Monthly Archives: May 2014

In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 3

Having briefly elaborated on the concept of Music (in the previous posts) which by now should have the reader put in perspective what is typically referred to as Music. Many criticisms of Music then seem worthless of pursuing because obviously the critics don’t even know what they are criticizing. The aspiring critical mind then filters criticisms and only pays attention to those that seem to know what they are saying. The trap is that using big and alien words to form captivating accounts on Music places a shroud of authority on the speaker; nothing captures the aspiring critical mind than the satisfaction of being privy to an untangled conspiracy theory. Given the need for experts of Music (Scholars of the Context) in ethical and legal pronouncements, these interesting critics could be offered misplaced authority. I shall share a criticism of Music I came across which at first appears to come from an informed perspective, although flawed. Then we can look briefly at what it means to attribute certain evils to Music.

http://walls-world.com/music/music-note-wallpaper.html

On The Evil of Music

The article is titled The Evils of Music by Maulana I. Suleiman. Read it here if you like. His argument is that Music is an instrument of indoctrination (through behaviorism) deliberately used towards evil ends e.g. those of Satanists. Therein lies the issue that Music is not the problem but those that are using it, but he doesn’t see it that way. He makes references to the Qur’an mentioning a verse we had earlier shown (in Part 1) to be non-definitive enough to derive legal conclusions. He further quotes a hadith (which seems like a Qudsi) where Satan is associated with (as a consumer of) alcohol, music, public baths, market place etc. The hadith seems to present Satan more as reprehensible than to derive a legal prohibition. After all the reprehensible quality of these acts is not denied by any Muslim.

Suleiman further mentions three technological instruments and one social instruments used by the Music industry… to spread evil. The first technological instrument is backtracking. This is where it begins to sound like an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. I remember the first time I was introduced to backtracking in that famous audio/video documentary on Freemasons which nearly all Muslims have listened to. It was claimed, and even demonstrated that certain Madonna songs, and Bone Thugs & Harmony, and Micheal Jackson songs were satanist indoctrination tools. The songs are played backward and it sounds all incomprehensible but then we believed the documentary for God knows why; premature critical thinking perhaps. We were gullible to believe since we certainly didn’t have any evidence to back the conspiratorial claim. The assertion here by Suleiman is that the left part of the brain (subconscious) has the power to make sense of disorganized information that the main brain/cognition cannot make sense of. Simply put: We know you don’t understand this sound but this is actually what it is saying to you (e.g. “Satan is king”), and the only evidence we have is this incomprehensible sound… and that’s it. Yet they tell you what it says word for word, even though you obviously can’t hear that; and that is what they call and we accept as evidence?!

Subliminal messages fall under the same category as backtracking here, but I think subliminal messages may hold more water evidence wise. Therefore the author believes that by sneaking in evil messages in Music, people consume music and are indoctrinated by Satanist agenda thereby to take over the world. All this assumes a lot we will not get into e.g. that the Music industry has a Satanist agenda, that humans are that easily programmable, that the subconscious knows how to play a music track in reverse! etc. For what it is worth, all these conspiracy theory on Music and Satanist indoctrination is an issue for certain Christian groups especially in the US which Muslims seem to inherit (not unlike the creationist-evolutionist debate).

By backtracking songs I would think they mean songs that have hidden messages when played backwards. The first song widely known for this is stairway to heaven. When played backwards it has satanic messages. An unfortunate example is the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” song. When played backwards it says thank u satan. Another famous offender is Jay-Z whose “Murda Marcyville” clearly says Murder Jesus. (see link above)

According to the author, the second technology is Blackmasking which is really is like backtracking in effect but uses musical notes to hide message. What he says about backmasking is rather uncomprehensible “Another way around Satan: will be written as notes and then everything would be written the other way around and then youll have a new message”. It may be that the author is mixing up what is regarded as backtracking and blackmasking. The concerned reader may wish to clarify this at the website; hopefully it’d make sense.

The last technological instrument of Satanist agenda according to the author are accessories like speaker systems and disco lights. The charge is that these technologies enhances the effect of Satanic indoctrination from Music. To this last one I would ask: what does one make of audio systems (that familiar echo) and elaborate lighting embedded in Mosque architectures to enhance worship. Do we praise Islam for their effectiveness, why then blame Music for their use in night clubs, even if we take the charge to be true.

The author also mentions social instrument which is simply something we have always known, which is of the misguided role model. This of course is not a creation motivated by Music industry, it is simply the effect of Role Models just as we consciously look towards emulating people that come closest to our ideals. Of all the technological and social instruments mentioned, it is not difficult to see how it relates to Music, but also how it is not limited to Music because several other issues are intertwined. Music is simply used as a scape goat here. The big question in the end is whether all these are the evils of Music, or the evils of a particular culture of Music? Keep in mind that the conspiracy theories mentioned are not substantiated by evidence by the author… just appealing to people’s biases, ignorance and a misplaced authority on the topic of Music.

On Evidence

The misunderstanding that abounds the topic of Music is perennial. It makes one wonder whether art is ever supposed to be defined and subjected to the coarse manhandling of common sense, instead of simply being expressed and allowed to express. I had already mentioned in previous post (Part 2) that common sense and everyday morality is sufficient to place many activities in their proper place on the moral continuum. That does not however give one the intellectual insight or epistemilogical credibility to pronounce legal rulings on such matters. These matters include many of the activities that are associated with the popular Music industry e.g. immoral music videos etc. Apart from legal deductions, another area of fallacious deduction is statistical inference and causation, which may even be the main reason why people easily support legal prohibition of Music in Islam because it seems to make sense. The fallacy goes thus: The youth these days are very immoral, look at how immoral the music videos they watch, therefore the youth these days are immoral BECAUSE of the immoral music videos they watch and listen to.

If there’s one thing we know from behavioral psychology, it is that humans are not good at statistical deductions (see Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman). In this age of big data we need powerful computing power to run statistical computations efficiently, but that alone doesn’t guarantee its accuracy. Welcome to the world of probability, the real world where Black is never black but a very improbable white! This is the science of data. Even within data science, determining causation is one of the most difficult tasks one could embark on.

Hence the maxim of statistics “correlation does not imply causation“. What this means is that simply because the cock crows every time the sunrises doesn’t mean the cock causes the sun to rise. It would be absurd to believe that with minimum common sense. Neither could one conclude that the sunrise causes the cock to crow, even though this conclusion is very tempting. The layman could believe the second conclusion as a useful rule of thumb because it doesn’t seem as absurd as the first conclusion, and also it might appear to hold true many times; i.e. cocks might always crow at sunrise but there won’t always be sunrise when cocks crow. To the academic Scholar of Context, the two conclusions are both unreasonable and therefore equivalently un-credible for scholarly pursuits. In the absence of further studies, the scholar of context would rather believe that a cock’s crow and sunrise are correlated, not one caused by another, which means there might be a third element that causes the cock to crow at the same time as the the sun rises. So the real cause may be God! See how scholars might be more insightful compared to the layman simply because they were critical, statistical, men of thinking :). Let us not get carried away, we are taking about Music here.

To say that Music culture is the cause of the immorality today is un-scholarly without going through a proper method of proof. If the layman holds that as true, it certainly does not befit one in authority as a scholar of text or scholar of context to use these conclusions as the basis of their legal conclusion. Unless their legal conclusion is not up to the standard of Ijtihad and merely a cautious rule of thumb; if that is the case, as there’s nothing wrong with that, then call it that but don’t wrap it in strong legal language that project on it authority. Personally I think blaming Music, as we hear a lot these days, is just one way to deepen the problem we find ourselves facing because we are obscuring the problem even more by pointing the finger in the wrong direction. Many parents are quick to jump on this bandwagon because it is much easier for them to point the finger at some distant music artist and company than to accept they have not done well in raising a child with a critical moral compass to tread the world; in a pathetic attempt, some parents simply ban Music rather than step up to the challenge. But like all the ego driven, and blame-transferring, motivations that drive much of our religious debates, we carelessly use these rhetoric to assert our moral superiority. God save us from the machinations of the Ego.

I think it is safer to say that the thriving of immorality we find ourselves is correlated to the immoral Music culture we adopt. That is to say it is more probable that another thing (e.g. our servility to our egos) is probably the reason why we are both immoral and celebrate immoral Music culture. This other thing (ego) that may be the cause, is what we need to work on in order to rid ourselves of the immorality we ostentatiously denounce. If bad parenting is the cause, then we need to be better parents in conditioning children. In Usul ul Fiqh (especially the Maliki flavour), there is a technique/source which is Sadd ad Dara’i (which refers to using law to block the means an evil end). Is immoral music culture really the means towards immorality? Be aware that “means” here has more resemblance to statistical causality than to statistical correlation. Whatever the answer is, this is where we need Scholars of Context to inform us. Then it might inform us of the legal standing of Music, at least those who recognize Sadd ad Dara’i as a source of law.

Moving Forward

Does all this mean that we the defenders of music condone the state of Music culture we have today? To this question we must first correct the question so that “culture” becomes the plural “cultures”, or else what has been said in previous posts would be pointless. It should be obvious that we (the defenders of Music) similarly have issues with the dominant culture of Music especially popular music. In fact, this is one of my motivation to write this piece, as a vindication of the defenders of Music, because it seems the prohibiters of Music and the defenders (my type) share similar issues against dominant Music cultures, only to find the prohibiters bundling us together with the zombies of Music culture. The defenders are not looking for the prohibiters to acknowledge them as allies because that would eventually end up in another disaster. My second motivation is that I am drawn towards being a promoter of Music because I appreciate the potential it holds. I don’t mean potential as in capabilities of Da’wah (if Da’wah to you means converting people to Islam), but towards a more meaningful existence where we are able to express and to be open to expressions. A more soulful existence! The more soulful, the more Fitrah. In that case there is nothing particularly special about Music, the goal is towards artistic expression in general. Only that I can speak with more experience from Music background and HipHop in particular. How do I intend to do this? That is discussion for another day.

As a final note, just in case some of us have started thinking about “Islamic” Music, I would caution us as we venture into that direction because “Islamic” has become a word with baggage that could mislead. It seems Islamic music is simply one that has references to Islamic words, regardless of the content and its spirit. For instance a song about how being a particular type of Muslims means salvation and hell otherwise may be erroneously considered Islamic because it has the terms and symbols, but such arrogant and careless statements are not in the spirit on Islam. I agree with Tariq Ramadan on this; this is his view. Anything ethically sound is Islamic! “Islamic” here is a philosophical, not cultural or historical. I leave you with some words from Tariq Ramadan:

For Muslim women and men around the world, his (The Prophet) story embodies a powerful lesson. We hear of “Islamic chants” (anacheeds) that are supposedly “Islamic” because they express religious themes, or because they employ no instruments, or because they are based on traditional or Qur’anic texts. In this light, only such chants are permissible (halal) in Islam, the only form of creativity recognized. There are indeed scholars who hold such a position, but it is far from unanimous. In To Be a European Muslim (written in 1996) I dealt with these views and took a clear position on music in Islam. Not only is it permitted, but Muslim women and men must also reconcile themselves with art, with creativity, and with the imagination in all its dimensions. Guided by their ethical bearings, they must not allow themselves to be enchained by the adjective “Islamic” that ends up isolating them, suffocating them, and depriving them of their creative energy in the universe of art, of music, painting, sculpture and literature. Muslims are constantly justifying themselves ; they feel obliged to describe everything as “Islamic” to satisfy and to conform to the norm. But our ethical concerns must not force upon us an obsession with the norms of “licit” and “illicit” (halal and haram).

 

 

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In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 2

In “Part 1” of this post, we touched on the requirement of Usul ul Fiqh (Islam’s jurisprudence) necessary to prohibit any act; based on the legal maxim that everything is permissible until proven otherwise. We saw two arguments on the legal position of Music in Islam. I even advised that there are better ways to one’s time and energy than engaging in these debates; especially because there are hardly new dimensions brought into the argument but are simply regurgitation of arguments by scholars from history leading to a historically rooted stalemate. Obviously, Music is a big social issue especially today, so are we going to continue in this vicious cycle of repetitive polemics? When shall we break free? Are we even engaging with the issue of Music properly?

Religious Authority: Sayyad Muhammad Hussein Fadallah
Website URL: http://www.hawza.net
Question: What is the Ayatollah’s fatwa on the status of classical music?
Answer: I am not that knowledgeable in the field of music. However, it is usually said that classical music has an intellectual nature and stimulates thinking. If this is correct, it is easy to say that such music is permissible.

Above is a Fatwa on Music which I saved for this post; save the best for last. I prefer this Fatwa even over those that explicitly permit Music. The main reason for my preference is the Mufti’s humility about Music. Now here is someone who acknowledges his knowledge gap on the said issue, then only give his Fatwa on certain conditions. Of course I would like to hope the other Muftis research the topic before they issue Fatwas however, their research doesn’t seem to start from the most fundamental question of all: what is Music? Instead they go deep into the deliberations of past scholars who equally, and perhaps more understandably, didn’t ask that fundamental question. The reason is that past scholars were more aware of their culture, in some cases even active producers not simply consumers of their cultures. When asked about Music, both the questioner and the questioned probably agree on what they referred to as Music. The meaning of Music would have been a precisely understood vocabulary within their shared but well demarcated culture. However living in the cultural salad we do at present, it is difficult to ask any serious listener of Music about Music without throwing back the question: What genre of Music?

http://walls-world.com/music/music-note-wallpaper.html

That is to say the genres a society would be familiar with in the past were much fewer compared to today. Therefore all the past Fatwas (both prohibiting and permitting) on Music must have had a particular type of Music in mind even when not explicitly mentioned. If they assumed to answer for the whole of Music, then those scholars were probably too ambitious because it would have been much less likely that they would even be aware of the variety of world Music back then compared to today. Similarly when today people refer to Music with regards to prohibition in Islam, and they don’t ask that fundamental question, but have an understanding between the questioner and the questioned of what Music means, then they are both probably not qualified to talk about Music in general. That is to say they probably both believe that Music refers to that particular Music that falls within popular culture (especially MTV, BET, Channel O etc) and they use that to generalize to other Music forms. That is indeed unfair to Music. The average zombie consumer of Music (fans of MTV, BET, Channel O etc) and the Mufti declaring/regurgitating its prohibition, while both deluded that they grasp that universal expression called Music, have one thing in common which is that they are not qualified to make authoritative/legal remarks on Music as a whole. The least they could do to have some intellectual credibility is to begin by qualifying what they mean by Music; making it more specific.

“The creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of music vary according to culture and social context.” – Wikipedia

The truth is that Music is, and cannot be, removed from a cultural framework. Music has never existed as an absolute, free from cultural significance (or in a form of platonic world of forms). You might find within the same culture that Music serves different purposes e.g. mothers singing lullabies to their children, while folk history is preserved in songs, while the religious sing and dance to songs of praises, while the hedonists combine it with intoxicants and sex, while the warriors sing as they march towards battle; all this may be with or without instruments. A common example of this in the past is during the Prophet’s time, it was clear that Music in Makkah and Madinah were different at least in social significance. The Prophet was reported to have allowed the people of madinah to enjoy their Music during celebrations because the Madinan women were lovers of Music, and he didn’t see it contradict the Shari’ah. True, some forms of the Music may be more dominant within a community and might hijack the meaning of Music for that community. The point is that as one moves between communities, the variety, definition and significance of Music changes such that what is applicable to “Music” in one community may not be applicable to another. That said, it means it is a fallacy to take legal judgement about Music in one community (even the Prophet’s Madinah), then impose it on Music in another community with different parameters for what Music is; not in a religion/deen that claims universality in application of its laws.

Some would argue: if all these aspects of Music that change between cultures are identified as Music in some way, then there has to be something that all Music share which makes them Music! If that is so then, were we to get a legal ruling on those things common to all Music then that ruling would apply to all the Music forms I have been trying to defend. I agree, that seems reasonable. With that logic in mind, some have taken a reductionist approach, not only to identify musical instruments as that common thing in Music, but even to reduce Music to simply being nothing more than a mechanical orchestration of sounds. It is not difficult to see the fault of the reductionist approach when one lets go of their biases, because certainly not all Music requires Musical instruments. Moreover it is established that tools in the Prophet’s time (including forms of expressions) like swords and poetry are neither good or bad in themselves but in how they are put to use. However the faulty reductionist understanding of Music has lead to misinformed legal prohibitions on Music on the one hand, but also the creation of an “Islamic” music genre of the Nasheed. This is the genre that is basically a cappella like the barbershop style or hiphop’s beatboxing (no certain instruments) BUT sounds could be made with the voice or percussion. There are a couple of Nasheeds I quite enjoy, at least one is almost safe in expecting positive content which is perhaps one of it’s strong qualities.

Nasheeds are well intentioned (which is very admirable) but it is also based on a faulty understanding that is almost contradictory: reductionist understanding of Music but transcendental in its appreciation of Music. Merely listening to some Nasheed songs, one forgets there is a restriction on the type of instruments allowed because it sounds no different from other instruments to the untrained ears. Moreover, with advancement in Digital Signal Processing, what it means to uniquely identify certain instruments becomes too technical and eventually superficial when one realizes that at the hands of a sound engineer there may be no distinction between outputs from a voice and input from instruments. What about the aficionado beatboxers who can mimic many instruments with their voices; their voices (instruments) or the sounds of their voices, which gets prohibited?!

Music is an expression for all, so universal. But intellectual and legal discussions about Music is not a field for all. The subtleties of Music like the art it is could lead to absurd conclusions, if not properly understood and digested from all the dimensions it occupies, even if very well intentioned; playing safe is a choice at the expense of artistic experience not an obligation. So who is qualified to discuss Music especially with the aim of reaching ethical and legal decisions today?

Who is the Qualified Authority On Music Ethics
Anyone with basic idea of what they regard as immoral can identify what they consider immoral in any Music e.g. most ethical people agree that most of the music videos on MTV and BET are immoral. That would be fine, so long as one does not see their ability to makes these moral deductions as giving them the authority to pronounce legal rulings on the subject of Music. Experts in this field would be required to make any legal pronouncement, until then we the lay people should stick to judging it based on our ethical standards while acknowledging our limitation in the field.

Owing to the complexity of many areas of ethical and legal investigation today, from economy to medicine to education to art, a sustainable and informed legal position require both scholars of the Text and scholars of the Context. Scholars of the text are the Muftis that keep us grounded in Scripture wherein we find the essence of Islam that keeps us faithful. Scholars of the context keep us in touch with reality as it is, its historical trail and future trajectory. How does Music fall into these complex categories? “Music is an art form the medium is sound!”. Music has evolved, like many things/practices over time. Music has evolved vertically in terms of the complexity of its content; e.g. the complexity of sounds, the interaction between melody and poetry, rhymes, the sophistication of genres etc. Music also evolved horizontally, especially due to globalization as it interacts with other Musical expressions from different cultural backgrounds; e.g. the creation of new genres that fall between existing genres, newly acquired relevance to Music in different cultures… etc.

For ethical deliberations the most qualified “scholar of context” may not be a musician, it would be the Ethnomusicologist, the Music Psychologist and others in that field. I find the Wikipedia definitions for these disciplines more succinct than I could put it.

“Ethnomusicology is an academic field encompassing various approaches to the study of music (broadly defined) that emphasize its cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts instead of or in addition to its isolated sound component or any particular repertoire.” – Wikipedia

“Music psychology, or the psychology of music, may be regarded as a branch of both psychology and musicology. It aims to explain and understand musical behavior and experience, including the processes through which music is perceived, created, responded to, and incorporated into everyday life.” – Wikipedia

“To many people in many cultures, music is an important part of their way of life.” For as long as customs (‘Urf) is a source of Shariah, then summary and uninformed legal pronouncement on the topic beyond one’s expertise should be avoided. We that defend Music without proper qualification, only do it based on the argument in the “Part 1” of this post: that it is adequate to disregard a legal ruling if shown to be made from an uninformed position. This would be tantamount to having someone who has casually observed Muslims praying Friday prayers on the streets and thereby blocking road access to others conclude that Muslim prayer is illegal because it obstructs roads; they might even claim to be authoritative in Muslim prayers because they can demonstrate what they observed of the movements without knowing the supplications and meanings involved. (Sorry for the bad analogy but I hope you understand the point)

Indeed we need Scholars of the Text and Scholars of the Context to come together before arriving at legal rulings on complex topics, including Music of today. Having argued the need for Scholars of the Context, next part of this post, we shall conclude by looking at some that appear to be Scholars of the Context we so desperately need but might not stand any serious critical evaluation. We shall conclude with some exploration of the process of how we get from receiving information to reaching conclusions that may not be very reasonable, even though we believe so. Stay tuned 🙂

 

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In Defense of Music in Islam – Part 1

Having alternatives in anything is a good thing, especially if their overarching aim is the same. This is true for food, as much as for religious activities. If we take the Shariah as a comprehensive system that has a coherent aim then having alternatives that are consistent with the aims of the Shariah is a good thing. It is a blessing! Imam Malik is attributed to the saying that legal differences of opinion is a mercy. This is where Muslims owe a great deal to the magnificent science of Usul ul Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) which is a source of a jurisprudence that is not monolithic but dynamic and accommodating. These methods were first canonized by Imam al Shaf’i (150 — 204 AH), then made ever better and more relevant by the accumulated effort of many other scholars. Improvement continued up to, and beyond Imam Al Shatibi (died 790 H) whose seminal contribution was the identification of the indispensable relationship between jurisprudence and the higher objectives (aims) of the Shariah; The Maqasid al Shari’ah. These are what majority have agreed to be the aims of the Sharia over time, from Imam Malik (93 AH – 179 AH) to ibn Taymiyya  (661 AH – 728 AH) and other notable scholars who made their contributions in the identification.

http://walls-world.com/music/music-note-wallpaper.html

There are different legal opinions on the permissibility of Music in Islam. Some have argued it is prohibited whereas others argue it is permissible. This is common for many social issues. In other words, there may be several legal conclusions which are equally valid as long as the objectives of the Shariah are not violated. The case of music could be seen as such; one group is convinced that music is prohibited while another group is convinced that music is not prohibited. There are multitude of scholars in Islam’s history on both sides. It really begs the question why on earth people are still debating these issues only to reiterate the arguments of those past scholars. Boring and monotonous! This view of two possible legal positions with regard to Music is the stand I would like to take for two reasons: it is simple enough; and it avoids contributing to the noisy Internet on Islamic legal matters with half baked thoughts, inadequate scholarship (which is not a substitute for readership), and most importantly the lack of critical thinking.

However the issue of Music is more complex than that. While one may choose to see it as two possible options others, especially those convinced of its prohibition, see it as a case of making the prohibited permissible. To be fair, if one has to engage people of such view, then one should have a charitable understanding of their position; like any honest reasoned/intellectual engagement should. My experience has shown that it is not considered charitable enough to acknowledge that their view is valid (live and let live); after all this is all about how your view (non-prohibiter) is not valid. Even though you, like them, are simply reiterating the arguments/reasoning of past scholars. So, one is inclined to stay quiet. But then these critics of music seem to be the only voice singing the legal prohibition of music, while criticizing music for the same social ills that we the non-prohibiters of music do. It doesn’t help that many Muslims who listen to music anyway rarely have a legal backing to support their disregard for the preached prohibition. The effect is that by our silence, it is implied that we (non-prohibiters) support these social ills and that is just not fair! One must then say to the singers of prohibition: If you insist, then let us talk.

Once, while “supporting” Music in too little a time during a discussion, a friend (who is for the prohibition) said that he is amazed and interested in how I shall argue in support of Music. Well here is the first misunderstanding that leads to uncritical judgement on Music. That he thinks I am the one saddled with the burden of proof for permissibility of Music. “Supporting” Music has too levels in this case: defending the unfair cases against music, and promoting Music. All critical intellectuals should defend Music from the unfair bashing it gets, while artists who see the potential of music should promote it. These posts are going to focus primarily on the first type of support; defending.

Another way to understand the last paragraph from the framework of Usul ul Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) is to understand that permissibility is not the opposite of prohibition, as appealing as that duality feels. Actually prohibition is an exception to permissibility! It is a legal maxim in Usul that everything is permissible until shown otherwise; kind of like “innocent until proven guilty”. Therefore the burden of proof is always on the “plaintiff” who throws the charge of prohibition. The implication of this is that to defend Music, one need not show it’s benefits or texts that promote it, it is sufficient to show the inconsistencies, paradoxes and inadequacies in the method that arrives at showing that Music is indeed prohibited. Through the legal jargon that “scholars” quote in Arabic, there is actually supposed to be a coherent method and a clear aim! Unfortunately many are intimidated by the jargon and worse than some of us in critical thinking, so they end up with a glorified Taqlid (blind followership).

With that in mind I shall take a brief commentary tour on positions that are for and against Music, starting with the latter. Like I said, these arguments (especially prohibiting Music), if one is familiar with, are quite dreary and repetitive so taking a single sample from both sides suffices to make the point I intend. On the side of the prohibiters, we have Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Thahabi. On the side of the defenders (not really a promoter) is Imam John (Yahya) Ederer. Before that, here are some Fatwas by religious authorities having varying views to grease the reader’s mind on the variety available (from Islamopediaonline).

Religious Authority: Ibrahim Ahmed Salqini
Websites and Institutions: Aleppo Darul Ifata
The majority of the scholars are of view that listening to music is prohibited. However, there are views from later scholars that so long as it does not provoke human desires there would be no objection. The safe opinion is the view of the majority, as there is much evidence from Hadith warning: There shall be among my Ummah people who would render adultery, silk , alcohol, and musical instruments lawful.

Religious Authority: Yusuf al-Qaradawi
Website URL: http://www.islamonline.net
Conclusion on Permissibility of Musical Instruments:
In the light of the above, it is clear that the religious texts that stand as a basis for those who maintain that singing is haram are either ambiguous or inauthentic. None of the hadiths attributed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is valid as evidence on the judgment of prohibition. Moreover, all these hadiths are declared “weak” by the followers of Ibn Hazm, Malik, Ibn Hanbal, and Ash-Shafi`i.

Religious Authority: Ali al-Sistanti
Website URL: http://www.sistani.org/
Fatwa Question or Essay Title: Is it permissible to use drums and percussion instruments in weddings?
If the music is suitable for entertainment and pleasure, it is not allowed.

 

Prohibitors 
This is based on Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Thahabi’s talk on youtube titled “Music : Halal or Haraam?“. It must be acknowledged that his talk was quite comprehensive and among the best I have come accross of those prohibiting Music. He is awareness of different views and cautious not to commit too much to the interpretation of the Qur’an knowing the ambiguity of the oft quoted Qur’an verses. He admits that of the five verses used to argue for prohibition of music in the Qur’an, none of them is definitive (Qat’i) i.e. they are verses that could be interpreted otherwise so not suitable for strong legal rulings. Personally I like ta’weel (personal/esoteric insights into the Qur’an) but I am amazed at how some of those verses are used to imply music; certainly not with a legal implication!

He then mentions that the bulk of the definitive proofs are in the hadiths. He is also of the opinion that a single hadith, among the ones he mentioned, suffices as proof for the prohibition of Music. The gist of the hadiths follow soon but the important thing to note is that some actually contain the word Music. This is one reason why arguments for prohibition are appealing. However Usul ul Fiqh (Islam’s Jurisprudence), as long as we are to follow it’s principles, does not simply allow for one to quote a hadith (or even more) with it’s literal meaning then declear that a legal position. Even if one were to arrive at that conclusion, then methods of Usul ul Fiqh must have been undertaken/considered. I don’t allege this is what Abu Usama did, even it is possible, my point is why the arguments seem appealing. This was a major concern for early jurists. Imam Abu Hanifa said that simply relying on hadiths (as well as unguided reason) would undermine the legal body of Islam, after witnessing how a scholar of hadith dabbled with many hadiths (literal translations) in trying to pass a fatwa… unsuccessfully. Hence the methodical Usul ul Fiqh.

What is supposed to “legally” mean music have been italized in the following verses (Yusuf Ali Translation). Feel free to do more charitable reading by looking up their surrounding verses and even alternative translations:

But there are, among men those who purchase idle tales, without knowledge (or meaning), to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah and throw ridicule (on the Path): for such there will be a humiliating Penalty. (Q31:6)
Wasting your time in vanities? (Q53:61)
Their prayer at the House (of Allah) is nothing but whistling and clapping of hands: (its only answer can be) “Taste ye the penalty because ye blasphemed.” (Q8:35)
Those who witness no falsehood and, if they pass by futility, they pass by it with honourable (avoidance); (Q25:72)

As to the hadiths mentioned by Abu Usama, I shall quote the stronger hadiths used as I understood it from his talk. I didn’t get the reference. I shall quote as I understood from the words of Abu Usama (you can refer to the video to confirm).
The first is hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas “*God has probited alcohol (intoxicant), gambling, and Kooba; and anthing anything that gets you drunk is an intoxicant*”. When students asked Ibn Abbas what Kooba means, he replies it means a drum (Tabl). In a variation of the same hadith, flutes are included.

The second hadith is concerning the permissibility of mourning/weeping with the exception (prohibition) of two types sounds: One for celebration (lahwun wa la’ibun) and the other for calamity (Museebah)… Actually “lahwun wa la’ibun” is more appriately translated as “amusement, diversion and play” NOT celebration; this is based on translation of the same phrase in the Qur’an (Q57:20) which you can confirm. Is it difficult to see the cultural undertone in Abu Usama’s arguments?! His argument here is that Music is the sound for celebration (lahwun wa la’ibun), and we know celebrations are not all the same in every culture.

Abu Usama did much better than many in arguing for the prohibition of Music. One could even say he was a “charitable” Salafi. If some of his flaws are not apparent, then wait for the argument in defence of Music which shall highlight some of them. One other interesting thing is that it is the characteristic of some “charitable” Salafis to consider a position (usually of a renown scholar) that doesn’t make sense to them as a “mistake”. As condescending and presumptuous as this is, it is pacific compared to the more aggressive strand of Salafis that cast Takfeer spells on people they disagree with. However, this condensation and Takfeer spell are not different as intellectual responses. Makes one wonder how difficult it is to agree to disagree on non-fundamental issues!

Defenders
Now to defenders of Music; Imam John (Yahya) Eberer’s article Regarding the Permissibility of Music. His was a response to a question:

Some scholars and many zealous laymen claim that there is a consensus among jurists as to the prohibition of listening to any music with musical instruments. Some Imams say the opinion that allows it is a strange (شاذ) opinion, which is rejected as baseless by all prominent scholars and schools of thought. If this is true, how can so many Imams and scholars allow this new phenomenon of Islamic music using instruments?

Eberer’s response is that the claim is fallacious because there are many scholars who hold the permissibility of Music with the one common condition that the Music be morally upright. Here is a list of the scholars he mentions that fall in this category, and references to their works:

  • Abdullah bin Ja’far bin Abi Talib (al-Aqd al-Fareed 6/12)
  • Sh. Abu Hamed al-Ghazali (vol. 6 pg. 1150 al-Ihyaa’)
  • Imam al-Shawkani (Ibtal da’wa al-Ijmaa ala mutlaq al-Sama’)
  • Imam ibn Hazm (Al-Muhallah)
  • Imam Abdul-Ghani al-Nablusi (Idaahat al-Dalalaat fee sama’ al-alaat)
  • Sultan al-Ulema al-Iz ibn Abdul-Salam (Rislat al-Sama’)
  • Al-Qadi Ibn Qutaiba al-Daynoor (al-Rukhsah fi al-Sama’)
  • Imam Ibn Tahir al-Qaysirany (pg. 31 al-Sama’)
  • Imam al-Thahabi (al-Rukhsah fil-Ghinaa wa al-Turb)
  • Abu Talib al-Makky (Qoot al-Quloob)
  • al-Qady Ibn Al-Araby al-Makky (Ahkam al-Quran vol. 3 pg. 1494)
  • Sh. Yusuf al-Majishoon the prominent Muhaddith (#3399 ibn al-Khuthayma)
  • Ibn Daqeeq al-Eid (Iqtinas al-Sawanih)
  • Sh. Jad Ali jad al-Haqq (fatawah #3280)
  • Sh. Mahmood Al-Shaltoot (pg. 375 fatawaah)
  • Yusuf al-Qaradawi (The Prohibited and Permitted in Islam)

Eberer goes further to show the weaknesses in some popular arguments put forth for prohibition of Music. Eberer is indeed a defender. Following are parts of scripture used as argument to prohibit Music, which Eberer criticizes the interpretations read to them.

“There are some people who buy distracting/entertaining speech without knowledge in order to mislead people from the path of God…” (Qur’an 31:6)

To this he acknowledges that many scholars interprete this to be talking about jahiliyya (pre-Islam Arab) songs. Even though the hadith used to back this claim is considered weak.

“(God is saying to Satan) Incite whoever you can among them with your voice…” (Qur’an 17:64)

Eberer basically sees this as farfetched to interprete the verse above as meaning music. Not to go as far as saying it is legally binding.

“There will be a group of people from my nation who will deem silk, alcohol and musical instruments as permissible…” (hadith)

It turns out this hadith has many issues in the credibility of its narrators from different chains. It is also worth asking if the mention of Musical instruments here implies legal prohibition, even if one were to accept the hadith. It is comical to note that whereas Sheikh Abu Usamah At-Tahabi considers this hadith as valid (as we saw earlier), an earlier Imam At-Tahabi, was among those that faulted the hadith. The same last names 🙂

“There will be disgrace and defamation in this nation when they will drink alcohol and listen to music (literally female singers while beating on instruments).” (al-Suyooti al-Sagheer 7720)

Of all the arguments to be put forward against Music, Imam Eberer considers this to be the best candidate. But to this he says “Even a layman can see that the linguistic connotation does not in any way show a prohibition for listening to music, but rather a prohibition of the party scene.” Eberer goes on to provide “proofs” for permissibility of morrally upright Music but we shall not explore that for now. Let Imam Eberer simply be a Music defender here. For further detail and clarity on the arguments from the two sides, please visit the actual arguments on the links provided above.

Having the two positions of the arguments, and perhaps referring to the original material since I am simply paraphrasing them here and leaving out some bits, everyone should be able to take a stand on either camp and be comfortable… as long as they feel comfortable without the guilt of committing a prohibited act. If you chose to take permissibility of Music, I commend you and my advice is to be critical of the Music culture while you are at it i.e. stuff that come with the music but are not really the music themselves. Also watch out for this space (blog), we might have more to do in the future.

This is the part where I say that I am with the camp that agree on the permissibility of Music (in case you haven’t picked up the hint), especially if I want to let go this exhausting issue of Music in Islam. However I shall not. Not yet. While I agree with Imam Eberer, I think there’s more to this issue which I shall discuss on the next post InShaAllah.

 

 

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