Yes, you are right that the general ruling about
music is that it is prohibited. In fact, it is commonly believed that the
attitude of Islam towards all the fine arts is not very encouraging; it does not
nurture the aesthetic sense found in human nature.
However, I do not agree with this perception about music
or the fine arts. But before I present my observations on this issue, it is
necessary to keep in consideration two important principles of interpreting the
Firstly, it is only the Qur’ān which prohibits anything in
Islam. As far as the Ahādīth are concerned, they are not an independent source
of knowledge on Islam and must have some basis in the Qur’ān, the Sunnah or the
established principles of human nature and intellect. Consequently, if some
Ahādith mention some prohibition, it is imperative to look up its basis in the
Secondly, if a particular matter has been elaborated upon
in the Ahadīth, it is necessary to have a complete picture of it by collecting
and analysing all the Ahadīth on the subject. This is essential in order to have
some idea of the context and background of what has actually been said.
In the light of these two principles, it is evident that:
i) As far as the Qur’ān is concerned, there is no mention
of any absolute prohibition of music. On the contrary, it is a known fact that
one of the other divinely revealed scriptures, the Psalms, is basically a
collection of hymns. The Prophet David (sws) used to sing the various Psalms
revealed to him on his harp.
ii) If the Qur’ān does not apparently mention this
absolute prohibition, it is necessary to re-analyse all the Ahadīth on this
subject to see whether they have been interpreted correctly. By collecting and
analysing all the Ahadīth pertaining to music, the real picture which comes to
light is that musical gatherings possessed a great element of immorality.
Slave-girls used to dance before an inebriated gathering where lewdness was let
loose and promiscuity prevailed. These gatherings were a means of stimulating
base emotions in people. There has been narrated in the Sahīh of Bukhārī one
such incident from which the extent such gatherings of music and dance had
reached can be imagined. Just after the battle of Badr, Hamzah (rta) along with
a few companions was witnessing the dance of a slave-girl while he was taking
liquor. In the meantime, ‘Alī (rta) passed by along with two camels. At that
time, the words of the song which the maiden was singing were something like
this: ‘O if you could only bring me the meat of the humps of these camels...’.
At this, Hamzah (rta) got up and slew the camels owned by ‘Alī (rta) and brought
forth the meat to her. Annoyed by this, ‘Alī (rta) stormed off to the Prophet (sws)
and reported the matter to him. The Prophet (sws) got up and walked across to
the scene of the ‘crime’ but after seeing the situation returned without doing
In the light of these details, the prohibition of music
can be easily understood: only music and songs which possessed an element of
immorality in them were forbidden. Music, it is clear, was not condemned because
of any intrinsic evil in it but because it was responsible for stimulating base
sentiments in a person. The main object of the religion revealed to the Prophet
(sws) was to cleanse and purify human souls from evil.
All means which promote base emotions in people certainly
could not be allowed in the society. He, therefore, took strong exception to the
gatherings of music and dance in order to rebuild the society on healthy lines.
Consequently, music or songs which express noble
sentiments cannot be objected to. Similarly, those of them which do not open the
door to evil are perfectly allowed in Islam.