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.

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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