Some scholars and many zealous laymen claim that there is a consensus among jurists as to the prohibition of listening to any music with musical instruments. Some Imams say the opinion that allows it is a strange (شاذ) opinion, which is rejected as baseless by all prominent scholars and schools of thought. If this is true, how can so many Imams and scholars allow this new phenomenon of Islamic music using instruments?
بسم الله والحمد لله والصلاة و سلام على رسول الله
In the name of Allah, and all praise and thanks is due to Allah, and may He send peace and blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad
It is quite true that—historically—the prevalent (جمهور) opinion in Islamic jurisprudence regarding the use of and listening to musical instruments is that of prohibition (حرام). It is the official opinion of the four schools of thought, although various scholars from different schools held it is only disliked (مكروه) and many others deemed it permissible with the condition that the song is not immoral. It is not true that there is a consensus on it or that the opinion of permissibility is a strange opinion, which is a divergence from clear teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah. In today’s world there are a growing number of prominent scholars that allow listening to instruments that don’t accompany sinful poetry (song).
We will—with divine support—show that this issue is a matter of legitimate disagreement based on scholarly derivation and interpretation (اجتهاد). Unfortunately, one of the main reasons for this research is that there is actually a movement among modern scholars to dismiss, suppress, or misrepresent the opinion of permissibility!
There is a claim that no prominent scholars ruled for the permissibility of musical instruments except for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is purported to solely rely on a strange opinion of Imam Ibn Hazm. This is false. There are hundreds, dare I say thousands, of scholars who held the permissibility of listening to music as long as the song is morally upright. The following are some of the most prominent scholars (mujtahideen) in our history who, not only deemed it permissible, but in some cases wrote a whole research to prove it!
- Abdullah bin Ja’far bin Abi Talib (al-Aqd al-Fareed 6/12)
- Sh. Abu Hamed al-Ghazali (vol. 6 pg. 1150 al-Ihyaa’)
- Imam al-Shawkani (Ibtal da’wa al-Ijmaa ala mutlaq al-Sama’)
- Imam ibn Hazm (Al-Muhallah)
- Imam Abdul-Ghani al-Nablusi (Idaahat al-Dalalaat fee sama’ al-alaat)
- Sultan al-Ulema al-Iz ibn Abdul-Salam (Rislat al-Sama’)
- Al-Qadi Ibn Qutaiba al-Daynoor (al-Rukhsah fi al-Sama’)
- Imam Ibn Tahir al-Qaysirany (pg. 31 al-Sama’)
- Imam al-Thahabi (al-Rukhsah fil-Ghinaa wa al-Turb)
- Abu Talib al-Makky (Qoot al-Quloob)
- al-Qady Ibn Al-Araby al-Makky (Ahkam al-Quran vol. 3 pg. 1494)
- Sh. Yusuf al-Majishoon the prominent Muhaddith (#3399 ibn al-Khuthayma)
- Ibn Daqeeq al-Eid (Iqtinas al-Sawanih)
- Sh. Jad Ali jad al-Haqq (fatawah #3280)
- Sh. Mahmood Al-Shaltoot (pg. 375 fatawaah)
May God shower them all with His Mercy!
Some scholars try to say that many of these scholars were simply saying that it is permissible to listen to songs a cappella—and some of their works do make that point in addition to the permissibility of also using musical instruments. Each one of these references refers to the opinion of permissibility for songs with instruments.
The following are the juristic proofs used to illustrate prohibition and the response from the scholars who are not convinced by the evidence or who see the evidence in a different way:
From the Qur’an: There are two verses which are interpreted as justifying prohibition supporting the clearer hadith (narration) on the subject. They are as follows:
“There are some people who buy distracting/entertaining speech without knowledge in order to mislead people from the path of God…” (Qur’an 31:6)
Only a couple out of the dozens of exegetes thought this had anything to do with musical instruments.
Many exegetes took the more common path of general meaning in the absence of an authentic text and said it refers to preferring or liking to listen to false speech, thus distracting one from Islam.
The vast majority of exegetes said it is talking about the singing of jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic days). Imam al-Qurtubi said that this and the other verse are those that the scholars use as evidence for the disliked (مكروه) nature of singing. Imam al-Qurtubi also narrates that this verse was revealed in the life of the Prophet ﷺ when a man bought a slave known for singing unIslamic songs of jahiliyyah (ignorance).
Many exegetes pointed out a weak hadith that is strengthened by the aforementioned circumstantial cause of revelation. The weak hadith states:
“.لا يحل بيعُ المُغنّياتِ ولا شِراؤهنّ وثمنهنّ حرامٌ”
“It is prohibited to buy or sell women singers of jahiliyyah. The price of such transaction is prohibited.”
The evidence for prohibition of Islamic Music in this verse is very weak. Any true scholar will surely admit that the verse is not evidence in and of itself; rather it is supportive to a couple hadiths and the position of many Companions.
The second verse is:
“(God is saying to Satan) Incite whoever you can among them with your voice…” (Qur’an 17:64)
Some scholars from the early generations said this is literal and it means that Satan is whispering to us to follow him and disobey God as is mentioned in the famous verse in Surah Ibrahim, “I had no authority over you except that I called you and you followed me…” (Qur’an 14:22). The great Imam of tafsir (exegesis) al-Tabari took the position as is his style that it is general and since there is no clear evidence specifying what is meant by “your voice” then it is taken literally and generally.
Many other scholars noted that the verse is talking about playing (لعب) and wasting time (لهو). Once again, no real scholar will claim that this verse in and of itself can be used to prohibit listening to music.
Let’s see what evidence we can find from the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet ﷺ):
There is a hadith mentioned as an attachment (معلق) to a section in the authentic collection of Bukhari under the chapter of drinks #5590 titled those who seek permission of drinking alcohol by calling it another name. Imam al-Bukhari did not put the Hadith as an official Hadith in his authentic collection. According to Imam al-Muhallab the reason was because Hisham was not sure of the name of the companion (Al-Ibtal Al-Shawkani pg. 9) The hadith goes:
“…ليكونَنَّ من أمَّتي أقوامٌ ، يستحلُّونَ الحِرَ والحريرَ ، والخمرَ والمعازِفَ”
“There will be a group of people from my nation who will deem silk, alcohol and musical instruments as permissible…”
Some hadith scholars found a connected chain for this type of hadith. The most famous is the book by Ibn Hajr in his book “closing the attachments” (تغليق التعليق). There are scholars who argued against his assertions, but even if we were to accept his findings about a connection between al-Bukhari and Hisham bin Ammar there is still a problem with Hisham as a narrator among some prominent hadith scholars.
There are many concerning issues with this hadith. According to Imam al-Thahabi in his famous 4-volume book Mizan al-I’tidaal which accounts for all the weak narrators he could gather. Imam al-Thahabi mentions that Hisham bin Ammar used to be a veracious narrator, then he changed. He has narrated 400 hadiths that have no basis. He used to not narrate unless someone paid him. He was accused of changing the text. Imam Ahmad said he was reckless. Some narrated that he said the Qur’an has words from Gabriel and Muhammad ﷺ and is created speech.
Ibn Hajar acknowledges this, but justifies his ruling of the hadith through a different narration that has someone else narrating it other than Hisham. That hadith varies in text but does mention the people deeming musical instruments as permissible (which linguistically and logically doesn’t necessarily mean that it is prohibited). The next problem with this hadith, which is not solved by Ibn Hajar’s book, is a narrator named Atiyah bin Qays.
Atiyah bin Qays was a righteous man who hadith scholars agreed regarding his character and honesty (عدالة), but there is an issue among some scholars about his precision of memory and narrating (ضبط). Some famous scholars of hadith call him trustworthy (ثقة) just because he is a known pious man while the issue of his precision with hadith is unknown (مجهول). Some of them said although he is acceptable (far from Saheeh ) to be careful in narrating from him. This is mentioned by the hadith scholar Abu Hatem al-Razi in his book al-Jarh wa al-Ta’deel 2/37 and by Abu Bakr al-Bazzaar in his book Kashf al-Astar 1/106.
This is the best proof that the proponents of prohibition bring forth according to them. Other hadiths are relying on this one. For example:
“.ليكونن في هذه الأمة خسف، وقذف، ومسخ، وذلك إذا شربوا الخمور، واتخذوا القينات، وضربوا بالمعازف”
“There will be disgrace and defamation in this nation when they will drink alcohol and listen to music (literally female singers while beating on instruments).” (al-Suyooti al-Sagheer 7720)
Even a layman can see that the linguistic connotation does not in any way show a prohibition for listening to music, but rather a prohibition of the “party” scene. There are many other hadiths like this one that show that the combination of alcohol and music is a shameful and immoral scene. On this fact there is a consensus among scholars. Even in the narration of the other hadith seen as the strongest proof, there are variations which focus on drinking alcohol by a different name and don’t even mention musical instruments. Thus Imam Bukhari’s precise classification.
Many people feel that even though we see the issues in the proofs used for prohibiting music, still it is the official opinion of the 4 main schools of thought and that shows that it was clear to those scholars who know better than us. The assumption here is that every scholar from the different schools of thought over the centuries was a mujtahid and was willing to challenge the opinion and evidence of his own school. This was simply just not the case as Dr. Mana’ al-Qattan narrates in his book on the history of legislation in Islamic history. He elucidates on the well-known unfortunate part of our history known as the closing of the doors to juristic reasoning (إغلاق باب الاجتهاد). For close to 8 centuries, most of the scholars passed down by memory and book most of the rulings of Islamic Law. For various reasons, they were uncomfortable with people changing or questioning popular rulings. Some of those who didn’t agree with this methodology like Ibn Taymiyyah (ra) or al-Suyooti (ra) were seen as dissidents. There is also some historical evidence that this ruling of prohibition of all music was heavily promoted toward the end of the Abbasi Caliphate because of the widespread immorality with music and drinking as many of the hadiths indicate. In my research, which really requires a whole book, there is more than meets the eye on the prevalence of the opinion prohibiting all instrumental music.
Proofs for the Permission of Good, Morally Upright Music:
- There is a false claim that the Companions all prohibited it. Abdullah bin al-Zubair used to keep women playing guitars (lutes) and singing in his presence. (Idahaat al-Dalalat al-Nablusi 96)
- There is no disagreement about the Ibrahim bin Sa’d bin Abdul Rahman bin Awf listening to songs with guitars (al-Sama’ Ibn Tahir 63)
- Jews have always attributed music to Prophet David ‘alahi assalatu wassalam (peace and blessings be upon him). It is in the Bible, “The priests stood in waiting at their assigned places, along with the descendants of Levi who carried musical instruments used in service to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD—because his gracious love is eternal…” (2 Chronicles 7:6). So in the following hadith and commentary we have some solid evidence for the praise of good music:
“يا أبا موسى ، لقد أوتيتَ مِزمارًا مِن مزاميرِ آلِ داود”
“Abu Musa, Surely you have been given a voice like the music of David.” (Bukhari 5048)
Many scholars want to say that this hadith is simply referring to a beautiful voice. When we look into Ibn Hajar’s explanation of this hadith he comments with another sound hadith, “I entered Abu Musa’s house and I have not heard a cymbal, lute or a flute better than his voice.” (al-Fath)
The clear linguistic indication here is that the Prophet ﷺ is talking about musical instruments as though they are beautiful and delightful. That cannot be the case in something prohibited. It would be like him saying to his companion who earned a lot of money, “That’s even better than hijacking a caravan!”
- Imam al-Thahabi’s recordings about scholars in his book on prominent Muslims. Here are two examples:
“Ishaaq al-Nadeem an Imam who was a great scholar master of many sciences. Known for music with untainted poetry…” (Siyar 11/118)
“Ulayyah sister of the commander of the faithful Haroon al-Rasheed ‘Well-refined poetess known for singing and music with a pleasant voice. A modest pious women of precedence…’” (Siyar 10/187)
There are hadiths that led many scholars from the schools of thought to permit listening to drums. Other prominent Malikis and Shafi’ees (two different schools of thought) allowed trumpets, flutes and tambourines. Those are all musical instruments and the Islamic legal practice of analogy (قياس) allows other instruments in the absence of a clear text prohibiting them.
Whichever opinion you feel is stronger, you are welcome to follow. Please don’t judge someone else because they follow a different opinion than you. Our scholars teach us the following principle in dealing with law—there shall be no rebuking in matters of legitimate disagreement.
.لا إنكار في مسائل الاختلاف
Islam has a rich tradition of knowledge that by divine decree has differing interpretations as to the details of law. Only God owns the absolute truth.
If you choose to listen to music, observe piety and do not listen to immoral music or choose to be in immoral environments. There is no doubt that much of today’s music is prohibited by Islam and even some Islamic music still brings bad environments.