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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