Is Listening to Music Permitted in Islam?
Music has been found to have both beneficial and detrimental effects on people who listen to it. Studies have shown how music can help facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing, improve communication and cognitive skills, ease pain and help soothe babies born prematurely. Conversely, it may be said that music can be detrimental, insofar as it can lead people to become dependent on it, whereby they become reliant on it to escape reality and face their problems. Moreover, the content of some popular musical compositions, such as lyrics that refer to sex, drugs, alcohol etc. can promote immorality and clearly go against the Islamic ethos. Taking into account both beneficial and detrimental effects of music, the question arises whether the Sharia permits Muslims to listen to any form of music?
The type of music that is played in immoral gatherings or promotes immorality or values that are incompatible with Islamic teachings is not permitted. On the contrary, listening to other kinds of music is permitted since there is no strong evidence to suggest the impermissibility.
1. The Quran does not directly mention the impermissibility of music. As such, it is possible to take recourse to the juristic principle of permissibility (aṣālat al- ibāḥa). In accordance with this principle every action is deemed as permissible in the absence of a clear prohibition. Therefore, in the absence of a clear prohibition of music, it is possible to conclude that the Quran itself does not categorically prohibit listening to music.
Nevertheless, it is important to know that Muslim jurists have historically referred to the following Quranic verses to prove the prohibition of music.
2. Whilst these verses do not explicitly mention music, some jurists have traditionally taken recourse to narrations that purport to interpret the verses as referring to music. For instance, Abū Baṣīr, a companion of Imam al-Ṣādiq, reports:
Based on this tradition and few others, some jurists define the term ghināʾ synonymously with music (or the Arabic term mūsīqī). For instance, after acknowledging there are numerous differing opinions given by prominent Arabic linguists and past jurists of what constitutes ghināʾ, Ayatullah Khoie (d. 1993) expresses that ghināʾ, according to him, is defined as the modulation of sound –whether it is vocal or instrumental (or both)- in the melodies (alḥān) or styles of the deviant and immoral people (ahl al-fusūq ) that bring about a phycological state of rapture (ṭarb) or furthermore, sound that is associated with content or lyrics that is considered by rational people (ʿuqalā) to promote falsehood and indecency (bāṭil).
These jurists also cite a host of traditions that highlight the negative effects of partaking in anything that is associated with ghināʾ. Such traditions state it is forbidden to learn, teach, or earn through ghināʾ and that it invokes hypocrisy, brings poverty, hardens the heart and promotes indecency. These traditions also indicate that ghināʾ is the worst of that which God has created and that in the hereafter molten metal would be poured into the ears of one who partakes in it. , Most of these reports, the jurists conclude, cannot be relied upon due to their weak chains of transmission. However, they are sufficient to take them into consideration in the process of deducing the impermissibility of ghināʾ.
3. In contrast, other jurists have claimed that the Sharia prohibition of ghināʾ is not enough to prove the prohibition of music. For instance, Fayḍ Kāshānī (d.) states that the Sharia prohibition of ghināʾ was given in a specific context, and thus it only relates to a type of gathering that was convened in the context of the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties. He claims that in additions to playing musical instruments, such gatherings also witnessed the sexual mixing of males and females and utterances of falsehood and corruption. The reports that substantiate al-Fayḍ al-Kāshānī’s conclusions are as follows:
- Reports that praise beautiful voices and recommend reciting the Quran in a good voice. It is reported that Imam ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn was known for having a beautiful voice in his recital of the Quran.
4. Considering the contrasting opinions of the jurists and the contrasting traditions attributed to the Imams, clarification can be sought from examining the context of revelation of the Quranic verses that Muslim jurists conventionally take recourse to prohibit music.
According to the exegetists, the first verse refers to hypocrites who accompanied the Prophet during the pilgrimage of ḥajj but instead of chanting the name of God, they began chanting the names of their previous idols. The second verse was revealed in relation to Naḍar b. Ḥārith who tried to persuade the people of Quraysh to stop listening to the Prophet. Ṭabrisī writes that the third verse was revealed in the context where the Prophet and his companions were constantly cursed by different groups of unbelievers. In return of their forbearance and tolerance, the verse praises the them for ‘turning away from ill speech.’ The final verse is also believed, according to one opinion, in praise of those who refrained from participating in indecent congregations of those who associated partners with God.
Contextualisation of these verse indicates that the essence that is being conveyed from them verses is the reprehensibility of being associated with falsehood, deception, distraction, and misdeeds. It is possible that ghināʾ was used as a tool and medium to indulge in the aforementioned immoral practices. Otherwise, there is no categorical mention in the Quran that reprehends ghināʾ or music per se, rather it reprehends practices that are normally associated with gatherings in which ghināʾ or music is performed.
Based on this analysis, it can be surmised that when the Imam told Abū Baṣīr that Quranic reference to ‘false speech’ refers to ghināʾ, he did not mean that ghināʾ per se is reprehended, but rather warned him to stay away from gatherings in which falsehood, deceitful, and distracting practices were performed.
5. Similarly, the traditions of the Imams collectively do not indicate the reprehensible nature of ghināʾ per se, so long as there is no sin committed through it. Thus, is not essentially prohibited, rather it is recommended when it comes to the recital of the Quran. Its prohibition is, therefore, restricted or qualified to the context of the gatherings convened by the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties that often involved falsehood, deception, distraction, and misdeeds.
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