Music & Islam – what’s the big fuss?



Music & Islam – what’s the big fuss?

In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Taliban continues to attack musicians and music shops, but what is the position on music in Islam? For several years Freemuse has stimulated research and documentation on issues of music and Islam. For instance:

Battling over the public sphere

To begin with, we recommend you read the extensive introduction by Jonas Otterbeck, PhD in History of Religions. His 22-pages working paper is entitled:
‘Islamic reactions to the music of today’
Click to read Jonas Otterbeck's working paper

Is music – or is it not – allowed in Islam?
This article is primarily based on information from the Freemuse report about music and censorship in the Middle East, ‘All that is Banned is Desired’. The report is a summary of the Conference on Freedom of Expression in Music which Freemuse organised in Beirut in 2005:
‘The burning music question in Islam’
Click to read the article
Beirut conference

“There is no ban on music in the Qur’an”

Shaykh Ibrahim Ramadan Al-Mardini, Islamic scholar from The Beirut Studies and Documentation Center, shares his insight concerning the topic Music & Islam:
‘Islamic scholar rejects religious prohibition on music’
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Shaykh Al-Mardini

‘Freemuse Ambassador’ Salman Ahmad from Pakistan

Salman Ahmad has been challenging the religious music ban in Islam, and was portrayed in a documentary film about the topic, ‘The Rock Star and the Mullahs’. Together with his band Junoon he joined major artists from all over the world at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert on Tuesday 11 December 2007. The concert was televised to 100 countries.

Read more…
Click to read more
Salman Ahmad

‘There is no specific Qur’anic proscription of music and songs’

This is stated in ‘Advice for schools – Brief guidance for handling Muslim parental concern’ which was published by British Muslims for Secular Democracy in United Kingdom in February 2010. An excerpt:

What should schools do when parents object to their children participating in drama, music or art?

Creativity in a person, be they child or adult is considered to be a divine blessing in Islam. To harness natural talent is to maximise on that gift and serve to create good for oneself and for the betterment of others. This talent may not be overtly obvious until it is discovered. Every child must be enabled to release personal creativity. There are many avenues which unleash an individual’s capacity to tap into the different forms of intelligence in the human brain. Psychologists believe that there are various types of intelligence: linguistic, spatial, logical, social awareness, athleticism and aesthetic.

Contemporary examples of talented British Muslims include composer, singer and an accomplished musician, Sami Yusuf has sold over a million copies of his debut album ‘al-Mu’allim’ while his second album ‘My Ummah’ has exceeded sales of three million copies worldwide. Yusuf is a devout Muslim for whom music and songs are a means of promoting a message of love, compassion, peace and tolerance whilst simultaneously encouraging the youth to be proud of their religion and identity.

Another growing trend amongst the Muslim youth in the UK is that of listening to ‘Nasheeds’. These are Islamic-oriented songs which by nature are capellas (a type of music that is vocal, sung traditionally without instrumental accompaniment) accompanied only by a daff which is a large-sized frame drum commonly used in popular and classical music in various parts of the Middle East. While conservative Muslim scholars prohibit the use of instruments with the exception of basic percussion, they have no objection to the Nasheed, particularly since this musical genre is hugely popular because of its simplicity and purity. It is important to remember that there is no specific Qur’anic proscription of music and songs and that as long as this does not promote immorality and indecency, music is not outlawed in Islam.

Today a whole new generation of nasheed artists have emerged infusing newer methodologies and utilising a wider range of musical instruments to express their artistic creativity. Over time there has been a merging crossover of mainstream music with groups like ‘Outlandish’ and solo artists like Dawud Wharnsby Ali appealing to wider Muslim audiences at Islamic orientated gatherings and festivals. The American music genre of rap has also attracted modern day Muslim artists who have directed Muslim youth to channel its talent and energy in promoting the pristine message of the Islamic faith whilst steering away from the twin dangers of extremism and alienation.

Islam forbids all forms of immoral acts. So schools should not propagate such acts or actions. They are there to provide a wholesome education that is supplemented by the home environment and the wider society itself. A substantial proportion of this education should be devoted to areas that encourage artistic expression. Every child has a right to discover and explore such freedom of artistic expression and individual creativity. There may be some difficult situations – for example visits to art galleries where nudes are on display. There is no reason at all to capitulate to parents who may demand that their child be excused these on ground of morality. These works of European art are part of the heritage of the continent, and also the great Muslim Moghul artistic traditions. Ignorance is not an option. You may want to introduce debates on art in the west and east, the human form or not.

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See also:
Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools – Information & Guidance for Schools, published by the Muslim Council of Britain in 2007. An excerpt from page 52:

Music is part of the national curriculum and is required to be taught at Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. There is a great diversity of opinion regarding music amongst Muslims. These are often influenced by local cultures and varying religious interpretations. Traditionally, music is limited to the human voice and non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums. Within these constraints, Muslim artists have been very creative. Relying on the beauty and harmony of their voices, Muslims use music to remember God, nature, justice, morality and history.

Traditionally these types of musical renderings are called ‘Nasheeds’ and Muslims have been singing these for centuries, especially during wedding celebrations and festivals. Nasheeds have been significantly developed by Muslim artists as an alternative to potentially harmful forms of music, and have since grown in popularity amongst Muslims living in Britain.

All forms of music that may include the use of obscene and blasphemous language, encourage or promote immoral behaviour, arouse lustful feelings, encourage the consumption of intoxicants and drugs or contain unethical and un-Islamic lyrics would be considered objectionable. For this reason some Muslim parents may express concerns in the way music is taught in school and the extent to which their children may participate in it. Some Muslims may hold a very conservative attitude towards music and may seek to avoid it altogether, not wishing their children to participate in school music lessons. In such cases the school can show great understanding by providing alternative musical learning opportunities.

In the national curriculum there is no parental right to withdraw from music. However, parents may ask to see the syllabus and schemes of work. If they have consequent moral or religious concerns these can be raised with the headteacher who may be able to resolve them. Failing this the matter can also be taken up with the governors, who must have in place a formal arrangement for dealing with complaints relating to the curriculum. Where there is goodwill and understanding on all sides such issues are almost always resolved.

Music: Islamic viewpoint

Question: “Are singing and listening to music against the Islamic teachings? Why?”

In a series entitled ‘Islam and Arts (Q & A)’, triies to find answers to many questions that spark controversy about arts in Islam. For example, what kind of arts is permitted? And what kinds are not? On a weekly basis, highlights a question from one of their readers along with its answer by Wael Shihab, deputy managing editor of the Shari’ah Department at (IOL). Wael Shihab graduated from Al-Azhar University and later received his MA in Islamic Studies, with a major in Islamic jurisprudence and its principles. Now a PhD student, he is working on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence at the same university.

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Click to see Salman's presentation in CopenhagenSalman Ahmad visits Denmark: Focus on arguments against religious music prohibition

Click to see video interview with Mark LeVineThe American author and historian Mark LeVine: ‘Heavy Metal and Islam’

Click to see video interview with Mark LeVineMark LeVine: ‘Globalisation in the Middle East’

Click to see video interview with Ruba SaqrJordanian singer Ruba Saqr: ‘Self-censorship among Middle Eastern musicians’

Click to see video interview with Bashar ShammoutBashar Shammout: ‘Freemuse and the Middle East’

Music And Muslims: The ‘Cat Stevens’ Effect

Employees of Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Afghanistan discuss the issues of music and Islam, and how musicians in areas controlled by Islamic fundamentalists find their very lives under threat. Quote:

“Many moderate Muslims around the world are open to various forms of music, provided they don’t offend basic Islamic moral values. These scholars emphasize “niyya,” a word meaning “intention,” when it comes to musicians and those listening to their music.

Such thinkers generally accept most forms of music but push for its moral development, arguing against popular music that is focused primarily on sexuality (especially female). Followers of Islam’s mystical Sufi tradition, meanwhile, have a rich musical history, with dancing an integral part of their worship.”

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Radio Free Europe – 17 March 2011:
Music And Muslims: The ‘Cat Stevens’ Effect

Seemingly contradictory statements

“Does Islam ban dancing and music? An Afghan official said 17 were beheaded for dancing at a party. Muslims are divided on the question,” wrote Brian Palmer on 31 August 2012. Excerpts:

“The prophet Muhammad made seemingly contradictory statements about the performing arts, providing justification for people on either side of this doctrinal dispute. According to some accounts, Muhammad promised that Allah would turn musicians into “monkeys and pigs.” On special occasions, however, he seems to have enjoyed a little music.”

“While moderate Muslims generally don’t object to music and dancing per se, a large portion of the faithful view sexually suggestive movement, racy lyrics, and unmarried couples dancing together as haram, because they may lead to un-Islamic behavior. This viewpoint resembles the anti-dance feeling common among American Christians at various times in U.S. history.”

Read more: – 31 August 2012:
Does Islam ban dancing and music?

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