|In the name of
GOD, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
There is no other god beside GOD
Music and the Arts: Not Prohibited by God
A common question among those who have been exposed to a traditional / conservative Muslim environment is whether music or the arts are prohibited (haram) in Islam. The answer is simply, no they are not. If we read the Quran, we do not find any reference to a prohibition of music or the arts.
God, the best Designer (59:24), has created living beings with musical abilities, and has placed soothing sounds in nature all around us. Whether it is the beautiful songs of birds who glorify God (24:41) or the chirping of insects or the rustling of a brook, we know that all of these come from God. Humans too have been blessed with the ability to sing, and furthermore to design and play instruments. Yet, the researcher could argue, having an ability by itself is not a sound criterion to judge whether something should be forbidden or not. Rather, one must examine what God says and use that as our only guiding principle.
We know from the Quran, that it is wrong to set up human-made prohibitions and attribute them to God. We are informed in 3:94 that only the wicked do so:
[3:94] Those who fabricate false prohibitions after this, and attribute them to GOD, are truly wicked.
There are a number of similar verses, such as 7:32, 6:140 and 42:21, that condemn innovated prohibitions as laws decreed by idols:
[7:32] Say, "Who prohibited the nice things GOD has created for His creatures, and the good provisions?" Say, "Such provisions are to be enjoyed in this life by those who believe. Moreover, the good provisions will be exclusively theirs on the Day of Resurrection." We thus explain the revelations for people who know.
[6:140] Losers indeed are those who killed their children foolishly, due to their lack of knowledge, and prohibited what GOD has provided for them, and followed innovations attributed to GOD. They have gone astray; they are not guided.
The Idols: Innovating New Religious Laws*
[42:21] They follow idols who decree for them religious laws never authorized by GOD. If it were not for the predetermined decision, they would have been judged immediately. Indeed, the transgressors have incurred a painful retribution.
Nowhere in the Quran does God prohibit music or the arts. Yet, traditional Muslims (incorrectly) feel both are unlawful.
A common argument provided to justify banning music and art is that these may contain unrighteous content. While it is true that some music or art may not be good for our souls, there is no need to go to the extreme of prohibiting all art or music. We know there are books out there that contain Satan's message, yet it would be foolish to go to the extreme of forbidding all books. Similarly, we know that gluttony is wrong (7:31), but it would be illogical (and sinful—3:94) to prohibit all food. Part of our test in this world is to make the right choices (90:10-11), as difficult as it may be to do so. God tells us in 16:67 that he gives us fruit (grapes and dates), that some people use for sinful purposes (intoxicants), while others use the same grapes as good provisions. Should we prohibit all such fruit since they may be a source of intoxicants? Satan and his followers will always come up with unrighteous content and suggestions. Our job is to stay away from that, while submitting to God.
[16:67] And from the fruits of date palms and grapes you produce intoxicants, as well as good provisions. This should be (sufficient) proof for people who understand.
[90:10-11] Did we not show him the two paths? He should choose the difficult path.
Just like the fruits mentioned in 16:67 may be used righteously, music too can be used as a source of righteousness—and can help us to remember God and be appreciative. A number of submitters (Muslims) enjoy dhikr or commemorative music. Many people likewise enjoy musical chanting and recitation of the Quran. Others find classical music relaxing and are able to glorify God while listening. And yet others draw lessons from contemporary music and relate it to what God says in the Quran. We also know that the Psalms, which seem to have a rather special position in the Quran (17:55), are religious songs. And many of them refer to singing or instruments (i.e., Psalm 7:18; 9:3, 12; 13:6; 27:6; 28:7; 30:5, 12-13; 40:4; 57:8-10; 59:17-18; 61:9; 65:2,14; 68:5, 26-27, 33; 108:1-4; 138:1, 5; 144:9. All of these are among the Psalms of David.
[Psalms 108:2-4] My heart is steadfast, God; my heart is steadfast. I will sing and chant praise. Awake, my soul; awake, lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn. I will praise you among the peoples, LORD; I will chant your praise among the nations.
When it comes to fine art and photography, what better way to appreciate God's beautiful creation than to look at photographs and paintings of the marvels in the heavens and the earth, and go Alhamdulillah (praise be to God)? Especially for those of us who cannot personally visit the far corners of the earth or beyond ourselves. As for sculptures and architectural beauty, we see a Quranic example in the prophet David (34:13) who was able to enjoy these and be appreciative of God at the same time.
[34:13] They made for him anything he wanted — niches, statues, deep pools, and heavy cooking pots. O family of David, work (righteousness) to show your appreciation. Only a few of My servants are appreciative.
Another reason sometimes used to outlaw the arts, is that people feel that music (or other forms of artistic expression) can distract us from remembering God. However, this is true of any of God's provisions if we are not careful. Money or children may also distract us from God. So also may horses or cars. Moderation is the key in our attachment to things of this world.
We also know that the Quran is complete and fully detailed when it comes to matters of religious law (6:19, 38, 114, 115; 50:45, etc.). All the commandments we are to follow, and all the prohibitions we are to observe, are clearly laid out in the Quran by God. If God wanted to prohibit music or the arts, He could easily have done so. God does not run out of words.
[6:114] Shall I seek other than GOD as a source of law, when He has revealed to you this book fully detailed? Those who received the scripture recognize that it has been revealed from your Lord, truthfully. You shall not harbor any doubt.
The Quran: Everything We Need
[18:109] Say, "If the ocean were ink for the words of my Lord, the ocean would run out, before the words of my Lord run out, even if we double the ink supply."
To conclude, anything beyond the Quran is simply personal opinion, and must never be equated with God's law lest we end up setting our opinions as lords besides God. Since God has not prohibited music / art, we should not either. Instead we should make a conscious choice to avoid those forms of art that take us away from God, and focus on using every opportunity to remember and appreciate God (be it through music, or otherwise). May God guide us on His path, and protect us from initiating or perpetuating innovated prohibitions.
[4:103] Once you complete your Contact Prayer (Salat), you shall remember GOD while standing, sitting, or lying down. ...
[33:41-42] O you who believe, you shall remember GOD frequently. You shall glorify Him day and night.
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