the embellishment of God which He has brought forth for His servants and the good provisions? Say: These are for the believers in the life of this world, purely (theirs) on the resurrection day; thus do we make the communications clear for a people who know. Say: My Lord has only prohibited indecencies, those of them that are apparent as well as those that are concealed, and sin and rebellion without justice, and that you associate with God that for which He has not sent down any authority, and that you say against God what you do not know (al-Araf: verses 32-33). Ibn Arabi states (see his Ahkam al-Quran, vol.2, p.782) that the words embellishment of God (zinat allah) in the above verse refer to the beauties of worldly life such as beautiful clothing and its other pleasures because God says, And he makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things (al-Araf: verse 157). Al-Shawkani wrote (see Nayl al-awtar, vol.8, p.105) that the term good things (tayyibat) in the verse includes all types and forms of good things. The term tayyib (good thing) is usually used to refer to sources of pleasure. This is the meaning that immediately comes to mind when the term is used unless if there is textual context to suggest that this is not the intended meaning. Moreover, this term also denotes generality (umum) and that means it includes all meanings of good. Even if we were to apply it only to some and not all of its included meanings, that meanings that immediately comes to mind when the term is used would be the most suitable. Al-Izz Ibn Abd al-Salam also stated that the meaning of al-tayyibat (good things) in this verse are sources of pleasure.

  7. #7 by Record Label on September 12, 2011 - 9:21 am

    Learned a lot from the blog post, I hope you publish more.

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