Shedding Light on the Darkness of Music

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Food for the soul or gateway to hellfire? According to numerous studies, youth spend approximately eight hours a day with forms of media such as television, radio, etc. All the different forms of media are either solely devoted to music or have music in the background – so that’s almost eight hours a day of music exposure!

Food for the soul or gateway to hellfire? Sure, we’ve heard that music is Haram – but not all music is bad, right? What about songs with decent lyrics? Or if there isn’t any dancing to go with the music? How about if it inspires religiosity? Besides, music is practically as normal as breathing nowadays – we really don’t want to give the impression that Muslims don’t believe in a little fun and entertainment!

In this age of free downloads, easily-accessible music, and tiny technology with huge storage space, we’re constantly surrounded by music. Whether we’re on hold on the phone, waiting in an elevator, or walking down the street, we’re bound to hear music one way or another. It’s unavoidable, and in situations like those, there is no sin. However, the problem arises when we, of our own accord, seek out opportunities to listen to music.

According to numerous studies, youth spend approximately eight hours a day with forms of media such as television, radio, etc. All the different forms of media are either solely devoted to music or have music in the background – so that’s almost eight hours a day of music exposure!

There aren’t any statistics about Muslims specifically, but it is apparent in today’s society that even followers of our beautiful religion listen to music. Be it a small percentage of Muslims or a large percentage, it’s still significant because no sin should be considered as “just a small one” – particularly when it comes to listening to music.

Perhaps it is a moment of uncertainty, or hopefully the person is making a gradual change to strengthen his/her faith. To help reach a better understanding, here are just some of the reasons why we must keep away from music.

Focusing on the Almighty

Why are things forbidden in Islam? Either they are harmful to us, or they lead to things which are harmful – “harmful” in the sense of destroying our soul. The strength of music is such that it easily opens the door to so many other sins.

During our brief lifetime, we strive to get closer to our Creator. Everything we do should help us heighten our Taqwa, God-consciousness, and focus on our journey towards Him. To be aware of His presence at all times is essential to staying on the Right Path. Therefore, those things which have the power to alter our state of mind are forbidden: alcohol, drugs, and thus music.

The effect of music is easily observable, be it someone subconsciously tapping their feet in rhythm to a song or someone wildly dancing to the music that’s playing. A person automatically moves in tune to music; people almost don’t realize that they have started drumming their fingers to the song. The automatic response is something which Muslims are to abstain from, because we must be conscious of all our actions.

Just as alcohol and drugs alter the state of mind to the extent that people not realize what they are doing, so does music. Likewise, people even get addicted to music! They cannot live without it – people have such a “need” to listen to music that it has even become acceptable to have earbuds/headphones in the classroom and workplace. Such extreme attachment, to rely so much on something other than the Almighty to achieve a state of peace, can appropriately be called an addiction. Anything which takes away our focus and ability to make decisions is forbidden in Islam. That music has such control over a person means the individual can no longer practice free will, and that is undoubtedly an obstacle in making our way towards Allah.

Another reason is that music acts as a stepping stone to other greater sins. Let’s be realistic: what is the environment that comes to mind when we think of music? That’s right – there’s Haram written all over the place. Whether it’s classical music being played at a formal party with ballroom dancing and wineglasses, or loud music being played at a wild concert with all types of alcohol flowing freely – the atmosphere reeks of inappropriate behavior.

Even if a person feels that (s)he will be able to prevent him-/herself from being led to other sins, music is not allowed. Using the example of alcohol again, even sitting at a table that has bottles of intoxicating drinks is not allowed, despite the fact that we will not drink it. As Muslims, we are supposed to do our utmost to leave no room for the potential of committing a sin. But enough of my explanations – let’s see what our guides say on the issue as well.

According to the Jurisprudence

Sometimes it will be blaring from loudspeakers or from people playing their guitar in the school hall; other times it’s the music escaping from someone’s earbuds, or the songs playing from someone’s car that are so unbelievably loud that you can even feel the vibrations of it! Do we get sins for the notes of music reaching our ears in these cases?

There have been questions about the permissibility of music, singing and dancing. Before proceeding to the official rulings, it is necessary to ascertain the difference between two types of music.

Editor’s Note: The rulings from this point onwards are quoted from Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani as mentioned in his book A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West.

536. Music that is permissible is the music that does not entail entertainment in gatherings held for that purpose. Forbidden music is the music that is suitable for entertainment and amusement gatherings.

546. Question: Is it correct to say that the music that arouses sexual, lustful urges and promotes unstable and degrading behavior is the forbidden one? Answer: Forbidden music is the music that is suitable for entertainment and amusement in gatherings, even if it does not arouse sexual temptations.

So the vast majority of music that is produced, which is for entertainment purposes, is forbidden. Listening to music at weddings, at concerts, while studying or driving, or “just for fun” all fall under that category. However, music that plays in the background of commercials, television programs, at the mall or other similar instances are not forbidden. After all, no one goes to the mall to listen to the music that’s playing there – no one goes for the purpose of entertainment by the music!

The ruling extends to songs as well, even if there are no musical instruments involved.

541. Singing (al-ghina’) is Haram: doing it, listening to it, or living of it. By “singing – al-ghina‘,” I mean an amusing statement expressed in the tunes that are suitable for those who provide entertainment and amusement.”

As for dancing, ruling 558 through 563 all repeatedly state that dancing is not permissible. The only instance in which dancing is allowed is if a woman dances for her spouse, and that must be without any music accompanying it.

Getting back to music, not only is listening to it abhorred in Islam, but dealing with musical instruments is also problematic.

556. It is not permissible to deal in the instruments of Haram entertainment – neither selling nor buying or etc. – just as it is not permissible to manufacture them and accept remuneration for making them.

It is only logical that when dealing with musical instruments is forbidden, then the music produced by such instruments must also definitely be forbidden. There’s no getting around it: music is Haram!

Holding on to the Thaqalayn

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him and his progeny) was sent at a time when the society was plunged deeply in disgraceful habits. Gatherings were rampant with music, singing, dancing, intoxicating drinks, inappropriate clothing and mixing of the genders. The Holy Prophet was aware of the Haram environment, and he has left rules for us to follow in order to keep from falling into the traps of Shaitan.

He has said: “And the person with the [sin of] song [al-ghina’] will be raised [on the Day of Resurrection] blind, deaf, and dumb. The person with [the sin of] adultery, of wood-wind, and of drum will also be raised in the same way.” (Al-Masa’il ash-Shar’iyya) Not only did the Prophet clearly tell us that singing is prohibited, but also that using musical instruments such as the drum are also forbidden.

Furthermore, the Prophet connected music with other sins, such as adultery. Another example is when he said, “Singing and music are enchantments for adultery.” (Ibid.) Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said: “The playing of violin promotes the growth of hypocrisy in the heart like water assists the growth of vegetation (algae).” (Wasail ash-Shi’a) From just these narrations, it is apparent that music and singing are not minor sins – they only lead lower down the wrong path to the most shameful and multitudinous sins.

If that’s not enough indication of how disliked music and dancing are, here is yet another saying of the Prophet: “Whoever listens to the entertainment (song and music), lead will be melted inside his ear on the Day of Judgment.” (Al-Masa’il ash-Shar’iyya) So the next time the thought, “It’s just one time, one song…” passes our minds, let us remember the severity of aversion to music and singing.

In his Charter of Rights, Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) states in regards to the rights of the ear: “It is the right of your sense of hearing that you should not turn it into a way to your heart except for a noble talk which may create some good [feelings or ideas] in your heart, or which may earn for you a noble character; because it is the door which allows a talk to get to the heart, carrying to it different types of ideas, whether good or evil. And there is no power but with Allah.” In Shaikh Saduq’s version, it says, “And it is the right of the sense of hearing to keep it from listening to backbiting and from hearing what you are not allowed to hear.” Both translations address the fact that we must pay attention to avoid the things which are of no benefit and which also lead to other sins.

When Shaitan said that he will try to lead the children of Prophet Adam astray, Allah said to him as shown in verse 64 of Sura Isra: “‘Lead to destruction those whom you can among them, with your (seductive) voice; make assaults on them with your cavalry and your infantry; mutually share with them wealth and children; and make promises to them.’ But Satan promises them nothing but deceit.” Shaitan’s use of his “(seductive) voice” refers to his lures of music and song. The Arabic word Istafziz means “to befool them gradually”, just as music – and his other lures – eventually lead to greater sins.

Verse 6 of Sura Luqman says: “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.” The Arabic word Lahw is used for “idle tales” in the verse. Lahw encompasses vain things such as singing and music. There are other references to Lahw in the Holy Quran, and they encompass those things which are futile activities and do nothing to strengthen our relationship with our Lord.

Any Loopholes We Can Slip Through?

So that settles it, right? Well, not always. Some people still have questions about the technicalities, so let’s get through those too.

A common question, especially during the wedding season, is about segregated singing and dancing. What if there is no mixing of the genders – then what? Even in that case, ruling number 561 states it as being not allowed as per obligatory precaution. Still other questions come up with regard to the lyrics of songs, the form of Halal recitations, and the purpose of the music itself. The question and answer below covers them:

547. Question: Just as many questions are asked about halal and haram music, many questions are asked about halal and haram songs. Is it correct to say that haram songs are those that arouse sexual, lustful urges and promote unstable and degrading behavior? Is it correct to say that songs that do not arouse lustful desires, but elevate the souls and thoughts to lofty levels like religious songs of praise dedicated to the Prophet Muhammad and the Imams, or the songs that lift the spirits and morale [of the fighters] and the like, are halal songs? Answer: All songs (al-ghina’) are haram. Based on the definition that we accept, al-ghina’ is the entertaining expression by way of tunes that are common to those who provide entertainment and amusement. In this prohibition, we should include the recitation of the Holy Qur’an, supplications (du’as), and songs of praise of Ahlul Bayt uttered to the accompaniment of those tunes [that are used by the entertainers]. The prohibition of reciting other non-entertaining expressions – like songs intended to lift the morale [of fighters] – is based on compulsory precaution. However, the tune that cannot be described as such is not haram by itself.”

According to the above ruling, if a song fits the definition of al-ghina’, then it is prohibited, no matter how decent we might think the lyrics are. On top of that, any form of Halal recitation which is done in the same tune as a song is Haram – so let us forget about listening to Du’as accompanied by music! If someone truly wishes to seek spirituality in Du’as and praise of the Ahlul-Bayt, then there is no shortage of music-free recitations. Moreover, it would be the music which evokes sentiments, not the words itself – so there is no justification for such things.

Just Think About It

Logically, just think about it: is listening to the newly released hit song truly beneficial in bringing us closer to our Lord?

Imam Ali (peace be upon him) once gave a method of how to make the right decision in moments of uncertainty: realize what it is that your heart desires and then do the opposite, because Shaitan tries to mislead us by whispering of temporary pleasures to our hearts. But we have to make sure we thwart his attempts, because we don’t want to get entangled in a sin that leads to a web of greater sins. We must keep in mind our goal of getting closer to our Beloved, and music only serves as an arrow in the opposite direction.

In the end, is that one song really worth your soul?

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