Musical instruments in Islam

Egypt's Dar Al-Ifta

Musical instruments in Islam


Is it permissible to learn to play a musical instrument like the guitar, piano or drums?


Music is defined as "the science of tones and rhythm; the manner of composing tunes; playing musical instruments; and the sound produced from them.”

Controversial issues and compassing maturity

Music is a debatable practice in Islamic law. It is not an issue related to creed, nor is it from those things which a Muslim is blamed for not knowing. Therefore, Muslims must not declare each other as fasīq (deviant) nor refute each other based on these arguable issues. An axiom states, “Refutation is reserved exclusively for what is agreed upon1; there is no refutation on issues where differences are allowed.2”

As long as there are respected scholars who permit music, then it is not allowed for one to split the Muslim community based on such debatable issues, especially since there is no authentic explicit religious text prohibiting music. If there was, then refuting others regarding this matter would be acceptable.

Textual evidence used by scholars on the prohibition of music

Those who maintain the prohibition of music constitute the majority of scholars. Their opinion is based on the apparent meanings of some Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions. These texts were interpreted by a group of specialists in Quranic interpretation to indicate the prohibition of music and wind instruments.

These texts include:

"And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to mislead [others] from the way of Allah without knowledge and who takes it in ridicule"(Quran 31: 6).

"And they who turn away from ill speech" (Quran 23: 3).

"And incite [to senselessness] whoever you can among them with your voice"(Quran 17: 64).

Abū Mālik al-̓Ash'arī (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said, “There will be people from my community who will seek to make lawful: fornication, the wearing of silk [by men], wine, and musical instruments." 3

Many of the accomplished scholars from the companions and those who came after them maintain that musical instruments merely produce sound: if it is good, it is good; if it is repugnant, it is prohibited. Likewise, they maintain that the Quranic verses mentioned above do not include any explicit prohibition concerning the known instruments.

Interpretation of the hadith above:

The above-mentioned hadith does not specifically prohibit music. Rather, it prohibits music when it is practiced in conjunction with the unlawful acts mentioned in the hadith: fornication and the wearing of silk by men. The intended meaning is the prohibition of extravagance and not musical instruments per se. An established interpretive axiom states that “association is not proof for prohibition in itself.” The fact that music was mentioned in association with fornication is not proof for its prohibition.

The hadiths that explicitly prohibit music are either not authentic, pertain to the kind of music which distracts from the remembrance of God, or incite lust and prohibitions. While authentic hadiths do not explicitly prohibit music, the ones which explicitly do are not authentic. The people of Medina relied on this for deriving the permissibility of music.

Companions who held this position

Among the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) who held this position include: ̓Abdullāh ibn ̓Umar, ̓Abdullāh ibn Ja’far, ̓Abdullāh ibn al-Zubair, Hassan ibn Thabit, Mu’awiyah, and ̕Amr ibn al-̓As, may God be pleased with them all.

Successors who held this position

Among the Successors who held this position are: Al-Qadi Sharih, Sa’id ibn al-Musayyib, ̓Atā ibn abū Rabah, al-Zuhri, al-Sha'bi and Sa’d ibn Ibrahim ibn ̓Abdul-Rahmān ibn ̓Auwf who was said to have never started a conversation without playing the flute.

Imam al-Haramayn mentioned in his book al-Nihaya that the trustworthy biographers reported that ̓Abdullah ibn al-Zubair (may God be pleased with them both) owned slave girls who played the flute. Once, ibn ̓Umar entered upon him and he had a flute by his side. Ibn ̓Umar said, "O companion of the messenger of God! What is this?" ̓Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr gave it to him and ibn ̕Umar looked at it closely and said, "Is this a Syrian flute?" Ibn al-Zubair replied, "It is used to balance the minds."

Latter scholars who maintained the permissibility of music

Ibn Hazm and the Literalist school; some of the Shafı̓ī scholars including abu Ishāq al-Shirāzi; al-Mawardī; al-Rawianī; Abu Mansur al-Bughdādi; al-Rafı̓ī; al-Ghazālī, Abū al-Fadl al-Qisrānī; Imām 'Ezz al-Din ibn 'abd al-Salām; Sheikh al-Islām, Taqi al-Din ibn Daqīq; and the Hanafī scholar 'Abd al-Ghāni al-Nablusī.


Scholars who authored works on the permissibility of music

Among others, these include: Ibn Hazm al-Zāhirī who states his opinion in his treatise on listening to music; Ibn al-Qaysarānī in his book, al-Sima̓, al-Adfuwī in al-Imta' bi Ahkam al-Sima'; and the Malikī scholar, Abu al-Mawahib al-Shadhlī, in Farh al-Asma̓ bi Rakhs al-Sima'.

Citations on the permissibility of music

- The proof of Islam, Imam al-Ghazāli (may God grant him mercy) said,
“Entertainment is a help to relieve stress. Only the Prophets, peace be upon them, can endure absolute seriousness and hardships. Entertainment is the medicine of the heart against the disease of weariness and restlessness; so it should be permissible. But there should be no excess, just as there should be no overdose in medicine. Thus, whenever entertainment is for this purpose, it becomes an act of piety bringing one closer to God. This is so even in the case of one in whose heart music and singing do not rouse a praiseworthy quality—the arousal of which should be sought—but who only seeks to obtain pleasure and rest from it. So it is fitting that it be obtained in the manner we have outlined.

There is no doubt that this indicates a falling short from the peak of perfection, for the perfect man is he whose soul does not need to be rested by anything other than God. But "the good deeds of the pious are the evil deeds of those closest to God", and he who has mastered the science of dealing with hearts, and the different ways of leading them gently to the truth, knows well that resting them with such entertainment is indispensable.”4

- Al-'Izz ibn '̓Abd al-Salām said that singing—whether or not it is accompanied by music—may be a means of mending hearts. He said:
“Mending hearts is through external factors. Hearts are mended by (listening to) the Quran, and these are the best of listeners; by exhortation, reminding (of God) in sermons and through making remembrance by the singing of the camel rider and chants; by the singing which is accompanied by different instruments such as flutes. If the one who listens to these instruments sees that it is permissible, he commits no sin...” 5

Al-Sheikh ibn al-Qammah said, “Al-Shiekh Ezz al-Din ibn ̓Abd al-Salām was asked about the (permissibility of) the different kinds of musical instruments and he replied, “They are permissible." So al-Sheikh Sharf al-Din al-Tilmisānī said, "He means to say that there is no authentic evidence in the Sunna to indicate their prohibition" —addressing the people of Egypt. Al-Sheikh ̓Izz al-Din heard him and said, "I meant that it is permissible." 6

-Al-Qurtubī transmitted the opinion of al-Qushayrī in al-Jam̓’I li-Ahkam al-Quran: musical instruments were played in the presence of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) when he arrived to Medina. Abu Bakr tried to stop the players but the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Let them be! Let the Jews know that our religion is comprehensive." The women were singing at his arrival in Medina—they were beating drums saying, "We are the daughters of al-Najār. It is wonderful to have Muhammad as a neighbor!"

Al-Qurtubī said, "It has been said that beating drums in marriage celebrations is like beating the duff (tambourine) and other instruments used in announcing marriage. They are permissible on such occasions if they are accompanied with songs containing good words and which do not contain indecent language." 7

- Al-Shawkan̄i mentioned in his book Nayl al-Awtār under the chapter on music the opinions for and against the permissibility of musical instruments. Citing the hadith "Everything with which a man amuses himself is vain except his training of his horse, shooting with his arrow, and flirting with his wife; quoting al-Ghazāli "We say the word 'vain' does not indicate unlawfulness but rather the lack of an advantage found therein."

- Al-Shawkānī then said, "It is a correct answer because that which is useless can be categorized among the permissible." He related other evidences in this regard including the narration about the woman who made a vow to beat the duff before the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) upon his safe return from one of the battles. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) allowed her to fulfill her vow. This hadith was reported and declared authentic by al-Tirmidhi from the narration of Buraidah (may God be pleased with him). The Prophet's permission was not unlawful in that situation.

Al-Shawqānī referred to his treatise entitled Ibtal Da̓ wa al-Ijma̕ ala Tahrim Mutlaq al-Sam̓a’. 8

- Ibn Hazm said, "The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Actions are judged according to intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he intended." [So], whoever listens to music as an aid to something unlawful is immoral. The same applies to all things other than singing. And whoever listens to music seeking entertainment to give him strength in obeying God the Exalted and motivating him to pious acts, is good, obedient and his deed is lawful. Whoever intends neither obedience nor disobedience, his idleness is forgiven, such as the person who takes a walk in his orchard or sits on his doorstep for relaxation." 9

From the above, we can conclude that singing—whether or not it is accompanied with musical instruments—has generated scholarly debate since the early years of Islam; scholars agreed on some points and differed on others.

Points of agreement and difference

• Scholars agreed on the prohibition of singing that includes indecent language or disbelief, or that which encourages disobedience. Singing is mere speech, if it is good, it is permissible; if it is repugnant, it is forbidden. Think then when this is accompanied with rhythm, melodies, and impression!?
• Scholars agreed on the permissibility of [any form of] singing that is free from the above. This category of singing includes folk singing which is not accompanied by instruments or arouses desires; it is allowed on occasions of permissible pleasure, such as in weddings, the arrival of a person who was away, on feast days and so forth.
• Scholars differed on singing that is accompanied by instruments.

We are inclined to agree with the permissibility of using and listening to musical instruments on the following conditions:

- Not to be preoccupied with anything that distracts from the remembrance of God the Exalted, leads to corruption or contravenes the teachings of Islamic Law.
- That one makes a proper choice regarding what one listens to.
We base our opinion on the fact there is nothing explicit in the Quran, prophetic tradition, or analogy that can be used as evidence for the prohibition of listening to pleasant voices accompanied with musical instruments.

The pure nature of man finds pleasure and delight in pleasant voices

It is said that man's love for pleasant sounds predates even Adam's creation when God gathered the progeny of Adam, granted them consciousness and asked them “Am I not your Lord?" God’s discourse inspired within the human soul a love of and appreciation for pleasant sounds. We see this as being most agreeable with present times.

Some points must be emphasized in this context:

1-- The permissibility of choosing to follow any of the different juristic schools and the followed Imams.
• Islamic law differentiates between two categories of issues:

The first revolves around issues over which there is a consensus, and which have become known in religion as necessary10—whether through indisputable evidence or whether they reached this status through the consensus of the community. These issues are not debatable because they constitute the identity of Islam and violating these rulings is tantamount to violating the established religious principles.

The second revolves around issues the rulings on which there is a scholarly debate and which have not reached consensus. Islam is comprehensive in regards to these issues. The scholarly debate on such issues is a mercy to the people; Muslims are permitted to follow the opinion they choose.

2-- Objection is not for issues where there is a difference of opinion
Al-Suyutī mentioned in al-Ashbah wa al-Nadhair, "Objection is reserved for omitting what is agreed upon to be a requirement. It is not for issues where there is a difference of opinion." This means that in controversial matters, scholars of one particular school of jurisprudence cannot repudiate the opinions of scholars from other schools.
3-- Differentiating between the limits of jurisprudence, rulings, and religious precaution
Religious precaution necessarily meets and goes beyond the limits of juristic rulings; a person may follow the stricter rulings in favor of less rigorous rulings, but which are nevertheless permissible, out of greater religious precaution. This does in no way indicate obligating another to follow this course, stating it as legally obligatory, as this would prohibit what God has made lawful. Furthermore, a speculative issue over which there is a scholarly debate must not be treated the same as an issue over which there is a definitive ruling and scholarly consensus. This would open the door for innovations by restricting what God and His Messenger have left unrestricted. A Muslim must observe the etiquettes of debate following in the footsteps of our pious ancestors when they encountered similar controversial issues.

God Almighty knows best.

1. Such as the obligation to pray five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, etc.
2. Issues such as where to place to the hands while in prayer, etc.
3. Related by al-Bukhāri in his Sah̄ih collection.
4. Revival of Religious Sciences by al-Imam al-Ghazali (2/226).
5. Al-Taj wa al-Iklil by the Maliki scholar, al-'Abdari (2/62), printed by Dar al-Fikr.
6. Farh al-Asma' bi Rokhs al-Sima' by Abi al-Mawahib al-Shadhilī.
7. Tafsīral-Qurtub̄i (14/54).
8. Nayl al-Awtar (8/118).
9. Al-Muhallā by Ibn Hazm (7/567).
10. Issues which are so well established that denying them is as if one is denying the Qur'an or Sunnah, or Islam itself.

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