What is the criterion of listening to music in our religion?

The Details of the Question
What is the criterion of listening to music in our religion?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Our general criterion regarding music should be as follows:

“Some voices have been defined as halal (permissible) and some as haram (forbidden) by our religion. Yes, voices reminding lofty sorrows and divine love are halal. Those that excite depressing sorrows and lustful desires are haram. Those that have not been defined by our religion are evaluated based on the effects that they have on your spirit and conscience.” (İşaratü’l-İ’câz, p. 78; Sözler, p. 382, 687-688)

Two kinds of voices are used in music: human voice and the voice of instruments. When a piece of music is conducted, either only human voice or music instruments are used; mostly both of them are used. In all three cases, a measured voice in a certain mode that is liked and desired by humans and that affects humans is produced. Those voices are evaluated based on their nature, topic and effect. Either music affects the spirit of man and brings about lofty, religious and heroic feelings in him, or a piece of music that man listens to addresses his soul and brings about mean feelings, causing the lofty feelings to disappear. As it is seen clearly in the statements above, the voice that is permissible to listen should remind man the lofty sorrows, that is, the ephemera of the world that death could occur any time an that man could turn to dust one day; it should also remind the fear of Allah, the divine love, the love of Allah and the manifestations of the great names and attributes of Allah in the beautiful works of art. It is permissible to listen to all kinds of voices that excite those feelings. However, it is not permissible to listen to the voices that remind depressing sorrows, that cause hopelessness in man, that remind the agony of being separated from bounties, that lead man to pessimism, that address the lustful feelings of man, that address the lustful desires of man that make the soul enjoy it.  

There are some voices that are not included in either group, and that change from person to person. For instance, while one of the two people listening to the same piece of music has a carnal feeling, the other person can have a lofty feeling.  For instance, one of the two people listening to this song: “Tiny snowflakes fall, fly saying alif, alif/ My mad heart has gone crazy, wanders saying alif alif” accompanied by music remembers Allah and thinks of divine love; the other is interested in its outward meaning and remembers a woman when he hears the word “alif” and thinks of love of a woman.  

Another example: The following poem of Yunus Emre is sung as both a hymn and a folk song: “Your love has taken me out of me/ I need you, only you/I am in fire of love day and night/I need you, only you/ let me drink the wine of love/Let me become Majnun and go to the mountain/I am worried about you day and night/I need you, only you”. While one person thinks of “divine love” when he hears “love”, another person remembers love of a woman.

Imam Ghazali examines music under three headings as haram (forbidden), makrooh (abominable) and mubah (permissible) (Ihya, 2: 279-81) and says the following:

The voices that excite only the desire of the world and feelings of lust in people full of those feelings and desires are haram for those people. 

It is makrooh to listen to them for people who spend most of their time listening and who are used to listening to them as a habit.  

It is mustahab (preferable) for a person who is full of love for Allah to listen to music if that voice excites the nice attributes in him.

Imam Ghazali later says that what makes music haram is not the music itself but the things that are added to it later, and classifies them as follows:

If a woman sings and if a man listening to her is afraid that her voice will excite her, then it is haram to listen to her. Here, what makes it haram is not the music but the voice of the woman.

If the lyrics of the song are harmful and contrary to the belief and ethics of Islam, it is haram to listen to it whether accompanied by music or without music.

If a person who is the slave of carnal feelings due to his/her youth indulges himself/herself in music too much and spends most of his/her time listening to music, he/she becomes debauched.

Mehmed Paksu Helal – Haram

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