Is Music Forbidden in Islam?

Islamic scholars differ on whether believers are allowed to play and listen to music.
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Whether music is permitted in Islam has been a subject of considerable debate. According to a number of conservative religious authorities, Islam clearly teaches that music is forbidden, or haram. However, other Muslim commentators dispute this claim. Instead, they assert that Islam takes a more moderate approach, allowing believers to enjoy music so long as it does not violate core principles of the faith.

1 Banning Music

The question of whether music is haram has received significant attention in both the Muslim community and the mainstream press. For example, after popular rock artist Cat Stevens became a Muslim, he not only changed his name to Yusuf Islam, but he also set aside his music career after concluding that it was inconsistent with his faith. Moreover, as "The New York Times" has reported, Muslim authorities in places such as Kashmir, Afghanistan and Mali have banned music on the grounds that it fosters lust and causes people to neglect their spiritual responsibilities.

2 Why Music is Haram

According to Islamic scholars who believe that music is forbidden, proof of its being haram can be found in the Quran and the accounts of Muhammad's life recorded in collections called the hadith. As noted in a number of conservative fatwas, or authoritative religious opinions, music violates the Quran's prohibitions against lust, adultery and frivolous speech. Similarly, a fatwa published on notes that, according to one passage in the hadith, Muhammad predicted that the Muslim community will go astray by permitting believers to indulge in silk clothes, alcoholic beverages and musical instruments.

3 Why Music is Halal

Conversely, other Muslim scholars have argued that playing or listening to music is in fact permitted, or halal. For instance, Sheikh Abdullah al-Judai argues that conservative claims of an authoritative consensus in favor of prohibiting music are unfounded. From this point of view, the verses from the Quran cited against music merely condemn immoral behavior. While music that disobeys God is wrong, music in itself is not sinful. Moreover, according to those who believe that music is halal, most, if not all, passages from the hadith condemning music are inauthentic. Instead, Islamic defenders of music cite hadith in which Muhammad allows believers to enjoy music, such as an incident in which the Prophet recommended having a singer at a wedding.

4 Music in the Muslim Community

Consistent with the belief that music is halal, there is also an extensive history of music in the Muslim community. As The Encyclopedia of Islam observes, the medieval musician Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani collected more than 10,000 pages of musical material his "Great Book of Songs," while the Muslim mystical tradition known as Sufism has included music in its worship. Islam has also had significant influence on the American rap and hip-hop communities, and even Yusuf Islam returned to performing his music after concluding that it was possible to do so while maintaining his focus on God and the Prophet.

John Green is an attorney who has been writing on legal, business and media matters for more than 20 years. He has also taught law school and business courses in entrepreneurship, business enterprise, tax and ethics. Green received his J.D. from Yale Law School and his Ph.D. in religion from Duke.