In the Name of Almighty God, The Merciful, The Compassionate

بسم لله الرحمان الرحيم

Salaam Aleikum (Peace be with you)! I hope you may gain some insight from my work here. Remember, I'm not a scholar and don't claim to be. I only claim to be a person who has a passion for both Islam and this great republic in which I live and wish to share my thoughts with others. Remember that anything good you find in this blog is from Allah, and anything wrong or bad is from my own flawed self.

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The Holy Ka'aba

The Holy Ka'aba
The House of God built by Abraham (peace be upon him)

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance
take out the 9th line, and it would be haram (forbidden) to say this.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music in Islam....Revisited

In the name of Almighty God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. I had posted a blog about a year ago now entitled "Music in Islam". For those who don't know, music is sometimes a controversial issues amongst Muslims.
Scholars of Islam throughout the ages have differed in their understanding of to what extent music is permissable. Some hold that only vocal music is permissable and that musical instruments are forbidden with the possible exception of a simple frame drum similar to a Bodhron of Ireland. Others hold that percussion instruments in general are ok but wind and string instruments are still forbidden, and others hold that there are no restrictions at all on music. I had stated in that blog that while I'm not a scholar of Islamic theology as whole, the subject of 'music in Islam' was something that I have studied quite extensively and felt I could indeed make an informed statement on the issue. However I realized as I read this blog that in actuality all I really did was quote the opinion of Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi. So, God willing, I'll actually tackle the issue in my own words.

As anyone who knows me knows, music is a huge part of my life. Before I became Muslim you could say that music was my life. Islam has taught me that music is not an end in its self but rather a means to an end. The end that is, serving God of course. Allah, God Almighty, gives all of us unique talents in a variety of different fields so that they may be used to serve Him, and serving Him is often done through serving creation. Sacred music has been used in almost every culture and every religion since the beginning, including amongst Muslims from the time of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), right up until today. In addition to sacred music, secular music or in other words music that deals mostly with human issues such as love, war, and sometimes not so wholesome subjects, has also been around since the beginning. Again, including amongst Muslims.

Within Islamic law, or the rules that govern Muslims' day to day lives, the guiding principle of the scholars has always been that in matters of worship, every thing is considered forbidden unless proven permissable by the authentic sources of law which are the Qur'an and the tested and proven traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), or called in Arabic, the Sunnah. The reason for this prohibition of forms of worship not officially sanctioned by God and/or His prophet, is because worship or 'ibadah in Arabic is considered a "right of God". Meaning they are something that actually belongs to God and we have an obligation to carry them out according to His terms, and not according to our own terms and whims. So for example it is forbidden to fast during Ramadan for the day and the night together, because this was never sanctioned by the Islamic scriptures.
On the other hand, the position of the scholars on what are considered matters of every day life, such as diet, clothing, sexual relations, war, and various other issues, is that these things are considered permissable unless they can be proven to be forbidden according to the Qur'an and/or the Sunnah. The need for this position has always been apparent as if we took the opposite approach, it would likely be considered forbidden to drive cars, or use computers or microwave ovens. Music of course falls under the catagory of "every day life" stuff, and therefore the ruling on its permissability is such that the burden of proof would fall on those who claim that it or elements of it are forbidden.
When trying to deduce the Islamic ruling on something, scholars first and foremost start wth the Qur'an, as it is the literal words of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). There are no verses of the Qur'an that deal directly with music. However there is one verse that the majority of scholars have held is speaking primarily of music.

"And of mankind are those who purchase idle talks to mislead from the path of God without knowledge, and takes it (the Qur'an) by way of mockery. For them, awaits a painful torment" (Qur'an Surah Luqman vs 16)

It has long been held by the majority of scholars that "idle talks" here refers to music. However, the verse is clearly speaking about a certain kind of music; that is music that encourages debouchery and things that leads people away from living a life pleasing to God. So from right here, without looking any further we can deduce that music like this would be considered forbidden within Islam. In other words there is no place in Islam for Lil' Wayne, Lady GaGa, 50 cent, Fergie, or the like. That is at least not the music they are known for. They may have some "ok" songs. What then, about other forms of music that do not promote debouchery or lead people away from the path of God? It is possible that even a seemingly good song, or even an Islamic song can be harmful if they are distracting a Muslim away from more important things such as prayer, fasting, etc. This concept is illustrated in another verse of the Qur'an.

"But when they spy some merchandise or pastime, they break away to it and leave you standing. Say 'That which Allah has is better than pastime and merchandise, and Allah is the best of providers" (Qur'an, Surah Jumah vs. 11)

This verse came as a response to an incident in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was giving the Friday sermon and a caravan rode into town with beating drums and fanfair. The Muslims in the mosque left the sermon to go join the "party". So in that sense listening or playing music when you should be fulfilling religious duties is indeed forbidden, and one should remember that God is the best provider and that the music and "pasttimes" of Paradise will far exceed anything in this world.

There are no more verses of the Qur'an on this issue, so we would have to look to the Sunnah.

The following is the most common hadith (narration of the Prophet) used in conjunction with the issue of music

"From among my followers there will be some who will consider illegal sexual relations, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcohol, and the use of musical instruments as permissable. From them, there will be some who stay near the side of a mountain, and in the evening the shepards will come to them for provision and they will, 'go away and come back tomorrow'. God will destroy them in the night and let the mountain fall on them, and God would transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs." (hadith Sahih al Bukhari 7:494)

Now first and foremost, the authenticity of this hadith (as to whether it can be proven that the prophet Muhammad said this) has been brought into question by numerours scholars in the past and present including classical Islamic scholar Ibn Hazm as well as modern scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi. However assuming that the hadith is indeed authentic and thus part of the Sunnah, the hadith seems to be illustrating to nature of these people more so than giving verdicts on the listed items. The phrase "consider as permissable" in the Arabic, could have two different meanings.
1. They consider all these listed things as permissable

2. They exceed proper limits in the use of these things.

It is on this hadith that scholars have differed. Some take the first possible meaning as being the most accurate and therefore consider all musical instruments as forbidden with the exception of a small frame drum because it is known that people used that at the time to sing religious songs. People who see musical instruments as being permissable are going off the second meaning.

While I respect the scholars who take the first meaning, and indeed some of them have been the most influencial teachers of mine, the second meaning seems more likely as for the prophet refers to them as "his followers" when if they considered all of those as being completely permissable, then they would not be taking the Quran as God's word or at least part of the Qur'an and therefore would actually be kufar or disbelievers. These things listed here are not always considered a sin but are considered as such "most" of the time. Alcohol is forbidden to be drank for recreation but it is permissable to use it for medicinal purposes such as treating infection, pain, or other ailments when other medications are not available. It is only forbidden for men to wear silk, not women, and a woman (or a man) is not guilty of adultery if they are raped. Musical instruments likewise are forbidden when used to incite sinful behaivior or when they distract from religious obligations (as the above Qur'anic verses indicate) however they are not "always" sinful. After all a gun is just a machine. It can do nothing without a human being with an intention to do harm or to do good. Likewise a musical instrument is just a machine. It can be used for good and for bad.

Upon further review of hadiths contained in the Sunnah, there really aren't any others relating a forbiddance of music. There are however hadith that seem to condone the use of music.

According to one hadith in Sahih al Bukhari, the prophet was speaking to his wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) who was attending a wedding party. He asked her, "have you given the bride a gift?" Aisha said, "yes". Then the prophet asked, "Did you send along a singer with them?" Aisha said no. The prophet then replied, "The Ansar (people of Medina) are a people who love poetry and singing. You should have sent a singer to sing for them."

It is also known that when the Prophet made the long and gruling journey from Mecca to Medina during the Hijra (forced migration), the people of Medina sang the song "ta'ala al badru 'alayna" when they saw him coming over the horizon and they beat drums as they sang.

In another hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) on the day of Eid (holiday), came to the house of his wife Aisha while there were two girls singing a traditional (non-religious) Ansari song and playing tamborines. The prophet Muhammad laid down to rest while the girls were singing. Later, the companion of the prophet Abu Bakr came in and said, "Musical instruments of Satan in the house of the Prophet???", and the Prophet quickly corrected him and said, "Leave Them, for these are the days of celebration".

In another hadith, reported in the Sahih al Bukhari, the prophet was walking past the home of one of his companions and he could hear the companion reciting the Qur'an in the most beatiful of voices. The Prophet listened for a while and then asked the companion, "Were you beautifying your voice because you knew I was listening?", the companion responded, "if I had known that you were listening I would have made it more beautiful". The Prophet then said, "Truly you have been given the flute of David". Now almost all scholars agree that when the prophet used the word mizmar or flute, he wasn't literally referring to a flute but rather to the voice of Prophet David (peace and blessings be upon him). However, why would Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), compare the voice of one of the God's great prophets to a flute if a flute was something forbidden?

I maybe missing a few additional hadiths that speak favorably about music but nonetheless my point is made I think. If we take the second meaning of the first mentioned hadith, which as I illustrated is the more reasonable and feasable one, then there is no sufficient evidence to suggest that musical instruments or singing is forbidden. There is no evidence that it is forbidden for a woman to be a musician provided that she does not sing, dress or act in a way that incites the lusts of male (and maybe female) listeners. The same applies to a male musician. I encourage all Muslims to respect the opinions of others. As I said before I respect the opinion of those who hold that musical instruments are forbidden and expect nothing more and nothing less in return. Ultimately there are much bigger issues at stake for our people and we need to support each other.
We need Muslims in the arts. We need Muslims in music (not just nasheed but also mainstream music), in film, in mainstream literature, and definately in the media. I hear that the Hollywood producer of "The Matrix" and "Lord or the Rings", is in the beginning stages of making a major Hollywood production about the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and is doing so in conjunction with Islamic scholar Yusuf Al Qaradawi(note...they are not planning to depict the Prophet in the film according to Islamic beliefs). If it makes to the big screen it may very well be the biggest "introduction" to real Islam that mainstream American society has seen. Without doubt there will be Muslims who may not agree with certain elements of the film, or may not even agree with the film being made at all, but for once we have to put aside petty differences of opinion and just be happy that there are any positive images of Islam being produced whether they be by musicians, actors, writers, journalists or what have you.
I hope this may provide some insight into the issue of music in Islam, and that it may benefit some folks who are confused about the whole issue.

...And Allah Knows Best...

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