What is the ruling concerning singing?
The nature of singing is in prolonging one’s voice and using different pitches whereby creating a certain sound. If it is done without musical instruments and the lyrics are within the confines of the Shari‘ah then there is nothing wrong with it. It is recommended that the words be praises of God, His Messenger (God’s peace and blessings upon him), ones that promote courage, love for homeland, and other related topics. There is no objection if the words are of a different nature but are still within the confines of the Shari‘ah.
In certain instances singing is a necessary act to add to festiveness or relaxation such as during ‘Eid, weddings, homecomings, walimas, ‘aqiqas, and during birth. This permissibility has come to us by way of many texts among which are:
1. ‘Aisha narrated that she attended a wedding of the Ansar and the Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon him) said, “O ‘Aisha did they not have a form of entertainment since the Ansar enjoy entertainment?”
2. Ibn ‘Abbas said that ‘Aisha married off a family member to a man of the Ansar and the Prophet (God’s peace and blessings upon him) asked her, “Did you give the young girl a gift?” “Yes,” she replied. He then asked, “Did you send someone with her to sing?” “No,” she replied. So the Prophet said, “The Ansar are a people who enjoy celebration [by reciting] poetry, so send someone to recite ‘we have come to you, we have come to you, so greetings to you and greetings to us.’”
3. On the authority of ‘Aisha who said that Abu Bakr came in upon her during the days of ‘Eid al-Adha when there were two young slave girls with her singing and beating drums. The Messenger of God (God’s peace and blessings upon him) was covered by his garment and Abu Bakr reprimanded them. The Messenger of God uncovered himself and said, “Let them be Abu Bakr as these are days of festivities.”
4. ‘Aisha said, “I used to have a slave girl and I married her off one day. On the day of her wedding the Messenger of God came in and he did not hear any singing or form of playful enjoyment so he said, ‘O ‘Aisha did you sing for her or not?’ Then the Messenger of God said, ‘This group from the Ansar like singing.’”
5. On the authority of ‘Amir ibn S‘ad who said, “I was with Thabit ibn Wadi‘a and Qurtha ibn K‘ab in a wedding that had singing and I heard a sound so I asked them, ‘Will you not listen?’ They replied, ‘It has been prescribed as a dispensation to listen to singing during weddings.’’”
6. Umm Salama received a slave girl who belonged to Hassan ibn Thabit on the day of ‘Eid al-Fitr who came to sing her poetry with a drum. Umm Salama chastised her for this so the Messenger of God (God’s peace and blessings upon him) said, “Leave her O Umm Salama as every people have a day of festivity and this is our day of festivity.”
7. Rubi‘a bint Mu‘awith ibn ‘Afra’ narrated, “One day the Messenger of God (God’s peace and blessings upon him) came to me the morning after my wedding night and sat on a mat as you are sitting now (i.e. Khalid ibn Dhakwan who narrates this hadith from Rubi‘a). I made some slave girls beat the duff and they mourned by singing ‘whom from my fathers was killed on the day of Badr’ until they got to the line “and amongst us is a prophet who knows what tomorrow will bring” and the Messenger of God stopped them and said, ‘Leave this line and continue with what you were saying.’”
8. On the authority of ‘Aisha who said, “The Messenger of God (God’s peace and blessings upon him) was sitting and we heard a clamor so he rose and saw an Ethiopian girl dancing and boys were around her. He said ‘O ‘Aisha come and see.’ So I went and placed my chin on his shoulder and I watched what was in view between his head and shoulder. He then he asked, ‘Have you had enough?’ I kept saying no to him so I could know my real rank with him. Then ‘Umar came and the people started to scatter from around the Ethiopian and the Messenger of God said, ‘Indeed I can see the Satanic Jinns and people fleeing from ‘Umar.’ And then I left.”
9. From the traditions narrated by the companions is one by Zayd ibn Aslam who narrates on the authority of his father who said that once ‘Umar heard a woman singing and said, “Singing is from the provisions of the traveler.”
There are those who have ruled that singing is prohibited even if it is not accompanied with instruments, however their text proofs are ultimately inconclusive. Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi stated in his book al-Ahkam, “Nothing concerning its prohibition (i.e. singing) is sound argument.” Imam al-Ghazali and Ibn al-Nahawi in his al-‘Umda maintained the same opinion. Ibn Tahir said, “Not one single letter of them [of the arguments stating the prohibition of singing] is correct. Ibn Hazm stated, “Everything related to this [the prohibition of singing] is falsehood and fabricated.”
There is nothing negative in singing as it is amongst the beautiful things of life which the self and intellect find pleasing. It is also from our fitra (natural primordial state). Singing is from the enjoyment of sound as it is pleasing to the ears just as food is the enjoyment of the stomach and any beautiful sight is pleasing to the eye. Islam is a religion of beauty and comfort, and there is nothing good or beautiful except that Islam has made them permissible as a mercy from God towards this nation and people. God Most High says, “They ask you (O Muhammad) what is made lawful for them. Say: (all) good things are made lawful for you”. And God has not made it permissible for anyone to make prohibited those pleasant and beautiful things which He Alone has given as provision to us no matter how pure one’s intention is in doing this.
Declaring things prohibited or permissible are from the authority of God Alone. He says, “Say: have you considered what provision God has sent down for you, how you have made of it lawful and unlawful? Has God permitted you, or do you invent a lie concerning God?”
If we contemplate on the issue of singing, we can almost say that the enjoyment derived from singing and hearing it is a natural human trait. For example, a young baby is always comforted by the singing of its mother which is why mothers and wet nurses have throughout history always sung to their children. Even animals are comforted by singing of which Imam al-Ghazali wrote:
Whomever is not moved when hearing singing, is lacking and leaning away from the middle way, he is away from spirituality, possessing an increase in roughness which forms a barrier between him and beauty, the birds, and the rest of the animals. The camel, even with its simple nature, is affected when one sings to it by making it tolerate heavy loads and long distances since its attention is captured by the singing, and a drive is created inside the camel that intoxicates and entertains it. When camels hear singing they stretch their necks and ears to listen to it, they even rush to the sound causing its load to sway back and forth.
From the above discussion it is clear that singing is not prohibited except if it contains words that contradict the Shari‘ah. Singing is permissible and is even recommended if it contains praises of God, His Messenger, Islam, and love for homeland.
And God is most High and Knowledgeable.