Is music really haram? I’m not talking about the Rihannas “Wild Thoughts” kind of music, more of peaceful piano, flute, violin, ancient music. The kind of music that doesn’t give off sexual vibe and stuff, but the music that adheres peace, you know?
[Below is a quick survey of opinions on this matter gleaned from Arabic-language sources. I may eventually write out a full essay on this, although it is not one of my topics of interest, since the permissibility of music is such an obvious thing that it is almost not worth talking about.]
Many Islamic scholars reject the idea that music is prohibited. The scholar Ibn Hazm (d. 1064 CE, creator of the “fifth” school of Islamic jurisprudence) considers every hadith that has been used to make music haram fabricated, and considers listening to music the same as taking joy from a nature walk.
The scholar al-Shashi (d. 976 CE) says that Imam Malik permitted music. Imam al-Shafi`i says that there is no clear evidence to prohibit music.
The scholar al-Mawardi (d. 1058 CE) says that Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik and al-Shafi`i did not prohibit music.
The respected theologians Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ibn Daqeeq, Izz al-Din ibn Abd al-Salam (famous Shafi`ite scholar, known as the Sultan of Scholars in his time, d. 1262 CE), Abdul Ghani al-Nablusi, Ibn Qutaybah, al-Maqdisi, al-Dhahabi, Abu Talib al-Makki, Ibn al-Arabi al-Maliki and Imam al-Shawkani consider music permissible.
Among modern scholars who reject the prohibition on music are the Azhar scholars Muhammad al-Ghazali and Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, Hasan al-Attar, Muhammad Shaltoot, Ali al-Tantawi and Muhammad Rashid Radha.
The main issue here is the centuries-long feud between the scholars of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence, i.e. Islamic law) and the scholars of hadith. Scholars of hadith often ignore rationalism if they can find a collection of hadith to support their opinions, which is why you have Saudi scholars defending their ridiculous prohibition on women driving. The scholars of fiqh, on the other hand, are well aware of the unreliability of hadith, the duty of skepticism toward all hadith narrations, and the necessity of judging hadith by the Quran, which is why their thinking is far more moderate and easier to accept.
The fiqh scholar Ibn al-Jawzi says: “If you ever hear a hadith narration that goes against common sense and (well-known theological) principles, do not consider yourself bound to obey it.”
I will add to that and say: In general, whenever you hear people say something supposedly Islamic that insults your intelligence, if you do a little research you will find that 1. that thing is not in the Quran and 2. there are many highly respected scholars who reject it.
Whenever hadith narrations try to attach new things to Islam that are non-existent in the Quran, we have to be extremely skeptical toward them. The Quran is the criterion (a word the Quran uses to refer to itself) by which we judge everything else in Islam.
The Prophet himself, peace be upon him, says in two authentic narrations:
“What God makes permissible in His book (the Quran), then that is permissible, and what He makes prohibited, that is prohibited, and what He is silent about, that is out of His mercy, so accept His mercy, for God does not forget anything.”
“God has made certain things obligatory, so do not neglect those, and He has set certain bounds, so do not overstep those bounds, and He has remained silent on certain matters out of His mercy on you, not out of forgetfulness, so do not seek out those matters (i.e. do not argue about them and make a big deal of them).”
A prohibition on music is not in the Quran, which makes it one of the matters that God left out of the Quran intentionally, out of His mercy. Whenever something is not in the Quran, that’s a clear indication that it is not an important matter in God’s religion, and that people should make up their own minds about it, the same way they are allowed to make up their own minds about whether a PC or a Mac is a better computer.
Before people start replying with their arguments in favor of prohibiting music, please know that I am already aware of your arguments, and please see the following (Arabic) essay that has a detailed discussion of the relevant evidence on both sides of the debate:
Certain types of music can be considered forbidden due to things associated with the music, but that is a different matter.