Is there an Islamic Social Norm against Instrumental Music? What about Vocal Music?
Music is performed with and without instruments. It is often created for worship of a god, or as an expression of how the present world is to the composer often its just for entertainment. The more educated and trained a composer is, the possibilities for a wider range of instrumentation and vocals come into play. Music is a form of communication that makes people feel the emotion of the composer.
An individual’s taste in music can be broad or narrow. There are several kinds of music today: classical, jazz, blues, rock, R&B, and much more. Many famous sayings have been made about the importance of music also, such as:
- “Where words fail, music speaks.” – Hans Christian Andersen
- “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” – George Eliot
- “Music is to the soul what words are to the mind.” ― Modest Mouse
- “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” – Plato
- “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.” ― Kahlil Gibran
- “Without music, life would be a mistake.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
- “Music is powerful. As people listen to it, they can be affected. They respond.” – Ray Charles
- “Music is … A higher revelation than all Wisdom & Philosophy” ― Ludwig van Beethoven
Nietzsche called life without music a mistake. Only one culture in the world forbids most music today. That is Islam. Islamic scholars of all 4 Sunni schools on sharia, Islamic jurisprudence, agree that music with instruments is forbidden. These schools only allow a tambourine as shariah requires. Reliance of the Traveller, a book of shariah translated into English states:
r40.1 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for the condemnation of musical instruments, flutes, strings, and the like by the Truthful and Trustworthy, who
“does not speak from personal caprice: it is nothing besides a revelation inspired” (Koran 53:3-4),
let those who refuse to obey him beware lest calamity strike them, or a painful torment. The Prophet said:
(1) “Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.”
(2) “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.”
(3) “Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.”
(4) “This Community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones.” Someone asked, “When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said, “When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.”
(5) “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful ….”
All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical instruments of all types are unlawful (Kaff al-ra’a’ ‘an muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama’ (y49), 2.269-70).
r40.2 (Nawawi:) It is unlawful to use musical instruments—such as those which drinkers are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute—or to listen to them. It is permissible to play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions, and other times, even if it has bells on its sides. Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow middle, is unlawful (Mughni al-muhtaj ila ma’rifa ma’ani alfaz al-Minhaj (y73), 4.429-30).
SINGING UNACCOMPANIED BY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
r40.3 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for listening to singing that is not accompanied by instruments, one should know that singing or listening to singing is offensive except under the circumstances to mentioned in what follows: Some scholars hold that singing is sunna at weddings and the like, and our Imams, Ghazali and ‘Izz ibn ‘Abd Al Salam say that it is sunna if it moves one to a noble state of mind that makes one remember the hereafter. It is clear from this that all poetry which encourages good deeds, wisdom, noble qualities, abstinence from this-worldly things, or similar pious traits such as urging one to obey Allah, follow the sunna, or shun disobedience, is sunna to write, sing, or listen to, as more than one of our Imams have stated is obvious, since using a means to do good is itself doing good.
Now it is important to understand that shariah forbids most forms of music. In fact as seen in shariah r1-r3, it eliminates all music that is instrumental. Thus all classical music is now viewed as haram (forbidden) as is smooth Jazz, and any other music that has instruments, that means no Blues, no rock and roll, no country music, and no music at all unless, it is for Allah and then only with vocals and a tambourine. This even eliminates all acapella music, vocal music without instrumental accompaniment unless it is directed in acceptance of shariah’s very narrow window.
Islamic Teachings, a Sunni Islamic site that answers proposed questions tackled the topic of the legality of acapella music that is not sung by women, and is not about nor encouraging of immoral acts. They began by referring to Surah 31:7
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. Those will have a humiliating punishment.
The site refers to Ibn Mas’ūd (Radiyallāhu ‘Anhu) who “was asked regarding this verse and he replied, ‘It is music, by the oath of that being there is not deity except Him.’” – (Al-Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba 11/101 Majlis al-‘Ilmi)
This site also quoted a Hadith from Sunan Ibn Mājah:
Abu Mālik al-Ash’ari (Radiyallāhu ‘Anhu) narrates that the Prophet of Allāh (SAW) said: “Soon people from my Umma will consume alcohol and call it with another name. On there heads will be instruments of music and singing women. Allāh will make the ground swallow them up, and turn them into monkeys and swine.”
This non-allowance of vocal music could be quickly thought of as hypocritical given how the Adnan, “Call to Prayer” is done in “melodious sing song manner.” Many who learn to memorize the Quran also use a similar manner of recitation to assist in memorization. This is actually allowable in Islam. There is a hadith that promotes this:
Abu Huraira (ra) reported that the Messenger of Allah said, “The one who does not recite the Qur’ān in a melodious manner is not from us.” (Sahih Bukhari no. 7527)
This becomes almost a ban on music as a whole unless it is acapella and is promotional of Islam. It would ban the acapella music of Muslim singer and composer, Hisham Fageeh whose acapella work “No woman No drive” was accepted in America for entertainment but was actually both humorous and a political statement about Saudi Arabia against women not driving. Not long after his music was released women were given some allowance to drive.
Kamal el-Mekki is a favorite cited by American Muslims on the topic of music, he gave a sermon entitled “The End of Music” around June 2008. He states in the sermon that “it <music> can do what alcohol can do to people.” El-Mekki says you should keep music away from women. Saying “do not let them hear it.” He says “singing is one of the callers to fornication.” He talks about the <sexual> “effect” male singers can have on women. He does this by talking about horses, camels, and sheep whose males make a sound and “then their females prepare themselves” for sex. He compares the influence of music similar to a camel’s acceptance of melodious men reading poetry rhythmically and how it soothes the beasts of the desert.
El-Mekki goes on and talks about a man attacking people with his poetry and the day he cannot find someone he attacks his own mother with his poetry. When there was no one to attack he attacked himself. El-Mekki also talks about Ozzy Osburne being sued because it was believed his music was the cause of a teen committing suicide. Further on El-Mekki’s sermon he talks of a letter written by a wealthy Muslim to the tutor of his sons.
“he wrote to the tutors of his sons…who would teach poetry and refined manners and things to that sort. So he wrote to him saying let your first lesson tot hem be the hatred of musical instruments that begin with the Satan and end with the wrath of Allah. It grieves me that people with knowledge from listening to music and songs grows hypocrisy in the heart the same water causes plants to grow. So with that we say to the one who listens to music, Oh Muslim, lawful things have good attributes.
Where is the good in singing, and dancing
and listening to flutes?
Can we compare the wisdom and songs of musicians
to the glorious quran, its wisdom and admonitions?
How many singers do you know and give admiration?
And how many do you know of the companions
and the following generation?
How much do you spend on singers from your dollars
compared to what you know of Islamic scholars?
Do you see how much is memorized of music and songs,
while you ignore the book to which memorization belongs.
How much do you memorize of these incantations
and sway back and forth in intoxication?
Have you not seen those who follow the misguided
and increase the loudness of the music
when they should hide it? …
Shi’ites also do not accept musical instruments. On Shia Chat.com a question was asked if music (in general) was forbidden. Syed Rizvi answered the question by citing Shi’ite traditions:
Hazrat Imam Ali ar-Reza (a.s.) remarks, “A person invites Divine wrath when in his house instruments like flute, drum and chess are played for forty days. If this man dies within these forty days, his death would be of a sinner and a transgressor. His place shall be in Hell. And what a dreadful place it is!” (Mustanad al Taraqi)
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has stated, “A person who possesses a sitar, on the day of Qiyamat will be raised with a black face. His hands will be holding a sitar of fire. Seventy thousand angels with maces of fire will be hitting him on the face and the head. The singer will arise from his grave, blind, deaf and dumb. The adulterer will be similarly raised. The player of flute will also be made to rise in this way as will be the drum player.” (Mustadrakul Wasael)
Hazrat Imam Ali ar-Reza (a.s.) has said, “To listen to a musical instrument is one of the Greater Sins.” (Mustadrakul Wasael)
Amirul Momineen Ali (a.s.) says, “Angels do not even enter a house that has wine, drum, tambourine or a flute. Even the prayers of the inhabitants of this house are unacceptable. They are deprived of barakat.” (Wasaelush Shia)
The Shi’ites do not even make allowances for tambourines.
Interestingly many Muslims living in Western civilization hold opposing views about music. Some claim that there is no prohibition against music. Some only prohibit instrumental music. But the problem with an individual Muslim disagreeing with this is that Shariah as a whole forbids them from having an opposing view.
a4.5 It is obligatory for one to know what is permissible and what is unlawful of food, drink, clothing, and so forth, of things one is unlikely to be able to do without. And likewise for the rulings on treatment of women if one has a wife.
Muslims are not allowed to disagree with the scholarly consensus that creates Shariah. They must accept it. So those Muslims who argue for the acceptance of music in any way other than is defined by shariah as acceptable are in essence apostates.
How does this effect Muslims? How does this effect all the non-Muslims? Muslims believe shariah should be the law of the land. They want all non-Muslims to comply with shariah.
In September of 2015, in the country of France, a Muslim was videoed teaching Muslim children about music. The children in the video are between 8 and 12 years of age.
“When Allah speaks of music in the Quran he reminds us that <music> is Satan’s language. When did he remind us of this? So those who love music, and listen to music, who are they listening to? “
<The children and the Imam respond,> “Satan.”
<The preacher continues,> “they listen to the devil. There are people who have disobeyed Allah and listen to the devil. What did the Prophet say about these people? He said: ‘They will be swallowed up by the earth.’”
<A child responds surprised,> “Really?”
<The imam lets the child see he heard him and says,> “…and they will be transformed into apes and into pigs. So he risks being swallowed up by the earth. Second point, Allah will transform them into apes and pigs. Those who love music would love to be transformed into apes and pigs. You agree! No matter what language the music, Arabic, French, Turkish … never mind. If there is a song and there are musical instruments, when you hear a violin, a drum or a synthesizer or a violin. It is?”
The children respond, “HARAM.”
<The preacher adds,> “and the one who likes haram will be with the devil. And he who like the music, is liked by Satan or Allah?”
The children quickly answer, “Satan.”
“So you must choose your side. Empty your mp3, transform it and replace it with the best words that exist, the Quran, the Quran. If one says, that musical instruments are haram and music is haram and that those who love music or listens to music risks being transformed into a pig or who will look like who?”
The children and the Imam answer, “Satan.”
In Muslim countries they do more than condemn music with words, they actually arrest people for creating music! Mehdi Rajabian was arrested three times for making music. The first time he was kept in solitary confinement for three months. The second time he was sentenced to six years in prison and was forbidden from engaging in musical activities forever. There was an appeal due to international pressure and Mehdi was released having served three years and was on probation for an additional three years. Mehdi was arrested for the third time in January 2020. Mehdi has a love of music. He said, “In the Middle East, an instrument can be as powerful as a gun.”
The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs ran an article titled, “The Suppression of Musical Culture in Gaza” in their June/July 2019 issue by Salsabeel H. Hamdan. The article begins with a quote from Naem Nasir, “WHEN MUSIC IS SUPPRESSED within a society, there is something wrong within its history, ideology, mind and—of course—spirit.” Naem Nasir, is a former music teacher and now a well-known director of plays produced in both Gaza and the West Bank. Islam suppresses music so much in the Middle East, that “there are no music majors in secondary school or university, for example, and most (if not all) of few private teachers have left the Strip. The only music funded or otherwise supported to any significant degree is that which exalts Islam or adheres to a narrow definition of Palestinian heritage.”
Saudi Arabia ordered the arrest of a young woman for rapping in a video in February 2020 that went viral on YouTube. Because the video was about women and culture and was not particularly about Islam, its content was judged unIslamic.
Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum, has written several articles on music and Islam. Some of these articles he updates whenever possible. He documented, “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seemingly addicted to making inflammatory statements, <on December 19, 2005> announced the banning of Western music from Iran’s radio and television stations. ‘Blocking indecent and Western music from the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is required,’ came a laconic statement from on the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council which he heads.”
Pipes knows the difficulty that Islam has with music. He knows the difficulty Iran has had with banning music. He also understands that a refusal to accept music disables Iran’s and even Islam as a whole in their ability to understand Western culture This can be seen in statement:
Various forms of Western music, from classical to rap, have appeared in Iran in recent years, so – should it be implemented – this will come as a wrenching cultural change. (And will it, I wonder, prohibit the sugary-sweet Western-music nasheeds such as “Gives Thanks to Allah” or those sung by Cat Stevens – previously, a favorite in Iran?) Not only does the decree hark back to the early days of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution but it also touches a deep chord within Muslims, something I wrestled with in some detail in a 1998 article, “You Need Beethoven to Modernize,” where I made two points: to many Muslims, Western music symbolizes the whole of Western culture; and therefore mastery of Western music serves as a proxy in for mastery of Western, i.e., modern, culture as a whole.
Pipes is exactly right about music and western civilization. An inability to grasp music is an inability to grasp or understand the beliefs Western culture has about freedom and civilization as a whole. Daniel Pipes also provides one of the best resources documenting Islam’s inconsistency on Islam and music in his blog posting “Islamists and Music.” One of the articles he references in the blog comes from May 2009. A French embassy in Riyadah sponsored operatic soprano Isabelle Poulenard and a female accompanist. Two days before the event was to take place the event was forbidden. The reason the concert was granted permission was because of a “apparent high-level skirmish between religious and other officials.” Later in July of 2009, a concert billed as “Midnight Acoustic” was scheduled to take place inside a Riyadah housing compound for foreigners, a place “normally insulated from the Saudi cultural rules was shut down halfway through the performance! The religious police’s arrival at the compound’s gates ended the concert. This may have been because a concert slated as being for foreigners was half-filled with Saudis.
Even though as Daniel Pipes correctly documents that enforcement and bans on music seem inconsistent, the questions remain the same. If Islam as a whole thinks music is evil, what will they do when a chance to impose a ban music is possible for them to enforce on Muslims and non-Muslims? Will Muslims attempt to ban non-Muslims from making music or listening to if it they have control of a village, town or, city? Is this something you are willing to risk?
 ummtaalib. 2015. “Instrument Free Music.” Islamic Teachings.com. January 29. Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.islamicteachings.org/forum/topic/22387-instument-free-music.
 El-Mekki, Kamal. 2008. “The End of Music.” YouTube. June 9. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=92&v=RthlUOYkI7M&feature=emb_logo.
 Rizvi, Syed. 2007. “Is Music forbidden in Shia Islam?” ShiaChat.com. June 28. Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.shiachat.com/forum/topic/234928794-is-music-forbidden-in-shia-islam.
 2020. “Muslim Music Lessons for Children in France (Sept 2015).” 3Speak. January 1. Accessed July 13, 2020. https://3speak.online/watch?v=vladtepesblog/zopmwglx&utm_source=studio.
 Savage, Mark. 2020. “Mehdi Rajabian was sent to prison for making music – but he says that won’t stop him.” BBC. January 1. Accessed July 13, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-51188865.
 Hamdan, Salsabeel H. 2019. “The Suppression of Musical Culture in Gaza.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. June/July. Accessed July 13, 2020. https://www.wrmea.org/2019-june-july/the-suppression-of-musical-culture-in-gaza.html.
 BBC News. 2020. “Saudi rapper faces arrest for Mecca Girl music video.” BBC News. February 22. Accessed July 13, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-51597561.
 Pipes, Daniel. 2005. “The Erratic Career of Western Music in Iran.” DanielPipes.org. December 29. Accessed July 16, 2020. http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2005/12/ahmadinejad-bans-western-music-in-iran.
 Pipes, Daniel. 2007. “Islamists and Music.” DanielPipes.ortg. August 3. Accessed July 16, 2020. http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2007/08/music-and-islamists.
 Daily News Egypt . 2009. “Saudis reel as clerics say movie show must not go on.” The Free Library.com. July 21. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Saudis%20reel%20as%20clerics%20say%20movie%20show%20must%20not%20go%20on.-a0204139040.