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Islamic researcher, graduated from Al-Azhar University, Islamic Studies in English.
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In a Nutshell:
Jurists differed about the permissibility of listening to music, whether with or without singing. Much of the evidences for prohibition are weak and much of the juristic discussions are ambiguous in relation to prohibition and its reasons, making it difficult to produce a general ruling. Many classical jurists regard listening and playing music as forbidden, whilst a number of classical and contemporary jurists permit it.The strongest position appears to be music is generally permissible unless there is some sin or debauchery associated with it.

Introduction

The issue of music is highly controversial with polarised views. They range from listening to music, playing musical instruments and singing being prohibited to all three being permitted along with various permutations in between.

This article will seek to clarify the historic scholarship on the matter by reviewing the positions of the Muslim jurists in this issue and the evidences relied upon by each group of jurists.

Evidences

The Evidences used by Anti-Music Group

Qur'an

1. وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُولَـٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ

And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to mislead [others] from the way of Allah without knowledge and who takes it in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment. (Qur'an 31:6)

Sunnah

1. عن أبو عامر – أو أبو مالك – الأشعري أنه سمع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: ليكونن من أمتي أقوام، يستحلون الحر والحرير، والخمر والمعازف، ولينزلن أقوام إلى جنب علم، يروح عليهم بسارحة لهم، يأتيهم - يعني الفقير - لحاجة فيقولون: ارجع إلينا غدا، فيبيتهم الله، ويضع العلم، ويمسخ آخرين قردة وخنازير إلى يوم القيامة – البخاري معلقًا 74/16

From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful. And there will be some people who will stay near the side of a mountain and in the evening their shepherd will come to them with their sheep and ask them for something, but they will say to him, "Return to us tomorrow." Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection. (Bukhari, Mu'alaq, 74:16)

2. عن عبد الله بن عمرو أن نبي الله - صلى الله عليه وسلم - نهى عن الخمر والميسر والكوبة والغبيراء وقال كل مسكر حرام

The Prophet (saw) forbade wine, maysir (game of chance), kubah (drum), and ghubayrah (wine made from millet), saying: Every intoxicant is forbidden. (Abu Dawud 27:17)

3. عن عقبة بن عامر الجهني، عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال:… ارموا واركبوا وأن ترموا أحب إلى من أن تركبوا وكل ما يلهو به المرء المسلم باطل إلا رميه بقوسه وتأديبه فرسه وملاعبته امرأته فإنهن من الحق

Practice archery and practice riding, and the you should practice archery is more beloved to me than that you should ride. All idle pastimes that the Muslim man engages in are falsehood, except for his shooting of his bow, his training of his horse, and his playing with his wife, for they are from truth. (Ibn Majah 22:19)

4. عن عمران بن حصين، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال ‏"‏في هذه الأمة خسف ومسخ وقذف‏‏.‏ فقال رجل من المسلمين: "يا رسول الله ومتى ذاك؟" قال: إذا ظهرت القينات والمعازف وشربت الخمور

In this Ummah there shall be collapsing of the earth, transformation and Qadhf. A man among the Muslims said: "O Messenger of Allah! When is that?" He said: "When singing slave-girls, music, and drinking intoxicants spread." (Tirmidhi 33:55)

5. عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما ، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن الله عز وجل حرم عليكم الخمر والميسر والكوبة، وكل مسكر حرام

Allah has forbidden wine, game of chance and kubah (drums). Every intoxicant is unlawful. (Ahmed 4:218)

Aqwal al-Sahabah

1. عن ابن عباس رضي الله عنه قال: الدف حرام، والمعازف حرام، والكوبة حرام، والمزمار حرام

Ibn Abbas (ra) said: The duff is haram, stringed instruments are haram, drums are haram and the flute is haram. (Bayhaqi 10:222)

The Evidences used by pro-Music Group

Sunnah

1. عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: دخل رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وعندي جاريتان تغنيان بغناء بعاث فاضطجع على الفراش وحول وجهه فدخل أبو بكر فانتهرني وقال مزمار الشيطان عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فأقبل عليه رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فقال ‏"‏ دعهما ‏"‏… – البخاري13/2، ومسلم 8/20

A'isha (ra) narrated: The Messenger of Allah (saw) came (to my apartment) while there were two girls with me singing the song of the Battle of Bu'ath. He lay down on the bed and turned away his face. Then came Abu Bakr and he scolded me and said: "Oh! this musical instrument of the devil in the house of the Messenger of Allah (saw)!" The Messenger of Allah (saw) turned towards him and said: "Leave them alone..." (Bukhari 13:2; Muslim 8:20)

2. عن بريدة رضي الله عنه: أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قدم من بعض مغازيه فأتته جارية سوداء، فقالت : " يا رسول الله ، إني كنت نذرت إن ردك الله سالما ، أن أضرب بين يديك بالدف ، فقال : إن كنت نذرت ، فاضربي " ، قال: فجعلت تضرب ، فدخل أبو بكر رضي الله عنه وهي تضرب ، ثم دخل عمر رضي الله عنه ، فألقت الدف تحتها ، وقعدت عليه ، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : " إن الشيطان يخاف منك يا عمر"– أحمد، 23061، والترمذي 49/4054

Buraidah (ra) narrated: When the Prophet (saw) came back from one of his conquests, a black female slave came and said, "O Messenger of Allah! I swore an oath to beat the tambourine and sing before you if you came back, by Allah's willing, in a good manner." The Prophet (saw) said, "If you swore. you can do so." When she started to beat the tambourine, Abu Bakr, Ali and Uthman came successively while the woman was beating. When Umar came the woman, she sat on the tambourine quickly to hide it. Accordingly, the Prophet (saw) said, "Satan fears you Umar." (Ahmad 23061; Tirmidhi 49:4054)

3. وعن عائشة رضي الله عنها: أنها زفت امرأة إلى رجل من الأنصار ، فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم : "يا عائشة ما كان معكم من لهو فإن الأنصار يعجبهم اللهو – البخاري 67/97

A'isha (ra) narrated: O A'isha! Did you not have any lahw (entertainment i.e. music and singing)? For the Ansar love that. (Bukhari 67:97)

4. عن أم سلمة رضي الله عنها قالت: دخلت علينا جارية لحسان بن ثابت يوم فطر ناشرة شعرها ، معها دف تغني، فزجرتها أم سلمة، فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم : "دعيها يا أم سلمة ، فإن لكل قوم عيدا ، وهذا يوم عيدنا – الطبراني في المعجم الكبير 2/209

Umm Salamah (ra) narrated: We received a slave girl who belonged to Hasan ibn Thabit on the day of Eid al-Fitr who came to sing her poetry with a drum. Umm Salamah chastised her for this so the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, "Leave her Umm Salamah as every people have a day of festivity and this is our day of festivity". (Tabarani, al-Mu'jam al-Kabir 2:209)

Sayings of the Companions (aqwal al-sahabah)

1. عن عامر بن سعيد البجلي، قال: دخلتُ على أبي مسعودٍ َو]قرَظةَ[ بنِ كَعبٍ وثابت بن يزيد، وجوارٍ يَضرِبنَ بدف بهن، ويُغَنِّينَ، فقلت: تقرون بهذا وأنتم أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم! قالوا: إنه رُخِّصَ لنا في الغناء في العُرس، والبكاء على الميت في غير نوح – الطبراني في الكبير 17/247

Aamir Ibn Sa'ad (ra) narrated: I approached Qarazah Abi Mas'ud and Ibn K'ab and Thabit ibn Zaid (ra) when there were female slaves beating drums and singing and said to them: "You are the companions of the Prophet (saw)? They said: "Singing is permitted for us during marriage ceremonies." (Tabarani, Mau'jam al-Kabir 17/247)

2. Imam al-Shawkani said:

وقد حكى الأستاذ أبو منصور البغدادي الشافعي في مؤلفه في السماع أن عبد الله بن جعفر كان لا يرى بالغناء بأسا ويصوغ الألحان لجواريه ويسمعها منهن على أوتاره، وكان ذلك في زمن أمير المؤمنين علي رضي الله عنه!! – نيل الأوطار 9/27-29

The ustadh Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi al-Shafi'i said in his writing on music: "Abdullah ibn Jafar did not see anything wrong in singing and he used to compose melodies to his slave girls and listen to their music. This happened during the era of the Commander of the Faithful (the Caliph) Ali Ibn Abi Talib. (Nayl al-Awtar 9: 27-29)

3. وقال إمام الحرمين في النهاية وابن أبي الدم: نقل الأثبات من المؤرخين أن عبد الله بن الزبير كان له جوار عوَّادات، وإن ابن عمر دخل عليه والي جنبه عود؛ فقال: ما هذا يا صاحب رسول الله؟ فناوله إياه؛ فتأمله ابن عمر فقال: هذا ميزان شامي؟ قال ابن الزبير: يوزن به العقول!! – نيل الأوطار 9/27-29

Imam al-Haramayn and Ibn Abu al-Damm narrated it has come from the historians from the recorded that they were possessed by Abdullah ibn Zubayr musical instruments and that Ibn Umar entered into his house and saw these instrument so he said "what are these oh companions of the Messenger of Allah?" and so he played them and Ibn Umar then said "these are a measure of behavior" and Ibn Zubayr replied "to measure with them intelligence!" (Nayl al-Awtar 9: 27-29)


Juristic Views

The positions of the Muslim scholars regarding music fall into two categories:

  • Many Muslim jurists from the four madhabs (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali) view all types of music, except for the duff (tambourine), as impermissible because of various hadiths on the subject. But they differ whether it is allowed only in special occasions as marriage, at the times of war etc or it is disallowed in general.
  • Prominent classical scholars such as Imam Ghazali, Ibn Hazm and some contemporary scholars as Qardawi and Abdullah Juday view the general rule regarding music as that of permissibility. They did not, however, make a difference between different types of music.

Each group of scholars presented a number of arguments and counter-arguments.

Anti-Music Group's Arguments

A number of arguments from the Qur'an, Sunnah and Ijma were used to support their view of prohibition of music. Verse number one in the evidences section is supported with Ibn Mas'ud and lbn Abbas' views reported by Tabari - they apparently interpreted the word "lahw" in the verse as singing. Ibn Kathir reported Hasan al-Basri's saying, "lahw in the verse means singing and music". (Tabari, Jam al-Bayan, Vol. 20, p. 126; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azeem, Vol. 3, p. 394)

They also cited a number of hadiths (only the most important of which are mentioned in the evidences section). The first hadith mentioned in the evidences section is an oft-quoted evidence reported by Bukhari in his sahih, however it is reported as a mu'allaq hadith (a hadith whose reporter omits one or more initial narrators or the whole chain of transmitters). They argued the Prophet (saw) listed unlawful things that will be considered lawful (يَسْتَحِلُون) by some Muslims. If adultery is prohibited, then ma'azif is considered likewise in its ruling, thus prohibited. (Ibn Baaz, Majmoo al-Fatawa, Vol. 21, p. 171)

Ijma

The adherents of the view of prohibition argued there is an ijma (consensus) of Muslim scholars on the prohibition of ma'azif. For example, ibn Rajab noted after mentioning musical instruments:

فأما سماع آلات اللهو فلم يحك في تحريمه خلافًا
With regards to the instrumentals used in entertainment, there is no disagreement reported about its prohibition. (Ibn Rajab, Majmu Rasa'el ibn Rajab, Vol. 1, p. 459)

Pro-Music Group

The pro-Music group of scholars presented a number of evidences from Qur'an, Sunnah and practice of the companions to prove the permissibility of music. They argued there is no Qur'anic verse prohibiting music, presenting instead many authentic hadiths, cited in the above evidences section, where the Prophet (saw) allowed slave-girls to sing while beating drums.

They also presented counter-arguments for the evidences mentioned by the anti-Music group of scholars:

Inconclusiveness of Qur'anic verses prohibiting music

Ibn Hazm argued the verse number one in the evidences section condemns a particular behavior and not a general prohibition of singing or music, namely doing something to mock the path of Allah. Anyone who does this is a disbeliever. Even if he bought a copy of the Qur'an to make it an object of mockery, he would be an unbeliever. It is this that is condemned and not idle talk one may indulge for mere relaxation, without intending to mislead people or mock the path of Allah. (Yusuf al-Qardawi, Al-Halal wa al-Haram fi al-Islam, p. 339)

With regards to ibn Mas'ud, ibn Abbas and Ikrimah statements, it is argued that their interpretations are not binding since a number of other Companions of the Prophet (saw) ruled for the permissibility of singing and music such as Abdullah ibn Jafar, Abdullah al-Zubir, al-Mughirah ibn Sh'ubah, Usamah ibn Zaid, Umran ibn Hussein, and Muawiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan.

Inauthenticity of hadiths

Some scholars collected the hadiths reported by the anti-Music group studying and criticizing them such Ibn Hazm, ibn Tahir, al-Shawkani, Abdullah Juday and others. They rejected all these hadiths as valid evidences on the impermissibility of music. Ibn Hazm further said: "There is no sound hadith under that title and all cited hadiths concerning music and songs are fabricated." (Hasan Ayoub, Fiqh of Muslim Family) The same view is maintained by Ghazali, Ibn al-Nahwi in Al-Umdah, Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi and ibn Tahir.

About the hadith reported by Bukhari, numbered one in the evidence section, Ibn Hazm and some other scholars argued although this hadith is mentioned in sahih al-Bukhari it is weak because Bukhari transmitted this hadith with a sanad that is less strict than his usual exceptionally-high standards. It is a mu'allaqhadith.

Moreover, the sub-narrator, Hisham Ibn Ammar is declared 'weak' by many scholars of the science of hadith methodology. Dawud said about Hisham: "he narrated four hundred hadith all of which are fabricated."

Therefore, they argue the authenticity of the hadith is debatable and it cannot stand alone as a proof of prohibition.

False claim of Ijma

They argued the ijma reported by some scholars such as ibn Rajab is absolutely nullified by the fact that there are a number of scholars all over the centuries arguing for the permissibility of ma'azif. For example, it was narrated that the people of Hijaz used to listen to ma'azif and it was a very common practice as narrated by Zuhri, al-Awza'i, Ma'mar ibn Rashid, Yahya ibn Qatan and others who criticized this common practice in the Hijaz (including their jurists). (Ibn Asakir, Tarikh Dimashq, Vol. 1, pp. 361-362, Khalal, al-Amr bi al-Ma'roof, No. 170, Ahmed 1875)

Even Shawkani composed a book called Ibtal al-Ijma ala Tahreem Mutlaq al-Samaa (Nullifying the Ijma over the prohibition of the general listening – to ma'azif) and proved this notion is absolutely false.

Analysis

Based on this discussion, the issue of the Islamic ruling on music is a matter of legitimate juristic disagreement that results from the inconclusiveness of the related textual proofs and the different scholarly interpretations based on the ijtihad (personal reasoning) of Muslim jurists.

Unfortunately, there is a dominant modern discourse that seeks to suppress and misrepresent the opinion of permissibility. So whichever opinion a Muslim followed, he should not castigate or criminalize Muslims who follow a different opinion because it is a matter of legitimate disagreement.

Conclusion

Jurists differ about the permissibility of listening to music, whether with or without singing. Much of the evidences for prohibition are weak and much of the juristic discussions are ambiguous in relation to prohibition and its reasons, making it difficult to produce a general ruling. Many classical jurists regard listening and playing music as forbidden, whilst a number of classical and contemporary jurists permit it. The strongest position appears to be music is generally permissible unless there is some sin or debauchery associated with it.

References

Al-Mausu'ah Al-Fiqhiyah Al-Kuwaitiyah
Abdullah al-Juday, al-Musiqa wa-al-ghina fi mizan al-Islam
Ghazali, Ihyaa Ulum al-Din
Hassan Ayyoub, Fiqh of Muslim Family
Ibn Al-Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur'an
Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhallah
Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, Kaff al-raa an muharramat al-lahw wa-al-sama
Ibn Rajab, Majmu Rasa'el ibn Rajab
Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azeem
Ibn Tahir al-Qaysirany, al-Sama
Shawkani, Nayl al-Awtar
Shawkani, Ibtal da'wa al-Ijmaa ala mutlaq al-Sama
Tabari, Jam al-Bayan​​​​​​​
Wahbah Zuhayli, Al-Fiqh al-Islami wa-adillatuh
​​​​​​​Yusuf al-Qardawi,Fiqh al-ghina' wa al-musiqa fi daw' al-Qur'an wa al-Sunnah


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