Following on from our discussion on consensus and ijtihad, I would like to emphasise that a particular aim of this discourse is to present rational arguments without entering into details of Islamic law and textual proofs behind the impermissibility of using musical instruments. The debate is not limited to a matter of opinion, proof or consensus; it extends to one of rationality. I have purposely taken this approach to enlighten Muslims, especially those residing and raised in Western countries who are not aware of its significance; it is crucial to maintain and uphold what has already been established in the Shari’ah: correctly understood textual scripture and valid absolute rationale operate in tandem with each other and lead to the same result.
The second reason for this approach is to emulate the practice of scholars throughout Islamic history whereby they would submit to the verdicts of the overwhelming majority of scholars before them without attempting to reinvent the wheel and discuss ‘the grounds’ behind such established rules. As repeatedly mentioned any opinion that goes against the opinion of the overwhelming majority of scholars of our Islamic history is void and null. To meticulously discuss its grounds nowadays with the standpoint of challenging it or seeking to double-check its legitimacy after this extensive and sturdy legacy may appear to some to give the issue some weight but in actual fact, it is weightless. Can we discuss the obligation of hijab in this manner? Can we examine the evidence for the prohibition of homosexuality with this intent? Can we try to verify the textual proofs that prohibit dealing with usury [riba] to see their level of authority and ‘true’ interpretation? The answers to these questions are clearly no as they are well-established rulings. If we start doing so, we will end up destroying our religion by our own doings and will loose confidence in any Islamic principle or ruling as it may be questionable and hence we need to understand it and be convinced of its legitimacy! Moreover, once we open this door we will start every now and then a new discussion about such well-established rulings and turn away from discussing the real agenda that at times discreetly and other times openly initiates debate around them. We will consume our time and effort in discussing what does not require discussion and ignore to our own peril pressing matters that require our attention such as the ongoing challenges the Muslim community and ummah continuously face. A typical example of such deception is the debate that took place a while ago around a woman assuming the role of an imam and leading men in prayer; unfortunately, a number of scholars and students started to discuss the ruling on this matter purely from a juristic point of view when it was sufficient to raise awareness to the consensus or the overwhelming agreement of scholars throughout Islamic history on this. During this hot debate, many were oblivious to the dangerous agenda behind this action and the movement to support it. It is beyond the scope of this series of articles to discuss this agenda and its methods; however we intend to point out the fallacy of certain reactions and approaches and their perilous consequences.
The view of scholars towards music
Numerous scholars have declared consensus [ijma’] on the prohibition of using musical instruments which suggests at the very least that the opinion which permits using musical instruments is unreliable.
The list includes scholars such as al-Tabari (d.311 A.H.), al-Nawawi (d.676 A.H.), Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdasi (d.620 A.H.), al-Qurtubi (d.671 A.H.) and Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728 A.H.). The famous companion Ibn Mas’ud held that listening to musical instruments gives birth to disbelief and hypocrisy in one’s heart. Al-Awza’i (d.157 A.H.), a very famous scholar of the second generation, narrated that the righteous Caliph Umar Ibn Abdul‘Aziz (d.101 A.H.) sent a letter to one of his governors with the words, ‘…and your presentation of musical and woodwind instruments is an innovation in Islam. I had resolved to dispatch to you someone who would shear the hair on the back of your head, such vile hair!’ Likewise, Imam Malik (d.179 A.H.), who resided in Madinah – the home of the vast majority of the Companions of the Prophet stated, ‘Only the very sinful amongst us listen to music’. Imam Malik’s opinion was in fact a Madinian opinion, which reflected their consensus: a source of authority if not legislation. Can it be reasonably argued that while so many early scholars greatly detested using musical instruments, there were those who believed it was acceptable? This cannot be the case and is precisely the reason why some scholars negate the opinion (of allowing music) being attributed to any of the early scholars. The famous Hanbali scholar Ibn Hajar al-Hanbali (d.795 A.H.) stated, ‘Whoever attributes the opinion permitting music to any of the scholars who are respected in legal issues has surely erred.’
Music: the message of peace and love?
In his article, Sami Yusuf stated, ‘In the midst of all this, it is upon all conscious and responsible artists who look beyond the commercial to work in refining arts and music. Apart from entertaining audiences, music is a powerful medium to communicate values and social messages. In these times where heinous crimes against humanity are being committed, we as artists – Muslims or non-Muslims, British or non-British – have a duty to use this medium to bring some sanity to this world of unrest, fear, violence, terror and war. Human life and dignity are values that should be cherished and championed by all’.
Those who erroneously support such an idea go even further and compare their music to the poems of Hassan Ibn Thabit, the famous Companion who would use his poetic skills to defend the Prophet may Allah praise and send peace upon him, and the Islamic values which he propagated. The idea that music is a powerful medium to communicate values and social messages is merely an emotional and unscholarly view. However appealing this idea may seem, we must understand that it is far from reality. We must consider the power in Hassan’s poetry and the reasons why the Prophet not only endorsed but also encouraged him to defend Islam. The strength of Hassan’s poems lay in the denotation of his rhythmic and eloquent words; this is what makes a poem effective. There are no legal issues with regard to Muslims practising the art of poetry. One dreams of Muslim poets eloquently articulating and defending Islam and its values.
However, the discussion here is focused on the use of musical instruments which are normally accompanied by bodily movements as mentioned by Sister Yvonne. Furthermore, music may be a weapon, but a counterproductive one, for embedded within it is a culture of permissiveness and liberalism. Many non-Muslims concede this fact and have undertaken research analysing the connection between music, behaviour and crime.
There is no comparison between the power of comprehendible and eloquent words and insignificant sounds. This method of argument to promote idealistic concepts is akin to Christian use of flowery language and idealism in order to promote that which cannot be defended using rational arguments. Attempts by some Christians to sugar-coat theological inconsistencies failed and turned people away. One can say that the public have lost faith in the methodology of using music to propagate messages of love and peace as they have realised that it lacks practicality. Furthermore, these methods have led many people to the conclusion that they are being duped in order to keep the focus away from the root cause of problems.
In our current climate, how can music contribute to solving the many conflicts that exist in many parts of the world? It certainly has not brought some sanity to this world of unrest, fear, violence, terror and war. How will music contribute to stopping Western troops from attacking innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, or stop Israelis from shedding the blood of innocent women and children in Lebanon and Palestine? Such a view is utterly erroneous and we must free ourselves of using such fanciful idealistic concepts that have no relevance to reality. Let us take an intellectual and rational approach to the problems and their solutions.
The reality of this world is quite different from what we may hope it to be. We should be calling Muslims to arise and face the real challenges, such as taking a leading role in promoting correct principles and values, values such as freeing people from servitude of man to the servitude of Allah alone.
Such an imperative undertaking requires maturity and seriousness to the extent that we should be willing to sacrifice our lives and wealth for the cause. I call upon all Muslims to remember that this life is a test as we are informed in the Qur’an, ‘Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the dominion, and He is Able to do all things; Who has created death and life, that He may test you which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.’1 Allah also said, ’The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception (i.e., a deceiving thing).’2 Hence, this life is essentially a conflict between truth and falsehood and even a cursory glance at history would visibly affirm this reality. A moral system should be based on a sense of what is good and evil, what is truth and falsehood. Peace and love form only a part of the reality, and thus, our discussion should not be limited to these values in isolation of others for that would certainly end with detrimental consequences. Any system that promotes these values without having power, strength and rule of law to protect and maintain them is nothing but a hoax. This is contrary to the reality of Islam and this should reflect in our literature and discourses. It is the practicality of Islam that will be convincing to people from all spectrums.
The debate is not limited to Music
An essential aspect of pop culture (including music) is the resulting various evil effects which are usually overlooked in discussions. It is the norm however to analyse such effects within Islamic jurisprudence. It is sad to witness respected Muslim figures speaking about music and its permissibility and citing examples of the music played at the beginning of news programs or what is occurs and is heard unintentionally in the street. Their discussions are usually limited to these simple cases; however, their views are frequently misunderstood as a justification for contemporary music. Sami Yusuf in his response to Yvonne correctly stated that, ‘The obsessive fascination of fans towards any celebrity – be it in arts, music, politics, media, etc – to the point of hysteria and hero-worshipping is definitely unhealthy not to mention un-Islamic’.
However, he also stated, ‘I definitely did not see girls dancing or behaving indecently in any of my concerts. To state otherwise is a gross exaggeration if not an outright fallacy’. I have personally asked numerous people about many ‘Islamic concerts’ and their comments and views resemble those of Yvonne’s. Recently, I attended a major Islamic event, at the end of which there was an ‘Islamic concert’. I remained behind for a few minutes in order to observe; I could not believe what was being done in the name of Islam! Members of the opposite sex where freely mixing, so much so that they were sitting next each other and their thighs were touching.
Once the ‘Islamic’ music began, the audience began to clap and their bodies to shake in their chairs. I decided to leave disgusted at what I had observed and met another brother who had also entered the hall with the intention to examine the ongoing of such concerts; he was surprised that I had departed so early on though the concert had not properly began. Muslim singers mention that music plays a major role in communicating ‘values and social messages’. Based upon what happens in such concerts, can they still argue that these noble goals are achieved? Furthermore, the youth exchange singers’ photos by e-mail and text message. They hang posters of these singers’ on their bedroom walls. They act with bad manners, pushing and shoving in order to reach their hero to attain his autograph, jumping and screaming as the singers make their way to the stage. This clearly resembles idolisation of the famous which contravenes the Islamic code of conduct. Our ummah is calling out to us to produce genuine men and women who can meet the hardships it faces and provide a future with hope and optimism for the establishment of servitude to Allah and welfare of our brothers and sisters; this cannot be achieved through fads and mere dreams of betterment and through incapacitating our youth via the escapism and harmful effects of music: a matter out-rightly rejected and deemed impermissible throughout our fourteen hundred year history. In my next article, I will move onto exploring some thoughts on the discussion around Britishness and identity, by the will of Allah, may he be Glorified.
Notes: Published on: Jul 26, 2007
1. Surah al-Mulk 67:1
2. Surah Aal Imran 3:185