Evil Aspects of Music

Evil Aspects of Music


Reflections

Man can attain success in the afterlife only by keeping his soul purified. The religious teachings are meant to guide him to the right course during the present life. Islam requires the believers to stay away from impurities of thought and action, and qualify for the eternal bliss reserved for the purified souls. All religious sources including dictates of nature, practices instituted by Abraham (sws) as part of religion, teachings of the Prophets and their Scriptures exhort man to perform deeds that help him purify his inner self and require him to refrain from acts that may render his soul impure. All the Shari'ah directives actually bring man's individual and collective life to the straight path leading to the ultimate end – purification of the soul. Practices and acts that can impair the soul are thus prohibited in all circumstances. The Almighty says:

إِنَّ اللّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاء ذِيالْقُرْبَى وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاء وَالْمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ يَعِظُكُمْلَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ (90:16)

Indeed God enjoins justice, kindness, and giving to near kindred, and forbids lewdness, abomination and rebellion. He exhorts you in order that you may take heed.1 (16:90)

If the evils enumerated in these verses and other similar ones accompany any allowable activity they render that particular allowable act destructive for one's purification. Therefore, if the art of poetry is employed in promoting polytheistic ideas, it will necessarily be forbidden. Similarly if a certain kind of music incites man on drinking and intoxication that leads him to adultery it will of course be rendered an abomination.

The Holy Qur'an has not shed light on evil aspects of music but the Bible and the Hadith narratives contain sufficient guidance in this regard. Both of these sources clearly indicate that if music is used in promoting any immoral act then it will also be rendered forbidden. What follows is an analysis of the pertinent biblical text and the Hadith narratives.

i. Biblical Stance on Harmful Aspects of Music

In the Bible, we find mention of music in connection with drinking and lewdness. A study of the relevant verses of this Divine Book reveals that music has been declared an undesirable activity in this context. However, the way this condemnation is conveyed and the context of the related verses testify that it is only the moral evils associated with the art that are condemned and not the art of music itself. Therefore, only such forms of music are forbidden that are associated with the evil of drinking, lewdness and polytheism.

Isaiah's vision refers to the fate of those who will remain inebriated day in and day out. Some musical instruments have also been referred to in this context.

Woe to those who rise up early in the morning to go after strong drink; tarrying in the twilight while wine inflames them! And the lyre, and the harp, the timbrel, and pipe, and wine, are at their feasts; but they do not regard the work of the Lord. Yea, they do not see the work of His hands. (Isaiah 5:11-12)

Isaiah's vision compares a city named Tyre with the song of a lewd woman. This reveals that some kinds of music were associated with lewdness in that society.

And in that day Tyre shall be forgotten seventy years, according to the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will be as the song of a harlot to Tyre. Take a harp, go about the city. O harlot who has been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs so that you may be remembered. (Isaiah 23:15-16)

ii. The Prophetic Sayings on Prohibition of Music

The Holy Prophet (sws) is reported to have rendered music an objectionable activity in similar contexts. A study of the Prophetic sayings on the topic proves that the Prophet (sws) commanded the believers that they must refrain from such forms of music which involve immoral activities. Three major sinful acts are told to have been inextricably associated with music. These include:

a. Polytheism

b. Drinking

c. Nudity

Idolaters of pre Islamic Arabia would also use music in their worship rituals. Dr Jawwad 'Ali writes:

Arabs of the days of ignorance would use singing in their worship rituals to express gladness they felt while worshipping their gods and to earn closeness of those of their gods who, they thought, could be pleased through these songs. Commentators of the Holy Qur'an claim that the polytheists of Arabia would circumambulate the House of God whistling and clapping. Relying on this, we can say that the Arabs had introduced a form of singing in the ritual of circumambulation.1

We know that the basic mission of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) was to uproot all forms of polytheism. For this very reason he banned partially or totally all polytheistic activities and others which portrayed polytheism. The most prominent thing in this regard was sculptures and paintings of the gods. Therefore, the Prophet (sws) forbade making sculptures and painting such pictures. Similarly he stopped all forms of music, which were used in idolatrous worship rituals.

The Holy Prophet (sws) also prohibited music played in gatherings where people would gather together for drinking and enjoyment. Hadith literature, books on history and classical Arabic poetry offer sufficient evidence to the fact that at that time some forms of music were used in such gatherings.

Imam Bukhari in his Sahih records a narrative according to which once the Prophet's uncle Hamzah (rta) was inebriated in which state he was listening to songs of a professional singing slave girl. In his inebriation, he felt moved to follow the utterances of the slave girl and ended up in slaughtering 'Ali's (rta) camels that grazed nearby:

عن الزهري أخبرنا علي بن حسين أن حسين بن علي عليهم السلام أخبره أن عليا قال كانت لي شارف من نصيبي من المغنم يوم بدر وكان النبي أعطاني مما أفاء الله عليه من الخمس يومئذ فلما أردت أن أبتني بفاطمة عليها السلام بنت النبي واعدت رجلا صواغا في بني قينقاع أن يرتحل معي فنأتي بإذخر فأردت أن أبيعه من الصواغين فنستعين به في وليمة عرسي فبينا أنا أجمع لشارفي من الأقتاب والغرائر والحبال وشارفاي مناخان إلى جنب حجرة رجل من الأنصارحتى جمعت ما جمعت فإذا أنا بشارفي قد أجبت أسنمتهما وبقرت خواصرهما وأخذ من أكبادهما فلم أملك عيني حين رأيت المنظر قلت من فعل هذا قالوا فعله حمزة بن عبد المطلب وهو في البيت في شرب من الأنصار عنده قينة وأصحابه فقالت في غنائها

ألا يا حمز للشرف النواء

فوثب حمزة إلى السيف فأجب أسنمتهما وبقر خواصرهما وأخذ من أكبادهما

'Alisaid: I got a she-camel in my share of the war booty from the battle of Badr, and the Prophet (sws) also gave me a she-camel from the Khums2. When I intended to marry Fatimah, the daughter of God's Messenger (sws), I had an appointment with a goldsmith from the tribe of Bani Qaynuqa' to go with me to bring Idhkhar.3 I intended to sell it to the goldsmiths and spend its price on my wedding party. I was collecting for my she-camels equipment of saddles, sacks and ropes while my two she-camels were kneeling down beside the house of an Ansari man. I returned after collecting whatever I needed, only to see the humps of my two she-camels cut off and their flanks cut open and their livers were taken out. When I found my two she-camels in that state, I could not help crying. I asked of those present: 'Who did this?' They replied: 'When Hamzah Ibn 'Abdu'l Muttalib was there in that house with some Ansari drunkards, a female singer and his friends. What happened is that the singer said in her song: 'O Hamzah, rise and slaughter the fat she-camels.' On hearing this, Hamzah rushed with his sword and cut off the camels' humps and cut their flanks open and took out their livers.4 (Bukhari, No: 3781)

The numerous Hadith narratives inform us that music was made use of alongside prostitution. There were many Qayanat (i.e. female slave professional singers) in that society. These morally depraved slave women would engage in prostitution.

Mawlana Abu 'Ala Mawdudiwrites:

All the slave women were engaged in prostitution. This dirty business was run in two major ways. First, some people would force their slave girls to bring them a lot of money each month. These women had no choice but to adopt the profession of prostitution to collect the required amount. They did not have any other way to earn such huge amounts. Their masters were also aware of the fact that their slave girls were not able to earn that much money through noble means. The only reason to oblige them to collect such huge amount was that the masters knew that they could do so through prostitution. Second, some people would keep their beautiful slave girls in brothel houses, and place flags on those houses to indicate the purpose for which those houses were reserved. People could see from the distance where they could satisfy their lust. These women were called 'Qaynat' and the brothels were known as 'Mawakhir'. Many wealthy nobles had established such set ups. Abdullah Ibn Ubayyi himself had had a brothel house running in Madinah where he had six beautiful slave girls. He would not only earn money in this way but could also entertain noble guests visiting him from different parts of Arabia. The children thus produced would add to their servants and slave girls.5

The above account sufficiently proves that in pre-Islamic Arabian society, certain kinds of music and singing were specifically used in drinking gatherings that promoted lewdness in the society. The professional slave girl singers were famous for these two immoral activities. The following verses from the Mu'allaqah (one of the famous odes hung on the walls of Ka'bah) of T~urfah, depicts this situation:

نداماي بيض كالنجوم و قينة

تروح إلينا بين برد و مجسد

رحيب قطاب الجيب منها رقيقة

بجس الندامى بضة المتجرد

إذا نحن قلنا إسمعينا انبرت لنا

على رسلها مطروقة لم تشدد

اذا رجعت في صوتها خلت صوتها

تجاوب اظآر على ربع رد

وما زال تشرابي الخمور و لذتي

و بيعي و انفاقي طريفي و متلدي

[You will find me] surrounded by friends shining as stars. A female professional singer visits us in the evening adorned by colourful clothes. She has a wide collared shirt, admits politely the caressing friends, her skin is soft. When we ask her to sing to us she advances with delicate gracefulness, and does not hurry towards us [like slaves]. When she repeats her singing sounds, you would think that some she-deer are uttering voices responding to each others' utterances on the death of their first born. My drinking and merrymaking continues and I continue exchanging the drinks with the wealth that I inherited and also with that which I have earned myself.

In fact, this kind of musical performance in such gatherings has been strongly forbidden by the Holy Prophet (sws). He also forbade trading of slave girls. He is reported to have said:

لا تبيعوا القينات ولا تشتروهن ولا تعلموهن ولاخير في تجارة فيهن وثمنهن حرام

Never trade female slave singers nor train them in singing as well. It is no good to trade them, and [for you], their price is forbidden. (Tirmidhi, No: 1282)

Keeping in perspective the foregoing explanation, we can conclude that Islam does not allow us to indulge in such kind of music that entails lewdness, increases lust and intensifies the animal nature of man. Muslims have been called upon to abstain from it.

(Translated and Adapted by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi)