This particular issue of the prohibition of Musical instruments and immoral songs deserves a lengthy explanation since it has become a topic that is often debated in the Muslim community today. It is important, however, to take an unbiased look at the various views on this issue and accept that there is a difference of opinion regarding the prohibition of musical instruments. I say this because many of the scholars who hold the view that music is prohibited claim that there is a consensus on this issue, which is not true.
“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 [meaning His way] in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment.” (Qur ‘an 31: 6)
This verse has been explained by the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and succeeding scholars to refer, firstly, to immoral songs and, secondly, to any idle speech which distracts people from the straight path.
An issue which is hotly debated today is the permissibility of using musical instruments. It is generally accepted that most of the music produced by the disbelievers today is haram because of its inappropriate content and messages.
However, the Muslims are divided over the use of musical instruments when accompanied by permissible lyrics. This difference is based mainly on two hadiths in Saheeh at-Bukhari that seem to contradict each other.
The first of these is the hadith of the young girls playing with the hand-drum (duff) and the Prophet (pbuh) approving it. In fact, there are many hadiths in which he allowed the playing of the hand-drum.
It has been narrated by ‘A ‘ishah (ra), the wife of the Prophet, that once the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came home, and at that time, two little girls were singing songs about the battle of Bu’ath. The Prophet (pbuh) lay down on the bed and turned his face away. Then Abu Bakr (ra) came and scolded her, saying: These musical instruments of Satan in the house of the Prophet of Allah (pbuh)! Prophet Muhammad turned to him and said: Leave them. In the words of ‘A’ishah (ra):
When Abu Bakr got busy in other matters, I told the two girls to leave, and they left. That was the day of Eid. The Abyssinians were playing in the mosque with shields and lances. Then either I asked the Messenger (pbuh), or he himself said: Do you want to have a look? I said yes, so he let me stand behind him, with my cheek against his cheek, and said: Carry on, Banu Arfidah. When I became bored, he asked: Is that enough for you? I said yes. He said: Then you may leave.” (Sahih Bukhari)
In the second hadith, tbe Prophet (pbuh) prophesized: “From among my followers, there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk [for men], the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments as lawful.” (Sahih Bukhari)
This hadith is clear in its wording that musical instruments are prohibited and are considered to be in the same category as alcohol and adultery. It should be noted that its chain of narrators, as mentioned in Saheeh al-Bukhari, is broken. However, this hadith has been quoted in a number of other hadith compilations, with other chains of narrators, and it is definitely authentic.
Scholars have generally taken the position that this hadith mentions the general ruling on musical instruments, while the preceding hadith mentions the exception. Yet they differ as to what extent this exception covers.
Some say it refers only to the hand drum, which can only be played by women and children, others restrict it to the days of celebration and prohibit it on other days, and yet others allow it in general. They also differ over whether the exception applies only to the hand-drum or whether other forms of drums and percussion instruments are included.
This is as far as the exception is stretched by the majority of scholars; however, other scholars, like Ibn Hazm and Imam al-Ghazali, held that musical instruments are permissible. In their view, the content and effect of the songs, and what they lead to, determines whether they are permissible or forbidden.
They interpreted the above hadith as referring to music that accompanies fornication or drinking of alcohol; they also argued that every authentic hadith that prohibits music does so along with prohibiting fornication and alcohol.
Imam al-Ghazali wrote a lengthy treatise on this topic, in which he explained his view and stated his evidence. This treatise can be found in his Ihya Uloom ad-Deen, which has been translated into English.
After a lengthy discussion of the various opinions and evidence regarding this issue, Imam al-Ghazali concluded that he believed the prohibition of music is not general but is limited to certain situations.
If music leads to drinking alcohol, fornication and other such vices, then it is prohibited. Yet if it brings people closer to Allah Almighty, it can be regarded as permissible. He mentioned other conditions, all of which can be found in his Ihya Uloom ad-Deen in the chapter on music.
Imam Shawkani wrote an important book on this issue titled Ibtal Da ‘watul Ijma ala Tahreem Mutlaqis Sima (Refuting the Claim of Consensus on the General Prohibition of Music), in which he listed various views and proofs that scholars have on this issue.
Bear in mind that Imam Shawkani was of the opinion that musical instruments are prohibited, but he wrote this book to ensure that people did not go to extremes in dealing with those who consider music permissible. Imam Shawkani said at the end of this book:
There is no doubt, after all the views and proofs that we have mentioned, that music is among the doubtful issues, and believers should be wary regarding the doubtful issues. It is narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhari: “Whoever leaves the doubtful issues has protected his honor and his religion.”?
Imam Shawkani also states: Allah knows that we do not sit at the gatherings of music but we mentioned this from the point of view of evidence, so that it becomes clear that this is not an issue where one can claim that the followers of a certain opinion are misguided. Rather, how can those who claim that there is no difference of opinion regarding the issue of music be guided to the path of justice?”
Taking all of the above into consideration, the safest opinion is to follow the majority of scholars and abstain from music which involves stringed and wind instruments.
At the same time, one should remember that there is a difference of opinion on this issue, so it would not be fair to label those who sincerely believe in the permissibility of musical instruments as deviant or as disbelievers. On the contrary, they are our Muslim brothers and sisters who are following a minority opinion, and Allah Almighty knows best which opinion is correct.
It should be noted, though, that when individuals hear music but are not paying attention to it, they are not sinning. This is similar to those who are not rewarded if they hear the Qur’an but do not pay attention to it. This is an important point to note since it sometimes becomes difficult to avoid music altogether – such as in shopping centers and other areas. Shaykh al-Islam, Ibn Taymiyah, has said:
The command and the prohibition have to do with listening. Merely hearing something is like seeing; it has to do with the intention behind seeing, not what happens without a person choosing it.
The same applies to committing sin through the five senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch; the commands and prohibitions are connected to what a person intends and does, but whatever happens without him choosing it, there is no command or prohibition with regard to that.”
The most safest opinion of all is to follow the one that Majority of scholars have quoted, that is Musical instruments are prohibited in Islam. Would you like to risk your Akhirah for this petty Duniya?