By Laura El Alam
One of the most confusing and challenging topics for converts to Islam (as well as more established Muslims) is music. Many of us grew up considering music a major, positive part of our life. We may have played instruments, sung in a choir or band, and/or listened to our favorite songs for entertainment, celebration, consolation, or simply background noise. Certain tunes bring back fond memories, energize us, and connect us to our culture, family, history, and traditions.
When we embraced Islam, some of us were told by more experienced Muslims that music is haraam, or impermissible. Eager to please Allah and do the right thing, many of us stopped playing our instruments, turned off our radios, and even threw away our music collection.
But then things got confusing. We noticed that millions of Muslims around the world were still listening to music! If we visited a Muslim-majority land, we probably heard songs blasting from car radios, catchy tunes playing on TV shows and in shopping centers, and music literally shaking the walls at raucous wedding celebrations. If music is sinful, why do so many Muslims listen to it?
So, what is the truth about music? Is it haraam? Halal? Did we really need to throw away all our favorite CD’s? Do we need to pull our kids out of music class at school? Is it okay to play the piano? Listen to Mozart? Sing lullabies or silly songs to our children? Turn on the radio as we drive?
You will hear different answers to these questions, and that is because there are different legitimate scholarly opinions about music. Some Islamic scholars advise that music should be avoided altogether. Others believe that while wind and string instruments are impermissible, percussion instruments are allowed. And then there are scholars who state the opinion that listening to any music is permissible as long as the song is morally upright.
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states, “Music is an issue that has been hotly debated by scholars of the past and the present. While many of them have been generally inclined to condemn all forms of music, with the singular exception of ad-duff (tambourine) in weddings, quite a few of them have taken a more positive approach of considering only music containing sensual, pagan, or unethical themes or subliminal messages as being categorically forbidden. The latter view seems to be more consistent with the general nature of Islam, which is undoubtedly a complete way of life that caters to all of the genuine human instincts and needs within permissible limits. Thus, to say that all music is forbidden in Islam does not seem to agree with the balanced approach of Islam to issues of human life and experience.”1
One thing all scholars agree on is this: songs with unwholesome lyrics or unethical messages are not permissible. Some examples of this are foul language, lyrics that encourage fornication/illicit relationships, messages that degrade or objectify women, and racial slurs. Sadly the majority of popular music includes at least some of these criteria and therefore promotes immoral, un-Islamic behavior.
To decide whether music should be a part of your life, begin by familiarizing yourself with the different scholarly opinions and their reasoning to appreciate where they come from. Here is one good article on the subject. Also consider what makes your soul feel most comfortable in front of Allah. Does the music you listen to bring you closer to Him, or farther away? If there are lyrics, are they appropriate? Would you be willing to play a certain song in front of your grandmother or an innocent child? Would you play it in front of the Prophet (peace be upon him)? If not, then it definitely does not align with your Islamic values.
Remember: literally nothing is more important than your relationship with your Creator. If you give up music – or certain kinds of music– to please Him and draw closer to Him, surely He will reward you with generous blessings.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Verily, you will never leave anything for the sake of Allah Almighty but that Allah will replace it with something better for you.” [Source: Musnad Aḥmad 23074]
Whatever you decide about music, please be respectful of other Muslims’ informed decisions. As John (Yahya) Ederer writes, “Whichever opinion [on music] you feel is stronger, you are welcome to follow. Please don’t judge someone else because they follow a different opinion than you. Our scholars teach us the following principle in dealing with law—there shall be no rebuking in matters of legitimate disagreement.”2