Music and dancing in Islam
This is a 5th entry in the series of Things that are good to know about your Muslim friend. Make sure to read the first four entries if you missed them, and which had to do with:
Dancing and music
Although some scholars disagree on the details, generally speaking, music and dancing are forbidden in Islam. A Muslim will not listen to music, will not sing, and will not dance – again, there is disagreement between some scholars as to what exactly constitutes music, and whether religious or Islamic chanting or ambiance and classical music are included in what is forbidden or not.
There is no single term in primary sources of Islamic law that corresponds perfectly to what is referred to as music. Islamic law speaks of “ghinaa” or song, which is defined as a prolongation and vibration of the voice that is culturally generally recognized as singing. In addition, there are also narrations that speak of musical instruments in general or specifically about this or that instrument.
So keeping this in mind, as mentioned above, we can safely and vaguely state that music is forbidden in Islam and considered a sin. From this point on, this becomes a debate between legal scholars who have different interpretations of what constitutes music, and therefore what sounds are included and excluded from the prohibition. Related to this prohibition is also the one of dancing, which has also been cited explicitly in numerous narrations. So from this point onward for this specific entry, when I say music, I mean the kinds that have been considered forbidden by Islamic scholars – more to come in a separate post about this.
Why would music be forbidden?
Though Muslims believe that their religion is compatible with reason, this does not mean that they think we can always reach the ultimate reasons behind every Islamic law. For instance, as discussed in the entry on prayer, we mentioned that the dawn or morning prayer is made up of two cycles (or raka’at), while the afternoon prayer is made up of 4. From a human reason perspective, there is absolutely no reason that can be given as to why this difference exists, although many scholars have attempted and continue to attempt providing an explanation. The fast of the month of Ramadan is prescribed at 30 days as mentioned previously. Why not 12 or 60 days? Unless we are told by God himself – through the scriptures or the explanations provided by the Prophet – there is no way of knowing the exact reason for any divine laws. The best we can do is therefore to provide conjecture and theories in most cases, or rely on comparisons and analogies with other laws for which an explanation – even partial – has been provided. And whether such comparisons and analogies are applicable or not is highly problematic, and it’s the stuff of many a technical debate between the experts of Islamic law.
With this in mind, we can ask: why would music be forbidden in Islam? Again, as mentioned many times in numerous entries until now, Islam always looks at all dimensions of human life at the same time, and prefers to deal with matters in a proactive and preventive manner as much as possible, before things happen and we now have to deal with them after-the-fact. In the case of music, the issue does not seem to be related to the hearing or generation of beautiful or pleasant sounds. Rather, it has more to do with what music represents and what it can lead to.
Many will cite some scientific research references that seem to indicate that music can have negative effects on the neurology and psyche of the listener. For instance they say that music disturbs the balance between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic nervous systems in the body, which can lead to all sorts of effects such as: indigestion, increase in heart palpitations, increased blood pressure, abnormal secretion of hormones, insomnia, weakening of rational faculties (sudden laughter, nonsensical talk) involuntary movements, fatigue especially in warmer weather, and even mania. In addition, there are at least a couple of hundred scientifically documented and studied cases of what is referred to as musicogenic seizures and musicogenic epilepsy, or people who seem to get seizures when they listen to certain types of music. In his book Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings, Roberto Assagioli wrote that types of music that arouse the instincts and appeal to the lower passions, as well as melancholic and depressing music are all likely to produce injurious effects.
This said, there is also increasing scientific evidence being put forward with the claims that music is beneficial and even therapeutic. (When I personally read such studies, I always keep in mind the kind of damage that could be done to the pockets of the owners of the music industry if the opposite were to be established, and medical institutions openly warned people against the medical harms of listening to music… and because of such high stakes, it becomes difficult to trust anything as being “real science.”)
Ultimately, a Muslim does not avoid music because science says that it can have harmful effects neurologically, psychologically or physically, and for the same reason, they will not start listening to music because science says that music is now beneficial or therapeutic.
The Holy Qur’an says that wine (which is forbidden in Islam as a matter of unanimity) has some benefits, but that its harms far outweigh those benefits. The same could perhaps be said of music. What is certain though is that certain types of music do “arouse the instincts and appeal to the lower passions.” And honestly, what else is the point of music, if not to arouse those instincts and appeal to the lower passions? After all, is this not the actual instinctive need that music is trying to fill?
No matter how we look at it, music is a language of raw passions and instincts, in which reason is to be cast aside to make room for unbridled feelings and emotions. And Islam simply rejects anything that makes reason take a back seat to anything else, because it considers the rational faculties the sacred gift whose job it is to keep everything else in check and harmony. Once reason is not fully utilized, the Qur’an says that human beings become worse than beasts and cattle, with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that do not understand.
And I don’t think that I need to work too hard to transition from these images to the ones being portrayed by the kind of content that we see produced daily by the music industry in general, and the values they promote therein. How could anyone think that such products can be compatible with any divine teachings, in any way you look at it? (Perhaps it is worth posting an entry on the countless connections being made between the Illuminati and Freemasonry and the symbols and content being promoted by the music industry? And whether the music industry is not simply the means to enslave the masses into what many call “devil worship”? Let me know if this would be of interest to you).
I realize that there is still much to be said about music and dancing from an Islamic perspective, but I wanted to keep this post short and in line with the rest of the series on things that are good to know about your Muslim friend. I do plan on writing another entry specifically about music and dancing from an Islamic law perspective soon, since I received a question related to the topic a few days ago. In that entry I will explain in a bit more detail the criteria being used by Islamic jurists to include and exclude types of music into that which forbidden and that which is permissible.
Thank you for reading.