What Is Music?
What Philosophy Exists Behind Its Prohibition?

Extract from the book 180 questions by Ayt Makarim Shirazi

`^` There exists no difficulty and difference of opinion as far as the issue of prohibition of music is concerned, however, the difficulty lies in discriminating and discerning what is music?

Are all pleasant and melodious sounds, music?

Undoubtedly such is not the case for it has been reported in the traditions that the Qur'an and the adhaan should be recited in a pleasant and melodious voice; in addition, the conduct of the Muslims too indicates likewise.

Is every such sound, which possesses tarjee’ (coming and going of sound in the larynx, or technically speaking, rolling of the sound in it), music? This too is not established.

The conclusion that can be drawn from the statements of the (Shiite) jurists and the Sunnite scholars is that joyful tunes that are bacchanalian, frivolous and futile in nature are regarded as music.

Expressing it more lucidly, tunes that are commensurate with wicked and immoral gatherings, and with corrupt and sinning individuals, are classified as music.

In other words a tune, which stirs up the carnal passions within man and he, in that state, considers consumption of intoxicants and indulgence in sexual depravity alongside that tune to be totally fitting and opportune, is called music!

It is significant to note that at times, in a composition, the tune is music and essentially frivolous and futile, and so also the wordings - like when romantic and immoral poems are recited in the company of a ravishing tune; at other times only the tune is music, like when Qur’anic verses, supplications or poems of a lofty standard are recited in a tune that is opportune to gatherings of the profligate and immoral ones. Both forms are prohibited and forbidden (take note).

It is also necessary to mention that at times, music is looked upon as possessing two meanings - the general meaning and the specific one. The specific meaning is the meaning that we have presented above – tunes, which stir up passions within man and are germane to immoral and corrupt gatherings. But the general meaning alludes to every pleasant and melodious sound, and it is for this reason that those, who view music in the general meaning, have divided it into two categories, lawful and unlawful music - the lawful music being the melodious sounds, which do not incite immorality and are not appropriate with corrupt and evil gatherings, whereas the unlawful music being the tunes, possessing the characteristics mentioned above.

Thus, as far as the prohibition of music is concerned, there exists no difference of opinion; the disagreement lies in the manner in which it is interpreted.

Nevertheless, music, like every other concept, also possesses forms which are dubious and doubtful such that at times, a person fails to comprehend if a particular tune is associated with immoral gatherings or not? In such cases, on the basis of the Law of Baraa’t, it is regarded as being lawful (of course, after possessing a sufficient awareness of the conventional meaning of Thus, there appears no reason to regard those heroic tunes and music, which are associated with battle, sports or the like, as unlawful.

Nevertheless, there are other aspects too that are related to this issue, such as exceptions to music, which have been claimed by some but rejected by others, and which need to be discussed in books of jurisprudence.

The final point which we feel ought to be mentioned here is that the discussion presented above was with respect to singing - however the issue of use of musical instruments and the prohibition associated with it is one, which is entirely different and beyond the scope of our present discussion.
The Philosophy Behind the prohibition of Music
A careful study of the meaning of music together with the conditions mentioned by us clearly elucidates the philosophy that lies behind its prohibition. A short study reveals the following evils associated with it:
1. Encouragement Towards Moral Degradation
Experience, which is the best witness, has revealed that numerous individuals, influenced by music, have abandoned piety and turned towards lust and immorality. Musical gatherings are usually centers of various evils and it is music that serves to foment these evils. According to some reports appearing in foreign newspapers, in a gathering, in which a group of girls and boys had presented themselves, a special music was played which induced such excitement within them that rushing towards each other they began indulging in such obscene acts that one is ashamed to even make a mention of them.

The commentary Ruh Al-Ma’ani, narrates that one of the elders of Bani Umayyah said to them: Stay away from music for it reduces modesty, increases lust, shatters (one’s) personality, is a successor and substitute for intoxicants and leads to the same deeds, which arise out of inebriation.[1]

This goes to show that even they had perceived its evils. And if the Islamic traditions have repeatedly stated that music fosters the ‘hypocritical soul’ within man, it is an allusion to this reality, for a ‘hypocritical soul’ is a soul that has become polluted as a result of depravity and being distanced from piety. And if the traditions also state that the angels do not enter into houses in which music is played, it is because of this pollution and uncleanness, for the angels are entities that are pure and seek pureness.

2. Heedlessness With Respect To The Remembrance Of God.
In some of the Islamic traditions, music has been interpreted to mean lahw ( amusement, idle sport) - an allusion to the fact that music intoxicates a person in lust and passion to such an extent that it makes him heedless of God.
In a tradition from Imam A'li (peace be upon him) we read:

كُلُّ ماَ اَلهىَ عَن ذِكرِ اللهِ فَهُوَ مِنَ الْمَيسر
(Every thing that causes man to become unmindful of God, (and drowns him in lust) is a gamble.[2]

3. The Harmful Effects Upon The Nerves
In reality, music is one of the important factors that cause narcosis of the nerves. Expressing it differently, at times narcotics enter the body through the mouth, such as alcohol; or by means of the faculty of smell, such as heroin; or as a result of injection, like morphine; or, at times, by means of the ears, such as music.

And it is for this reason that, at times, certain forms of music lead people into such high spirits that they come to possess a state similar to inebriety; of course, there are also times when this state is not reached, but nevertheless it does induce a state of mild stupor. And this is why many of the evils of narcotics are also witnessed in music.

A close scrutiny of the biographies of celebrated musicians would reveal that, in the course of their lives, they slowly began to suffer from mental and psychological problems – some of them became patients of psychological disorders; some others, losing their aptitude and mental acumen, entered into the realms of lunacy and insanity; a group turned paralytic and helpless; and some others, while in the course of their musical performance, suffered sudden cardiac arrest due to an increase in blood-pressure.[3]

Some of the books written in connection with the detrimental effects of music upon the human nerves, while mentioning the biographies of some of the distinguished and celebrated musicians and singers, state that they, in the course of their presentations, suffered a sudden stroke and died instantly in that very gathering.[4]
In short, the extent of the harmful effects of music upon the human nerves - leading to the frontiers of insanity, pressurizing the heart and the blood, and other undesirable stimulations - are in such a measure that there is no need for any protracted discussion.

The statistics of deaths and fatalities reveal a great increase in sudden deaths in our era, as compared to the past; several causes for this phenomenon have been mentioned, one of them being the increase in song and music, globally.
Music – one of the tools of the colonialists
The world colonialists have always dreaded awareness on the part of the general masses - especially the youths – and hence, a part of their extensive programme for the continuation of colonialism focuses on submerging societies into unawareness and ignorance, and increasing unhealthy forms of amusement and entertainment.

Today, it is not just the commercial aspect which motivates the narcotics trade but rather, it is an important political tool in the politics of the colonialists. Establishment of prostitution centers, gambling clubs and other unhealthy forms of amusements are some of the other tools – one of the most important amongst these being the expansion of the song and musical domain; a tool, which they insist on utilizing for anaesthetizing people’s thoughts and ideas. And it is for this reason that music occupies a major portion of the time of global radio services and is one of the principal items associated with the programmes of mass media.[5]
[1] Tafseer Ruh Al-Ma’ani, vol. 21, pg. 60.
[2] Wasaail al-Shia’h, vol. 12, pg. 235.
[3] Taatheer-e-Musiqee Bar Rawaan Wa Aa’saab, pg. 26.
[4] Ibid, pg. 92 onwards.
[5] Tafseer-e-Namunah, vol. 17, pg. 22.