Music and Singing: Consensus of Companions, Taabi'een, and others

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The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing
By: Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi
Preface
Analysis of Quraanic Texts and Commentaries
Critical Analysis of the Hadeeth Literature
Consensus of Companions, Taabi'een, and others
Wisdom Behind Its Prohibition by the Shari'ah
Exceptions to the Rule of Prohibition
Synopsis of Shari'ah Texts along with Conclusions
Footnotes

No doubt, the companions of the Prophet were the best people after the Messengers of Allah. The companions received the knowledge of Islam from the Prophet and faithfully conveyed it to us. Therefore, it is useful to know their views regarding the subject of this treatise, for their consensus (ijmaa') carries absolute weight[93] in this matter and clarifies the correct view, removing any lingering doubts in the hearts of those who have not yet been graced with the gift of surety (yaqeen) and conviction.

In order to further strengthen the view previously established, it is necessary to review the opinions of the taabi'een, the four imams and other accomplished scholars of Islam. One of the attributes of sound Islamic methodology is the reference to the views and positions held by the pious predecessors of the Islamic ummah and the respectful consideration with which one approaches them. However, their views, as with the views of all, must be subjected to the criterion of Allah's Book and the authentically-related prophetic traditions. Since the prohibition of music has already been established beyond the slightest doubt through detailed proof from the authentic sunnah, this section of the treatise is presented merely for the sake of the reader's knowledge and Islamic awareness.

The Position of the Companions on this Issue[edit]

A few of the later Shafi'ite scholars related Ibn Taahir's[94] claim that the sahaabah and taabi'een unanimously agreed upon the permissibility of singing (ghinaa); therefore, those who came after them have no right to challenge their authority. The Shafi'ite scholar, Ibn Hajar Al-Haythami Al-Makki (909-974 H.), mentioned[95] that some went so far as to claim the supposed consensus of ahlul Madeenah on this question. They even accused twenty-four scholars from among the sahaaabah, as well as innumerable taabi'een, their followers, and the four imams and their disciples of singing and listening to song. However, regarding the previously mentioned claim by Ibn Taahir and those who indiscriminately followed him, an authority on Shafi'ite scholarship, Shihaabuddeen Al-Adhraa'i (708-783 H.) refuted such facile reports and insisted that Ibn Taahir was not dependable in such matters. Al-Adhraa'i related that in Ibn Taahir's book Safwatut Tasawwuf (The Vanguard of Sufism) and his treatise, As-Samaa'a (Listening [to music, singing, etc.]), one finds disgraceful, scandalous things, along with ugly instances of fraudulent presentations of material(in defense of his position on this issue).[96] Al-Adhraa'i further clarified that what has been attributed to the companions could not be established by authentically-related narrations (aaathaar), but rather, their assertions were based on reports of certain companions listening to poetry, chants or songs.[97] This does not substantiate their allegations, for such things are permitted by consensus and fall outside the realm of this area of dispute.[98] Clearly, it was related that some companions performed permitted aspects of singing, etc., however, these actions were distorted out of context by such persons to include every type of singing, without specification or restriction.

Al-Adhaar'i then quoted an authoritative Shafi'ite imam, Abdul-Qaasim Ad-Dowlaqi, who clarifies in his book As-Samaa'a, the vital point which is at the crux of this issue. He says, "It has not been related regarding any one of the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) that he listened to the sort of singing which is of the disputed type;[99] nor is it related that gatherings for song were organized for him, nor that people were invited to them - either publicly or privately, nor that he praised such song; rather, it was the companions' habit to censure and blame such gatherings for the purpose of listening to it."[100]

Ibn Hajar Al-Haythami concludes his discourse by pointing out that it is clear from what has preceded that it is not permissible to blindly adhere to Ibn Taahir's views, because he has deviated in both the point of view of his narrations (naql), and his personal opinions (aql). He was also a liar, innovator and a libertine. As for those who relate that the companions and others permitted the disputed types of song, they have committed an ugly mistake and have fallen prey to gross error. The issue of song and music is of two types: the first type is permitted by consensus, and the second type is disputed about as to its prohibition. To intimate that the companions' listening to certain forms of poetry, singing, chanting, etc. is of the second type is invalid arbitrariness and is not based on the principles of jurisprudence and hadeeth science. Such principles clearly indicate that we must interpret whatever has been related on this issue regarding the companions as that type of song permitted by consensus.[101]

Regarding this particular issue, Yoosuf Al-Qardaawi makes a bold and misleading statement. It reads: "It is related regarding a large number of companions and taabi'een, that they used to listen to song [ghinaa], and they didn't see any harm in that."[102] This assertion is misleading for a number of reasons. Firstly, he claims that it has been "related", however, he brings no valid proof of such a statement - not even a single pertinent tradition (athar) related to the companions.[103] Secondly, he leads the reader to believe that the sahabah listened to all types of song. This he accomplishes with the general wording "used to listen to song." In reality, they only listened to particular types, as specified lawful in the sunnah. These types are restricted as to who may sing and who may listen, on what occasions they are allowed and in what manner they are to be delivered. The difference between what Qardaawi has intimated and what really occurred is like night and day.

In reality, the companions unanimously agreed upon the prohibition of music and song but allowed particular exceptions specified by the authentic sunnah. Many authentic narrations (aathaar) traced to the various sahaabah bear witness to this. For example, it is authentically related by Al-Bayhaqi that the companion, Abdullah bin Masood said, "Singing sprouts hypocrisy in the heart as rain sprouts herbs and greens." As was related in an earlier portion of this treatise, when he was questioned regarding the meaning of the words {lahwal hadeeth}[104] he replied, "I swear by Him besides Whom there is no other god that it refers to singing."[105] He repeated it three times over to emphasize his belief that the words from the Quraan were a rebuke and censure of singing. In addition to this, the same view was held by the four rightly-guided caliphs, the fuqahaa among the sahaabah such as Ibn Abaas, Ibn Umar and Jaabir bin Abdullah, as well as the general body of sahaabah (may Allah be pleased with them all).[106] Anyone who claims differently is requested to bring proof. It is further requested that it be an authentically-reported, clear and unambiguous text that it relate specifically to the point of dispute (mahallun nizaa).

The View of the Taabi'een, Imams and Scholars after Them[edit]

The view held by the companions was generally adhered to by the taabi'een and their followers, the four imams and the great majority of dependable Islamic scholars up to the present time. From among the taabi'een and their followers, there are such authorities as Mujaahid, Ikrimah, An-Nakha'i and Al-Hassan Al-Basri.[107]

Imam Abu Haneefah[edit]

Imam Abu Haneefah[108] has perhaps the harshest view of the four famous Imams of jurisprudence. His school of thought is the strictest, for he detested singing and considered it sinful. As for his disciples, they have explicitly confirmed the prohibition of listening to all musical amusements and pastimes, including wind instruments (mazaameer),[109] all types of tambourines, hand drums (dufoof)[110] and even the striking of sticks(al-qadeeb). They have asserted that such actions constitute disobedience to Allah and that the performer of such action is sinful, therefore necessitating rejection of his testimony.[111] They have further stated that it is incumbent upon the Muslim to struggle to avoid listening to such things, even if he were passing by or stationed near them (without any willful intention). Abu Haneefah's closest disciple, Abu Yoosuf, stated that if the sound of musical instruments (ma'aazif) and amusements (malaahi) were heard coming from a house, the house could be entered without permission of its owners.[112] The justification for this is that the command regarding the prohibition of abominable things (munkaaraat) is mandatory, and cannot be established if such entering rests upon the permission of the residents of the premises.[113] This is the madhhab (position) of the rest of the Kufic scholars as well, such as Ibraheem An-Nakha'i, Ash-Sha'bi, Hammaad and Ath-Thowri. They do not differ on this issue. The same can be said of the general body of jurisprudence of Al-Basrah.[114]

Imam Maalik[edit]

It is related by Ibnul-Jowzi that Ishaaq bin 'Eesaa At-Tabba'a asked Imaam Maalik bin Anas,[115] the leading jurisprudent of Madeenah, about the view of the people of Madeenah regarding singing (ghinaa). He replied, "In fact, that is done by the sinful ones." Abut-teeb At-Tabari said, "As for Maalik bin Anas, he truly did prohibit singing and listening to it." He further related that Maalik said, "If one purchased a slave-girl[116] and found her to be a professional singer, he could return her to the original owner for reimbursement on the claim of having found fault in the merchandise."[117] The ruling of prohibition (tahreem) is generally agreed upon by the scholars of Madeenah. The Maaliki jurisprudence and commentator, Al-Qurtubi, reports Ibn Khuwayz Mandaad as saying that Imam Maalik had learned singing and music as a small boy until his mother encouraged him to leave it for a study of the religious sciences. He did, and his view became that such things were prohibited.[118] Al-Qurtubi confirmed Maalik's view by saying that the only exception to this general ruling was the type of innocent songs such as those sung to placate the camels during travel, or during hard labor or boredom or during times of festivity and joy, such as the 'Eed days and weddings - the latter to the accompaniment of a simple daff (hand drum). Al-Qurtubi then said, "As for that which is done in our day, by way of the [blameworthy] innovations [bidah] of the Sufi mystics in their addition to hearing songs to the accompaniment of melodious instruments such as flutes, string instruments, etc., such is haraam [forbidden].[119]

Imam Ash-Shaafi'ee[edit]

In the book, Aadaabul Qadaa, Ash-Shaafi'ee[120] is reported as saying, "Verily, song is loathsome [makrooh]; it resembles the false and vain thing [al-baatil]. The one who partakes of it frequently is an incompetent fool whose testimony is to be rejected."[121] His closest and most knowledgeable disciples clearly stipulate that his position on this issue is that of prohibition (tahreem) and they rebuke those who attribute its legality to him.[122] This is confirmed by the later Shafi'ite scholar, Ibn Hajar Al-Haythami. He related that one of Ash-Shaafi'ee's disciples, Al-Haarith Al-Muhaasibi (d.243 H) said, "Song is haraam, just as the carcass [maytah][123] is." Furthermore, the statement that singing is haraam is found in the treatise, Ash-Sharh Al-Kabeer, by the authoritative Shafi'ite scholar, Ar-Raafi'ee (d.623 H.). This is further corroborated by the accomplished Shafiiite jurisprudent, Imam An-Nawawi (d.676 H.) in his Rowdah.[124] Such is the correct view of the dependable scholars of the Shafi'ite madhhab. However, due to limited knowledge and personal fancy and desire, a few of their latter-day scholars disagree with this view.[125]

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal[edit]

Imaam Ahmad's[126] position regarding this issue has been narrated in detail by the Hanbalite jurisprudent and Quranic commentator, Abul-Faraj Ibnul-Jowzi (d.597 H.) in his treatise, Tablees Iblees (Satan's deception). He tells us that ghinaa during Ahmad's era consisted primarily of a rhymed, rhythmical chanting (inshaad) of poems[127] whose purpose was to lead people to a pious, abstentious way of life. However, when such chanters began to vary their simple style to one of a throbbing, affected melody, the narrations regarding Ahmad began to differ. His own son and student, Abdullah, relates that his father said, "Singing[128] sprouts hypocrisy in the heart; it doesn't please me." The scholar, Ismaa'eel bin Ishaaq Ath-Thaqafi, reports that Ahmad was questioned regarding one's listening to those poems (qasaaid) to which he replied, "I despise it, for it is a bid'ah [innovation]. Don't sit down to listen to its reciters." Abul-Haarith relates that Ahmad said, "At-taghyeer[129] is an innovation," whereupon it was said, "But it sensitizes and softens the heart." Ahmad rejoined, "It is a bid'ah [blameworthy innovation]." Yaqoob Al-Haashimi narrates that Ahmad said, "At-taghyeer is a recent innovation," and Yaqoob bin Gayyaath reports him as saying that he despised at-taghyeer and prohibited one's listening to it.[130]

Ibnul-Jowzi then mentioned some narrations related by Abu Bakr Al-Khlallaal and Ahmad's son Saalih, which indicate Ahmad's not being averse to poetry sessions. It is related that Ahmad heard a singer (qawwal) a didn't reproach him, whereupon Saalih said to him, "Oh father, didn't you used to criticize and censure such a thing?" Ahmad replied, "That was because I was told that they were doing reproachable things, so i despised it; as for this, I do not dislike it." Ibnul-Jowzi commented at this point, "Some of the scholars of our [Hanbalite] school mention that Abu Bakr Al-Khallaal (d.311 H.) and his disciple, Abdul-Azeez, permitted singing [ghinaa]. Such a statement refers to the spiritual poems [qasaaid zuhduyyaat] which were prevalent during their time. This is precisely the type of singing which was not disliked by Ahmad [as previously mentioned].[131] Ahmad bin Hanbal attests to this in the instance where he was asked regarding a deceased person who left behind him a son and a [professional singing] slave-girl.[132] The son then needed to sell her. Ahmad said that she was not to be sold on the basis of her being a singer. Upon this it was said to him that, [as a singer], she was worth thirty-thousand dirhams, whereas if she were sold only on the basis of her being simply a slave-girl, she would perhaps be worth only twenty dinars. Ahmad reaffirmed that she was allowed to be sold only on the basis of her being simply a slave-girl." Ibnul-Jowzi explained, "The reason Ahmad said this is because the singing slave-girl doesn't sing spiritual poems [qasaaid zuhdiyaat]; rather, she sings throbbing lyrics which incite passion in one's being. This is proof that such singing is haraam, for if it were not so, the incurred loss of the orphans son's wealth would not be permissible.[133] Furthermore, it is reported by the jurisprudent Al-Mirwazi that Ahmad bin Hanbal said, "The earnings of the effeminate [mukhannath] singer are foul [khabeeth] because he doesn't sing spiritual poems, but rather, he sings erotic poetry [al-ghazal] in a licentious, cooing manner."

Ibnul-Jowzi concluded that it is obvious from what has preceded that the variant narrations relating to Ahmads dislike of (karaahah) or permission for singing depended upon the type of singing that was meant. As for the type of singing which is popular today,[134] it would be forbidden according to Ahmad's view. If only he could see what the people have added to it by way of innovation.[135]

In conclusion, the general consensus of the companions, taabi'een and the following generations of Islamic scholars up to the present day, including the four Imams, points to the ruling of prohibition of music and song (other than the exceptions to be mentioned later).

Those Who Approved of Singing and Its Refutation[edit]

There is agreement among the four imams that all musical instruments[136] (ma'aazif) are forbidden. Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah affirms this in his celebrated Fataawa where he says, "The madhhab of the four imams is that all instruments of musical entertainment are haraam [forbidden]. It is authentically related in Saheehul Bukhaari and other compilations that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) foretold that some of his ummah would seek to make lawful: fornication, the wearing of silk, wine-drinking and musical instruments [ma'aazif]; and that such people would be turned into apes and swine. The term ma'aazif means musical entertainment, as has been mentioned by the scholars of the Arabic language. It is the plural of mi'zafah, the instrument upon which one makes musical sounds. None of the disciples of these imams has mentioned the existence of any dissension from the consensus on the prohibition of all instruments of musical entertainments."[137]

It has been indicated that a few scholars see no harm in singing and/or in the playing of music. In order to remove any doubt from the reader's mind regarding this vital issue it is necessary not only to mention these scholars and their claims but also to establish the proof against them. Any such claims of permissibility made in reference to the noble companions or the four imams of the popular schools of jurisprudence have already been refuted in detail.

It is mentioned in various classical works that certain fuqahaa saw no harm in singing. Some of these early scholars[138] are: Ibraheem bin Sa'd from the people of Madeenah, Ubaidullah Ibnul-Hasan Al-Anbari from Al- Basrah and Abu Bakr Ibnul-Khallaal from the Hanbalite scholars.[139] The Shafi'ite faqeeh, Ibn Taahir, was mentioned earlier, and his claims were refuted in detail.[140] Therefore, there is no need to mention him at this point. This reply regards what has been related in reference to the three above-mentioned scholars. It was narrated that they did not see any harm in simple ghinaa (singing), without musical accompaniment or licentious lyrics, etc. In addition to this, as has been previously detailed[141] by Ibnul-Jowzi, Ibnul-Khallaal saw no harm in the recitation of spiritual poems (qasaaid zuhdiyaat) in a sweet and melodious voice. Therefore, even though those who would like to establish the ruling of permissibility sometimes exploit the positions of such scholars, it is futile, because what these scholars allowed is agreed upon by consensus and is not the point of contention (mahallun nizaa').

A group of later scholars often referred to as maintaining the view of permissibility are Ibn Hazm,[142] Ibnul-Arabi[143] and Al-Ghazaali.[144] Some of the gross misconceptions of the former two have already been refuted.[145] A final reply to them is a quotation from the oft-repeated words of Ibn Hazm himself: "It is incumbent upon us that we do not accept the saying of any person after Allah's Messenger, unless such a person authentically relates it back to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him)." Being aware of the previously-established, clear ruling of prohibition given by the Prophet on this issue,[146] it becomes one's obligation to reject all positions contradictory to his and to accept his decision as binding and final. Verily, Allah, the Majestic and Exalted, has made such an attitude of obedience to His Messenger the criterion of true faith (eeman). He says in His glorious Quraan:

{But no, by thy Lord, they [Muslims] do not have [real] faith unless they make you [Oh Muhammad] judge of all disputes between them, and then find within themselves no dislike of your decision, but rather, submit with full submission.}[147]

The latter scholar of this group, Al-Ghazaali, is often quoted by some[148] as having maintained a view of permissibility. It must be made clear that he argued in favor of only innocent singing, physical sport and entertainment. Nowhere did he mention or argue in favor of the permissibility of musical instruments or musical accompaniment to singing. Thus, those who quote him as a proof for the legality of music commit a gross error and do him a great injustice, for they impute to him that which he himself did not claim.

As for the two traditions mentioned by Al-Ghazaali, neither one meets the criterion required as proof for permissibility. The first one refers to the 'Eid day festival when Aaishah listened to two young girls sing for her and beat upon a small hand drum (daff). The text of this tradition merely mentions an innocent form of singing Arabic poetry whose lyrics describe courage, noble manners and war.[149] This is all permissible by unanimous consent and in no way lends itself as proof of the permissibility of music and/or singing to musical accompaniment.[150] The second tradition mentions Aaishah as a child watching Ethiopian warriors perform physical feats and display their abilities with spears and shields. In Islam, physical exercises and exhibitions of skill and prowess are not only permissible but praiseworthy as well, especially if they are done for the purpose of keeping the body in physical and mental readiness for jihaad. It is essential to point out that in this hadeeth there is absolutely no mention of either music or singing and, therefore, is invalid as a defense for what has been claimed.

Thus, one may surmise that Al-Ghazaali argued for nothing more than that for which legality has been established and agreed upon. For the sake of argument, if Al-Ghazaali or any other scholar had argued for the permissibility of music and/or singing to its accompaniment, the reply would be precisely what has been stated in the case of Ibn Hazm and Ibnul-Arabi: When it is in contradiction to the authentic sunnah, one cannot accept the view of any other person after Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be up on him.)

From what has preceded, it is no exaggeration to state that there is a general consensus of the scholars of the Islamic ummah regarding the prohibition of music and singing to musical accompaniment. This is true because the consensus (ijmaa') was accomplished by those whose ijmaa' is esteemed and binding: the companions, taabi'een, and the four famous and respected imams. These were the best of generations, as is witnessed by Allah's Messenger when he said, "The best of people is my generation, and then those that follow them, and then those that follow them."[151] The fact that a few later scholars differed with these pious predecessors has no effect on their previously-established consensus. Rather, one must consider the later scholars' dissension as a clear example of deviation (shudhoodh) bearing no weight in the scale of the divinely-revealed shari'ah.


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