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A Clear Explanation for the Prohibition of Music

The verdict on listening to music might be unclear and confusing to many Muslims. So our goal in these articles is to make a clear explanation on case 20 in the second volume of “Minhaj Al-Salehin” According to the verdict of Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani.

So first of all we have to translate the case:

“Singing(ghinā) is prohibited (haram) to do, listen, and earn money by. Seemingly the prohibited singing is using words of diversion and entertainment –poem or non-poem- that are articulated in a tune appropriate to gatherings of entertainment and amusement, and the way to know it is in this element, is by convention (that it is considered singing). Singing doesn’t have to give liveliness to be considered prohibited.
It is also prohibited to use these kinds of tunes while reciting The Holy Quran, supplications, etc. More than that based on obligatory precaution, other forms of speech, apart from the ones already mentioned, must also not be articulated in such a tune.
The exception of singing is the singing of women in weddings if it does not include another haram action like hitting the drums, using words of diversion(bāṭil), and the entrance of men on them (during this action) in a way that they hear women’s voices which arouses sexual temptations. However, it is an obligational precaution not to consider this an exception.
It is Unobjectionable (it is permissible) to listen to what one has uncertainty about it being considered as haram singing or an unlawful tune.
As for music, whatever is considered suitable for entertainment and amusement gatherings – which is the case with musical instruments that give liveliness like the flute, lute, zither, guitar, and anything like them – is considered prohibited to listen to, use and make money by. Other than that such as military music and funeral music is under the ruling of an optional precaution to avoid.”

The Meaning of Singing

From the first part of the verdict it is taken that singing, listening to songs, and making money from singing is considered prohibited and disobeying Allah (swt), and the fee that is taken for singing is considered to be unlawful. The second part of the verdict is an answer to an pre-assumed question that is “What is the prohibited singing?” and what Sayed Sistani stated is:
“Seemingly the prohibited singing is using words of diversion and entertainment –poem or non-poem- that are articulated in a tune appropriate to gatherings of entertainment and amusement ………. Singing does not have to give liveliness to be considered prohibited.”
Therefore, Theses are a couple of conclusions made from the definition of “prohibited singing”:
•    Singing is a special use of words that means the use of musical instruments is something else and we will give its ruling in coming articles.
•    These words are considered a diversion or a distraction from the reality and the true reasons of our creation, they are for entertainment and amusement in all its worldly meaning.
•    These words do not have to be in a poem-for being forbidden- that was and still is the way most Arab singers write their lyrics.
•    These words have to be in a tune or melody.
•    The tune or melody has to be in a way that is appropriate for entertainment and diversional pleasure and how to know such a thing will be our next article.
•    This “singing does not have to be in a manner that makes a person lively, and what meant by lively is the translation of (Tarab) which is a status of happiness that makes someone like to move and dance. So even if it was not in this status and had the rest of the elements it is therefore considered Prohibited.

Pinpointing Singing

In the previous articles we understood that the prohibited and taboo singing is the use of diversional words with tunes that are considered proper for entertainment gatherings. We also made it clear that we are currently talking about vocal music and singing, hence we will talk about the use of musical instruments or instrumental music in coming articles. In this article we move on to another part of the case which is an answer to “how do we know that this tune is considered proper for entertainment gatherings?”.
The answer to this question is: “and the way to know it is in this element, is by convention (that it is considered singing). Singing does not have to give liveliness to be considered prohibited.”
So according to Sayed Sistani this answer consists of two parts:
The first part is that it is by referring to convention that one may know if the singing is prohibited. Convention means a way in which something is usually done, so the taboo singing has a tune that is proper for diversional and entertainment gatherings. To know if a tune is in this status one should see if the tune and rhythm is usually used by performers and “artists” or in other words people see this tune and rhythm appropriate for performers and entertainers. Sometimes a tune can be beautiful but not used by singers and performers and not seen proper for their sinister doings, therefore using such a rhythm is considered permissible. So there are three scenarios:
1-    One is certain that a rhythm and tune is used by singers and entertainers and seen by people suitable for them, therefore using this rhythm is considered prohibited.
2-    One is certain that a rhythm is not used by singers or proper for their gatherings, therefore using it is considered permissible.
3-    One is uncertain that a tune is used by singers or not, so the usage of this tune is permissible.

The second part is that it is not necessary for a singing being prohibited to give the listener liveliness. According to the verdict of Sayed Sistani even if a song does not consist of this status it is still considered prohibited if it has the other conditions. In other words, a song does not have to make listeners dance to be considered prohibited.

Singing Non Diversional Words

In previous part it was stated that the prohibition of singing is conditioned upon the usage of diversional words. This statement might create a few questions such as “how about using words that are not diversional as lyrics for a song” and “what about reciting The Holy Quran with a rhythm and tune”.
The answer to these questions is what Sayed Sistani stated in his case: “It is also prohibited to use these kinds of tunes while reciting The Holy Quran, supplications, etc. More than that based on obligatory precaution, other forms of speech, apart from the ones already mentioned, must also not be articulated in such a tune”.
Before explaining we have to make something clear, that is the meanings of precaution and final judgment in the books of our high ranked scholars.
In summary, if a scholar wants to reach to a judgment or ruling on an action, he must search in The Holy Quran and sayings of Ahl Al-Bayt peace be upon them. Sometimes a scholar finds the evidence and proof he wants and there is no obstacle in using the evidence, therefore it makes him have a final judgment and then he states an action is prohibited, obligatory, recommended, abhorred, or permissible. Sometimes the scholar does not find a proof or finds it but cannot use it, so he cannot give a final judgment so he gives a judgment as a precaution and a measure taken to prevent missing out on an obligation or falling into something prohibited.
Then precautions are two kinds recommended and obligational. The recommended is the precaution that it is up to you to act upon or leave. As for the obligational, it is the precaution you have to act upon or act upon the verdict of another jurist (of course one who is the most learned after the jurist you are following.)
With that all out of the way, there are two pictures:
1-    Reciting the holey Quran and supplications in a tune is prohibited if the tune was suitable for entertainment and diversional gatherings, otherwise it is permissible.
2-    Using a rhythm and tune with words that are not diversional, like words of wisdom and words that make you closer to your creator, is -as a matter of obligational precaution- prohibited if the tune was suitable for entertainment and diversional gatherings, otherwise it is permissible.

The Exceptions

While the general verdict on singing is its prohibition, most jurists have excepted in their books the singing of women in wedding ceremonies. The reasons of this exclusion are the sayings of the Ahl Al-Bayt peace be upon them like the saying of Imam Al-Sadiq (pbuh) “The earning of a songstress in weddings is considered lawful, but not the one that men enter on her”(1) . If her earning is considered lawful then her action which she earns by is also considered lawful, because according to Islamic laws, if an action was prohibited then the money that was made by the action would also be considered unlawful.
Ayatollah Sistani went along with the jurist in recording this exception in his book. Even though at the end he does not except it as an exception as it will be made clear. He states: “The exception of singing is the singing of women in weddings if it does not include another haram action like hitting the drums, using words of diversion(bāṭil), and the entrance of men on them (during this action) in a way that they hear women’s voices which arouses sexual temptations. However, it is an obligational precaution not to consider this an exception.”

So, the singing of women in weddings is considered lawful if its condition is observed. The condition is quiet clear, there has to be no other taboo action such as using unlawful words, the usage of prohibited instruments (we will talk more about that later), men hearing them while they are singing in a way that men’s sexual desire is stimulated.
However, the Ayatollah does have an obligational precaution to stay away from this singing, which means one can either stay away from this kind of singing or refer to another qualified jurist and follow the verdict of this most learned jurist and copy him in this particular ruling.

Instrumental Music

Unlike the past, nowadays music mostly contains both singing and the use of instruments. All the past five articles were about singing; from now on we discuss about the verdict of using these instruments.
According to the verdict of Ayatollah Sistani: “whatever is considered suitable for entertainment and amusement gatherings – which is the case with musical instruments that give liveliness like the flute, lute, zither, guitar, and anything like them – is considered prohibited to listen to, use and make money by. Other than that such as military music and funeral music is under the ruling of an optional precaution to avoid.” if the usage of a certain instrument is seen by people as proper for entertainers and for diversional gatherings, it is considered prohibited to listen to, use, and earn money by, Otherwise it is permissible. The instruments that give the listener liveliness and makes the human want to jump up and down and dance are seen and considered suitable for these wicked gatherings such as the clarinet, saxophone, and what was stated in the case.
Military music which is used for example during ceremonies and funeral music which has a sorrow and sadness to it are not seen as suitable for the gatherings of entertainment. Yet the Ayatollah states as a matter of optional precaution one had better not listen, play, and earn money by this kind of music. It means one may act upon the precaution and stay away from the action which is better or one may act upon it.
To wrap up, if there is uncertainty about an instrument being considered suitable for the gatherings of entertainment, then it is permissible to use, listen to and as well to earn money by. It also means one can teach how to play it.

About Ali Teymoori

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