Music- Heavenly or Haram?

Some Muslims believe that music is haram– forbidden. They say it distracts a person from prayer and remembrance of Allah. Music hypnotizes, takes one away from ordinary reality. A Muslim could  be distracted from prayer by the delight of listening to  music; this seems true. On that basis, music probably qualifies as an intoxicating substance, except that it is not ingested by the usual route. Its effects include physiological changes, yet it never enters the body in a concrete way, in the same manner as drugs or alcohol, and it never becomes truly addictive in the way that drugs and alcohol become addictive. What a mystery! Must we leave it alone, and toss it  into the bin of sensual pleasures labeled “Haram”?

Frankly, I never spent much time trying to believe that music is haram. That’s not possible, and now I know why. Appreciation of music is hard-wired into the human brain. I learned this from my grandkids, who are on the cusp of their Terrible Twos. Music delights them, relaxes them, and teaches them.  My little grandson phones me every day, and wants me to sing to him, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!”  Americans may remember that song from youth, and if you recognize it, I’ll bet you are smiling! If I could figure out how to insert it into this post, I would do so.

I won’t cite Qur’an verses or Sunnah regarding the matter of music; anyone who reads my blog knows where to look for supporting evidence in either direction.

I missed music —  listening to it and making it — during my years in Riyadh.  I was a pianist in my youth, and later picked up classical guitar, but I had to leave that behind when I moved. Mornings, while doing housework and cooking, I would listen to Radio Riyadh, which aired insipid re-makes and elevator music from the United States. I enjoyed every note.

More than once, I wondered whether my love of reciting the Qur’an grew out of my love for music more than love for Islam. I confess, the beautiful recitations of popular reciters sounded quite melodious.  My favorite reciter at the time, Ahmed al Ajami, was criticized for “‘singing,” rather than reciting, the Qur’an. Indeed, his melodious voice drew me closer and closer to the Qur’an and its message.

In contrast, I used to fall out of bed in the morning, nearly dead of a heart attack because  the muazzin in the mosque across the street  used to belt out the azzan as loudly and as harshly as he could. In spite of protests from the surrounding residents, he insisted upon calling a most grating azzan, raspy and booming. He wanted to make sure everyone in the neighborhood woke for Fajr. Everyone did.

One of my dear friends in Riyadh loved music, too, and listened to it freely, without restraint. The difference between us was that she believed music was haram, and I did not. She would say, “Astaghfirullah,” after telling me about a song she’d grown to like, but then she’d chuckle and admit that she could not keep away from this “sin”.

I wonder where she is now, and I wonder whether she still regards music as haram.  I’m back in the States, listening to all kinds of music, and getting distracted from prayer by far more insidious influences than music.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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14 Responses to Music- Heavenly or Haram?

  1. coolred38 says:

    I have never for a moment entertained the idea that music could be haram…based only on one concept. Music is a beautiful healing balm for the troubled soul…it soothes us in times of need…makes us happy and lifts our spirits…its like auditory medicine…and medicine is considered a necessary thing in life.

    For sure we shouldnt allow music to intrude on our duties to God etc…and I would venture to guess that those Muslims that do allow it to consume them…have far more troubles in their lives then just the inability to turn the music off when the time has come for prayer etc….ah well…to each his or her own.

    Your adhan anecdote really made me chuckle. I was in Riffa one time during noon prayers….the man, whomever he was, literally broke the eardrums of every person having the misfortune to be near by. Not only was his voice harsh and extremely gruff…but the volume coming from the loudspeakers probably gave life on Mars a reason to pause and look up at the sky wondering what the hell was that?

    I also admit to admiring Ahmed al Ajimi for his melodious voice that really draws a listener in. My son use to tell me that the “religious” folk (men) at the mosque critisized Ajimi for not reciting the Quran correctly…but now, years later…I hear his voice nearly everywhere I go that is has the Quran playing. He must be doing something right…eh?

  2. WM says:

    I think the only reason people say music is haram is because there are ahadith to that effect. The idea that it ‘intoxicates’ etc is only a human rationalisation of the prohibition…I thought it was important to make that point 🙂

  3. Aafke says:

    I cannot ever believe that music can be bad, for myself I have always believed that music comes from God!

    I am now very curious about Ahmed al Ajimi, can you get cd’s?

  4. Marahm says:

    Music can be healing, indeed. It can also be irritating!


    The idea of intoxication as a human rationalization is interesting. Of course it is not intoxicating in the ordinary sense of the word, but it definitely has physiological effects that can affect the listener’s perceptions, either positively or negatively. Perhaps that is why the prohibitors had to rationalize it.


    Yes, CDs are available, as well as You-tube and mp3 files. Just do a google search and you’ll find lots of choices.

  5. Hning says:

    As a child, I went to a very wahhabi elementary school that vehemently believed in the sinfulness of music.

    I went home to parents and grandparents who listened to Wagner and Disney Sing-along-Songs.

    So after a while of disbelieving both, I came back to both religion and parents trying to enjoy and love them first; putting off my fate in the afterlife for the afterlife.

    Turns out that it’s not really about haram/halal when it comes to aesthetics. It’s about taste. So that hoarse muezzin you mentioned should take vocal classes. Along with a WHOLE BUNCH of contemporary pop artists as well.

    As usual, this was an enjoyable and nostalgic read. Thanks for writing it, madam.

  6. Marahm says:

    Hning, what a contrast between your home life and your school life!

    In circumstances like that, practicality must win out, and simplicity; I like the pragmatism of your ultimate decision to put the “…fate in the afterlife for the afterlife.” Sometimes, religious arguments get awfully tiring, tempting a believer to turn her back altogether, and live in the moment, with music, to be sure, and good music!

  7. solace says:

    I love music – all the different genres.

    I think a lot depends on your intention with the music, if it is purely for entertainment, I don’t think listening to it is a problem. BUT idolising the singers like some teenagers do is wrong, in my opinion.

  8. Sumera says:

    I find music soothing, inspiring, uplifting – can find a song to match every mood across the spectrum.

  9. ~W~ says:

    Depends on what is considered music. I would say music is mostly heavenly but sometimes it is not. I would not say it is haram because this is a really strong word that I think should be used cautiously. But the stuff young people listen to these days is not to my taste at all. The lyrics are horrible and the video clips border on pornography.

  10. Marahm says:

    Intention is, of course, all important. It’s easy to focus on the music rather than the intention, when deciding whether or not music is appropriate.

    Some music does, indeed, border on pornography, and other music sounds so grating, irritating and unpleasant that it can hardly be considered music.

    Let’s not forget that music is a medium of communication. It can and does influence a person’s ideas, especially a young person.

  11. Of course some music is bad, but for the most part, it embodies everything that is good. To say that all music is haram in my eyes is a sin. It picks me up when I am down, it gets me moving when I am doing housework, it soothes me when I am relaxing. I love music.

  12. Aafke says:

    Didn’t Bilal call the adhan because he had such a good voice?

  13. Kazama says:

    This article was derived from:

    In case someone does not want to read all of it (I did though) I’ll state the points of these.

    1. Some rules based on hadiths are man-made, and Allah stated in the Quran that he is the only lawmaker. Some hadiths say that Allah forbids this and that, but why would he forbid something and not write it in the Quran? It absolutely makes no sense, especially when even Rasulullah himself intended to leave nothing behind him except for the Quran, not some things people decided to write down and have passed over several generations, and then converted to English. Not saying that all hadiths are false, but some are, or to an extent inaccurate (and misinterpreted) because, apparently, a lot of the things back then (like music) led to nothing BUT haram, so it’s obvious things like this will be banned for that time (because it guided people to evil). The Quran warned us about man-made laws and false hadiths. As for what is halal and what is haram, God detailed it in the Quran, the ONLY source of law for mankind. God also makes clear that he is the ONLY lawmaker. He even admonished Rasulullah once for banning something without God’s persmission, so, seeing as God does not forbid music and singing (which there is no evidence in the Quran of) Rasulullah could not have, otherwise he would be defying Allah. Of course, when it’s leading someone to sin, it is seen as bad, but when someone uses it to put himself to sleep…yeah..use your minds people. Allah himself ordered you to.

    2. Music is everywhere. You can’t avoid it. You even hear birds singing during fajr. You’re not goint to tell them to shut the **** up. Yet someone out there has the nerve to say that singing is haram…that person may need to shove a flute up his ***. Maybe that person will be enlightened then.

    Sorry for the language, but I can’t help witness the stupidity of someone claiming music and singing is haram. Anyway, salamualaikum.

  14. Marahm says:

    Wa aleikum asalaam, Kazama, and thank you for your forthright post! We are well advised that many false hadith do exist and are passed off as genuine. People arrange their lives according to these false hadith, and for what?

    The trouble is in determining which is false and which is genuine. For we of the twenty-first century, such a task cannot be done, so we have to choose which chain of evidence is correct.

    That’s hardly possible. Common sense must prevail.

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