“Whoever says that all music is prohibited, let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited.”
The Melodious Sentiment
by Muaaz Rehman Al-Maliki
We have a guest contributor Muaaz Rehman Al-Maliki, who has written a compelling piece on the eligibility of music within Islamic discourse.
Before we begin, I do think this is has become a rather contentious issue now. In the past, we never really had such a furore over seemingly trivial issues. One of the reasons of this is because it’s due to our modern day phenomena of wanting ‘protect’ Islam. We would rather forbid everything, than allow any room for manoeuvre.
So much for a religion, some people claim is easy to practise and understand.
Our insecurities make us have abnormal reactions. In this current climate, we seemed to have built a wall around us. We warrant things by starting off with the premise that everything is haram (forbidden) and work backwards. In reality, everything is halal (permissible) by default, unless explicitly stated.
We end up reading a report or an opinion, then treating it as gospel. By it’s nature the Quran is general and vague in it’s outlook. This is due to the dynamic nature of the Quran. It is meant for all times, therefore room for interpretation is vast and very little is written explicitly about absolutes. Rather, brazenly and arrogantly we add to the Quran and extrapolate information that is not present within the Quran through erroneous understandings of secondary texts.
I wonder if the Prophet Dawud (David) would have his voice banned today? It is of little irony the the book of David is called the Zabur in the Quran. The term Zabur is the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew Zimra, meaning “song/music.” It, along with Zamir (“song”) and Mizmor (“Psalm”), is a derivative of Zamar, meaning “sing”, “sing praise”, “make music”. Thus, David is also usually attributed the gifts of music and song.
I wonder if the puritans would ban birds singing in the morning today? I wonder if they would ban the rythmic sound of the train running? I wonder if they would stop people listening to Tala Ul Badru Alyna when the Prophet entered Taiba, were they alive today? I wonder if the puritans would stop us from listening to things that inspire a resonance through the air?
Perhaps, they fear that if they open the floodgates of allowing music, we will start drinking, gambling and other forms of imaginative debauchery. The common sense and control they might lack is not a constant with most humans. Common sense, would dictate in what context music becomes haram. I think some of these scholars don’t understand the difference between music alone and the places where music is listened to. Their minds are in the gutter, as they quickly associate music with every other vice, They deem music as a gateway to alcohol and perversions. With that logic, I think they should ban men from showing their ankles, in case it might entice the opposite sex!
Finally, from a purely spiritual aspect. I don’t think many of these people have ever listened to a piece of music that connects someoneone to the divine. Sometimes, a guitar can be played so beautifully, that you wonder if this came from Satan, and the Almighty has banned music, who is right? Surely, not Satan with his beautiful melodies and stirring of the soul?
Below is the article by brother Muaaz. I hope you can see it clearly from a Fiqh perspective. It is proof that our tradition is not a static one. There is a broad spectrum of opinions from very hard-line to very open. The objective of Shariah is to create ease, therefore it is better for a person to allow more comfort. However, should you choose to not listen to music, that is your prerogative and Islamic discourse caters for that as well. But to suggest, that music is haram and everything other interpretation is misguidance – is short sighted and neglects the essence of this path. Do not tell others they are wrong, just choose your path for yourself.
Praise upon the Almighty and blessings and salutations upon his emissary, Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم who is chosen for the finality of all messages.
The issue of musical instruments is popular amongst the masses and those who hold power in society. The intolerance of opposition regarding this issue is only due to the overriding nature in predicating religious piety as an abstract to entertainment. Ironically, a religion where diversity is deeply rooted in the branches of our sciences right down to the crux of syntax, the acceptance of musical instruments seems nothing but peculiar by those prohibiting it. Everything by default is permissible. This understanding is clearly based upon the tenet which is accepted by the four orthodox schools of jurisprudence “the principle is (default) in permissible matters until evidently the evidence is upon prohibition” . Also the words of the most merciful states “O you who have believed, do not prohibit the good things which Allah has made lawful to you and do not transgress. Indeed, Allah does not like transgressors” . Clearly objectivity is the approach that scholars use to permit or prohibit, subjective personal desire or distaste as a driven motive without proper scrutiny gives a verdict which only results in confusion as well as questioning the function of the sacred sources.
The objective of this opinion is not to impose a perspective but rather to convey the muted minds of permitting musical instruments as an infiltration to the discourse that is currently seemed to be manifested as one sided, that of prohibition.
The contentions presented by the side of prohibiting musical instruments use verses of the Quran that are claimed to refer to musical instruments yet those same verses are disagreed upon in their interpretation, therefore rendering these proofs as inconclusive in their prohibition of music.
“Do you marvel at this statement, and laugh and do not weep, while you amuse yourselves [proudly] in vanities? Rather, prostrate before Allah and worship Him.” .
The term “saamidoon” in this verse has contentions regarding its meaning, some mention that it refers to the moving of the head in reaction to the melody of music.
Shaykh Tahir Ibn Ashur Al-Maliki states in his famous exegesis “It is from bearing proudly and it is in the person from the admiration with the self. It is said: The bearing of a camel when it raises its head in its motion. It resembles with it the state of exposed arrogance on admirable counsel which it is the state of the camel in its action” . Some argue this is the meaning of the verse as a conclusion, however it is clearly disagreed as the verse seems to be referring to head gestures of arrogance rather than a reaction to a rhythmic nod.
“And excite any of them whom you can with your voice. Assault them with your cavalry and infantry, be a partner with them in their wealth and children, and make them promises. But Satan promises them nothing except deceit.” .
Imam Al-Qurtubi who does support that music is prohibited, yet when this verse is presented his understanding is “With your voice: and it’s voice is every motive calling to the disobedience of Allah.” .
Imam As-San’aani states in is commentary “Mu’mar from Qatadah in the statement of the most high said: it is with your invoking. Indeed for it is the appearance and men from the jinn and humans and they are the ones who obey him.” .
In other words, the verse in reference to rebellious voices, not just any voice.
This is clearly evident that this verse is disagreed in its meaning, it is rather general inducement to vice from Satan.
“And there are among men those who purchase idle talk in order to mislead others from Allah’s path without knowledge, and who throw ridicule upon it. For such there will be a humiliating punishment.” .
This verse is generally the strongest premise proposed by the ones who prohibit instruments, the term Lahw Al-Hadith is assumed to refer to musical instruments and singing.
Imam Suyuti states “Which is what causes distraction and afflication it may cause”.
Imam al Mawardi states in his tafsir “It is a thing that causes laziness. Stated by Ataa Ibn Abi Rabaah It is associating partners with Allah. Ad-Dahak and Ibn Zayd. It is distractions in the religion and the involvement in laziness. Sahl ibn Abdullah .
This verse is clearly not explicit in it’s condemnation. We should not add words to validate our cultural or personal bias. This just exemplifies the diversity within this issue as well as the lack of specification for musical instruments. The scholars of Quranic exegesis argue that this is rather general to promoting vice as well as human desires that the Sharia definitively recognises as sins.
Since the Quranic verses do not explicitly mention musical instruments, the other points of scripture that is presented to prohibit musical instrument is the hadith in Sahih Al-Bukhari:
Hishaam ibn Ammar said sadaqah ibn khalid narrated from abdul rahman bin yazeed bin jabbar narrated from Atyyah bin Qays al-Kalbi narrated from abdul rahman bin ghanan al-Ashari said abu Amir or abu malik al ashari said by Allah he did not lie to me he heard Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “There will be [at some future time] people from my Ummah [community of Muslims] who will seek to make lawful: fornication, the wearing of silk, wine-drinking and the use of ‘ma’aazif’. Some people will stay at the side of the mountain and when their shepherd comes in the evening to ask them for his needs, they will say, ‘Return to us tomorrow.’ Then Allah will destroy them during the night by causing the mountain to fall upon them, while He changes others into apes and swine. They will remain in such a state until the Day of Resurrection.” 
This hadith has problems regarding its chain, doubts did arise as this hadith wasn’t up to the rigidity normally carried out by Imam Al-Bukhari when he collects ahadith; he states Hisham ibn Ammar “said” instead of “narrated” which lead doubts to a narrator being missed in the chain. Ibn Hazm Al-Andalusi famously critiqued this chain by stating “This hadith is Munqati (broken), it is not attached between Al-Bukhari and Sadaqah Bin Khalid” . This then lead to scholars such as Ibn Salaah and Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani to find amendments in the chain.
Even if you do accept the hadith to be authentic in it’s chain, yet it’s matn (content) is not clear in it’s prohibition in musical instruments. The word ma’aazif has inaccuracies in its exact translation, this is due to the fact that the opinion of prohibition is when some people define ma’aazif, it varies from the reports, can mean; musical instruments, singing, places of entertainment, places of musical instruments, places of singing, the drum, wind instruments, string instrument etc. It is evident that the scholars elaborate on the meaning differ in its definition.
Imam Shawkani mentions in his Nayl al Awtar that “Ma’azif is disagreed in its meaning as it precedes. Whether the statement was probable because with or without instruments it is not clear evidence. because “…. the true meaning is not appointed.”  he then proceeds by stating “That it is likely that the specified Ma’aazif upon its prohibition is an adjacent with drinking wine such as established in the the transmission by a term “People among my nation will drink wine, calling it by another name, and musical instruments will be played for them and singing girls (will sing for them)”. 
This holds weight as musical instrument were generally in association with clear vice, yet to create a blanket statement for all musical instruments for a prohibition is clear imagination at it’s most creative. It is just conjecture. We have in certain circles the allowance to play the daf drum, because the girls of Tayba played it when the Prophet (saw) came into the city. Therfore, if we’re myopic in our vision, do we just allow the daf drum or is that an allowance for different iterations of the drum? Surely, it would be daft to just allow the daf drum because it was written.
The conclusion from some of the great scholars after reviewing the evidences was that there is nothing definitive, clear and authentic to prohibit musical instrument.
Ibn Al-Arabi stated in his book ‘Al-Ahkam’ “It is not authentic in prohibiting anything””. 
Al-Ghazali, Ibn An-Nahwi and Ibn Tahir stated “Indeed from it a single letter was not authentic””. 
Al-Fakihani stated “I do not know in the book of Allah nor in the Sunnah a clear authentic hadith in prohibiting music.” 
Scholars that permitted musical instruments
In contrast to what people may perceive, there are clear reports of scholars who held that musical instruments were permissible and dare I say some were from the time of the salaf. “The people of Madinah and from those that agree with them are the scholars of the Zahiriyyah and a group of the Sufis permitted singing, even when it was accompanied by a musical instrument such as the lute or the flute. Abu Mansur Al-Bughdadi Ash-Shafi`i narrate that Abdullah Ibn Ja’far saw nothing wrong in singing, and he, himself, used to compose the music for his own slaves who used to sing these melodies in his presence. This took place during the time of Commander of the Faithful, `Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Abu Ja`far Al-Baghdadi narrates the same after Al-Qadi Shurayh, Sa’eed Ibn Al-Musaiyb, `Ata’ Ibn Abu Rabah, Az-Zuhri and Ash-Shi`bi. Imam Al-Haramayn mentioned in An-Nihaya that the verification from the historians transmitted that Abdullah ibn Al-Zubair owned slave girls who played the flute. Once, ibn Umar entered upon him and he had a flute by his side. Ibn Umar said: “O companion of the messenger of Allah! What is this?” Abdullah ibn Az-Zubayr gave it to him and Ibn Umar looked at it closely, and said: “Is this a Syrian flute?’ Ibn al-Zubair replied: “It is used to balance the minds.” . The classical presence of instruments was clearly demonstrated by Abdullah Bin Az-Zubayr. Also Imam shawkani highlights the valid differences that were historically held.
Imam Shawkani clearly mentions the famous scholars that succeeded the sahabah who held the permissibility of musical instruments. 
Ar-Ruwaiyani narrates from Al-Qaffal that Malik Ibn Anas maintained that singing with musical instruments is permissible. Abu Mansur Al-Furani narrates that Malik permitted the playing of the flute.  Imam Malik does have varying reports on his stance in regards to musical instrument yet some of his followers such as Qadhi Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi (as previously mentioned) as well other Andalusian scholars held the permissibility of musical instruments. As a side note, the vibrant culture of Al-Andalus excelled in Islamic scholarship as well as culture. The famous poet and musician Abu’l Hassan An-Nafi (also known as Ziryab) revolutionised music with usage of the ou’d and lute which he also enhanced these instruments innovatively. The Andalusians were known for there admiration of musical instrument as well as their scholars argued for it such as Ibn Hazm.
Abu Talib Al-Maki mentioned in Qut Al-Quloob from Shu’bah that he heard the tambourine in the house of the famous muhadith Minhal Bin Amr 
Abu Al-Fadl Ibn Tahir narrates in his work, “There is no difference between the people of Madinah regarding the permissibility of playing the lute.” 
“Ibn An-Nahwi narrates in his Al-Umdah: “Ibn Tahir said, it is the consensus of the people of Madinah. Ibn Tahir also said, the Zahiriyah entirely went towards it (in agreement).” 
Al-Mawardi attributes the permissibility of playing the lute to some of the Shafi`s. 
This has been narrated also by Abu Al-Fadl Ibn Tahir after Abu Ishaq Ash-Shirazi; and it is narrated by Al-Isnawi after Ar-Ruwaiyani and Al-Mawardi. Again, this is narrated by Al-Adfuwi after Shaykh `Izz Ad-Deen Ibn Abd As-Salam. It is also narrated after Abu Bakr Ibn Al-Arabi. All these scholars consider singing that is accompanied by musical instruments is permissible 
“But as for singing that is not accompanied by musical instruments, Al-Adfuwi said, “In some of his jurisprudential works, Al-Ghazali narrates the agreement of the scholars upon its permissibility.” 
Also, Ibn Tahir narrates the consensus of the Prophet’s Companions and those who succeeded them on this very topic. Ibn An-Nahwi states in Al-Umdah that singing and listening was related by a group of the Companions and the Followers. 
It is evident that a number of scholars have voiced their opinion and tolerance towards musical instruments. As Imam Shawkani constructs the clouded contention in this issue yet he has another book which focuses on this issue known as ‘Ibtal da’wa al-Ijmaa ala mutlaq al-Sama‘ (repealing the call of a consensus upon unrestricted singing). Other scholars such as the famous Hanafi Jurist Shaykh Abdul Ghani An-Nabalusi has dedicated a book on this issue known as ‘Idaahat al-Dalalaat fee sama’ al-alaat’ (Clarification on the evidences in singing of instruments), also Shaykh Abdullah Yusuf Al-Judai has a book on this issue ‘Al-Musiqiyu Wa-Ghina Fee Mizaan Al-Islam‘ (Music and and singing in the balance of Islam). Other famous scholars that are in our time have mentioned the contentions of music such as Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi in his book ‘Al-Halal Wal-Haraam Fil-Islaam’ (The permissible and prohibited in Islam), Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah issues a fatwa mentioning that this issue is disputed.
To conclude this statement, it is evident that a valid disagreement has existed in the Islamic tradition. A disagreement is not evidence of prohibition. It can only be a self-imposed for yourself. You choose to build blockades or open roads in your life.
The Arabic sources are available for your perusal here.