Sunday, January 10, 2010

Islam and Music

When it comes to Islam, music is a very interesting and heavily debated topic. Before I continue any further, I’d like to make it clear that my intention is not to take any side of the argument but instead to present both opinions in a short article. My aim is not to tell you what is haram (forbidden) or what is halal (permissible) but instead to explore some of the points we often debate. I’d like to add that I myself do listen to music, but I assure you that this won’t affect the neutrality of the article.

We all listen to music, so what can be wrong with it? For me, that argument is about as weak as they get, just because something is common or popular, it doesn’t become acceptable, I’ll leave the additional examples to your very own imagination. What is it about music that could potentially make it prohibited in Islam? It relaxes the mind and helps you to be calm and focused in life. No, that doesn’t seem like a major risk of listening to music. Music is difficult to define especially because it means so many different things to so many different people. There are many different types of music in the world, and if I chose to evaluate each and every type, you’d be moving to another webpage at the speed of light! So let me have a go at only one or two types of music.

Music enters the ears and moves down to the heart and eventually influences the soul. Some argue that it can control your lifestyle, your actions and your thoughts, put simply it can control you. One would ask, how might that be possible? You listen to a song written by a murderer, who kills for enjoyment, and then you go out and do exactly the same as him. Not quite, it is a little more sophisticated than that. A youngster spends five hours daily (remember you can do other stuff whilst listening to your tracks) listening to rap music which, just like a jam-sandwich is packed with jam, is packed with abusive language. The rap artist is a drug addict, living in a land where money grows on trees. Music is his voice, his frustration, anger, whatever you call it, his way of expressing himself and his heart presented in an audio format. The heart of a man (or a woman) is influenced by what he/she sees and hears, so if the youngster in our example, is constantly exposed to ‘filth’, what are the chances his mind will become corrupted? There is no rocket science in this example; it is plainly obvious that music can influence people. Now, to throw the argument on it’s head, what about those youngsters who listen to rap music but they are not influenced by it in any way. Good for them, why not throw them in a pool of snakes because they might be lucky enough to survive?

Romantic music doesn’t contain swearing or abuse, but it does often encourage men and women to engage in acts that are forbidden by Islam. “Your eyes are so beautiful, you’re so sweet, I wish I was with you for the rest of my life”, harmless, right? Well, one will say that it totally depends on the listener, some people will be easily influenced (e.g. to engage in forbidden acts outside marriage) but others won’t be. But again the key point is that music is an influence. Allah has warned us not only to abstain from that which is clearly forbidden but also that which may lead to it. The song may not be harmful but how it affects your character and your way of thinking is what could potentially become harmful. Music which encourages lewd behaviour usually results in increased vulgarity and disrespect for women in society. Islam doesn’t tell us to live on the edge, where there are risks of falling off the edge; we’ve been told to keep our distance. Sounds simple, if you want to avoid an accident, keep your distance from the car in front.

Now, there are many other types of music, there is even music that reminds us of our religion and that influences us positively. Some Muslims promote such music though there are others who pose questions about its sincerity. I’m also aware that the use of certain instruments is discouraged by our religion. One of the important points is that The Holy Q’uran doesn’t explicitly forbid music in the way it labels alcohol and gambling as ‘haram’. It seems that there are many different types of music out there, and the way in which people are influenced by music differs significantly. For example, a Nasheed (Islamic music) might appeal to one person because it contains the message of peace, but for another person it could be the ego or arrogance of the performer that is more appealing. Had our religion given us a blanket statement, such as all music is forbidden, it would’ve been quite misleading. No doubt, we can argue that Islam totally discourages music which blatantly promotes and explicitly glamourises sinful activity. Islam doesn't plainly forbid music and the reason for that might be because music takes many forms, it would be unfair and misleading to label them all as one. But for me, the important concept which we must understand is that music can heavily influence the mind and the heart. As Muslims, we must protect ourselves from all influences which take us away from the straight path of Islam. What sometimes annoys me is that the music debate gets far too much attention, and we get people on both sides holding up the ‘halal’ or ‘haram’ card. For me, what is more important is that each individual understands the role of music in their life and whether it is ruining their character, improving it or not affecting it at all. Paying attention to detail is important but there are times, we must learn not to lose ourselves in it, take a step back and look at the big picture, and ask yourself what music means in your life and how it influences you.

Sameer Hussain

sampowa@googlemail.com

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty on Music

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

“Music is an issue that has been hotly debated by scholars of the past and the present. While many of them have been generally inclined to condemn all forms of music, with the singular exception of ad-duff (tambourine) in weddings, quite a few of them have taken a more positive approach of considering only music containing sensual, pagan, or unethical themes or subliminal messages as being categorically forbidden.

The latter view seems to be more consistent with the general nature of Islam, which is undoubtedly a complete way of life that caters to all of the genuine human instincts and needs within permissible limits. Thus, to say that all music is forbidden in Islam does not seem to agree with the balanced approach of Islam to issues of human life and experience.

Traditions often cited by the first group scholars to justify condemnation of all musical instruments and music, according to some scholars, are considered as either spurious, or phrased in such way solely because of their associations with drinking, dancing, and sensuality.

While everyone agrees that all forms of music that contain pagan, sensual themes, or subliminal messages are clearly forbidden, the latter group of scholars considers all forms of music free of such themes and messages as permissible.

As a matter of fact, we know from the authentic traditions that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, not only allowed music in the weddings but also listened to girls singing: While listening to girls singing on such an occasion, he interrupted them only once when they sang the following verse, “In our midst is a prophet who knows what will happen tomorrow”; whence, the Prophet, peace be upon him, told them, “Cut this sentence out, and continue singing what you have been singing earlier.” There is nothing in the sources to indicate that the above permission is limited to the occasion of wedding, as some people tend to think.

In light of these, according to the last mentioned group of scholars, music that is deemed to be free of un-Islamic and unethical themes and messages, the same is true of musical instruments so long as they are not used for the above, have been considered as permissible.

But we have to stress that Islam clearly prohibits mixed dancing of males and females.”