The forbiddance of music


Kamran Siddiqui

Recently, a Canadian Newspaper Globe and Mail covered a story of Muslim families in a Toronto neighborhood demanding the Toronto District School Board to exempt their kids from the music class, which is a compulsory component of the Provincial Curriculum. The families are arguing that attending music class violates their Muslim faith.

The Newspaper further reported that more than 130 parents signed a petition for the exemption of their kids from music class on religious grounds. Being a compulsory curriculum component, the School Board is willing to provide accommodation but not the full exemption. As an accommodation, the School Board is willing to allow students not to play musical instruments but rather clap their hands or listen to the cappella version of the Canadian national anthem.

However, the Muslim parents have not shown a positive response towards this accommodation and insisting that their children cannot be in the same room where musical instruments are played. They further involved the Imam of the local mosque in their fight who as per Newspaper said that “We here believe that music is haram (forbidden). We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it”.

The issue of forbiddance of music in Islam is centuries’ old debate. The conservative Muslims consider playing or listening of music absolutely forbidden. However, despite this opposition, music remained part of Muslim heritage almost throughout Muslim history. For example, the famous 10th century Arab philosopher Al-Farabi wrote a monumental book on music (Kitab al-Musiqa al-Kabir). The invention of famous Indian musical instrument Sitar is attributed to a Muslim. In the Indian Subcontinent to date, the role of Muslims in promoting and excelling music is prominent and well documented.

While the debate for and against the forbiddance of music still continues, the opponents of music attempt to associated it with lust, vulgarity, indecency and temptation which according to their perspective, pull a person away from piousness and virtue. The proponents of music in general do not refute these claims and typically make their case on the argument that fun is also an important part of life and hence put themselves in a weaker or defensive position in such debates. One primary reason for this defensive stance is the absence of logic and reasoning in such debates. In this article, I am using a logical and scientific approach to address this issue. However, before getting into the logical side, let’s clarify this issue from Quranic perspective; the divine scripture and source of Islam, since the issue is portrayed as a religious matter. God has declared explicitly in Quran that no one other than Him has the authority to forbid adornments of life (7:32) and neither the music is mentioned as a subject anywhere in the Quran nor it is declared forbidden. Any argument brings forth by Muslim conservatives against music is outside Quran, and is based on literature written over 200 years after the revelation of Quran.

Now let’s focus on logical and scientific argument. Music is basically comprised of sound waves of different frequencies and amplitudes. When these waves are arranged in a certain sequence, it leaves a pleasant impression on us because it synchronizes with our mind and soul. When the same sound waves are generated randomly, with no pattern or modulation, it is called noise. Because of its random nature, it cannot synchronize with our mind and soul, and hence it creates an unpleasant effect on us.

 The creation of music is not just a manmade phenomenon. While there are countless examples of sound generation in nature, there are many observations of modulations of natural sound waves that leave pleasant effect on us (music by definition). A good example is the sound waves modulations by the blowing wind. Physically, the phenomenon is the same in both manmade and natural cases, which is the modulation of sound waves.  Could the Muslim conservatives declare the natural processes of sound modulations forbidden too and cover their ears when wind blows? 

So the question to opponents of music is why something that leaves a pleasant effect on us has to be forbidden? What is wrong if it leaves a pleasant effect on us? If listening of modulated sound waves is forbidden, then why reciters modulate their voices when they recite Quranic verses?

Why the religious poems praising God and Prophet Muhammad are recited with sound modulations? They also create sound waves in a sequence that is pleasant to hear. From physical perspective, both cause the sound waves modulations; in one case by a reciter through his voice and in the other case by music instruments. Then why one is permissible and the other is forbidden when the underlying physical mechanism is the same in both cases? 

Rhythm is part of human instinct. Anything that synchronizes with it leaves a pleasant effect on us. There is nothing forbidden about it. It is natural. As a matter of fact, being humans, these conservative Muslims are also not immune to pleasant sound modulations and hence, they found a way out by voice modulation in religious recitals. They cannot deny the influence of music on their mind and soul, since it is embedded in their instinct and cannot be separated.

One can certainly argue about the indecency in poetry that may lead to lust and temptation. One can also argue about indecency and vulgarity in dancing, but indecency in music alone is meaningless. If one composes a song with indecent poetry, the problem is with the poetry not the musical notes. Someone else could use the same musical notes to create a song with decent and meaningful poetry۔

Similarly, if one picks up the musical beats to create a vulgar dance then it is not the fault of musical beats. Someone else on the same musical beats could express inner feelings in a decent manner such as clapping. Music for sure excites the inner feeling of humans but for most part it creates a positive impact on us. Music has been used as a valuable tool in various form of therapies. Every human mind is a unique receptor of music and has likes and dislikes or pleasure and displeasure for different forms of music, which may vary from person to person. But this does not translate into indecency in music.

In fact, the music brings harmony to life; it is a motivator to cheer and enjoy life; to relax and relief mental stresses. There is a reason to make music a compulsory component of school curriculum. Research studies have shown that the music education helps students in enhancing their understanding and achievements in non-musical subjects. It improves mathematical skills as the training on rhythms emphasizes on proportions, patterns, fraction, etc. It also enhances various skills for practical life, such as self-discipline, creativity, perseverance, self-esteem, etc.

In summary, there is no rational or logical argument to support the forbiddance of music. Even the divine scripture of Islam does not forbid music. Hence, the demand of Muslim families for the exemption of their kids from music classes has neither religious nor logical basis. The School Board must stay firm on its stance of no exemption.    

Kamran Siddiqui is a Professor at the Western University, Canada

Read this article in Urdu

آخر موسیقی کی ممانعت کیوں؟


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  3. Joy is a forbidden in Islam.

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