Is Music Prohibited In Islam?
Most Muslims of the first two centuries of Islamic history were not even aware of most part of the literature that is now known as Hadith
By Dr Khalid Zaheer
Many people are confused about the status of music in Islam. While on the one hand one feels that music is a blessing that soothes the heart, relaxes the mind, and provides a healthy entertainment, on the other there is a strong religious view that all musical instruments are voices of Satan that need to be shunned if one were to pursue the path of God. What exactly is the truth about this claim? An individual seeking a good life, enjoying the blessings of God on the one hand and continuing to remain on the right course leading to God’s pleasure on the other finds himself in a dilemma.
In establishing religious acceptability of an act or otherwise, two things need to be clarified: No one has the right to declare anything prohibited (haram) except God. And when God declares something prohibited in His religion, He does it clearly. Most certainly, God’s messenger, His mercy be on him, was the one who delivered His message to the mankind. However, that fact does not mean that whatever is mentioned in his name should be taken as God’s final verdict. The truth is that he communicated God’s message in the most reliable manner through the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an is His undiluted text which He has vowed to preserve until the Judgement Day (15: 9). Sunnah are the religious practices like the formal prayers which like the Qur’an were preserved through complete unanimity (ijma) and uninterrupted continuity (tawatur) of Muslims. The message from both sources has been transmitted as authentically all throughout the fourteen centuries of Muslim history as one can expect from a community of humans.
“When statements are attributed to the prophet (PBUH), many people forget that they need to be seen in the light of the real text they are explaining. That core text in Islam is the Qur’an and Sunnah”
Hadith are fragmented pieces of information that were transmitted by some companions of the prophet to some other Muslims belonging to the next generation. This process of transmitting from individuals of one generation to another continued for a while until in the third century Hijrah these pieces were put together, in some cases with great research and care, in the form of books. The information attributed to the prophet began to be known later by his name in a way as if they were his undisputed statements that enjoyed ultimate authority in deciding what was acceptable in religion and what was not. When statements are attributed to the prophet, many people forget that they need to be seen in the light of the real text they are explaining. That core text in Islam is the Qur’an and Sunnah. Most Muslims of the first two centuries of Islamic history were not even aware of most part of the literature that is now known as Hadith.
In view of the above clarifications, let’s have a look at how has the question of music been dealt with in the Islamic sources.
The Qur’an doesn’t allude to the question of music directly at all. The closest one might claim God’s text has come to mention music is where He has condemned the attitude of people who resort to idle diversions (lahval hadith). It has been convincingly pointed out that neither the relevant expression is directly mentioning music for which there were clear words in Arabic nor the admonition was proscribing anything else. The Qur’an is only referring to the evil practice of some people who wanted to “lead people astray from the path of God” (31:6). In other words, whatever tactics are used by people to lead others astray from the path of God are condemnable in the eyes of God. That’s the only clear message of the passage.
There is an unmistakable mention in the book of God of the blessings He has created for humans which make this life beautiful. He challenges those who try to forbid beauties of life He has created for His servants thus: “Ask them: Who has forbidden beauties of life which God has created for His servants and the clean, pure food? Tell them, they are meant for the believers in this life and shall be exclusively for them on the Judgment Day.” The word zeenat used to describe beauty in this verse is employed for additional embellishment used on natural endowments of life to make them more attractive. Like makeup and jewellery are embellishments for the eyes, music is zeenat for the ears. The same passage goes further to clarify what is forbidden in reality: “Tell them, my Lord has forbidden only indecency, both open and hidden, unjustifiable oppression, and that you associate with God that for which He has sent down no authority, and that you say about God that which you don’t know.” (7:32-33)
In other words, the Qur’an is clarifying that the beauties of life are God’s blessings. The extra embellishments done on them are His blessings too. However, there is a potential evil in them too. It is that evil that needs to be avoided. There are many references in Hadith to music. Many of those Hadith have been described as weak by experts of the field. The ones that are more reliable are either mentioning the fact that the prophet allowed people to sing or are referring to incidents that are criticising occasions when music was misused. When those Hadith are read in the light of the Qur’an, we find a consistent understanding: While anything in life that is beautiful and pleasing is God’s gift, there are evils of obscenity, oppression, deception, ascribing partners with God, hatred, jealousy etc that can get promoted through these apparently beautiful things. While beauties of life should be acknowledged and enjoyed as God’s gifts, the evil in them should be avoided.
When there is no balance in one’s life, one tends to be an extremist. If we enjoy God’s blessings which definitely includes music, and be thankful to Him, we are very likely to be happy, thankful, and accommodating. If we shun God’s blessings on ourselves, living a life where we are depriving ourselves of God’s blessings, we are likely to become angry, sullen, and extremist in our approach.
“The article was published at dailycapital.pk on 27-FEB-15. We are reproducing here by permission”