What are the hadiths and views of Islamic scholars about listening to musical instruments?

Details of the Question

Are there hadiths and ijtihads about the prohibition of musical instruments like tanbur, saz, clarion and clarinet?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

There is no special word or concept that expresses the concept "music" as an art of voice/sound in the Quran. However, there are several verses in the Quran that are related to the content, performance and results of music and that mention some rules that will be regarded as basic criteria about them. We can summarize those rules as follows:

Various interpretations and practices are reported from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in hadith resources. Some of them are sound (sahih) and some are weak. It is stated in sound narrations that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) evaluated music in the light of the criteria specified in the Quran, that he prohibited music performances he deemed religiously objectionable, that he allowed music performances he deemed religiously permissible, that he himself listened to such music and that he encouraged his Companions to listen to them.

The scholars who included the topic of music in their works expressed different opinions regarding the issue. In this regard, some Islamic scholars regarded music haram as a whole while some said it was makruh and others argued that music was permissible as a whole. In addition to them, some scholars regard music that does not contradict the basic rules of religion in terms of content and performance and that produces positive results in people as permissible and music that does not have those properties as haram by analyzing music in various aspects and trying to separate the positive/permissible from the negative/haram. In fact, when the resources are carefully examined, it will be seen that almost all of the scholars who regard music haram (forbidden), makruh (abominable) or mubah (permissible) deal with and examine the issue from this perspective. This shows that scholars evaluated music according to the socio-cultural structure of the communities in which they live.

Islamic scholars generally dealt with music from the point of view of the Quran and hadiths first and then made interpretations on the benefits and harms of this as well as its form of performance. It is possible to evaluate those interpretations and attitudes in four parts:

I. Those who regard it haram in general,

II. Those who regard it halal in general,

III. Those who regard it makruh in general,

IV. Those who deal with each type of music separately and make interpretations based on their form of performance, content and results.

I. Those Who Regard Music Haram in General

Some scholars regard all kinds of art of voice/sound included in the concept of "music" haram no matter what the content is. Some views and evidences regarding the issue are as follows:

      A. The Quran

          "But there are, among men, those who purchase idle tales (lahw al-hadith), without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a Humiliating Penalty." (1)

According to what Tirmidhi reports from Abu Umama al-Bahili, the Prophet (pbuh) said,

"Do not sell the (slave) female singers; do not purchase them. There is no good in trading in them, and their prices are unlawful. It was about such people that Allah sent the following verse: "But there are, among men, those who..." (2)

After quoting the views of tafsir scholars regarding the issue, Imam Qurtubi (d. 671/1273) states the following: "The most correct view regarding the issue is the view stating that what is meant by "Lahw al-Hadith" is songs. The views reported from the Prophet (pbuh) and the Companions necessitate it." (3)

After stating that there are three different views related to the interpretation of the phrase "Lahw al-Hadith" as "songs and musical instruments", "anything that is wrong (batil)" and "hand drum", Ibn Arabi (d. 543/1148) states that the most correct view is the second one, which claims that what is meant by "Lahw al-Hadith" is "anything that is wrong". (4)

Muhammed Hamdi Yazır (d. 1361/1942) summarizes the issue as follows: "Most of the tafsir scholars interpret "Lahw al-Hadith" as songs but the preference of the researchers is that the verse expresses a general meaning as a necessity of its apparent meaning. However, the wisdom behind real scolding in the verse is expressed with the following statement: "without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path)." That is, to distort the religion and ethics without showing that one is misleading people and to make fun of the way of Allah and His true religion. (5)

Opposing that the verse is used as evidence to show that music is haram, Imam Ghazzali expresses his view regarding the issue as follows: "It is haram to buy "Lahw al-Hadith" in return for religion in order to mislead people from the path of Allah. It cannot be said that every musical instrument has been bought in return for religion and that they mislead people from the path of Allah. There is no discussion about it. That is the purpose of the verse. If a person reads even the Quran in order to mislead people from the path of Allah, he will have committed a haram deed. (6)

      B. Hadiths

Those who claim that all kinds of music are haram put forward several hadiths regarding the issue. Some of them are sound; some of them are weak while others are fabricated. Weak and fabricated hadiths cannot be used as basis for fiqh issues; therefore, we will deal with sound hadiths here.   

The following is reported from Abu Hurayra:

"The Prophet (pbuh) prohibited buying and selling dogs and the gain of female singer (Zammara)." (7)

The following is reported from Nafi: " Ibn Umar heard a clarion. He put his fingers in his ears and went away from the road. He said to me: “O Nafi! Can you hear anything?” I said, “No.” Thereupon, he took his fingers out of his ears and said, "I was together with the Prophet (pbuh). He heard something like this and did like this." (8)

Ibn Abidin, a Hanafi fiqh scholar (9), and Ibn Qudama, a Hanbali fiqh scholar (10), mention the hadiths above as evidence that musical instruments are haram.

Another narration is as follows:

"Allah and His Messenger (pbuh) definitely prohibited drum and tanbur." (11)

When the topics the hadiths include are considered, it will be seen that the main topic of the hadiths that are accepted as evidence for accepting music in general as haram is related to musical instruments, female singers and elegy. Some scholars like Zaylai interpret those hadiths as prohibiting music in general but other scholars like Imam Ghazzali, Kamaluddin Ibn Humam (d. 861/1457), Abdulghani Nablusi (d. 1143/1731), Ibn Abidin (d. 1252/1836), Taqiyyuddin Subki, Ramli, Ibn Hazm and Shawkani interpret those hadiths differently. Their interpretations are as follows in brief:  

The main topics of the hadiths consist of pub entertainment (lahw), which includes alcoholic drinks, women and several haram deeds. That musical instruments and other types of music are haram is not something related to music itself but harams being committed with them or their being played in places where haram deeds are committed. Therefore, if those musical instruments are used in legitimate and permissible entertainment without causing any haram deeds to be committed, it is permissible to use them. According to the principle "Something that causes a haram thing becomes haram" (12), if haram deeds are committed with them, they are not permissible. (13)

As for elegy, all scholars state that elegies that are performed in the form of plucking one’s own hairs, scratching one’s own face and body, etc. and that imply rebellion against qadar (predestination) are prohibited in all of the hadiths reported from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).

II. Those Who Regard Music Halal (Permissible) in General

Some scholars claim that music is halal (permissible) in general and present various evidences about it. We can summarize the evidences put forward by them and their interpretations as follows:

      A. The Quran

The main verses that are state to express that music is permissible in general are as follows:

          1. It is stated in the Quran that music is a boon of Paradise and believers are encouraged to do it. Therefore, music in general is halal. The following is stated in verse 15 of the chapter of ar-Rum (15):

"Then those who have believed and worked righteous deeds, shall be made happy in a Mead of Delight (yuhbarun)." (14)

Yahya b. Kathir, Awzai and Waq’i interpret the word yuhbarun as "pleasure and song". (15)

Some scholars state that music in general is permissible acting upon this interpretation of the verse.

A similar approach is in question related to the following verse: " Verily the Companions of the Garden shall that Day have joy in all that they do." (Yasin, 55)

           2. "It is He Who hath created for you all things that are on earth." (16)

             "He hath explained to you in detail what is forbidden to you." (17)

Ibn Hazm states that it is mentioned in the verses above that every being in the world was created for the benefit of man and that they are permissible unless there is certain nass prohibiting them; he also states that music is not included among those things that are forbidden specifically. (18) Then, Ibn Hazm makes the following interpretation by considering the nass that are related to the issue directly or indirectly:   

"However, all actions are based on intentions. Anyone who listens to songs in order to disobey Allah is a fasiq (open sinner). This rule is valid for the things other than music too. A person who listens to music in order to worship more easily and to be more active in charitable deeds is regarded to obey Allah by doing so. It is appropriate for such people to listen to music. He who listens to music without having an intention of worshipping or committing a sin is forgiven by Allah since he is busy with laghw (something that is neither useful nor harmful). Listening to music like that is like walking in one’s garden to relax, one sitting on his or dyeing his clothes with various colors.  doorstep relaxing” (19)

       B. Hadiths

            1. The following is reported from Hz. Aisha: "Once, Abu Bakr came to me. Two girls near me were singing the odes that Ansar sing on the Day of Buath. However, they were not professional singers. Abu Bakr spoke harshly and said, "Musical instruments of Satan in the house of the Prophet?" It was a feast day. The Prophet (pbuh) said, "O Abu Bakr! Every nation has a feast day. Today is our feast day." (Bukhari, Idayn, 2, 3; Muslim, Idayn, 16)

Acting upon the hadith above, Imam Ghazzali and Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi say that music should actually be permissible. 20

             2. Another narration from Hz. Aisha is as follows: "When I married a woman off to an Ansar man, the Prophet (pbuh) said, "O Aisha! There was no entertainment in your wedding. However, Ansar like entertainment." (21)

             3. The following is stated in a narration from Hakim: "For, Ansar like entertainment." (22)

Hakim states that the hadith above is sound according to the criteria of Bukhari and Muslim; Dhahabi states that he regards this determination appropriate. (23)

            4. The following is reported from Amir b. Sa'd: "I went to see Qaraza b. Ka'b and Abu Mas'ud al-Ansari due to a wedding reception. A little girl was singing. I said, "You are the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and you took part in the Battle of Badr. How do you allow this to be done in your presence?" They said, "You can stay with us here or you can leave if you wish. We were allowed to have fun in weddings and to cry in misfortunes." (24)

Ibn Hajar states that the narrators are reliable people and the chain of narrators is sound. (25)

              5. The following narration exists in Tirmidhi: "Announce marriage. Perform the ceremony in the mosque. Play the tambourine in marriage ceremony." (26)

Ibn Hajar reports the following from Muhallab: "The hadith above shows that it is permissible to announce wedding ceremonies with tambourines and legitimate songs. According to this hadith, it is permissible for a person who is regarded as a leader in the society to take part in wedding receptions that include entertainment unless the limits of legitimacy are overstepped." (27)

Ayni states his view as follows: " This hadith shows that it is permissible to announce wedding ceremonies with tambourines and legitimate songs." (28) Then, he quotes the following from the book called at-Tawdih: "Scholars agree unanimously that entertainment (lahw) with tambourine and similar musical instruments is permissible in wedding feasts. The reason why weddings are specifically mentioned in the hadiths is to ensure the announcement and validity of marriage." (29)

Baghawi (d. 516/1122) makes the following interpretation: "Imam says, "It is mustahab to announce the wedding and to play the tambourine in the wedding reception." "I say: It is permissible to play the tambourine in wedding and circumcision receptions." (30)

              6. The following is reported from Salama b. Akwa: " We set off for Khaybar with the Prophet (pbuh). We journeyed during the night. One of the people in the group said to Amir b. Akwa -Amir was known as a poet-, "Recite something you know for us." Amir dismounted his camel and started to chant:

"O Allah, if Thou hadst not guided us
We would have neither been guided rightly nor practiced charity,
Nor offered prayers.
We wish to lay down our lives for Thee; so forgive Thou our lapses,
And keep us steadfast when we encounter (our enemies).
Bestow upon us peace and tranquility.
Behold, when with a cry they called upon us to help."

The Prophet (pbuh) asked, " Who is this rider?" They said, "Amir b. Akwa". The Prophet (pbuh) said, "May Allah show mercy to him!" (31)

The interpretation of scholars regarding those issues are as follows: The decree about listening to music at ordinary times:

It is stated in hadith and fiqh resources in general that listening to music becomes permissible due to some reasons and based on certain rules. However, whether it is permissible to listen to music at ordinary times in order to relax or for entertainment other than the occasions like war, wedding, welcoming hajjis, welcoming travelers and feast days included in those resources are also mentioned. Hanafi scholars Haskafi, Qasani, Zaylai, Mulla Khusraw, Damad and Ibn Abidin state the following regarding the issue: "It is permissible for a person to sing on his own without the intention of illegitimate entertainment (lawh) in order to get rid of his loneliness." (32) Ibn Abidin also states that it is permissible to hire a drummer or tambourine player in order to play the drum and tambourine for weddings and welcoming warriors and travelers if they are not in the form of illegitimate entertainment (lawh). (33)

III. Those Who Regard Music Makruh in General

Along with those who regard music in general haram and permissible, there are also those who regard it makruh.

Hanafi scholars Zaylai, Damad, Haskafi and Ibn Abidin include views stating that music is makruh in general in their books. The statements in their books regarding the issue are as follows:

When Imam Abu Yusuf was asked about the decree on a woman who plays the tambourine to her child outside wedding ceremonies without anything that necessitates fisq, he said, "I do not regard it bad but I do not approve of the music that causes extreme dancing (la’b al-fahish)." (34)

IV. Those Who Interpret Whether Music is Haram or Permissible Based on Circumstances:

Along with the scholars who evaluate music by accepting it as haram or permissible in general, there are scholars who evaluate it based on its type, style of performance and its effects on the performers and the listeners. In fact, when the analyses are examined carefully, it will be seen that almost all scholars accept music as haram or permissible based on certain circumstances. In this part, we will try to report the analyses of the scholars regarding the issue and the circumstances they deal with.  

Those who accept music haram in principle lay some conditions for it to be permissible and those who accept music permissible in principle lay some conditions for it to be haram.

Conditions for Music to be Permissible According to Those Who Regard it Haram

         1. All Hanafi scholars including Zaylai, Mulla Khusraw, Damad, Haskafi, Qasani and Ibn Abidin state that it is permissible for a person to sing on his own without the intention of illegitimate entertainment (lahw) in order to get rid of his loneliness. (35)

         2. Zaylai, Alamghir, Damad, Ibn Abidin and others regard it permissible to be busy with songs with the intention of learning rhymes and eloquence. (36)

         3. According to Haskafi, it is permissible to sing in wedding receptions (37) and feasts (38).

To sum up, the view of Hanafi scholars is as follows:

Ibn Humam (d. 861/1457), one of the leading researchers of Hanafi madhhab, states the following:

"The music that is haram is the music that includes the description of a living man or woman, encouraging words for alcohol, pubs, etc. and the expressions that speak ill of a certain Muslim or a dhimmi." (39)

Abdulghani an-Nablusi (d. 1143/1731) states the following:

"Music is not haram just because it is music. In that case, all exhilarating, nice sounds/voices need to be haram, which is wrong. On the contrary, the reason why music is haram is having the characteristic of entertainment (lahw) because the hadiths reported about music generally have the condition of music. The hadiths that do not have this condition are interpreted according to the content. Therefore, music can be haram only if songs and instruments have the characteristic of entertainment (lahw). Music that does not have the characteristic of entertainment (lahw) is not haram." (40)

Ibn Abi­din (d. 1252/1836) holds the same view as Nablusi:

"Musical instruments (alat al-lahw) are not haram in essence (haram li aynihi). On the contrary, they become haram due to some characteristics in the player or listener. Their being haram or permissible is determined based on one of them. Note that playing those instruments become sometimes haram and sometimes permissible based on the intention of the listener. There is a general rule: "Deeds are based on intentions." (41)

According to those reasons, Hanafi madhhab regards it permissible to benefit from the types of music that do not prevent religious duties and responsibilities, that do not include incentive to harams, especially to fornication, in its lyrics and performance, that do not harm social dignity and trust and that do not include envy of immoral people, the opposite gender or people with different religions. What is more, Imam Qasani attracts attention to the fact that it is necessary to benefit from the types of music that affect man positively. (42) However, Imam Abu Yusuf states that it is not appropriate to be involved in music more than it is necessary. (43)

The dominant view in Hanafi madhhab is that women should not speak up even at normal times (44), that it is haram for them to be professional singers and sing songs in a way that non-mahram men will hear and that it is permissible for them to sing lullabies to their children. (45)

In conclusion, it is possible to summarize the issue whether music is haram or permissible as follows:

1. Music must not withhold people from the way of Allah.

2- It must not mock the religion and the things that are regarded as holy by the religion.

3- It must not keep man so busy as to make him neglect his religious responsibilities and duties.

4- It must not have the characteristic of propaganda contrary to religious values.

5- It must not include issues forbidden by the religion like lies, slander and incentives to fornication in its lyrics and performance.

6- It must not be regarded like worship.

7- It must not get ahead of the culture of reading and listening to the Quran.

8- It must not have a performance, content and level that will make people slaves of their bodily desires.  

9- It must not keep people busy with useless things that are away from religious or worldly benefits.

10- It must not have any material or spiritual element of harm.

It is possible to find those principle in verse 33 of the chapter of al-Araf in the most comprehensive form:

“Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which He hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge.”

The word “fawahish” mentioned in the verse expresses all kinds of shameful deeds whether open or secret and violation of others’ honor and dignity; the word “ithm” expresses sin in general, all kinds of deeds that are contrary to reason and violation of the prohibitions of Allah deliberately;  “baghy” expresses violation of others’ lives, property, honor and personal rights. (46)

1. Luqman (31), 6
2. Tirmidhi, Buy'u, 51; Bayhaqi, Sunan, IV, 14; Wahidi, Asbabun-Nuzul, Beirut, nd, 260.
3. Ahkamul-Quran, XIV, 53
4. Ahkamul-Quran, III, 1481-1482
5. Hak Dini Kur'an Dili, V, 3839
6. Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 164
7. Bayhaqi, Sunan, VI, 126; Baghawi, Sharhus-Sunna, VIII, 22-23.
8. Abu Dawud, Adab, 60, Bayhaqi, Sunan, X, 222; Shuab, 5120.
9. Ibn Abidin, Hashiyatu Raddul-Muhtar, V, 306
10. Mughni, XII, 41.
11. Bayhaqi, Sunan, X, 222.
12-13. Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 142-144; Ibn Humam, Fathul-Qadir, VI, 482; Nablusi, Idahud-Dalalat, Süleymaniye Library, Esat Ef., nr., 1762/1, vr., 7a-b, 8a-b, 9a, 11a, 27a, 28a; Ibn Abidin, Hashiyatu Raddil-Muhtar, V, 305, 307; Shawkani, Naylul-Awtar, VIII, 113-119; Subki, Takmila, XX, 230; Ramli, Nihayatul-Muhtaj, VIII, 298; Muhalla, VII, 567.
14. Rum (30), 15.
15. Tabari, Jami'ul-Bayan, X, 173; Abu Hayyan, Bahrul-Muhit, VIII, 380.
16. al-Baqara (2), 29.
17. al-An'am (6), 119.
18. Ibn Hazm, Muhalla, VII, 559.
19. Ibn Hazm, ibid, VII, 567.
20. Ghazzali, Ihya, VI, 153; Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, XII, 41-42.
21.  Bukhari, Nikah, 63; Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 269; Baghawi, Sharhus-Sunna, IX, 49
22. Hakim, Mustadrak, II, 200, nr. 2749; Bayhaqi, Sunan, VII, 288.
23. Hakim, Mustadrak, II, 200.
24. Nasai, Nikah, 80; Tahawi, Sharhu Maanil-Athar, IV, 294; Bayhaqi, Sunan, VII, 289; Ibn Hajar, al-Matalibu'l-Aliyya, II, 54.
25. Ibn Hajar, Matalib, II, 54; Juday', Ahadithu Zammil-Ghina, p., 50.
26. Tirmidhi, Nikah, 6.
27. Fathul-Bari, XIX, 244.
28. Umdatul-Qari, XVI, 330.
29. Umdatul-Qari, XVI, 345.
30. Sharhu's-Sunna, IX, 47, 49.
31. Buhari, Maghazi, 38; Adab, 90; Diyat, 17; Muslim, Jihad wa Siyar, 123; Bayhaqi, Sunan, X, 227.
32. Zaylai, Tabyinul-Haqaiq Sharhu Kanzud-Daqaiq, Egypt, 1313, IV, 222; VI, 14; Mulla Khusraw, Durar, II, 380; Damad, Majma’, II, 190; Haskafi, Durrul-Mukhtar, IV, 591; Ibn Abidin, Hashiyatu Raddil-Muhtar, IV, 592; Qasani, Bada'i, VI, 269.
33. Ibn Abidin, Hashiyatu Raddil-Muhtar, V, 46.
34. Alamghir, Fatawa Hindiyya, Mısır, 1310, V, 351; Shilabi, Hashiyat-u Tabyin, VI, 13; Ayni, Umda, V, 369.
35. Zaylai, ibid, IV, 222; VI, 14; Mulla Khusraw, ibid, II, 380; Damad, ibid, II, 190; Haskafi, ibid, IV, 591; Ibn Abidin, ibid, IV, 592; Qasani, Bada'i, VI, 269.
36. Zayla'i, ibid, IV, 222; VI, 14; Alamghir, Fatawa Hindiyya, V, 351-352; Damad, ibid, II, 190; Ibn Abidin, ibid, IV, 592; V, 305
37. Haskafi, ibid, IV, 591-592
38. Damad, ibid, II, 190; Ibn Abidin, ibid, IV, 592.
39. Ibn Humam, Fathul-Qadir, VI, 482; Ibn Abidin, ibid, V, 305.
40. Idah, vr., 7a-b, 8a-b. 9a, 11a, 27a-28a.
41. Ibni Abidin, Hashiyatu Raddil-Muhtar, V, 307
42. Qasani, Badai, VI, 269
43. Alamghir, Fatawa Hindiyya, V, 351; Shilabi, Hashiyatu Tabyin, VI, 13; Ayni, Umda, V, 369.
44. Durar, II, 380.
45. Tahawi, Mukhtasar Tahawi, s., 435; Quduri, (Muqayyad), p., 177; Haskafi, Durrul-Mukhtar, IV, 591-592; Sarakhsi, Mabsut, XVI, 132; Zaylai, Tabyin, IV, 221-222; Marghinani, Hidaya, III, 123; Mulla Khusraw, Durar, II, 380; Ibrahim Halabi, Multaqa, s, 112; Alamghir, ibid, V, 351; Shilabi, ibid, VI, 13; Ayni, ibid, V, 369.
46. Yazır, Hak Dini Kur’an Dili, III, 2155.

(Behlül DÜZENLİ, İslam Açısından Müzik)

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