Music and Singing: Exceptions to the Rule of Prohibition

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The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing
By: Abu Bilal Mustafa al-Kanadi
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

Having established beyond a doubt the general ruling of prohibition regarding this issue, it should be stressed that Islam does not totally forbid all music and song. There are occasions when certain forms of music and song are lawful. The only way to determine these occasions is to refer to the texts of the authentic sunnah of the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings). In the highly-balanced Islamic system there is room for amusement, merriment and sport, for these are natural yearnings of the human soul. However, Islam provides facility for healthy, decorous merriment and sport which are pure and free from the usual sin and evil generated by the prohibited forms.

Examples of Occasions Specified by the Sunnah

Jihaad and Its Adjuncts

During jihaad and other struggles in the way of Allah, battle songs are of great spiritual and moral benefit to the warriors. In these circumstances, song incites heroism and valor and excites the Muslim people to "take up the sword" for the cause of Allah, the Glorified and Exalted, so that His word may be raised up and the word of the disbelievers relegated to the lowest depths.

Thus, the Messenger and certain of his companions (such as Khaalid Ibnul-Waleed and Ali bin Abi Taalib) sometimes resorted to this method to rouse up the feelings of the mujaahideen[171] before or on the way to combat. The text of the following hadeeth clearly indicates this:

Al-Baraa reported that Allah's Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) carried earth on the Day of the Ditch[172] until his stomach was covered with dust, while he chanted these verses:

"By Allah, if not for Him we never would be guided, nor have been charitable, nor have prayed. So send down peace and tranquility upon us, and make the feet firm if we meet [our enemy]. Verily, the others rebelled against us. When they[173] desired discord [fitnah], we refused, we refused."

The Prophet raised his voice with the refrain, "we refused, we refused."[174]

In another narration of Al-Bukhaari, the Prophet and his companions sang in chorus as related herein:

Anas related that while digging the trench around Madeenah, the Muhaajireen and the Ansaar[175] began chanting these verses: "We are the ones who've pledged fealty to Muhammad; that we remain always constant in Islam." The Prophet replied in turn, "Oh Allah, there's no good but the good of the Hereafter, so bless the Ansaar and Muhaajirah."

The Battle of the Ditch took place during the 5th year of the Hijrah. The enemies of Islam, the Quraysh, numbered 24,000 and were aided by the Hews, Christians and the hypocrites. The Prophet, on the other hand, had about 2,000 Muslims with him to combat the enemy. He participated in digging and carrying the soil from the ditch like an ordinary laborer and began singing these verses composed by the poet Abdullah bin Rawwaahah. He emphasized the refrain by raising his voice and prolonging it so that everyone heard.[176] In this circumstance, song united the hearts of the believers and gave them courage and determination. And by Allah's grace, the enemy was thoroughly beaten.

It must be mentioned that some early fuqahaa were of the opinion that the drum (at-tabi) is also allowable in war. To this, some latter-day scholars added "military music." The eminent authority of hadeeth literature of our present era, Muhammad Naasiruddeen Al-Albaani, has satisfactorily refuted these last two views in his treatise, Sissilatul Ahaadeeth As-Saheehah, where he states:

There is nothing at all to support such viewpoints for the following reasons: Firstly, they constitute specification of and exception to the [general ruling of] traditions which established prohibition, without a valid, pertinent text to justify it. Rather, they are mere opinion and personal approval. Secondly, it is expected of Muslims that during was they should turn to their Lord with their very hearts, seeking from Him victory over the enemy. That is more conducive to achieving calm and tranquility in their souls. As for music, it thwarts such an objective and turns them away from remembrance of and concentration upon their Lord. Allah, the Exalted says {Oh believers, when you meet the enemy forces, think of Allah much [by mentioning His praises], that you may be successful.}[177] Thirdly, the use of the drum and military music are the practices of the disbelievers {who do not believe in Allah or the Last Day, and who do not prohibit that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor do they follow the Religion of Truth.[178]}[179] Hence, it is not permissible for us to resemble them,[180] especially regarding that which has been generally forbidden for us by Allah, the Blessed and Sublime.[181]

The Celebration of the two 'Eid Festivals

During the days of festivity which mark the celebration of the great Islamic festivals, innocent singing and beating on the daff as a rhythmical accompaniment is permissible as indicated by a number of texts of the authentic sunnah such as the following from Al-Bukhaari's compilation:

Aaishah said, "Allah's Messenger (upon whom be peace and blessings) entered into my presence while two young girls were singing the songs of Bu'aath[182] whereupon he laid down and turned his face away. Abu Bakr entered and scolded my saying, 'The flute of Satan in front of the Prophet?!' Allah's Messenger (upon whom be peace and blessings) turned to Abu Bakr saying, 'Leave them be.'" Aaishah continued, "When the Prophet dozed off, I signaled to them and they left." In another narration of Al-Buhkaari, Aaishah mentioned that [her father] Abu Bakr came to her during the days of Mina.[183] There were two young girls with her, beating upon the daff, while the Prophet was covered with his cloth. Then Abu Bakr began scolding the girls, whereupon the Prophet disclosed his face [from under the covering] and said, "Leave them, Oh Abu Bakr, for these are the days of the 'Eed festival."

The Wedding Feast

Likewise, it is permissible to let the women and young girls sing[184] and beat upon the daff during the wedding feast. The singing must be innocent and not describe love or acts of immorality. Singing and beating upon the daff serves to proclaim the occasion of the wedding and brings joy to the wedding guests. The following tradition points to this fact:

Muhammad bin Haatib Al-Jumahi relates that the Messenger of Allah said, "The demarcation between the unlawful and the lawful [in marriage] is the daff and the voice."[185]

There are numerous other traditions which indicate the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings) encouraging women to sing and beat the daff. The following hadeeth is an appropriate example:

Aaishah (may Allah be pleased with her) related that the Messenger of Allah said, "Proclaim this marriage, solemnize it in the mosque and beat the daff upon its occasion."[186] In the following traditions we see the Prophet's encouragement of singing to the accompaniment of the daff: Aaishah reported that a woman was given in marriage to a man of the Ansaar. The Prophet of Allah said, "Oh Aaishah, was there no entertainment, for the Ansaar are pleased with entertainment." [Related by Al-Bukhaari.] In another narration, the text indicates that the Prophet said to Aaishah, "did you send a young girl wit? the bride to beat upon the daff and sing?" Aaishah replied, "What should she say in her song?" He replied, "Let her say, 'To you we have come, to you we have come! So welcome us, as we welcome you!'"[187]

This was also the practice of the noble companions as indicated in the following narration:

Aamir bin Sa'd (may Allah be pleased with him) said, "I entered into the presence of Qaradha bin Ka'b and Abi Mas'ood Al-Ansaari during a wedding celebration, where some girls were singing.[188] I said, 'Oh companions of Allah's Messenger and warriors of Badr, is this done in your presence?' They said, 'Sit and listen with us if you like, and if not, then leave. For verily, entertainment has been permitted for us during the wedding feast."[189]

It should be stressed that the aforementioned singing and playing upon the daff is restricted to women and young girls and is not meant for men. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalaani said, "An attempt has been made to prove the view that singing and beating upon the daff is not restricted to women, by quoting the command of the Prophet, 'Beat the daff upon its occasion.'[190] This is weak, where as the strongest narrations indicate that permission has been given to women; so men are not to be included in this category, for there is general prohibition of men resembling women."[191] Shaykh Muhammad al-Mubaarakfoori added, "Such is the case with the permissible form of singing at the wedding feast; it is specifically for women and not for men."[192] Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah confrims this in his celebrated Fataawa where he says, "The Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings) allowed certain forms of amusement at the wedding festivity and similar celebrations. During the Prophet's era, none of the men used to beat upon the daff or slap his hands [in rhythm]. Rather, it has been authentically related that the Prophet said, 'Clapping is for women and tasbeeh[193] is for men,'[194] and he cursed 'women who resemble men, and men who resemble women.'[195] Since singing and the beating of the daff are the practices of women, the predecessors[196] used to call a man who did them effeminate. In addition, male singer were also termed effeminate."[197]

The Arrival of a Respected Personality

Celebrating may be done at the arrival of a respected guest, relative or personality, such as a pious scholar, or at the return of Muslim warriors (mujaahideen) or a long-estranged loved one. In these cases, innocent poems and songs may be sung to the accompaniment of the simple daff.[198] This point is proven in a number of traditions such as the following one, wherein a woman had made a vow to beat upon the daff in the Prophet's presence if he arrived safely from one of his military expeditions:

Amru bun Shu'ayb related from his grandfather that a woman said, "Oh Messenger of Allah, verily, I have vowed to strike upon the daff[199] in your very presence." He replied to her, "Fulfill your vow."[200]

The following narration of At-Tirmidhi clarifies who the woman was and why he permitted her to do so:

Buraydah said, "Allah's Messenger left for one of his expeditions and upon his return, a black slave-girl came to him saying, 'Oh Messenger of Allah, verily, I vowed that if Allah returned you safely I would beat the daff and sing[201] in your presence.'[202] Allah's Messenger said to her,' If you made a vow,[203] then fulfill it by beating the daff, otherwise don't.'[204] Upon this she began to beat the hand drum, during which Abu Bakr entered, then Ali, followed by Uthmaan. Upon Umar's entering, she threw the daff under her backside and sat on it, whereupon Allah's Messenger said, 'Verily, Satan fears you, Oh Umar!'"[205]

On other occasions such as the Prophet's arrival at Madeenah and upon his return from the Battle of Tabook,[206] joy was expressed in the singing of poetical songs. It is mentioned in the biographies of the Prophet,[207] that at his arrival from Makkah, the Ansaar of Madeenah came out to greet him (even women, along with children and infants), chanting these verses:

The full moon[208] has risen upon us
Over the hills of Wadaa'[209]
Gratitude is incumbent upon us[210]
Each time a petitioner calls upon Allah.

Additionally, the people of Madeenah welcomed Allah's Messenger in a similar fashion upon his safe return from his expedition to Tabook during the ninth year of the Hijrah.[211]

Other Occasions Agreed upon by Scholars

Other occasions during which innocent singing is permissible have been mentioned by the scholars of Islam. For example, in order to give one strength in carrying heavy loads or doing laborious, monotonous work, pure songs with clean lyrics may be resorted to individually or in chorus, as was done by the Prophet and his companions in digging the trench around Madeenah. During long travels by horse, camel or other riding animals, one may sing or chant rhythmically to relieve boredom and to quicken the animal's pace, as was done by the Arabs during their travels by caravan. The Prophet's camel driver, Anjashah, was known to do this as a way of getting the beasts to move at faster pace.[212] In addition to this, innocent singing to one's self during loneliness or boredom is allowed, as well as a parent's singing to a baby or small child in order to amuse it, to quiet it or to put it to sleep.

In conclusion, songs whose lyrics heighten spiritual consciousness and encourage people to pious works, such as prayer charity, jihaad, etc. are all praiseworthy,[213] but these should be resorted to in moderation, on appropriate occasions and according to proper decorum.

Occasions Differed Upon by Scholars: A Critical Analysis and Refutation

Pertinent texts from the authentic sunnah which identify the various occasions during which the permissible form of singing (ghinaa) and/or the beating of the daff is appropriate, were mentioned previously. They were then followed by a specification of certain other occasions generally agreed upon by the dependable scholars. At this point it is necessary to focus attention upon a vital question which issues from what has preceded: Is one required to stick to the specific occasions limited by the sunnah and agreed upon by the scholars regarding singing and the use of the daff, or can their use by extended to other occasions, without limit?

As will be clearly proven, Muslims are bound by the specific occasions and circumstances specified by the sunnah and agreed upon by the scholars. It is necessary to lay background for this discussion.

Some of the jurists affiliated with one or another of the jurisprudential schools of thought have argued that the reason ('illah) for allowing singing and the beating of the daff on the occasions previously mentioned (such as the 'Eed festivals, wedding celebrations, etc.) is that these are times of happiness and joy, and that singing and beating the daff help to achieve this objective. On this line of reasoning, they argue that both things are allowed upon all occasions of joy.[214] The following argumentation suffices as a candid refutation of their unfounded claims.

Firstly, it has been established from various authentic texts of the sunnah that the general ruling regarding music and song is tahreem (prohibition). Those specific instances where a certain type of singing and beating upon the daff is allowed are exceptions (istithnaa) to that general ruling of tahreem. According to the principles of usool, the limited bounds of exceptions (mustathna'aat) to an established rule are not to be widened in scope; nor can analogy (qeeyaas) be applied to an exception (mustathna) from the general ruling.[215] The following example clarifies this concept.

To strut in pride and arrogance (at-tabakhtur) is strictly prohibited for a believer, as the Prophet warned, "Whosoever has in his heart pride[216] to the extent of a mustard seed will not enter Paradise.[217] Yet, in spite of this general ruling of prohibition, at-tabakhtur is allowed during true jihaad[218] against the enemy; a clear and limited exception to the general rule. However, it would not be allowed, by way of analogy or through a widening (tawassu) of the strictly limited bounds of such an exception, for the players of a Muslim national football team to strut in pride and arrogance during a game or after their victory over an opposing non-Muslim team. This is because at-tabakhtur is totally prohibited, except for the one, single mentioned circumstance of true jihaad. Other circumstances cannot be included in the category of exceptions (mustathna'aat) unless there is proof to substantiate them, such as valid texts from the Quraan, the authentic sunnah or ijmaaa' (consensus) of the companions or later scholars. Similarly, qeeyaas (analogy) cannot be validly applied here, for qeeyaas must be made upon an original ruling of permissibility. Here the original ruling is prohibition. In conclusion, those who attempt to overstep the bounds and limitations of an exception to a general ruling by adding other objects or circumstances to its restricted category, or attempt to apply analogy in such a case, contradict the established rules of usoolul fiqh. As a result they render their position mistaken, baseless and subsequently, untenable.

Secondly, there are no authentically-related traditions which indicate that singing or the daff were resorted to upon the constant occurrence of "joyous occasions"[219] (al-munaasabaat as-saarrah) during the Prophet's auspicious era and during the era of the rightly-guided caliphs and gracious companions. Had such a thing occurred even a few times on such numerous opportunities, it is most unlikely[220] that it was not related at all! Rather, the lack of a pertinent narration regarding this particular point clearly indicated that this was not done during the Prophet's blessed time (Allah's peace and blessings be upon him). As for the era of the four rightly-guided caliphs and the illustrious companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), there is one related narration (athar) regarding the second caliph, Umar Ibnul-Khattab, which is often mistakenly used by some scholars to "prove" that other joyous occasions besides those documented from hadeeth literature can be included in the category where singing and the daff are allowed. The Arabic text and its translation follow:

Abdur-Razzaaq related from Mamar through Auuoob by way of Ibn Seereen that if Umar Ibnul-Khattab heard a voice [singing] or the beating of the daff, he would ask, "What's that?" If he was told it was the occasion of a wedding [feast] or a circumcision [ceremony] he would remain silent.[221]

This and other similar narrations[222] regarding Umar's silence on such occasions are erroneous and are not valid proof because they are weak (da'eef). There is a break in the sanad (chain of transmitters) between Ibn Seereen and Umar Ibnul-Khattab, who died thirty years before the former was born.[223] Consequently, there is no documented evidence that our pious predecessors (as-salaf as-saalih), especially the best of generations, the companions, and their followers (taabi'een), went outside the limited scope of that which was allowed by authentic texts of the sunnah. On the contrary, there exists a number of authentic aathaar which clearly indicate the companions and taabi'een being averse to the unbridled use of the daff.[224] They considered its unrestricted use to be prohibited. Following are two examples[225] which suffice for the present puropose:

In the first text, it is reported that Qaadi Shurayh[226] heard the sound of the daff (being played), whereupon he said, "Verily, the angels do not enter the house in which a daff is played."[227] It was reported by Ibn Abi Shaybah with a good (jayyid) sanad.[228] The second text states that Ibraheem An-Nakha'I[229] said, "The disciples of Abdullah [Ibn Mas'ood] used to confront young girls who had dufoof with them[230] in the narrow alleyways, confiscate their instruments and break them up."[231]

Finally, it should be pointed out that if every joyous occasion were used as an excuse for singing and beating upon the daff, there would be no end or limit to their usage.[232] This is in contradiction to the letter and spirit of the Islamic view regarding this issue. The "letter" is embodied in the clearly-established ruling of prohibition of musical instruments (music) and singing, deduced from the authentic and clear texts of the sunnah, and the "spirit" of the Islamic view lies in a minimal involvement of the believers in such amusements and pastimes within the bounds and limits set by the divinely-revealed shari'ah. Ibn Hajar aptly summarizes the Islamic attitude regarding this question in his commentary of Al-Bukhaari's compilation where he says, "The basic principle to be borne in mind regarding this issue is that one should be above all amusement and play and refrain from them, except that which is specified as permissible[233] on the authority of a valid text – and then too – only according to the stipulated time[234] and way[235] in which such [excepted] things are to be performed."[236]

In short, the dependable view regarding occasions other than those documented by authentic texts and agreed upon by scholars is that they cannot be validly included along with the latter, due to overwhelming evidence. Those who hold the opposite view have no valid evidence to support their position. Their mere opinion is based on personal preference[237] and bears no weight whatsoever in the scales of the shari'ah.

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