What does “lahw al-l-hadith” mentioned in verse 6 of the chapter of Luqman mean?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

“But there are, among men, those who purchase idle tales, 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. When Our Signs are rehearsed to such a one, he turns away in arrogance, as if he heard them not, as if there were deafness in both his ears: announce to him a grievous Penalty.” (Luqman, 31/6-7)

When Abus-Sahba asked Ibn Mas’ud what is meant by “idle tales” in the verse above, he said, “It is song.” Hasanul-Basri interpreted it as “songs and instruments(Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, V, 377). Ibn Mas’ud and Jabir b. Abdullah interpreted it like that too. Abul-Faraj Ibnul-Jawzi reports that interpretation from Hasan, Ibn Jubayr, Qatada and Nahai (Qurtubi, al-Jami, XIV, 251).

People who have no goals in the world other than material pleasure and happiness indulge themselves in meaningless, empty words that are not based on reason and knowledge (or according to one interpretation) entertainment with musical instruments in order to mislead others from Allah’s path without knowledge, to keep them away from it and to be engaged in useless things; they regard the purpose life to consist of those things; they spend money on them; they talk and listen to them. When the wise, meaningful and hence saving verses of Allah are recited to them, they act conceitedly; they turn a deaf ear and turn their backs on them. Thus, a fundamental difference in logic and mentality between believers and deniers is revealed.

The phrase lahwal-hadith in verse 6, which we translate as “idle tales”, is explained as music in most of the classical tafsirs; it is argued in some commentaries that it is haram to sing, play an instrument, listen, and do business in music based on the verse above. However, there are also views stating that this phrase means words containing polytheism or, more generally, empty and unnecessary talk that are not beneficial to people (for those views, see Tabari, XXI, 60-63).

Acting upon the phrase “to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah” in the verse, Imam Malik stated the following in an answer to a question: “If (music) distracts people from their duties toward Allah, it is haram.” (Qurtubi, XIV, 54) After listing some of the narrations indicating that music is haram, Qurtubi summarizes his opinion based on the famous fiqh scholar Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi (see Ahkam al-Quran, III, 1494) as follows:

“It is clear that songs that incite people’s bad feelings and praise harams are haram; however, music that does not contain such drawbacks is permissible during joyous and happy times such as Eid and weddings, or when there is a need for rest and relaxation.” (Qurtubi, XIV, 55-56).

In our opinion, as Tabari also states (XXI, 63), there is no indication in the verse that the phrase lahw al-hadith specifically means song and music, it is not appropriate to limit the meaning of that phrase as music. When the denialist psychology and attitude summarized in those two verses are taken into account, it should be interpreted as the empty claims and sophistry of the polytheists in order to undermine the influence of the divine message on people or to ridicule them.

As a matter of fact, the phrase “bi-ghayri ilm” (without knowledge) in verse 6 supports it. If music, poetry and similar activities are used for such a malicious purpose, those who do so are also within the scope of criticism in the verse. Besides, not only the attitudes of the deniers of that period, but also the mentality aimed at blocking “Allah’s way” in any period, and the attitudes, criticisms and activities that are the product of that mentality are criticized.

(see Diyanet Tefsiri, Kuran Yolu, the interpretation of the verse in question)

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