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.