The topic of singing being halal or haram is a widely debated one in Islam. Both sides of the argument can produce ample logic and Ahadith to verify their claims. However, the path towards understanding this delicate issue lies in analyzing both sides of the topic. Questions and logics such as the definition of haram, the definition of music, Ahadith, Quranic references, Ijma and Qiyas are imperative to fully understand whether singing is haram or not. Why is something classified as haram and halal? What is singing? And what is permitted and banned in regard to singing? These are some of the questions we will be looking at.
Definition of Ghina
The definition of “ghina” from Arabic to English is “singing”, or “to sing”. It is an Arabic form of singing in which the person produces exceptional vocals accompanied with or without musical instruments. The contents of the singing (the lyrics) can vary, as well as their subject and tone. As with all kinds of singing, ghina is also performed to incite an emotional response from the listeners. The outcome depends on how ghina is performed.
Quranic References Whether Singing is Haram or Halal
There are two Quranic verses that are commonly cited in the topic of whether singing is haram or halal. An unbiased interpretation reveals them to warn Muslims against wasting time and indulging in negative thoughts. This is more than enough to answer whether singing is haram or halal.
“Among the people is he who buys diversionary talk that he may lead (people) astray from Allah’s way without any knowledge, and he takes it in derision. For such, there is a humiliating punishment” (31:6).
The definition of diversionary talk is one that is open to interpretation. It is generally agreed upon by everyone that diversionary talk refers to idle talk, which is distracting. It has no real purpose and does not provide any gain, hence is a waste of time. The diversionary talk also distracts from performing useful deeds, keeping them from pleasing Allah and being of service to humanity.
“So avoid the abomination of idols, and avoid false speech …” (22:30).
“False speech” is interpreted as anything which deviates from reality. It also encourages belief in something which does not exist. It is easy to understand why this verse can be interpreted as an extreme one. In reality, it is quite straightforward to understand. Such false speech promotes thoughts that are detrimental to a believer, as they encourage straying from their beliefs. A solid understanding of religion can easily answer these negative thoughts. However, they are best left unheard as they are a waste of time.
References from Ahadith about Singing
Hazrat Anas ibn Malik (RA) narrates a hadith in which the Holy Prophet (SAW) was passing by some girls who were singing and playing drums. Upon seeing Him (SAW), they said “Muhammad is an excellent neighbor! We are neighbors from the tribe of Najjar!” To this, the Holy Prophet (SAW0 said in reply, “Verily, Allah knows that you are dear to me” (Sunan Ibn Majah 1899).
This hadith is considered sahih and clearly shows that the Holy Prophet did not condone the singing and playing drum practice of those girls. We must examine the context as well. The girls were in no way indulging in vulgar songs or being a nuisance to others. They were praising their neighbor, the Holy Prophet (SAW), hence were promoting good deeds through their singing. The hadith shows that such singing, which does no harm and praises others in a friendly manner, is permissible.
Hazrat Ibn Abbas (RA) reports that Hazrat Aisha (RA) gave her relative for marriage. The Holy Prophet (SAW) inquired whether she had sent a singer with the bride. When she said no, the Holy Prophet (SAW) said: “Verily, the Ansar are a people who love poetry, so you should send someone along with her to say: Here we come, to you we come, greet us as we greet you” (Sunan Ibn Mājah 1900).
This hadith shows that the Holy Prophet (SAW) respected the traditions of the Ansar and did not condone them in any manner. In fact, he promoted it by pointing out that it would have been better to have a singer accompany the bride. This would have pleased the Ansar on the joyous occasion. Of course, the performer would have to adhere to the practices of singing in an Islamic manner.
From the above example, we can deduce the following about whether singing is haram or halal:
- The singing should conform to the teachings of Islam, meaning it should not be against Islamic principles.
- Everything associated with the singing should be in line with the teachings of Islam. For example, both the song and the physical movements of the performer should be according to Islamic principles.
- Singing is often accompanied by vulgar activities.
- The topics taken as inspiration for singing should not clash with the principles of Islam.
- The singing should not take place in a place that defies the principles of Islam.
Hazrat Aisha (RA) reports that the Holy Prophet (SAW) came to her home on Eid and there were two girls singing at that time. Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) scolded them, but the Holy Prophet (SAW) said “Leave them Abu Bakr. Verily, every community has a celebration and this day is our celebration” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3716, Sahih Muslim 892).
This hadith shows that Islamic tradition allows such activity, though under its jurisdiction. However, under no circumstances does Islam promote vulgar singing and that which does not conform with ethics.