| Question: The
general ruling about music is that it is forbidden in Islam. So there is
no use asking. However, I would like to know the reason for this prohibition.
Answer: Yes, you are right that the general ruling about music is that it is prohibited. In fact, it is commonly believed that the attitude of Islam towards all the fine arts is not very encouraging; it does not nurture the aesthetic sense found in human nature.
However, I do not agree with this perception about music or the fine arts. But before I present my observations on this issue, it is necessary to keep in consideration two important principles of interpreting the Shari‘ah.
Firstly, it is only the Qur’an which prohibits anything in Islam. As far as the Ahadith are concerned, they are not an independent source of knowledge on Islam and must have some basis in the Qur’an, the Sunnah or the established principles of human nature and intellect. Consequently, if some Ahadith mention some prohibition, it is imperative to look up its basis in the original sources.
Secondly, if a particular matter has been elaborated upon in the Ahadith, it is necessary to have a complete picture of it by collecting and analysing all the Ahadith on the subject. This is essential in order to have some idea of the context and background of what has actually been said.
In the light of these two principles, it is evident that:
i) As far as the Qur’an is concerned, there is no mention of any absolute prohibition of music. On the contrary, it is a known fact that one of the other divinely revealed scriptures, the Psalms, is basically a collection of hymns. The Prophet David (sws) used to sing the various Psalms revealed to him on his harp.
ii) If the Qur’an does not apparently mention this absolute prohibition, it is necessary to re-analyse all the Ahadith on this subject to see whether they have been interpreted correctly. By collecting and analysing all the Ahadith pertaining to music, the real picture which comes to light is that musical gatherings possessed a great element of immorality. Slave-girls used to dance before an inebriated gathering where lewdness was let loose and promiscuity prevailed. These gatherings were a means of stimulating base emotions in people. There has been narrated in the Sahih of Bukhari one such incident from which the extent such gatherings of music and dance had reached can be imagined. Just after the battle of Badr, Hamzah (rta) along with a few companions was witnessing the dance of a slave-girl while he was taking liquor. In the meantime, ‘Ali (rta) passed by along with two camels. At that time, the words of the song which the maiden was singing were something like this: ‘O if you could only bring me the meat of the humps of these camels...’. At this, Hamzah (rta) got up and slew the camels owned by ‘Ali (rta) and brought forth the meat to her. Annoyed by this, ‘Ali (rta) stormed off to the Prophet (sws) and reported the matter to him. The Prophet (sws) got up and walked across to the scene of the ‘crime’ but after seeing the situation returned without doing anything.
In the light of these details, the prohibition of music can be easily understood: only music and songs which possessed an element of immorality in them were forbidden. Music, it is clear, was not condemned because of any intrinsic evil in it but because it was responsible for stimulating base sentiments in a person. The main object of the religion revealed to the Prophet (sws) was to cleanse and purify human souls from evil*.
All means which promote base emotions in people certainly could not be allowed in the society. He, therefore, took strong exception to the gatherings of music and dance in order to rebuild the society on healthy lines.
Consequently, music or songs which express noble sentiments cannot be objected to. Similarly, those of them which do not open the door to evil are perfectly allowed in Islam.
|*. It is He who has sent among the unlettered a Messenger from amongst themselves who rehearses upon them His verses and purifies them and for this he instructs them in law and in wisdom. (62:2)|