Shari'a Law: Music, Song, and Dance
The major purpose of this article is to illustrate how Islamic Shari'a law originates.
Its minor purpose is to present the Islamic view of music, song, and dance. The
article, Islamic Law & its Challenge To Western
Civilization, notes that Islamic law is derived from the Qur'an and Sunnah of
the Prophet of Islam. The Sunnah of Muhammad comes mainly from the ancient
collections of Muhammad's traditions which are called ahadith (singular, hadith). The two most
respected collections are the Sahih al-Bukhari and the Sahih Muslim ahadith. The following quotations
are from those two collections, respectively,
Sahih al-Bukhari recorded,
Narrated 'Urwa on the authority of 'Aisha: On the days of Mina, (11th,
12th, and 13th of Dhul-Hijjah) Abu Bakr came to her while two young girls
were beating the tambourine and the Prophet was lying covered with his
clothes. Abu Bakr scolded them and the Prophet uncovered his face and said
to Abu Bakr, "Leave them, for these days are the days of 'Id and the
days of Mina." 'Aisha further said, "Once the Prophet was
screening me and I was watching the display of black slaves in the Mosque
and ('Umar) scolded them. The Prophet said, 'Leave them. O Bani Arfida!
(carry on), you are safe (protected)'." Volume 2, Book 15, Number
Al-Bukhari's records there were two girls who were beating a
tambourine, so Abu Bakr scolded them. Apparently, Muhammad was resting, since
his face was covered, and he might have been quietly enjoying the lively music
himself. Whatever the case, Muhammad told Abu Bakr to, "Leave them alone."
Next, we read that 'Aisha, Muhammad's child bride, watched the
energetic display of the black slaves dancing and sporting in the Mosque.
'Aisha enjoyed the performance, so it met with Muhammad's approval.
Sahih Muslim recorded,
'A'isha reported: The Messenger of Allah (way peace be upon him) came
(in my apartment) while there were two girls with me singing the song of
the Battle of Bu'ath. He lay down on the bed and turned away his face.
Then came Abu Bakr and he scolded me and said: Oh! this musical instrument
of the devil in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon
him)! The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) turned towards him
and said: Leave them alone. And when he (the Holy Prophet) became
unattentive, I hinted them and they went out, and it was the day of 'Id
and negroes were playing with shields and spears. (I do not remember)
whether I asked the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) or whether
he said to me if I desired to see (that sport). I said: Yes. I stood
behind him with his face parallel to my face, and he said: O Banu Arfada,
be busy (in your sports) till I was satiated. He said (to me): Is that
enough? I said: Yes. Upon this he asked me to go. Book 004, Number
Imam Muslim records that Abu Bakr believed musical instruments were of the devil. However, 'Aisha reported that two Ansar girls were singing a song of the Battle
of Bu'ath. In this case, Muhammad gave them permission to continue singing the song. The Negroes from Abyssinian danced and sported with their shields and spears.
Muhammad gave 'Aisha his approval to watch their display of athletic
prowess. In fact, he watched the event too while she peered around him.
The two ahadith quoted above provide the historical data that is the legal basis
for the following Shari'a legal determination.
r40.0 MUSIC, SONG, AND DANCE
r40.1 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for the condemnation of musical
instruments, flutes, strings, and the like by the Truthful and Trustworthy
(Allah bless him and give him peace), who
"does not speak from personal caprice: it is nothing besides a
revelation inspired" (Koran 53:3-4),
let those who refuse to obey him beware lest calamity strike them, or a
painful torment. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
(1) "Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to
believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes,
strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of
(2) "On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into
the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress."
(3) "Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does
(4) "This Community will experience the swallowing up of some
people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained
upon with stones." Someone asked, "When will this be, O
Messenger of Allah?" and he said, "When songstresses and musical
instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful."
(5) "There will be peoples of my Community who will hold
fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful ...."
All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical
instruments of all types are unlawful (Kaff al-ra'a' 'an muharramat
al-lahw wa al-sama' (y49), 2.269-70).
r40.2 (Nawawi:) It is unlawful to use musical instruments—such as
those which drinkers are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and
flute—or to listen to them. It is permissible to play the tambourine at
weddings, circumcisions, and other times, even if it has bells on its
sides. Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow middle, is unlawful (Mughni
al-muhtaj ila ma'rifa ma'ani alfaz al-Minhaj (y73), 4.429-30).
SINGING UNACCOMPANIED BY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
r40.3 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for listening to singing that is not
accompanied by instruments, one should know that singing or listening to
singing is offensive except under the circumstances to be mentioned in
what follows. Some scholars hold that singing is sunna at weddings and the
like, and of our Imams, Ghazali and 'Izz ibn 'Abd al-Salam say that it
is sunna if it moves one to a noble state of mind that makes one remember
the hereafter. It is clear from this that all poetry which encourages good
deeds, wisdom, noble qualities, abstinence from this-worldly things, or
similar pious traits such as urging one to obey Allah, follow the sunna,
or shun disobedience, is sunna to write, sing, or listen to, as more than
one of our Imams have stated is obvious, since using a means to do good is
itself doing good (Kaff al-ra'a' 'an muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama'
r40.4 (Nawawi: (n: with commentary by Muhammad Shirbini Khatib)) It is
not prohibited to dance ((Shirbini:) which is not unlawful because it is
only motions made while standing or bowing. Furani and others have
expressly stated that neither is it offensive, but rather is permissible,
as is attested to by the hadith related in the Sahihs of Bukhari and
Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) stood before 'A'isha (Allah be well pleased with her) to screen her from view so that
she could observe the Abyssinians sporting and dancing) —unless it is
languid, like the movements of the effeminate (Mughni al-muhtaj ila
ma'rifa ma'am alfaz al-Minhaj (y73), 4.430). 1
The first step appeals to the Qur'an to justify the Shari'a laws on music, song and dance.
A quotation from Sura an-Najm 53 is offered the
reader. This Sura is vital, basic, and foundational to all Shari'a law. Non-Muslims
readers need to stop and focus upon these verses (ayah, singular; ayat,
plural), because they have profound implications for all Islamic law. Essentially,
these ayat imply that Muhammad himself is a divine revelation and a
pattern for all human conduct.
Here, the Qur'an states
that Muhammad is neither astray nor misled. Further, it states that he
neither said nor
did anything of his
own desire, because all his desires were only from Allah. Everything that Muhammad said, did, thought, or felt was an inspiration from
Allah who is the Lord of the Universe. Since Allah, the
All-Wise, taught Muhammad perfectly about everything, Muhammad was endued
with wisdom, and he appeared among men as the epitome of all perfections and
all virtues that could be possibly actualized in human form. Therefore,
Muhammad is the perfect and pristine model for all the world to
Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled.
Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire.
It is no less than inspiration sent down to him:
He was taught by one Mighty in Power,
Endued with Wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form);
|مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ
وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ
Consequently, everything that Muhammad said, did, thought, or felt
provides the substance for Islamic law. This point cannot be over
After the quotation from the Qur'an, the next step presents historical evidence for Muhammad's views
musical instruments. The mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute are evil
musical instruments. However, as quoted above on the authority of 'Aisha,
the hadithic traditions record that Muhammad permitted two Ansar girls to
play a tambourine. Therefore, tambourines are permissible musical
instruments. These instruments have to be permissible, because Muhammad is the perfection of divine wisdom on the topic of
musical instruments, and he gave his tacit approval to them.
'Aisha was 6 years old when Muhammad legally married her. He was over fifty years old at the time. The co-habited together as man and wife when she
was nine years old. Naturally, she was a curious young girl. So, when the
Negroes from Abyssinia were sporting with their spears and daggers in the
mosque, she wanted to see the excitement. Muhammad let the young girl peer
at them while she was screened by himself. After awhile, she grew
bored and went back to playing.
This seemingly little episode in the life of young 'Aisha impacted Shari'a law. It permitted dancing and spectator sports
in Islam. Why? Simply because Muhammad permitted his young wife to look at
the Abyssinians when they danced and sported in the mosque.
It is not permissible to reason about the difference between a
tambourine and the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute. Human reason might
not discern any substantial difference between these musical instruments. If these
instruments were played before an ethicist, the ethicist would not be able to
discern the moral status of these musical instruments from their sound or
appearance. To the natural ear all these musical instruments are able to make a lovely
melody. A spectral analysis of their respective audio frequencies would prove
useless too. Furthermore, these musical instruments were made taboo for the
remainder of human history, because Muhammad is final revealer of Allah's sovereign
will regarding mandolins, tambourines, and flutes.
We notice that the Shari'a laws on dancing and
sports were justified on the basis of Muhammad's approval of viewing the
Abyssinian Negroes sporting with their spears and daggers. This
justification is not an appeal to the need for exercise, common sense, health,
nature. The basis
for the permission is that the activity is Sunnah. It was permitted and
approved by Muhammad, and that reason suffices alone.
Shari'a law is easy to understand. It begins with the Qur'an and
its statement that every aspect of Muhammad's life was inspired by Allah. Next, it looks to the historical record to determine what Muhammad said
and did. Once the determination of his approvals and disapprovals are made, they are
Shari'a law. It is not open to rationalization or question. In fact, their faith in
Muhammad's conduct and sayings is supra-rationale or beyond rational
This does not mean that reason plays no role in Islamic law; it does.
There are human activities that did not exist in Muhammad's time. So,
Shari'a scholars engage in analogical reasoning and Islamic consensus to
address modern day problems. However, even here, the ancient traditions of
Islam play a determinative role.
Non-Muslims have little idea how central Muhammad is to Islam. Muslims believe he is the perfection of human beauty and moral conduct.
So, they want to dress like him, eat like him, think like him, live like
him, worship like him, and brush their teeth like him. Of course, they are
very modest about their success in these objectives.
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Last edited 10-10-2001