Sunday, August 13, 2006

My thoughts on Music

Music has always been important in my life, always. If you don't know, I played the clarinet in MS, HS, and college, and I still play piano. But in the last year or so I've re-examined my philosophy on it. Honestly, it's too difficult for me to say what is haram, what is not haram, and I'm hardly qualified. I know that when scholars say it's haram, they do so for the best intentions, to help us stay pure, if something isn't absolutely clear, but I also know how giving up music can really hurt some people--it would hurt me if I had to. On the other hand, giving up alcohol, or slavery were hard things for the Arabs...

For a while, I really just didn't pay attention to rulings on music being haram or not, and just kept listening to what I liked. After a while I did go looking and found a few things... music has been in Islamic culture for a long time, but music is often nowadays seen as, let's say, a gateway to haram or a fitnah. There are a few ahadith used to support various opinions about music whether singing, or using instruments, using non-percussive instruments, and I basically took the view that music can be fine as long as it's not dealing specifically with things that are haram. That is probably the most liberal of the viewpoints, only condemning tunes that glorify this world or sins in this world, making that the focus.

It doesn't make sense to just outrightly prohibit music if it's not the music, but rather the lyrics, which make it wrong, does it? It seemed to me like scholars had to be really tough to do that.

But then I heard the story of a guy who is now, mashaAllah, a very devoted Muslim for whom I have a great deal of respect, who was born Muslim but was not very attached to his faith. He told me how he used to listen to music (especially hip hop, I think) and how he just hated cops, for example, even though he'd not had experiences with them. He was describing how the music really shaped his viewpoint. So I became a little more critical of the music I listened to. I stayed away from songs even that I liked that dealt with themes I didn't find compatible with my Islam.

I still didn't think that something like classical music even would just be haram, until I mentioned to him (same guy) that I played piano, and he tells me, "Oh, you know that's haram." LOL I kinda resented it, but to be honest, it made me think. I thought about the way music affected me, and I know that it can affect me in a very physical way. Emotional, obviously, pscyhologically, of course, but for me it was even physical. And at that point, I started to avoid kinds of music that had the physical affect on me. I do love to play piano, and I haven't given it up yet, but on the other hand I try to stick to music that won't affect me so strongly, or at least playing in a situation where I won't be so strongly affected. I know I'm being vague here, but it's hard to explain exactly.

Now at one point I was visiting a sister Amatullah and her daughters were listening to some Arab pop music and she kept telling me how she didn't like it. Then she was telling me about the Sami Yusuf albums, how she liked the one (which she gave me a copy of) and not the second (which was a little too akin to rap, she thought). She really didn't like the instruments, and her explanation about music has been one that struck me as the most powerful. She told me that the instruments make our hearts yearn for the music, instead of after the Qur'an. Listening to the Qur'an is so beautiful, and at times instrumental music can tempt us away from that, and lead us into a world where we become distracted and not focused on our deen.

So the question is, when do we reach a point where we want to give up music for Islam? It's different for everyone, some people might never. By getting books-on-tape and various audio lectures, I listen to those in the car and really haven't felt like I am missing much as far as music--that made the transition easy for me. I do listen when I work out, but I was thinking about storing up lectures on my mp3 player instead of songs. Since I don't have the piano any more and have to actually visit my parents to play, I end up playing a lot less. I try to stick to songs that I find okay, though, and just use it more for stress relief.

So giving up music has been a gradual process, I'll probably give up more still. I do only seldom listen to music in the car, now, and am honestly happy that I have reached where I am. I would much rather do things that improve my Islam, all the time, than anything that takes away from it. That's where I am as far as iman, and not everyone else is there. When I turn on an adult contemporary music radio station and listen, is that something I can really say I'm doing for God? I don't think so, so I try not to do it.

An interesting part of the music debate is nasheeds, which is music for remembering Allah, and music that tells Islamic stories and so forth. My first introduction to it, I wasn't impressed, but now I do enjoy listening to the Sami Yusuf CD which was given to me. Sometimes these nasheeds use instruments, so I wonder if it is really haram. If the purpose is to glorify Allah, what is wrong with it?

The problem I see with most music is that it doesn't do that, or that it even does the opposite. So I try to stay away from those kinds of music that I know may lead me off the straight path, things that I feel don't improve my Islam. But that is me.

I had a discussion with somebody not too long ago who really hated that Muslim scholars would say music was haram, even rap, because he knew all these rap artists who he liked to listen to, he thought it was good. He really fought with people about this, too, and the advice I gave him was not to fight about it with Muslims--you won't change their mind. But he is going to be accountable for what he does, so if he wants to listen to music, and he thinks that's okay, then he shouldn't waste his time trying to change the opinions of over a billion Muslims.

I don't seem ask myself anymore if music is haram or not. If it takes me away from Allah, then I shouldn't like it. I don't need a fatwa to be told to stay away from things that hurt my faith.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sister in Islam,

I like reading your blog and some blogs from people who revert to Islam as it somehow gives me encouregemnt to be a good Muslim. I was born in a Muslim family but I guess I was just take Islam for granted. Anyhow, maybe you will interest with this article .The article write be Yusuf Islam former known as Cat Steven, he gives his point of view regarding of Music.



Aliocha said...

Hi, there!

I am not sure whether, you still remeber me, I came across you in the Why Islam? forum a couple of months ago... you might remeber my questions about your faith and monogamy...

I have some questions regarding your post, and I am sorry if they will sound too "basic", but I have little knowledge of Islam

First things first... haram means forbidden, right?

Secondly... if I got it right from your post, some scholars claim that all music is haram, is that right?

What's a fitnah?

What does mashaAllah mean?

I thought in Islam you would use music in prayer, am I wrong?

Thank you!