Is it haram to use a musical instrument?

The Details of the Question

- (Abu Amir or Abu Malik al-Ash’ari (Radiyallahu Anhuma) said: “By Allah, the Prophet (Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said:
 ”Some people will come from my Ummah; they will regard fornication, silk, alcohol and musical instruments as halal (permissible)!”
- I read your articles about music in Islam. When I searched, I found a hadith in Sahih Bukhari about music in which the Prophet said, “Some people from my Ummah will regard musical instruments as halal.”
- Does it mean that music is haram? (Sahih Bukhari 5590)
- Give a definite answer as to whether music is completely haram or both halal and haram.
- When I was discussing music in Islam with someone, I referred him to Imam Ghazali because he divided music into three categories: halal, haram and makruh, but then he said to me, “Is Imam Ghazali more important or higher than the Prophet?” Then, he told me the hadith in question and I was confused.
- Please clarify the issue and conclude it.

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

- First of all, we should state that scholars draw a conclusion (decree) from all the verses and hadiths related to an issue. There are some narrations about music that it is partially halal (permissible).

Imam Ghazali examined this issue in his book called Ihya and concluded that music that is not used for haram purposes is permissible.

- A decision is made according to where and for what purpose a tool is used. For example, tools such as knives, firearms and guns are the same as tools such as music, telephones, computers and the internet. It is halal to use a knife for a lawful purpose but it is a sin if it is used to harm a person; similarly, it is halal or sinful to use a musical instrument according to where it is used.

Thus, it is not the tool itself that is important, but where and how it is used.

However, if a tool is used only for sinful purposes by society, it is definitely sinful to use it.

The issue in the hadith is related to the acceptance of something that is haram as halal; as a matter of fact, the statement “they will regard fornication, silk, alcohol and musical instruments as halal” shows it.

Accordingly, the hadith foretells that there will be a time when the use of musical instruments in haram will be regarded as normal. As a matter of fact, in our time, there are those who regard fornication, men wearing silk, drinking alcohol as normal, as well as those who use musical instruments for many sins. Attention is drawn to those social mistakes and major sins in the hadith, and people are ordered to avoid them.

- A significant number of Islamic decrees have been interpreted differently by scholars due to different narrations.

Scientists have different opinions and different data arising from their different interpretations in health and similar scientific issues; similarly, it is natural that there are different opinions and different interpretations about the decrees of religion, which has a very wide field.

The existence of different madhhabs is a clear proof of this fact.

The following statement of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi shed light on the issue:

“As for the differences in the schools of law, this has arisen from differences in ways of understanding the theoretical principles shown by the Shari’a’s owner. Principles called “the essentials of religion,” which are not open to interpretation, and those called “incontrovertible” cannot be changed in any way and may not be interpreted...” (Mektubat, pp. 435-436)

Therefore, it is very wrong to draw conclusions based on a single verse or a single hadith. The unanimity and ijma of the majority of the scholars is one of the religious evidences.

Therefore, in such issues in which there are different narrations, different interpretations and different perceptions, our duty is to find the view preferred by the majority of the scholars.

- For example, according to a famous hadith narration, two female slaves were singing in the house of Aisha (ra) when Abu Bakr (ra) stopped by and reproached them, saying, “Are you using Satan’s mizmars (whistles, beautiful and loud instruments of singing) in the house of the Prophet (pbuh) too?”. The Prophet (pbuh), who was there, said: “O Abu Bakr! Every community has a feast day (eid), and our eid is today.” (see Bukhari, h. no: 952)

This hadith narration in Bukhari is clear evidence that there is nothing wrong with using a musical instrument in a halal way. In that case, it would be appropriate to understand the hadith about musical instruments being haram, not as instruments, but as using them in haram things and making them a tool for haram.

- Scholars have expressed different opinions regarding the issue for a long time.

- There are scholars who say that all or most musical instruments are sinful, based on the hadith narration in Bukhari mentioned in the question. According to Iz b. Abdussalam, who is famous as Sultan al-Ulama, they are sinful according to the famous opinions of the four madhhabs. However, this sin is not a major sin but a minor sin (see W. Zuhayli, al-Fiqhul-Islami, 9/6622).

On the other hand, some of the Companions, tabi’un, mujtahid imams and scholars regarded them as permissible. One of them is Imam Ghazali.

According to Imam Ghazali, it is permissible to listen to music and musical instruments. Both Nass (verses of the Quran and hadiths) and qiyas (analogy) indicate that they are permissible, except for some instruments that are clearly forbidden in the Shari’ah (see Ihya al-Ulum, 2/272, W. Zuhayli, ibid.)

“It is for this reason that the Shari’a deems lawful such sounds as excite an elevated love and the sorrow of love, and it declares unlawful any that inflame the carnal appetites and produce the sorrow of the orphan. Any the Shari’a does not specify for you, judge for yourself according to the effect they have on your spirit and conscience.” (Nursi, İşaratü’l-i’caz, p. 70)

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