Question: What is the place of music in Islam?

Answer: There is considerate confusion concerning music in Islam, which necessitates an explanation. In his Tafseer, Imam Al-Qurtabi mentions that there are three verses, which have been used by the Ullema as proofs of the contempt for and the prohibition of music.

The first of these verses appears in Surah Najam (53:59-62): “Do you then wonder at this recital (the Quran)? And you laugh at it and weep not, wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing, etc.). So fall you down in prostration to Allah (swt) and worship Him (Alone).” The important phrase here is “wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements” (Wa Antum Saamidoon). ‘Saamid’ means ‘one who plays idly with musical instruments or other objects of play.’

According to Ibn Abbaas, the word ‘Saamidoon’ refers to the Mushrikeen’s habit of singing and playing noisily, whenever they heard the Quran recited, in order to drown out the reciter’s voice, so that others would not hear it.

The second verse is from Surah Bani Israel (17: 64): “And befool them gradually, those whom you can among them with your voice, make assaults on them with your cavalry and infantry, mutually share with them wealth and children and make promises to them. But Satan promises them nothing but deceit.” After refusing to bow before Adam (as), Satan requested Allah (swt) to grant him respite until the Day of Resurrection, so that he may misguide the descendants of Adam (as). Thus, Allah (swt) addressed Satan with the above verses.

Some commentators among the Taabieen, such as Mujaahid and Ad-Dahhaak, interpreted Satan’s exciting mankind with his voice to mean through music, songs, and amusement.

The third verse is from Surah Luqman (31: 6): “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah (swt) without knowledge, and takes it by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating punishment.”

Here Allah (swt) reveals the condition of the miserable ones, who refuse to benefit from hearing the word of Allah (swt) and devote themselves to idle talk and empty amusements. The term ‘Lahwal Hadeeth’ (idle talk) means:

(a) singing and listening to songs;

(b) purchasing of professional singers;

(c) purchasing of idle amusement instruments, in short, music and songs.

This view has been held by a number of companions, such as Ibn Masood, Jaabir, and Ibn Abbas. When questioned regarding the meaning of this verse, Ibn Abbas replied: “I swear by the One, other than Whom there is no God, it refers to singing (Ghinna),” and he repeated this thrice. Music and singing distracts people from Allah’s (swt) remembrance, thereby inviting them to His disobedience.

Prophet Muhammad (sa) stated: “From among my followers, there will be some people, who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk (for men), the drinking of alcoholic drinks, and the use of musical instruments as lawful…” (Bukhari) Analysis of the Hadeeth’s wording clearly indicates the unlawfulness of music.

The Prophet (sa) said: “Indeed, Allah (swt) prohibited wine, gambling, and Al-Koobah; and every intoxicant is prohibited.” When the narrator Ali Bin Badheemah was asked: “What is Al-Koobah?” he answered: “It is the drum.” (Ahmad)

However, songs minus the music, whose lyrics heighten spiritual consciousness and encourage people to pious works, are praiseworthy, but these too must encompass proper decorum. Upon the Prophet’s (sa) arrival to Madinah and his return from the battle of Tabuk, joy was expressed by the Ansar in praise of the Prophet (sa). They sang: “The full moon has risen on us over the hills of Waada.”

Therefore, it is incumbent of every Muslim to strive his utmost to find lawful alternatives to the prohibited forms of music. He may recite and listen to the Quran as the Prophet (sa) said: “Adorn the Quran with your voices.” (Abu Dawood) Remembrance of Allah (swt), brings tranquility to the human soul, as opposed to music, which is fleeting and superficial.