I was asked to comment on the hadith of Aiesha [ra], related by al-Bukhari and Muslim, that mentions the singing of songs on ‘Eid day and the “Dancing” of the Ethiopians in the Prophet’s masjid.
A few comments:
Regarding the hadith of ‘Aiesha about “entertainers” one should be very careful here in extrapolating a meaning that is not intended. It is found in the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim with Muslim’s narration including the reference to the Ethiopians who “Danced” in the Prophet’s mosque. However this is, to say the least, a very problematic translation. First, the majority of the scholars who explained the text at hand such as:
Ibn al-Batal al-Maliki
al-Qurtubi in his al-Mufhim
clearly state that what the Ethiopians were doing was “Sword play.” If any of you have been to the Gulf states you will still find such entertainment amongst the Arabs. It is graceful, breathtaking and truly, in all its glory, Arab. I say this because I’ve seen it and found it to be something remarkable. However, it is by no means equal to what Beyonce does, nor Shakira. For that reason the scholars got into a discussion surrounding one doing military exercises in the masjid. The outcome of this is that the general intent, behind the Ethiopians’ exercise was entertainment.
As for the two girls who were singing, what is clearly stated in the beginning of the hadith is that “Two young girls” played the duff and sang songs. It is understood from the word used, “jawari”, that these girls were not pubescent [see fath al-Bari]. Imam al-Tabarani even mentions their names and others made great strides to make that point clear. The songs that were sung were old songs of war between the Aws and the Khazraj. Scholars such as Ibn Hajar noted that Abu Bakr’s response was a form of istishab [meaning he understood the original ruling to be that of prohibition]. For that reason the Malikis hold that such acts are restricted to the ‘Eid celebration and Walimah. The majority of scholars, save a few, hold singing songs with instruments to be prohibited as well, save during those times and under certain conditions with certain instruments. This was also the opinion of some of the Companions [ra]. However, Ibn Hazim, as articulated by Sh. al-Qaradawi, Sh. al-Juda’y and Dr. Abdul Karim Zaydan hold that music is permissible. This is also the opinion of other great scholars. However, that opinion has conditions:
1. That one does not become so engrossed in music that he/she neglect the Quran and remembrance of Allah. When practicing Muslims ask me about nashid and music, I personally enjoy using the response of Sh. al-Ghazzali [the recent one] who said, “let’s say that Music is Halal. Now, let us look at the condition of the world and the Muslims in general. Who from amongst you has time to listen to music?” For that reason I think we have to differentiate between the well grounded, well experienced Muslim worker and someone who is coming back to the din. As our scholars said, “The worker is strict on himself and easy on others.”
2. That there are no words which go against the general guidelines of the Sacred Law.
3. Most held that a woman should not sing in front of strange men.
It should be noted that al-Ghazzali [ra] [the older one] held that Music that brought one closer to Allah, was acceptable.
Thus, there is no consensus on this issue and it is one that is open to interpretation. Therefore, there should be width in our dealing with it. However, as Sheikh al-Azhar Muhammad Khidir al-Hussein stated, “Very few issues exist where good and evil are clear. Most issues are a mix.” Thus, as the Prophet [sa] stated, “The Haram is clear and the Halal is clear and between them are issues of doubt which only a few people know about.” [a sound hadith found related by N’uman al-Bashir [ra]. Thus, issues of entertainment should be done under the guidance of the scholars because they fall under that delicate grey area that require training, for one to suspend his/her nafs and allow knowledge to take over. Although it is not easy to submit to the words of a scholar, it is safer for one’s Hereafter.
I’ve seen a number of recent Muslim films that contain some clear mistakes from a Shariah point of view. I’m not talking here about issues of flexibility, but extremely tight clothes on women and men and, in some sad situations, people making fun of our faith. These are issues that do not fall under fiqh of minorities, rukhas or taysir, these are issue in which there exist a clear agreement about their prohibition. We must understand that Islamic Work is based, first and foremost, on a disciplined commitment to Allah; avoiding what He prohibited and running towards what pleases Him. In the name of dawa, at times, if we are not careful, we could be following our desires. Thus, the safe way is to ask. Allah says, “Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.”
About the translation: To translate this statement using the a general word such as entertainers is dangerous as it gives a general meaning which is not found in the text. At the same time, as Ibn Ashur [ra] mentioned, this hadith points to the general permissibility for one to enjoy one’s self and relax during festive times. The safer, and correct method, is to consult the people of knowledge and insure that one’s entertainment is pleasing to Allah and His Messenger. There is an excellent book by Dr. Qaradawi on this subject where he lays out the conditions for such entertainment and fun.
Before someone tears my head off I would like to make it clear that these are only my thoughts on this issue. They could be wrong and subject to scrutiny. I’m not here to say I’m a super scholar or impose my opinions on others. I trust our leadership enough to know that they have gone through the right steps. However, as a person I have a right to express my opinion with adab, love and concern.
I ask Allah to bless us,