Why exactly is music unlawful in Islam and particularly stringed instruments?

I can’t think of any intuitive reasons like promiscuity and spread of STD’s back then.

I’m guessing here … but I believe it is only a very small sect of Muslims who hold this to be true … those same folks who think it’s perfectly okay to fly 757s into skyscrapers and steal women for sex-slaves … in fact, the largest Muslim country, Indonesia, has a very rich culture of music and dance …

I don’t know, but again guessing, cats are listed as unclean … meaning not only we’re not supposed to eat them, but also not use any of their body parts … being only a moron would think flying commercial jet airliners into a building was a good idea … they probably also think catgut is made from cats’ guts …

It isn’t. As noted, it’s only the lunatic fringe that bans music.

Some of my favourite musicians are Muslims.

Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) had refrained from performing music for many years, or performed only using percussion, after his conversion to Islam, because some teachers had told him that performing was unacceptable. Yusuf later spoke with other imams, and decided that performing music was, indeed, allowable, at which point he started to perform again, and record new music.

Based on that, it sounds like the answer is, as the earlier posters have noted, that some imams and Muslims believe music to be inconsistent with being a Muslim (at various levels), but that it’s by no means a view held by all Muslims.


Maybe the first imams were familiar with Yusuf Islam’s music …

Wait, what? Islamic tradition says that cats are awesome.

As others said, it is only a subset of Islam that believes that. As for why, I would guess it is for the same reason that leaders of any religion put restrictions on things people enjoy–it threatens their monopoly over people’s emotional and cultural lives.

When I was in graduate school, I was a member of a campus Christian group that was pretty conservative. We went to a conference where we met other students from other colleges, and I remember talking with some guys who were members of an extremely conservative fundamentalist Christian church. Their church was so conservative that they believed that the only music which should be used during worship was Psalms.

Anybody who’d call 10th-century monks a bunch of hippies for singing too much during worship isn’t conservative, they’re backward and upside-down.

Church of Christ, perhaps? They don’t believe in using musical instruments in church.

Because of these:

“Bukhari, Volume 2, Book 15, Number 72: Narrated Aisha: Abu Bakr came to my house while two small Ansari girls were singing beside me the stories of the Ansar concerning the Day of Buath. And they were not singers. Abu Bakr said protestingly, “Musical instruments of Satan in the house of Allah’s Apostle !” It happened on the ‘Id day and Allah’s Apostle said, “O Abu Bakr! There is an ‘Id for every nation and this is our ‘Id.””

““Anas ibn Malik related from the Prophet that, “two cursed sounds are that of the musical instrument(mizmaar) played on the occasion of joy and grace, and the woeful wailing upon the occasion of adversity.””

I’m a big fan of Paul Bowles. Here’s an article discussing his travels around Morocco, collecting indigenous music: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-sheltering-sound-paul-bowless-attempt-to-save-moroccan-music

On BBC Radio 3, “This Week’s Composer” is a nineteenth-century Scot, and it appears from today’s opening episode that his family’s informal music recitals on a Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh - playing Haydn quartets - provoked enquiries by the police, who were only persuaded to leave after they were shown a score and told it was sacred music.

Certainly in the Muslim countries of the sub-continent and North Africa, there is plenty of music. Any problems tend to come from the remoter parts of Saudi Arabia and Hadramaut, perhaps:

Report from the British Consul General in Oman on the National Salute to the Sultan of Oman, 1960

(But for a wider range of Muslims, dogs can be unclean).

I don’t think that was it; I’m familiar with Church of Christ (and, yes, they are ultra-conservative on many things, including baptism). ISTR that the guys I met were members of a very small denomination (might have even been one independent congregation). I don’t remember them saying anything about an issue with instrumental accompaniment, but it was specifically that only the Psalms from the Old Testament were allowed to be sung in their worship services.

The topic had come up because singing modern-day Christian music was a big part of fellowship with a lot of these college groups, and during one of those sing-alongs, they noted that they enjoyed getting a chance to sing such songs, since it was something that they couldn’t do during their church services.

As others have posted, the OP’s assumption that music is unlawful in Islam is not correct. The prohibition may be true for certain strict sects of the religion, especially Wahhabism, but then again the sect is extreme in its beliefs:

Wahhabi beliefs were not the norm throughout most of history, and only became more prominent in the 20th century after oil was discovered in the Arabian peninsula and its practitioners (namely the royal Saudi family, which gained control through the aid of Wahhabi soldiers) were able to export its practice outside of Saudia Arabia though the funding of schools and printing of books outside the penninsula. Note that most other forms of islam not only tolerate music, but also use it as an important part of spiritual practice (e.g., the whirling dervishes in sufi islam).

As to why certain sects prohibited music, Darren Garrison’s answer is probably correct. I was friends with some Seventh Day Adventists, and attended several weddings before I learned that SDAs do not dance because it is prohibited or at least frowned upon on grounds that certain passages of the Bible proscribe against the practice.

I was going to write a longer post, but really there is a wiki on the topic that is adequate.

In short as noted it is in these modern days a minority position that instrumental music is forbidden, but you can certainly find Muslims to adhere to it. Just as you can find Christians who do so as well ( though far fewer of them ). Also note that even the anti-music extremists of both traditions generally are okay with vocals - it is instruments that are problematic.

Too late to edit:

As to non-religious reasons for/origins of a religious trope, I’m not sure that in this case that there is a clear motivation in early Islam. Other than that they were borrowing from early Judeo-Christian practices, which as noted frowned on devotional instrumental music. It is hard to speculate just where puritanical non-frivolity clauses arose from. Desert culture stoicism taken to an extreme? Kinda hard to pin down.

And then, there are arguments about what’s considered a “musical instrument.” The musicologist Hiromi Loraine Sakata reported that playing the drum (specifically a kind of shallow frame drum) was a popular pastime among rural women in Afghanistan, even though the community generally agreed that “music” was a forbidden activity. When she asked for clarification, they explained that the drum was an “instrument of leisure,” rather than an “instrument of music.”

There’s a Todd Rundgren joke to be had here, but I can’t quite come up with one…

I recently watched Frontline’s “Saudi Arabia Uncovered”, and remember this section that discusses the ‘Religious Police’ and shows their tactics for harassing people playing a lute in public (19:45 - 22:20). The rest of the program is not flattering to SA, if you care to watch the whole thing.

I dunno. I would like to think it is the wacky fringe with this belief, but a group of young people sitting in a park in Saudi Arabia playing music and getting assaulted in public makes it seem like more than just a minority, at least in that country. It probably varies from place to place, as mentioned, but I would not think SA is a small minority of Islam.