Music in Islam: The mathematical origin of melodic tones
Muslim scholars have regarded music as mathematical language, because it is composed of interwoven progressions. There are geometrical ratios, numerical ratios and there are ratios combining between both geometric and arithmetic progressions that are called interwoven ratios. Books were written on the science of music especially by the luminary philosopher al-Farabi who wrote a great book Al-Musiqa Al-Kabir [the Grand book of Music].
Music is a combination of the harmonicity of both strings and sounds. For example, when a person says 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 this is an arithmetic progression in which 2 is increased consecutively.
But if he says, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, this is called a geometric progression because we multiply by 2 but not adding it. But if he says 2, 4, 6, 12, 24, 48, 96, and after that he says 98, 100, 102, in this case he has combined between the two types of progressions in which one part is arithmetic and the other one is geometric.
These are called interwoven progressions and through this simple example we are able to compose thousands of musical tones. Based on this, al-Khalil Ibn Ahmad has discovered in Arabian poetry what was called musical poetry which consists of both consonant and vowel sounds. For example the sound (tn) in which if it is repeated (tn- tn- tn) it becomes both a consonant and voweled tone.
However, if the vowel and consonant sounds are combined it will be (ta- ta- tn, ta- ta- tn, ta- ta- tn). And when they are interwoven, they will be (ta- ta- tn. ta-ta tn-tn. ta- ta- tn tn).
From this point, the poetic meters have emerged which afterwards was called lyrical poetry. It was given this name because it is related to interwoven musical progression which is a form of mathematical operation. This is how our ancestors and scholars regarded the issue of Music
A group of scholars comprehended the prohibition of music from the hadith of the Messenger of Allah [peace and blessings be upon him] in which he says: “There will be [at some future time] people from my Ummah [nation] who will seek to make lawful the following matters: fornication, the wearing of silk, alcohol drinking and the use of musical instruments” [included by Bukhari]
However, Ibn Hazm said that this does not mean the prohibition of musical instruments and that the Prophet was talking about the social features of the spread of corruption which may accompany some instrumentalists or artists .
Fornication [Allah forbids], wearing silk, drinking alcohol, singing and musical instruments are the concomitant features of the licentious night. But this does not mean that all what the Prophet has mentioned is prohibited or an ingredient of prohibition.
The mere association between one matter and another is not an evidence that they both share the same legal ruling. Therefore, when the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] mentions something which is prohibited and associates another thing with it, it does not mean that the second matter is also prohibited. Same goes for mentioning an obligatory matter and associating another matter with it, this does not mean that the second matter is also obligatory. Allah the Almighty says: “Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives”. Justice is an obligatory matter whereas good conduct and giving to relatives are recommended matters. Based on this, the obligatory matter is associated with the recommended matter and thus association between two matters does not indicate that both matters share the same legal ruling.
Therefore, the hadith which associates between fornication, drinking alcohol, wearing silk and using musical instruments does not indicate an obligatory association between all these matters but carries within its fold the potentiality of carrying out prohibited acts. The renowned scholars Abdul-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn al-Qaisarani and Ibn Hazm stated that music is a sound if it is beautiful, it is good and if it is ugly, it is bad.
Moreover, music is a natural disposition to which our souls are inclined. Therefore, it is good when the soul finds its comfort in and it is bad when it disturbs the human soul. Therefore for Muslim scholars, music is one of the mathematical sciences and we have seen the scholars’ opinions that its good is permitted and its bad is impermissible. Therefore, we have seen Muslims throughout history playing these instruments.
To the extent that Sheikh al-Islam Hassan al-‘Attar has said in the first third of the 19th century that a person who listens to strings tone accompanied by water murmur and the view of trees without being affected is a donkey. This proves that a person is naturally delighted when reciting a poem and is seen trembled with happiness
And therefore, singing consists of words their good is lawful and their bad is unlawful. An example of a good song is the poetry of the poet Ahmad Shawki in which he praised the birth of Prophet Muhammad by saying, “Guidance was born and the universe was illuminated and the time is indulged in joy and pleasure”
The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] liked poetry and nice voices and Ka’b Ibn Malik was one of the poetry reciters for the Prophet who recited a poem which is known as Banat Su’ad (Su’ad has left and my heart is orphaned and bereaved)
For that the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him]stretched his garment for him to sit on it as to honor him for his poem which starts with words of love. Furthermore, the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] used to say to Hassan: “O Hassan, recite and the holy spirit supports you” and the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] used to love beautiful voices. When Abdullah Ibn Zaid saw Adhan [call to prayer] in his dreams, the Prophet told him: taught it to Bilal because his voice is more beautiful than yours and when the Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] conquered Mecca there was a person who was a Muslim only by words. But he was not yet a Muslim by heart and his name was Abu Mahdhura and while the Prophet was walking he heard Abu Mahdhura mocking the adhan. So the Prophet turned to him and asked: “what are you saying Abu Mahdhura?” He answered: “I say nothing”… he feared the Prophet. Abu mahdhura said, “the Prophet placed his hand on my chest and I swear by Allah before this moment, he was the most detested person to me and after placing his hand on my chest, he has become the dearest to me”. Then the Prophet said: “would I teach you the adhan Abu Mahdhura?” The Prophet taught him the adhan as he had a beautiful voice and appointed him as mu’dhin [caller to prayer] of the sacred precinct of Mecca after he was about to drift into disbelief.
Sheikh Darwish al-Hariry, Mohamed al-Maslub, sheikh Shihab were examples of prominent Azhari scholars and the master of music composers in Egypt. Sheikh Shihab in particular has compiled all the melodies inherited from the past centuries and up until the 19th century.
Based on this, it was a great musical journey where praising Allah the Almighty and his Prophet became a central theme in Islamic songs. Also instrumental music with its tender melodies softens the heart and light up the souls. Moreover, the songs which promote virtues and command goodness whether sang by male or female singers are lawful. The type of music and songs which discomfort the soul, or seduce people into committing sinful acts or increase licentious desires are prohibited as it goes against the natural beauty of music towards which the human is inclined to love.