Is it forbidden to listen to music

Music and Islam

In the Shiite religion, Ghana is forbidden (Ghana means music that stimulates human lust). But listening to music that calms the soul is fine. We have narrations in which Prophet David sang, and he had a very pleasant voice.

Since time immemorial, the issue of music has been debated by various sectors of the Muslim world. Both sides in the debate have brought their proofs and arguments with the hope of making the other side see “the light” and thus bring an end to this time consuming dilemma.

It is not the purpose of this short article to bring all the evidence in regards to the ruling of Allah  and His Prophet in regards to music; rather, we will suffice with the minimum, with the hopes that Insha-Allah, it will help and guide the Muslims – especially the youth – to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

Before discussing the ruling of music, a few of the Islamic (Arabic) terms must be defined that are constantly referred to in this article, in the different ahādīth and in the various books of Ahkam. These include the following:

Muṭrib: The definition of Muṭrib is:

خفةٌ يعتري الانسان لشدة حزن أو سرور

They (the scholars of Islam and the Arabic language) have said that: Muṭrib sounds are those which cause a person to become carefree, happy or sad (bring about a change in one’s emotions). (1)

Ghinā: The ‘Ulamā have defined Ghinā as such:

مد الصوت المشتمل على الترجيع المطرب

Ghinā is the prolonging of the voice, along with a change of pitch in the throat, such that it would be suitable for gatherings of vain and futile pleasure (muṭrib). (2) In itself, a pleasing sound or reciting something in a pleasing way does not constitute Ghinā. Rather Ghinā is explained as the prolonging of the sound along with a change in the pitch in such a way that is suitable for vain and futile gatherings and assemblies of sinning (such as nightclubs, discos, dance-halls, etc.).

Lahw: This is an Arabic term which is used extensively in Islamic jurisprudence and it means anything that is vain or futile. Sometimes, it will be used to refer to a place such as when the scholars refer to music that is played or used in places where vain or futile acts are taking place such as the nightclub, disco, etc; and sometimes it refers to a particular act or certain acts that are done with no use or purpose behind them except to ‘waste time’.

Music: When we talk about Music, we are actually referring to the complete piece of work that one is listening to which includes the sounds (instruments) and the lyrics. When we refer to the dictionary, we see the following definition of music:

mu·sic (myzk) n. Abbr. mus.

1. The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.

2. Vocal or instrumental sounds possessing a degree of melody, harmony, or rhythm.

a) A musical composition.

b) The written or printed score for such a composition.

c) Such scores considered as a group: We keep our music in a stack near the piano.

3. A musical accompaniment.

4. A particular category or kind of music.

5. An aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or combination of sounds: the music of the wind in the pines.

In the religion of Islam and the Fiqh of the Ahl al-Bait, listening to forbidden music has been counted as one of the major sins. In the famous book, The Major Sins written by the martyred scholar Ayatullah Sayyid Dastghaib ash-Shirazi, he wrote the following concerning the sin of listening to and indulging in music (this has been listed as sin number 15 in his monumental work):

Music as stated in Greater Sins, Sin 15

Playing instruments of music is a great Sin. It is haram to play instruments such as the guitar, piano, tambourine, drums etc. Listening to music is also a great sin. Music as a great sin is reported by Fadhl ibn Shadhan from Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa ar-Ridha: “And to be engrossed in musical instruments is also one of the great sins.”

All the Mujtahids are unanimous in their opinion that the manufacturing, selling and purchasing of musical instruments is haram (forbidden) and any income derived from musical activity is also haram. The transactions involving these (instruments) are invalid (bātil). It is haram to keep instruments of music in one’s possession – it is obligatory to destroy them.

This is revealed in a lengthy tradition from Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq, as recorded in the book “Tuhaf al-‘Uqul”. Similarly, Shaykh Hurr al-Amuli (the compiler of the famous collection of hadith entitled Wasa’il ash-Shi’a) records the following tradition from Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq: “The Almighty Allah has prohibited the manufacturing of all such things that are exclusively used in haram ways; and things that only create evil such as the pipe, flute, chess and all types of instruments of gambling, images and statues. The manufacturing of all such articles is haram.

The Imam concluded, “Thus even learning to sing or play music, teaching it, to be paid for these things, or to be in any way engrossed in these vices is haram.

Music – According to the Ahadith (Traditions)

Some more traditions prohibiting music are given below. Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq reports from the Holy Prophet Muhammad that he said: “I prohibit for you dancing and playing flute and drums.“(3)

The Holy Prophet also said: “The Almighty Allah has sent me as a mercy to the worlds and to guide the people. He ordered me to eradicate the playing of flute, other instruments of music, all games of vice, idol (worship) and all practices of the days of ignorance.“(4)

Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq says: “A person who has received blessings from Allah and while having these blessings, he plays the flute, it is as if he has been thankless of the blessings.”(5) Let us remember that every moment of our lives, we are enjoying Allah’s unlimited benevolence.

Music Causes Shamelessness and Hypocrisy

The Sixth Imam, Ja’far ibn Muhammad has also stated: “The playing of the violin promotes the growth of hypocrisy in the heart like water assists the growth of vegetation (algae).“(6)

The Imam also says: “If drums and cymbals are played at one’s house, then for forty days, Allah will impose a satan by the name of ‘Qafandar’. The satans will infiltrate into every cell of the person’s body. With the spread of this evil, the person loses all sense of dignity and self-esteem. One will then not care as to what he says or what is said about him. Then, this satan will blow into this person and as as a result, one will become utterly shameless. So much so that he will not be concerned or affected even if his women are dishonored.“(7)

It is usually observed that people in whose homes music is played on a regular basis, either using musical instruments, by radio or cassettes, are absolutely shameless and wanton.

Musicians and Songs

Muaddal Ibn Ziyad says: “I was in the company of Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad as-Sadiq when a person said, “When I go to the toilet, I can hear the singing girls of my neighbor. Sometimes, I remain (in the toilet) a bit longer so that I may listen to more of it.” Imam replied: “Desist from listening to music and songs attentively.” Then this man further said, “Master, I do not go to music gatherings! I only hear the sounds!

The Sixth Imam said, “Have you not read the Quranic verse: “Surely, the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these shall be questioned about that?“(8) The man replied: “I was not aware of this verse and thus, I regret my actions. I shall not listen (to music) in the future. I repent for my past sins and I seek forgiveness from my Lord.

Seeing his condition, Imam said: “Get up! Go perform ghusl, offer Salat and pray for your forgiveness. You have certainly been involved in a deadly sin and a terrible situation. You have repented for it and I thank Allah for that; and I seek forgiveness of Allah for all those things that He dislikes. Certainly, Allah only dislikes the evil things. Leave the evil things for the evil people, because there are different people suitable for different things.”(9)