Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Ghina – Singing

بسمه تعالى

These are transcripts from 12 advanced jurisprudence lessons given on singing (al-ghinā’) by Ustad Soroush Mahallati. These lessons were given during the Norouz holidays of March 2021. A discussion on singing and musical instruments by Ayatullah Sayyid Khamenei was also published on Iqra Online in 2018 which can be read here [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4].

I have written these transcripts in a way such that they flow as one paper, rather than divide them up into each lesson.


We are in the month of Sha‘ban during the days of Noruz, and I pray to Allah that He grants us the utmost blessings during these days. Given we are on holiday during Noruz, and in line with the tradition of the seminaries to engage in short crash courses during the two-week period, I would like to address a subject that is very relevant for our society.

The topic we want to look into is ghinā’ – singing (not to be conflated with music and musical instruments which is a separate discussion). The first question we wish to ask is, what sources and methodology do we need to employ to address this topic? We have four sources in jurisprudence for deriving law: the intellect, Quran, Sunnah, and consensus; however, do we use, or can we even use all four sources to determine the ruling for ghinā’? Most jurists believe only one source can be used.

This is because the intellect cannot be used in this subject as it does not tell us whether ghinā’ or for that matter even music is prohibited or not. Secondly, they claim the Quran has no direct verse on the subject, and thirdly there is no consensus on the ruling of ghinā’ either. As such, the only source we are left with is the Sunnah. This has been the view of most jurists, and we will investigate each of these sources to see whether this is truly the case or not.

Intellectual Argument for the Ruling on Ghinā’

We want to address whether the intellect – assuming it is probative – can be used in this subject or not. When we look at the works of legal theory, in classical works, when they cite an example for where the intellect dictates nothing about the prohibition or obligation of an act, they give the example of ghinā’ and music. The author of al-Fuṣūl and as well as author of al-Qawānīn cite this example in their discussions on the intelligibility of good and evil (al-ḥusn wa al-qubḥ al-‘aqlīyayn).

As in most works of jurisprudence of singing and music, the intellect is deemed to be irrelevant. However, about two-hundred years ago, around the time of the author of al-Jawāhir (d. 1849), a dispute emerged amongst our scholars on this subject, and this dispute ended in the victory of those who rejected the role of the intellect in certain discussions. The author of al-Jawāhir had two prominent teachers, Shaykh Ja‘far Kāshif al-Ghiṭā (d. 1812) and the author of Miftāḥ al-Karāmah (d. 1811), who both believed the prohibition of music had an intellectual aspect to it, such that humans can perceive its evilness (qubḥ), similar to how the intellect can perceive the evilness of usurping or lying. Shaykh Ja‘far writes:

قد ظهر مما مرّ أنّه لا ينبغي صدور الاستثناء من أهل النظر كيف لا و تحريم الغناء كتحريم الزنا و أخباره متواترة و أدلّته متكاثرة عبّر عنه بقول الزور و لهو الحديث في القرآن و نادت الأخبار بأنّه المحرك على الفجور و العصيان فكأنّ تحريمه من الأمور العقلية التي لا يقبل تقييداً و لا تخصيصاً بالكلية

Based on what has passed, it becomes apparent that there be no exception [to the ruling] by the people of reflection, for the prohibition of ghinā’ is like the prohibition of adultery, its narrations are widely transmitted, and its arguments are numerous. The Quran denotes it as qawl al-zūr and lahw al-ḥadīth. The reports call it out as something which pushes one towards transgression and sin. Thus, it is as if its prohibition is from the intellectual matters that cannot accept any restriction (taqyīd) nor specification (takhṣīṣ) of a universal.1

Likewise, Sayyid Jawād writes:

ثمّ إنّا قد نقول: إنّ تحریم الغناء کتحریم الزنا أخباره متواترة و أدلّته متکاثرة، عبّر عنه بقول الزور و لهو الحدیث فی القرآن و نطقت الروایات بأنّه الباعث علی الفجور و الفسوق فکان تحریمه عقلیّاً لا یقبل تقییداً و لا تخصیصاً

Thereafter we at times may say: the prohibition of ghinā’ is like the prohibition of adultery. Its reports are widely transmitted, and its arguments are numerous. The Quran denotes it as qawl al-zūr and lahw al-ḥadīth and the narrations say it is what motivates one to transgression and immorality, and so its prohibition is intellectual, which does not accept any restriction nor specification.2

Subsequently, the author of al-Jawāhir critiques the views of his teachers and says singing and music are purely a matter of narrations and not something the intellect has any say in. According to him, if we had no narrations, the intellect would have not dictated anything on the subject.

Thus far we have merely said this dispute existed, but shortly we will ourselves analyze which of these positions is correct. We believe we must determine what the position of the intellect is on any matter before we approach the Quran or narrations because it can have an impact on our treatment of the latter two.

Ironically, one way to determine whether the intellect can play a role in a subject is by looking at the narrations themselves and seeing whether the Prophet (p) or the Imams (a) themselves referred to a rational principle when speaking about a matter. Likewise, we can refer to the Quran to see whether it mentions any rational injunction for us when speaking about a matter. These can become advisory remarks for us, informing us that the intellect has some role to play in perceiving the goodness or evil of a matter, and ultimately even its religious verdict.

We will address the relevant verses of the Qurān later, but first, let us look at a relevant narration from al-Kāfī:

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الرَّيَّانِ عَنْ يُونُسَ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ الْخُرَاسَانِيَّ ع وَ قُلْتُ إِنَّ الْعَبَّاسِيَ‌ ذَكَرَ أَنَّكَ تُرَخِّصُ فِي الْغِنَاءِ فَقَالَ كَذَبَ الزِّنْدِيقُ مَا هَكَذَا قُلْتُ لَهُ سَأَلَنِي عَنِ الْغِنَاءِ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ إِنَّ رَجُلًا أَتَى أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع فَسَأَلَهُ عَنِ الْغِنَاءِ فَقَالَ يَا فُلَانُ إِذَا مَيَّزَ اللَّهُ بَيْنَ الْحَقِّ وَ الْبَاطِلِ فَأَنَّى يَكُونُ الْغِنَاءُ فَقَالَ مَعَ الْبَاطِلِ فَقَالَ قَدْ حَكَمْتَ.

A number of our people have narrated from Sahl b. Ziyād from ‘Alī b. al-Rayyān from Yūnus who said:

I once asked al-Khurasānī (a) saying, ‘al-‘Abbāsī has said that you allow al-ghinā’ (singing). He (the Imam) said, ‘The heretic has spoken a lie. I did not say so to him. He asked me about al-ghinā’ and I said, ‘Once a man came to Abū Ja‘far (a) and asked him about al-ghinā’. He (the Imam) said, “O so and so, if Allah distinguishes between truth and falsehood where is the place of al-ghinā’?” He replied, ‘It is in falsehood.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘So you have issued the judgment.’”3

This narration appears in many other works like Qurb al-Isnād, ‘Uyūn al-Akhbār, and Rijāl al-Kashshī, with some minor differences in the chain of transmitters, and it is reliable according to most contemporary jurists. The relevant part of the narration is the last phrase where Imam Bāqir (a) answers the person by saying that given Allah has differentiated between truth and falsehood, which category do you think ghinā’ falls under? In other words, the Imam (a) returned the question back to the questioner. The person responds ghinā’ falls under falsehood, and the Imam (a) says you yourself have determined the ruling, and I do not need to say anything.

The argument is as follow: When the person asks for the ruling on ghinā’, the Imam (a) refers the person to their own intuition. This implies humans themselves can determine the truth of the matter on this subject and that it is not a submissive matter dependent on what the Imam (a) had to say.

We can extract two meanings from this narration:

i) Some can say the intellect can make a judgment on this matter, but not everyone’s intellect, rather only a religious person’s intellect.

ii) Some can say the intellect can make a judgment, but it has nothing to do with being a religious or irreligious person. Just like a religious person makes judgements based on his or her intellect, an irreligious person can also do the same thing.

Some contemporary jurists believe in the first opinion. Sayyid Khamenei in his recently published book on ghinā’ which are transcripts of his lessons from the year 1388 SH, and we will be benefiting and using this book in our lessons, says the following on page 98:

If the Imam (a) has referred a person, he has referred this person to their intuition as a religious person, and it is a religious person’s judgment that is reliable. As for other people, their judgment has no value.

That which has been questioned was something that any average religious person who contemplates on the matter will realize is problematic. In reality, the person was a religious person, and the Imam (a) asked him what he thinks about the matter as a religious person.

Some have sided with the second opinion. Sayyid ‘Abdul Karīm Hā’irī Yazdī (d. 1937) – the founder of the seminary of Qom – accepts the second opinion in his discussions, because as per him, this person has come to ask the Imam (a) a religious verdict, and him being religious or irreligious is irrelevant. Ayatullah Muḥammad ‘Alī Arākī in his al-Makāsib al-Muḥarrama cites the opinion of Sayyid Yazdī as follows:

ثمّ‌ إنّه – دام ظلّه – استشهد لتأييد مرامه بالرواية الرابعة عشر حيث إنّه بعد ما سأل السائل عن الغناء أحاله الإمام عليه السّلام إلى وجدان نفسه فيما إذا ميّز اللّه بين الحقّ‌ و الباطل انّه في أيّ‌ القسمين يكون، فاختار كونه من الباطل، فيعلم من هذا أنّ‌ الغناء ملازم مع حكم الوجدان عليه باندراجه في الباطل.

Thereafter, he – may Allah extend his shadow – cites the fourteenth tradition as evidence for his view, because after the questioner asks about ghinā’, the Imam (a) asks him to refer to his intuition to see in which category it falls, in relation to what Allah has differentiated between truth and falsehood. The questioner chooses falsehood and so it is known from this that ghinā’ is not separate from one’s intuitive judgment upon it which places it in the category of falsehood.4

Sayyid Yazdī believed the prohibition of ghinā’ is from the matter of intuition. In fact, he believes one must detach themselves from the religious atmosphere and judge the matter as a member of society, not as a religious member of society. Ayatullah Arākī then goes on to address what ghinā’ is and what types of ghinā’ does intuition and the intellect consider to be problematic.

Unfortunately, the discussion on whether the intellect can even play a role in this subject has not been addressed independently, rather it is discussed in passing whenever an opportunity arises. Whereas we believe this is the first discussion that needs to be addressed before entering into any further details. Similar issues also appear in some other subjects such as amr bi al-ma‘rūf, where there is a serious difference of opinion amongst jurists until today. Shaykh Ṭūsī, ‘Allamah Hilli and other major jurists believed the obligation of amr bi al-ma‘rūf is rational, whereas others such as Sayyid Murtaḍa believed it was a matter proven through transmitted sources.

Depending on your view, you will reach certain different conclusions on its application. For example, if someone believes the evidence for its obligation is based on transmitted evidence such as the narrations, then if someone merely requests someone to do something good, or abandon something bad, they have not fulfilled their obligation since “requesting” (ṭalab) is not the same as “ordering” (amr) and “prohibiting” (nahī). However, for those who believe in the evidence being rational, then such words have no relevance as long as a general request is made in any way possible.

In any case, even if we establish that the intellect can determine the ruling on ghinā’, we still need to know what exactly ghinā’ is. If we say ghinā’ is a ‘good voice’, then surely the intellect does not say it is prohibited or evil, in fact, it may even say it is a great pleasant thing. If we say ghinā’ is tarjī‘ (reverberation) of one’s voice, even then the intellect does not say it is problematic. If we say ghinā’ is a ‘pleasant voice, that pleases the listener’, the intellect does not give any universal judgement here about its evil or goodness. Hence, we need to know what exactly is ghinā’ such that the intellect can make a judgement on it.

When we analyze the matter further, we realize there is no difference between those who say intellectually speaking ghinā’ is allowed, and those who say intellectually speaking it is prohibited, because they are speaking about two different subject matters. In other words, their definition of ghinā’ is different.

Those who say the intellect does not consider ghinā’ prohibited, say so because they define ghinā’ as a pleasant voice that pleases the listener. The intellect does not condemn such pleasure. Other times a person can be pleased by seeing something, or tasting something, or smelling something, or touching something, and the intellect does not consider these pleasures to be problematic in and of themselves.

The author of al-Jawāhir says:

فان الطرب والخفة ونحوهما قد حلل كثير من أسبابها كالجماع وتقبيل المحبوب المحلل وضمه والمسامرة معه ونحوها مما يفيد الإنسان طربا أشد من الغناء فليس تحريمه حينئذ إلا سمعيا وقد عرفت اعتبار دليل الجواز في نفسه

The cause of severe delight, lightness, and its like have been permitted in many areas such as in sexual intercourse, kissing and hugging a beloved for whom such permission is granted, engaging in romantic conversations with them, etc. which cause severe pleasure in humans, stronger than ghinā’. Hence, the prohibition of it (ghinā’) is only based on the transmitted sources, and you have become acquainted with the condition of the evidence permitting it, in and of itself.5

However, if we understood ghinā’ to be a sound that causes severe delight (ṭarab) to the listener to the extent that it takes a person out of their normal state of being, then the intellect may be able to make a judgment. Recall that humans have two key features, their free will, and their reasoning; ṭarab forces a person to lose control over both of these two features. Some scholars have said this is what ghinā’ is and as such, they have defined it from the perspective of its influence and effect on humans.

Ayatullah Shaykh Muḥammad Riḍa Masjid-Jāmi’ī Isfahānī, a close friend of Sayyid Yazdī, was one of the jurists who insisted on this opinion. One of his students was Imam Khumaynī. He has written a treatise – one of the best treatises on the topic of ghinā’ – called Rawḍa al-Qinā‘ fī Ḥukm al-Ghinā’ – translated into Persian as Bāgh-e Khurram. During his own era, he was known as the Shaykh Bahā’ī of his time as he was an expert in many disciplines, not just jurisprudence.

At the beginning of his treatise, he refers to himself as: ‘Abd al-Mun‘im ibn ‘Abd Rabbih – the servant of one who grants blessings on people, the son of the servant of his Lord. The reason why he introduces himself like this and not with his own given name, which was the norm, is because often times when a jurist wanted to address a topic where they reached unorthodox conclusions, they would be concerned about the reaction of the masses who do not usually have the capacity to listen to new opinions in law. Shaykh Masjid-Jāmi’ī was offering new opinions on the topic of ghinā’ in this treatise and had no choice but to conceal his name.

He says in his introduction that when he was giving his advance lessons on jurisprudence, he reached the discussion on ghinā’ and wanted to address certain points, but did not want to present them in class, so instead decided to write them down. We know this atmosphere of fear from the reaction of the masses and as well as other experts in the field is not something that only existed in the past, rather, it is very much present today as well.

In this treatise, he defines ṭarab as a state where a human gives away their balanced state, and it has an impact on humans just like intoxicants. If this is the definition, then we must refer back to the intellect and see whether it gives a judgment. We say, in this case, the intellect detests and condemns this state and if this is what ghinā’ leads to then it will be problematic.

To cite a similar example to better understand the above point, consider the case of Ayatullah Borūjerdī. Though he has no available discussion on music or singing, in his discussion on Qaṣr Ṣalāt he addresses whether every act of lahw (vain behaviour) is problematic, prohibited, and a sin. He concludes there is no evidence to say every vain act is prohibited. Once again in this discussion, lahw has a very wide definition, but only those instances of lahw that cause a person to leave their normal state of being become prohibited. He says:

وحرمة بعض أقسام اللهو وإن كانت قطعية لكن لا يمكن الالتزام بحرمة جميع أقسامه، إذ المحرم من اللهو هو ما أوجب خروج الإنسان، من حالته الطبيعية، بحيث يوجد له حالة سكر لا يبقى معها للعقل حكومة وسلطنة، كالألحان الموسيقية التي تخرج من استمعها من الموازين العقلية وتجعله مسلوب الاختيار في حركاته سكناته فيتحرك ويترنم على طبق نغماتها وإن كان من أعقل الناس أمتنهم.

وبالجملة المحرم منه ما يوجب خروج الإنسان من المتانة والوقار قهرا ويوجد له سكرا روحيا يزول معه حكومة العقل بالكلية

The prohibition of some types of lahw, even though they are certainly proven, but not all of its types can be deemed prohibited. This is because what is prohibited within lahw is that which takes a person out of their normal state, such that they reach a degree of intoxication where their intellect loses control and authority. Such as the musical notes that take one who listens to them outside of their normal intellectual state and leads them to a state where their decision-making abilities in their action and non-action are nullified, to the extent that they move and sing to the sounds of the notes, even if they happen to be from the most intellect of people.

In conclusion, what is prohibited from it is that which takes a person from a state of firmness, dignity, by force, and a psychological intoxication occurs where the intellect loses control altogether.6

You will find some scholars like Shahīd Muṭahharī reiterating the exact same view as above, for they were under the influence of their teacher Ayatullah Borūjerdī.

After expounding on both these views above, what is important to determine now is what exactly are the narrations prohibiting when they speak against ghinā’? Is it the same definition of ghinā’ which the intellect also prohibits, or is it the wider definition of ghinā’?

As per the narration from al-Kāfī we saw that the Imam (a) does not answer the question directly, rather he (a) refers the person to their own intuition. The person says ghinā’ is prohibited and evil, and the Imam (a) says this is correct. If that is the case, then we say that what we intuitively and intellectually consider prohibited is the narrower definition of ghinā’ which is accompanied by ṭarab that takes a person out of their normal state, not the wider definition of it which includes qualities like merely being a good voice, or a voice that has many reverberations, etc.

Shaykh Masjid-Jāmi‘ī arrived at this conclusion through linguistic analysis, by investigating the role and use of ghinā’ in narrations and Arab poetry; whereas Sayyid Borūjerdī arrived at this conclusion by saying ghinā’ is an ambiguous (mujmal) term and hence we must stick with the bare minimum of what we can consider ghinā’ or lahw, which is when a person enters an intoxicated-like state, while the principle of exemption (barā’at) applies on the rest of the instances of lahw.

Quranic Evidence

Many jurists have restricted the discussion of ghinā’ to narrations, but since the Ahl al-Sunnah and as well as Shī‘ī narrations themselves rely and reference Quranic verses on this matter, it is appropriate to look at these verses independently.

We do not find the topic of ghinā’ or music explicitly mentioned in the verses of the Quran, but there are certain concepts in the Quran that have been argued by scholars to be concepts whose instances are ghinā’ and music. There are four concepts:

  1. al-Zūr
  2. Qawl al-Zūr
  3. Lahw al-Ḥadīth
  4. Laghw

These are the verses:

ذَٰلِكَ وَمَن يُعَظِّمْ حُرُمَـٰتِ ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ خَيْرٌۭ لَّهُۥ عِندَ رَبِّهِۦ ۗ وَأُحِلَّتْ لَكُمُ ٱلْأَنْعَـٰمُ إِلَّا مَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ ۖ فَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ ٱلرِّجْسَ مِنَ ٱلْأَوْثَـٰنِ وَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ قَوْلَ ٱلزُّورِ

[22:30] That is so. And whoever honours the rituals of Allah, it is best for them in the sight of their Lord. The ˹meat of˺ cattle has been made lawful for you, except what has ˹already˺ been recited to you. So shun the impurity of idolatry, and shun words of falsehood.

وَٱلَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ ٱللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُونَ

[23:3] those who avoid idle talk

وَٱلَّذِينَ لَا يَشْهَدُونَ ٱلزُّورَ وَإِذَا مَرُّوا۟ بِٱللَّغْوِ مَرُّوا۟ كِرَامًۭا

[25:72] ˹They are˺ those who do not bear false witness, and when they come across falsehood, they pass ˹it˺ by with dignity.

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِى لَهْوَ ٱلْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍۢ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌۭ مُّهِينٌۭ

[31:6] But there are some who employ theatrics, only to lead others away from Allah’s Way—without any knowledge—and to make a mockery of it. They will suffer a humiliating punishment.

We can address these verses from two perspectives: Firstly, do these verses themselves have any prima-facie in prohibiting ghinā’, and secondly, we can investigate the narrations to see if the Imams (a) have cited these verses and applied them on the instance of ghinā’.

When we look at these verses, we do not see how they prove ghinā’ in and of itself is an instance of laghw, lahw or qawl al-zūr; even if some types of ghinā’ happen to be so. In fact, we can say these verses are most definitely not inclusive of ghinā’. The verses speak of qawl al-zūr, or laḥw al-ḥadīth, which is speech and not singing. Someone who sings, we do not say they are speaking. The verses are not speaking about how a person speaks, rather it is referring to the contents of the speech.

The above critique concerns only two of the verses, but two other verses tell us to refrain from lahw and laghw in the general sense. With the latter two, the first critique may also be applicable, but a further critique on the interpretation of those verses is that they are not speaking of a legal prohibition, rather about qualities that are ideal for a believer to have or not have.

The most we can say based on these verses is that if ghinā’ is of a type where it becomes an instance of laghw and lahw, then it is better to avoid listening to it or engaging in it.

Perhaps the first work that even cites the Quranic verses as evidence for the prohibition of ghinā’ is al-Khilāf of Shaykh Ṭūsī and the reason why he most probably cited these verses was in response to the many Ahl al-Sunnah scholars who believed ghinā’ was allowed, but yet there were some non-Imami scholars who cited these verses as evidence. Hence, it is possible the Shaykh cited them as evidence against the non-Imamis.

Shaykh Ja‘far Subḥānī in his discussions on transactional & contract law, published in al-Mawāhib fī Taḥrīr Aḥkām al-Makāsib, says zūr is a description of the content that is spoken, recited or sung, whereas ghinā’ is the description and method of singing. Hence, using these verses to prohibit ghinā’ is really far-fetched.

Narrations Citing the Quranic Verses

The next discussion is a little more difficult, and that is, why do some of the narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) cite these verses when speaking about the prohibition of ghinā’? For [22:30] we have 7 narrations, for [31:6] we have 5 narrations, for [25:72] we have 4 narrations, and for the second half of [25:72] there are 3 narrations. Some of these narrations are reliable, and if we had time like we do during the rest of the academic year, we would have analyzed each of these reports in detail. However, since we are only presenting a short discussion during the Noruz breaks, we will mention our points briefly. A few of these narrations are as follows:

Hadith #1 from al-Kāfī:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ خَالِدٍ وَ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ جَمِيعاً عَنِ النَّضْرِ بْنِ سُوَيْدٍ عَنْ دُرُسْتَ عَنْ زَيْدٍ الشَّحَّامِ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع عَنْ قَوْلِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ فَاجْتَنِبُوا الرِّجْسَ مِنَ الْأَوْثانِ وَ اجْتَنِبُوا قَوْلَ الزُّور فَقَالَ الرِّجْسُ مِنَ الْأَوْثَانِ الشِّطْرَنْجُ وَ قَوْلُ الزُّورِ الْغِنَاءُ.

Muḥammad b. Yaḥya has narrated from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from Muḥammad b. Khālid and al-Ḥusayn b. Sa‘īd all from al-Naḍr b. Suwayd from Durust from Zayd al-Shaḥḥām who has said the following:

“I once asked Abū ‘Abdillah (a) about the meaning of the words of Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, [22:30] ‘…Stay away from wickedness, idols, and false words.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘‘The idols’ is a reference to chess and ‘false words’ stands for al-ghinā’.’”7

Hadith #2 from Tafsīr al-Qumī:

 عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ فِي تَفْسِيرِهِ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ عَنْ هِشَامٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فِي قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى فَاجْتَنِبُوا الرِّجْسَ مِنَ الْأَوْثانِ وَ اجْتَنِبُوا قَوْلَ الزُّورِ قَالَ الرِّجْسُ مِنَ الْأَوْثَانِ الشِّطْرَنْجُ وَ قَوْلُ الزُّورِ الْغِنَاءُ.

‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm from his father, from Ibn Abī ‘Umayr from Hishām from Abī ‘Abdillah (a) regarding the verse [22:30] ‘…Stay away from wickedness, idols, and false words.’

He (a) said, ‘‘‘The idols’ is a reference to chess and ‘false words’ stands for al-ghinā’.’”8

While jurists have not directly relied on Quranic verses to prohibit ghinā’, when they looked at these narrations, they saw the Imams (a) referencing verses. Before addressing these reports, we need to state that there are three ways to approach those reports that mention a legal ruling, but the Imams (a) also cites a verse:

1) We consider the narration as an exegesis of the verse. This is not a very plausible understanding as will be explained shortly.

2) These narrations are not an exegesis such that they are clarifying the meanings of the verse, rather they are mentioning the instances of the verses. In our case, the Imam (a) is not explaining the meaning of lahw or qawl al-zūr, rather he (a) is telling us about one of its instances and does not restrict the verse to the specific instance mentioned in the narration.

3) These narrations are ta’wīl – esoteric interpretations – of a verse. This also appears far-fetched at first, but some scholars did take this approach.

The first possibility is considered weak by most Shī‘ī jurists and most of them ascribed to the second opinion. Sayyid Khū‘ī says in his discussions on ghinā’:

و فيه: أنّ‌ الأحاديث المذكورة في تفسير القرآن كلّها مسوقة لتنقيح الصغرى و بيان المصداق، فلا تدل على الانحصار بوجه حتّى تقع المعارضة بينهما، و قد أشرنا إلى هذا فيما سبق مرارا، و تكلّمنا عنه في البحث عن مقدّمات التفسير مفصّلا.

Critique: The narrations mentioned on the topic of the exegesis of the Quran, all of them are clarifying the minor premise and presenting the instance. They do not restrict [the signification of the verse] such that they be seen as contradictions. We have alluded to this in our past discussions many times, and we have spoken about it at length in the introduction9 to our exegesis.10

This is the general and popular view amongst Shī‘ī scholars and it is not limited to just this topic either.

If we go with the second approach, then there is a problem we must address. How can the Imam (a) consider ghinā’ as qawl al-zūr or lahw al-ḥadīth given ghinā’ is a description of how one sings, while the verses are referring to the contents of a speech?

Shaykh Anṣārī explains this critique in al-Makāsib, but then tried to respond to it himself. However, eventually, he acknowledges that the critique is valid and strong, unless someone says the reason why the Imam (a) cited the verse was only because it has a slight hint towards the mere fact that zūr and lahw are problematic and that ghinā’ is an instance of that regardless of the content of its lyrics. However, he does not consider this to be prima-facie, and simply considers it an allusion.

Jurists before Shaykh Anṣārī – particularly during the Safavid era – also addressed this issue briefly, but scholars after Shaykh Anṣārī went into greater depth. However, given almost 200 years have passed since Shaykh Anṣārī’s demise, some contemporary jurists confessed that this critique cannot be resolved, and we do not have a response to this issue. Ayatullah Fāḍil Lankarānī in his discussions on al-Makāsib (pg. 179) is one of the last prominent jurists who confessed to this. Ayatullah Lankarānī believes – like almost all Shī‘ī jurists – that narrations can act as a contextual indicator by which we can understand the prima-facie of Quranic verse differently, however, despite this, he believes this cannot be done here as the very use of the phrase lahw al-ḥadīth and qawl al-zūr cannot be used for ghinā’, not even metaphorically and figuratively. Ghinā’ which is the form of one’s sound (kayfīyyah al-ṣawt) is not the same as lahw al-ḥadīth or qawl al-zūr, not even metaphorically – the latter is a reference to contents and lyrics, while the former is a reference to one’s tone and tune.

It is for this reason some scholars went with the third approach and said the Imam (a) was offering a ta’wīl.

The third view is held by a small minority of scholars who believed both the first and second possibility is incorrect and hence had no choice but to say these narrations contain the ta’wīl of the phrase. Mīrzā Muḥammad Taqī Shīrāzī in his notes on al-Makāsib says these narrations are referring to esoteric meanings and we cannot come to this conclusion from the apparent wordings of the verse. He says:

لا يخفى انّ‌ ارادة الغناء من قول الزّور ليست باعتبار استعمال هذا المركّب الإضافيّ‌ في الغناء مجازا لوضوح عدم مناسبة عرفيّة ظاهرة مصحّحة لهذا الاستعمال كما هو فتفسير قول الزّور بالغناء يحتمل ان يكون من قبيل التّأويل و تفسير الباطن كما ورد تأويل بعض الآيات الواردة في جهاد الكفار بأهل صفّين و النّهروان

It should not be hidden that intending ghinā’ from the phrase ‘qawl al-zūr’ is not from the types of use where this compound phrase is being used as a metaphor for ghinā’, because of the clarity in there being no apparent colloquial relevance which justifies the use as such. So the exegesis of ‘qawl al-zūr’ as ghinā’ is probably from the ta’wīl and esoteric exegesis, like the ta’wīl of some verses regarding jihād against the disbelievers which has been defined as the people of Siffin and Nahrawan.11

Although Mīrzā Shīrāzī presents this as one of the more probable explanations alongside other possibilities, while scholars like Ayatullah Ja‘far Subḥānī12 and Ayatullah Khamenei13 have actually ascribed to this opinion.

We have two observations on these contemporary jurists. Firstly, what exactly is ta’wīl? ‘Allāmah Ṭabātabā’ī in his al-Mīzān expands on the idea of ta’wīl in great length and in many places argues that ta’wīl is not the mere mentioning of an instance. Ta’wīl and taṭbīq are two different things. Ta’wīl is an esoteric meaning, which speaks of deeper inner realities, and there is a very close relationship between the apparent and the inner. For example, when we speak of spiritual purification and apparent bodily purification, we say spiritual purification has greater significance, but this does not mean bodily purification is not purification. It is, but it is just a lower degree of purification.

In this case, can we say that qawl al-zūr has an apparent meaning whose instances are matters like lying, but the inner esoteric meaning of qawl al-zūr is ghinā’? There is no relationship between these two.

As for the claim that the Imam (a) is mentioning an instance of zūr which was not clear (bayyin), then even this is not clear. For example, at times you have a verse that says:

[2:3]and spend out of what We have provided them.

Over here, if the Imam (a) says people should spend from the knowledge Allah provided them, we can say this is a mentioning of an instance of what Allah (swt) has provided us with, other than food and wealth. Knowledge is an instance that does not immediately come to mind, but the Imams (a) can allude and bring our attention to these other instances that we become heedless of. This is possible, but in our case, this is not what is happening. In the example above, we can say ‘knowledge’ is from the things that Allah provided us and we can spend from it, meaning we can propagate it, but we cannot say ghinā’ which is kayfīyyah al-ṣawt is qawl al-zūr. This is simply an absurd predication, as ghinā’ cannot ever be an instance of qawl al-zūr.

For those who want to look into other explanations and reconciliations Shī‘ī jurists have offered to resolve this matter, they can refer to Imam Khūmaynī’s discussion in his commentary on al-Makāsib. Time will not allow us to dwell into those details in these lessons.

Regardless, I believe there is another way to resolve these types of narrations:

  1. Either we should consider these narrations as taṭbīqī (applications), where the Imam (a) is mentioning an instance of qawl al-zūr, but they (a) are mentioning a very specific or very limited number of instances of ghinā’. That instance would be a ghinā’ whose very lyrics are also problematic, and their content is falsehood.
  2. Or we can say these narrations are alluding towards an external reality (qadīya khārijīyyah) and not qaḍīya ḥaqīqīyyah. The Imam (a) was referring to the ghinā’ known and popular during the time of the Imam (a), during the Abbasid era in the caliphs’ courts. This was ghinā’ that was sung and performed by specific female singers, whose content was mostly falsehood. This would be referred to as ghinā’ and if the Imam (a) is considering that in his response and describes them as qawl al-zūr, then that would be valid and justified.

Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī alluded to this reconciliation as well, and we will expand on this more later on. That is to say, we believe the ghinā’ being referred to in these narrations is a reference to what was actually occurring at the time of the Imams (a) and the culture the Abbasids were developing. These narrations do not speak of a general universal legal ruling on all types of ghinā’, rather the ghinā’ occurring at the time which accompanied qawl al-zūr.

Books of history and literary works have recorded too many examples illustrating for us the type of ghinā’ that was popular at the time and we believe this is a very well-known matter for those who have even done some basic research on the subject.

Let us now move on to the verse of Surah Luqmān where the concept of lahw al-ḥadīth is used:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِى لَهْوَ ٱلْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍۢ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌۭ مُّهِينٌۭ

[31:6] But there are some who employ theatrics, only to lead others away from Allah’s Way—without any knowledge—and to make a mockery of it. They will suffer a humiliating punishment.

Lahw is to become heedless of a matter that is ideal and better. Imami jurists agree this verse does not directly establish the prohibition of ghinā’, but there are a number of narrations related to this verse that appear to relate it with ghinā’. In fact, in one of the questions Sayyid Khū’ī responds to in his Ṣirāṭ al-Najāt refers to this verse as one of the reasons for the prohibition of ghinā’.

The narrations connecting lahw al-ḥadīth to ghinā’ have the same issues and problems as mentioned earlier and all points raised in the discussions of the previous verses are also applicable here. However, there are also a few additional issues with relying on the narrations on this specific verse to establish the prohibition of ghinā’ and we will address them.

Jurists have relied on 4 narrations in this case, as recorded in volume 6 of al-Kāfī:

عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِسْمَاعِيلَ عَنِ ابْنِ مُسْكَانَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ مُسْلِمٍ عَنْ أَبِي جَعْفَرٍ ع قَالَ سَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ‏ الْغِنَاءُ مِمَّا وَعَدَ اللَّهُ‏ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ عَلَيْهِ النَّارَ وَ تَلَا هَذِهِ الْآيَةَ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ‏ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَ يَتَّخِذَها هُزُواً أُولئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذابٌ مُهِين‏

‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm has narrated from his father from Ibn Abī ‘Umayr from ‘Alī b. Ismā‘īl from Ibn Muskān from Muḥammad b. Muslim who has said the following:

“I once heard Abū Ja‘far (a) saying, ‘al-ghinā’ is of such things for which Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, has warned with punishment in the fire.’ He (the Imam) then read this verse, [31:6] There are people who pay for worthless tales (or activities) that deviates them from the path of Allah without their realizing such bad results. They treat the signs of Allah with ridicule. It is such people who will suffer a humiliating torment.”

ابْنُ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ عَنْ مِهْرَانَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ سَمِعْتُهُ يَقُولُ‏ الْغِنَاءُ مِمَّا قَالَ اللَّهُ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّه‏

Ibn Abī ‘Umayr has narrated from Mihrān b. Muḥammad who has said the following:

“I once heard Abū ‘Abdillah (a) saying, ‘al-ghinā’ are of the things about which Allah has said, [31:6] ‘ There are people who pay for worthless tales (or activities) that deviates them from the path of Allah.’”

عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ عَنْ مِهْرَانَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ هَارُونَ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع يَقُولُ‏ الْغِنَاءُ مَجْلِسٌ لَا يَنْظُرُ اللَّهُ إِلَى أَهْلِهِ وَ هُوَ مِمَّا قَالَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ‏.

‘Alī b. Ibrāhīm has narrated from his father from Ibn Abī ‘Umayr from Mihrān b. Muḥammad from al-Ḥasan b. Hārūn who has said the following:

“I once heard Abū ‘Abdillah (a) saying, ‘(The gathering for) al-ghinā is a gathering to the participant of which Allah does not look. Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, has said, [31:6] ‘There are people who pay for worthless tales (or activities) that deviates them from the path of Allah without their realizing such bad results…’

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنِ الْوَشَّاءِ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا الْحَسَنِ الرِّضَا ع يَقُولُ‏ سُئِلَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع عَنِ الْغِنَاءِ فَقَالَ هُوَ قَوْلُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ‏.

A number of our people have narrated from Sahl b. Ziyād from al-Washshā’ who has said the following:

“I once heard Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ridā (a) saying that once Abū ‘Abdillah (a) was asked about al-ghinā’. He (the Imam) said, ‘It is in the words of Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, [31:6] ‘. . . among people there are those who buy useless things in the form of words to mislead others from the path of Allah.’”

We do not have time to investigate all the chains of transmission for all the reports, but generally speaking, these reports are reliable according to many jurists. We will also assume these reports to be reliable and investigate their meanings.

What we wish to say here is that this verse on lahw al-ḥadīth does not guarantee hellfire and punishment absolutely, rather lahw al-ḥadīth has been mentioned alongside certain conditions. It is lahw al-ḥadīth which is used to misguide people from the path of Allah (swt). The reports informing us the reason for the revelation of this verse can also assist us in accepting this opinion, especially since many Muslim exegetes have accepted the reason. Even ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī who is generally strict in accepting those reports, in this case, accepts it. In fact, ‘Allāmah believes the entire Surah Luqmān may have been revealed due to this specific reason.

The reason has to do with regards to a person named Naḍr b. Ḥārith who would travel to Persia and other regions and was familiar with other cultures. When the Prophet (p) would recite verses of the Quran and some people had converted to Islam, Naḍr b. Ḥārith wished to confront the Prophet (p) and did so by retelling tales, stories, and myths of Persia and as well as other regions. He would tell new Muslims that instead of listening to the Prophet (p) who simply narrates the stories of Hūd and Luṭ, listen to me as I will tell you even more interesting and inspiring stories. Due to this, a number of new Muslims left Islam as they came under the influence of Naḍr.

It was in this context that this verse was revealed, since Naḍr would engage in lahw al-ḥadīth, using it to misguide people. Essentially, he would tell stories made up by humans and try to challenge revelation.

Although, even without this story and context, the direct textual signification of the verse leads us to this same conclusion. The verse is condemning those who gather lahw al-ḥadīth and then spread it amongst the masses, but does the verse also condemn those who are the subject and victims of this propaganda? For example, a lawmaker can say anyone who manufactures or distributes drugs to people will be fined and sent to jail, but does this law also mean those who bought the drugs will be given the exact same penalty? There is no relationship between the two laws and punishments, rather the second law has to be independently legislated. The penalty for the manufacturer and distributor can be different than the one who consumes it.

Secondly, the verse adds another condition, and that is, the person not only propagates lahw al-ḥadīth, but rather they do it with the intention of misguiding people. If Naḍr decided to narrate these stories to people without a malicious intention, and rather just to educate people about different cultures and regions, he would not be an instance of this verse.

A third condition the verse adds is that it was done without knowledge. There is a dispute as to whether this quality is for the one who is misguiding people, or it is for those who become misguided due to ignorance. ‘Allāmah believes it is the latter, as due to their ignorance they became misguided. This means, even if a person propagates lahw al-ḥadīth with the intention to misguide people, but those people are not ignorant and do not come under the influence of lahw al-ḥadīth, this verse is not addressing that situation.

These conditions mentioned in the verse cannot be ignored as it is for this specific context the punishment has been guaranteed. We cannot just ignore all these conditions, and then take lahw al-ḥadīth to mean general lahw, then say ghinā’ is an instance of lahw and so anyone who listens to ghinā’ or engages in it will be punished, simply because we have a ḥadīth affirming that. This is simply an incorrect methodology. The narration at the most mentions that ghinā’ at times can also be an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth, but the Imam (a) is not omitting all of those conditions in the verse and asking us to not take those into consideration.

In other words, the verse is not addressing those who engage in lahw al-ḥadīth, but without the intention to misguide others, neither is it addressing those who are the audience of lahw al-ḥadīth, rather it is against those who use lahw al-ḥadīth to create corruption in society and misguide people due to their ignorance.

In the transcripts of al-Makāsib written by Ayatullah Arākī from the lessons of ‘Abdul Karīm Hā’irī, he argues the similar point:

لِيُضِلَّ‌ عَنْ‌ سَبِيلِ‌ اللّٰهِ‌ فإنّ‌ ترتّب الإضلال على التعلّم له معنى و لا معنى له في الاستماع إذ ليس فيه إضلال للغير، و لا يستفاد الحرمة لنفس الاشتراء مع قطع النظر عن ترتّب الإضلال

To mislead others from the path of Allah, because the occurrence of misleading by learning has one meaning, and there is no meaning for it in listening to it, because that does not include misleading others. Prohibition cannot be determined for purchasing itself while ignoring the occurrence of misleading.14

Sayyid Aḥmad Khūnsārī argues the same point in his Jāmi‘ al-Madārik.15

As for those who accepted the explanation of ta’wīl in the previous verse, they were forced to say the same thing regarding this verse as well, such as Sayyid Khamenei in his discussions on ghinā’.16 Since we did not accept the theory of ta’wīl or taṭbīq, we apply the same understanding as the previous verse, which was the idea that these narrations are referring to a very specific type of ghinā’ famous at the time of the Imams (a).

Two Distinct Approaches of Jurists to the Quran

When we look at the approach of the jurists we find two very prominent trends. One trend is where jurists will look at the narrations related to verses they are dealing with, derive the ruling from those narrations, but ignore the actual relationship between the ḥadīth and verse itself. An example of that is what we have already mentioned earlier as some jurists used the narrations of the Imams (a) citing verses to say ghinā’ is prohibited, after which the jurists are not concerned with the actual meaning of the verse and what relationship it develops with the narration.

A second trend is where jurists will say these narrations are mentioning an instance that fits within the verse, even if we initially do not become attentive towards that instance. In other words, just like narrations assist in understanding the verses, the verses also assist us in understanding the narrations.

For example, when we look at the verse of Surah Ḥajj:

فَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ ٱلرِّجْسَ مِنَ ٱلْأَوْثَـٰنِ وَٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ قَوْلَ ٱلزُّورِ

[22:30] shun the impurity of idolatry, and shun words of falsehood.

A narration says that the “impurity of idolatry” is a reference to chess, and I tried to investigate whether scholars when discussing the prohibition of chess tried to explain the relationship between the narration and the verse because when we look at the verse, we do not understand how chess could be an instance of “impurity of idolatry”. Is chess really idolatry? They have not addressed how chess can be an instance of idolatry mentioned in this verse, and in essence, the relationship between the narration and the verse is cut, leaving us deprived of the actual meaning of the verse.

We do not agree with this aforementioned methodology. We do not believe chess is idolatry being referred to in this verse, and neither is chess the esoteric meaning of idolatry.

Our discussion is not chess, but we have mentioned this as an example because we are confronting a very similar situation between lahw al-ḥadīth mentioned in the verse and ghinā’ in the narration. It is here that we see since many jurists were unable to explain how ghinā’ could be an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth, they end up resorting to very strange reconciliations. For example, Khwājūī says ghinā’ is a metaphorical instance of qawl al-zūr, or Mīrzā Qumī says this is not an instance of qawl al-zūr or lahw al-ḥadīth, but rather there is a hidden ‘etcetera’ taken into consideration and the Imam (a) is mentioning an instance of that etcetera. This is while the prima-facie of the narrations is that the Imam (a) is mentioning an instance of qawl al-zūr or lahw al-ḥadīth itself, but since they realized they cannot explain this away, they came up with these explanations.

We believe the link between the verse and the narration has to remain reasonably explainable. Shaykh Anṣārī was someone who believed this relationship has to be maintained and therefore in his discussions on ghinā’ arrives at the following conclusion:

فكل صوت يكون لهواً بكيفيته و معدوداً من ألحان أهل الفسوق و المعاصي فهو حرام، و إن فرض أنّه ليس بغناء. و كل ما لا يُعدّ لهواً فليس بحرام، و إن فرض صدق الغناء عليه، فرضاً غير محقق؛ لعدم الدليل على حرمة الغناء إلّا من حيث كونه باطلاً و لهواً و لغواً و زوراً.

So any sound which is considered lahw in the way it is uttered and is considered from the tones of people of transgression and sin, then it is prohibited, even if it is not considered ghinā’. Everything that is not considered lahw, then it is not prohibited, even if it is ghinā’, because there is no evidence for the prohibition of ghinā’ except when it is bāṭil, lahw, laghw or zūr.17

In other words, Shaykh Anṣārī is saying, what is relevant, and the subject-matter of prohibition are the four terms mentioned in the Quran and not ghinā’ qua ghinā’. Ghinā’ only becomes prohibited when it becomes an instance of any of these four concepts.

Secondly, if we do happen to consider ghinā’ or anything else for that matter, like books, magazines, movies etc. an instance of one of these four concepts, then we must also keep the conditions mentioned in the verse also into consideration. If they are an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth, then it must be a source of misguidance, where people’s ignorance is used to dupe them – only then is it prohibited, and punishment is guaranteed for it.

Ayatullah Nārāqī also alludes to this in his al-Mustanad:

و من الناس من يشتري الغناء ليضلّ‌ عن سبيل اللّه و يتّخذها هزوا أولئك لهم عذاب مهين. فمدلولها حرمة الغناء الذي يشترى ليضلّ‌ عن سبيل اللّه و يتّخذها هزوا، و هو ممّا لا شكّ‌ فيه، و لا تدلّ‌ على حرمة غير ذلك

But there are some who engage in ghinā’, only to lead others away from Allah’s way and make a mockery of it. They will suffer a humiliating punishment. The signification of this is the prohibition of ghinā’ which is done to lead others away from the way of Allah and to take religion as a mockery, and there is no doubt in that. This does not signify the prohibition of anything other than that.

He further adds:

و إلى أنّ‌ مدلول سائر الأخبار المفسّرة أنّ‌ الغناء فرد من لهو الحديث، و أنّه بعض ما قال اللّه سبحانه، فيشعر بأنّ‌ المراد من لهو الحديث معناه اللغوي و العرفي الذي فرد منه الغناء، و هو لا يصدق إلاّ على الأقوال الباطلة الملهية لا مطلقا.

As the signified meaning of all the exegetical narrations is that ghinā’ is an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth, and it is part of what Allah (swt) has said, then that implies that the intended meaning from lahw al-ḥadīth was its linguistic and colloquial meaning for which one of its instances is ghinā’, but this is not true except for speech which is vain and false speech, not in absolute terms.18

Now we also want to add a further point by saying that these are not just mere claims or something we are deriving just from the verses, but rather we have a number of other narrations as well which actually shed light on what type of ghinā’ is being prohibited. We will see certain types of ghinā’ that were not a source of misguidance were not considered prohibited by the Imams (a).

There are three narrations recorded in al-Kāfī from Abū Baṣir, although we believe these are just one narration and were transmitted through three different chains. It is a reliable chain, but we will avoid the discussion on its chain for the sake of brevity:

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي حَمْزَةَ عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع عَنْ‏ كَسْبِ‏ الْمُغَنِّيَاتِ‏ فَقَالَ الَّتِي يَدْخُلُ عَلَيْهَا الرِّجَالُ حَرَامٌ وَ الَّتِي تُدْعَى إِلَى الْأَعْرَاسِ لَيْسَ بِهِ بَأْسٌ وَ هُوَ قَوْلُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ‏

A number of our people have narrated from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from al-Ḥusayn b. Sa‘īd from ‘Alī b. Abī Ḥamzah from Abī Baṣīr who has said the following:

“I once asked Abū Ja‘far (a) about the legal status of the income from female music playing singers. He (the Imam) said, ‘As for those upon whom men enter, that is unlawful. There is no offense in inviting female singers on the occasion of a wedding program. It is in the words of Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, [31:6] “Among people are those who purchase useless talk to make people lose the path of Allah.”19

In this narration the Imam (a) does not say ghinā’ qua ghinā’ is prohibited, rather he says hiring women for singing has no issue as long as men are not present in the audience, and in fact, the Imam (a) cites the same verse of lahw al-ḥadīth in this report. This narration shows that when there are mixed gatherings, which was in those days often a gathering of corruption and misguidance, and a woman is singing, then it was perceived as an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth, and that is prohibited.

Sayyid Khūnsārī also addresses this as follows:

بعد مدخليّة دخول الرّجال في المشموليّة للاية الشريفة فمع عدم دخول الرّجال و عدم ما يقوم مقام دخول الرّجال يكون خارجة، و لم تكن الآية الشريفة شاملة لها

After the consideration of men in the gathering in the instance being inferred through the noble verse, then if there are no men present and there is an absence of anything that would take a similar place of the presence of men, then this is outside the scope of discussion and the noble verse is not inclusive of it.20

I want to make a request to students who are engaging in these discussions and that is to not succumb to the methodology of the Akhbārīs when it comes to dealing with the Quranic verses. May Allah (swt) have mercy on ‘Allāmah Ṭabāṭabā’ī who tried to understand the narrations through the lens of the Quran, and not play around with the prima-facie of the verses with the narrations even if makes no sense. Unfortunately, despite the Uṣūlīs critiquing the Akhbārīs in their works and classes, yet the atmosphere of the Akhbārī methodology when dealing with the Quran is still heavily present in our jurisprudence. We have developed a type of jurisprudence that is essentially needless of the Quran. ‘Allāmah complains about this in al-Mīzān very explicitly:

وهذه الطريقة المسلوكة في الحديث أحد العوامل التي عملت في انقطاع رابطة العلوم الإسلامية وهي العلوم الدينية والأدبية عن القرآن مع أن الجميع كالفروع والثمرات من هذه الشجرة الطيبة التي أصلها ثابت وفرعها في السماء تؤتي أكلها كل حين بإذن ربها ، وذلك أنك إن تبصرت في أمر هذه العلوم وجدت أنها نظمت تنظيما لا حاجة لها إلى القرآن أصلا حتى أنه يمكن لمتعلم أن يتعلمها جميعا : الصرف والنحو والبيان واللغة والحديث والرجال والدراية والفقه والأصول فيأتي آخرها ، ثم يتضلع بها ثم يجتهد ويتمهر فيها وهو لم يقرأ القرآن ، ولم يمس مصحفا قط ، فلم يبق للقرآن بحسب الحقيقة إلا التلاوة لكسب الثواب أو اتخاذه تميمة للأولاد تحفظهم عن طوارق الحدثان! فاعتبر إن كنت من أهله

The path they had taken regarding ḥadīth was one of the factors that caused severance of relationship between Islamic subjects (like religion and literature) and the Quran. This happened while it is known that all Islamic subjects are like branches and fruits growing from this good tree (Quran) whose root is firmly fixed and whose branches are in heaven, yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord. You will clearly see it if you look at these subjects: you will find that they have been developed and arranged in a way that they do not need Quran at all. It is possible for a student to learn and complete all Islamic subjects – morphology, grammar, rhetoric, language, hadīth, rijãl, critical knowledge of hadīth, jurisprudence and its fundamentals; he may become an expert and authority in these branches of knowledge without even reciting the Quran or touching the Book. So what share has actually been given to Quran in Muslims’ lives? Its recital is only for earning reward in the next world or using it as amulet for protection of their children from misfortunes and untoward occurrences! Learn lesson if you have any understanding.21

In conclusion, we have argued there is no evidence for the prohibition of ghinā’ qua ghinā’ within the Quran, and nor was there any intellectual argument for it.

Brief Historical Overview of Ghinā’

We will now begin discussing the actual narrations concerning ghinā’ which are plenty. Shaykh Ḥurr al-‘Āmilī has gathered close to 300 narrations on it. Perhaps we can argue that these 300 narrations do not all directly say anything about ghinā’, but nevertheless, there are enough narrations for us to take this matter seriously.

Before we begin looking into these traditions, we need to educate ourselves on the general atmosphere in which these narrations were being uttered. We find that almost all of these narrations are from Imam Ṣādiq (a). This means most of these narrations appear during the Abbasid era and it is important to know what ghinā’ meant at the time and what types of ghinā’ were common.

Secondly, we also need to look into the opinions of the companions, tābi‘īn and companions of the Imams (a) so we can see what was their understanding regarding ghinā’ because it is possible the Imams (a) may have been addressing certain misconceptions or misunderstandings that some of these groups of people had. Once we determine what the atmosphere was, we will begin looking at the narrations and see what they prove, and as well as see whether there are any contradictory narrations so we can reconcile the matter.

In the Quran we do not find anything regarding ghinā’, we do not find the word ghinā’ and neither do we find any other synonym for it. However, in the narrations of Imam Ṣādiq (a) we all of a sudden find numerous narrations on it. Why is it that in one era we find close to nothing about ghinā’, but then in another era we find numerous narrations on it, and we find it to be a discussion? In the Quran we find matters like gambling, alcohol, usury being emphasized, and even some matters that we may think might not even be so significant such as telling the Arabs to enter people’s houses after seeking permission. After the Prophet (p), a century later, we begin seeing narrations on ghinā’. We are not saying this means ghinā’ was non-existent at the time of the Prophet (p), but rather we are saying perhaps it was not a very significant or common phenomenon at the time that needed to be explicitly addressed in the Quran or even in the early narrations.

I am not a historian and have no expertise in history, but fortunately, many historians and researchers have analyzed and investigated the matter of ghinā’ in Arabia before Islam and up until the first few centuries of Islam. They have presented a very thorough description of its role and these can help us in our discussions in jurisprudence as well.

What we can summarize regarding ghinā’ based on these sources is that ghinā’ in Hejaz was not a very common phenomenon amongst the Arabs before Islam and even in the immediate years after the demise of the Prophet (p). In order to understand this, consider that ghinā’ could be seen through three perspectives at that time:

1) The Greeks placed ghinā’ into one of the subdivisions of Mathematics. While the Persians were aware of this division, the Arabs were completely ignorant of this until a century or two later when non-Arabic works began being translated into Arabic.

2) Ghinā’ was a skill where a person used their voice to cause impact and influence on masses. This was a skill that the Persians were familiar with and used in their society, while the Arabs were not familiar with this.

3) Ghinā’ was a normal voice that had a tone, without it being grounded in any specific discipline or based on any rules or principles. For example, a person is busy farming and they begin singing something in a tune, but it is not considered an exhibition of a skill, rather it is just a form of simplistic entertainment. This was common amongst the Arabs and in fact, it is common amongst most human societies until today.

After the conquests that occurred during the time of the second caliph ‘Umar and afterward, Muslims began encountering people from other regions such as Persia. It was then that Arab Muslims got exposed to the first two types of ghinā’ and they began to transfer this type of ghinā’ to Hejaz. Most of these singers who engaged in ghinā’ were slave-women from Persia or had learned ghinā’ from the Persians.

Subsequently, during the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties they began to organize gatherings of ghinā’ where they would get slave-girls to perform and sing for them and create a very corrupt and irreligious atmosphere for themselves. The connotation that these later Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs constructed for ghinā’ was very closely linked to corruption and lewdness.

During the early days when ghinā’ was being introduced to Hejaz, without those negative and problematic connotations, we find many companions and tābi‘īn who saw no issue with it. For example, one of these companions was ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far – the husband of lady Zaynab (s) – for whom it is recorded that he saw no issue with ghinā’ and listening to it.22 This was during a time where ghinā’ still did not develop that sensitivity as it would in later decades, particularly during the time of Imam Ṣādiq (a) where he begins to severely condemn ghinā’.

Ibn Khaldūn in his al-Muqaddimah dedicates a chapter on the craft of singing and music where he explains at length how the early Muslims were exposed to music, it is worth reading the entire discussion, but we will mention just an excerpt from it here:

Since we have mentioned the meaning of singing, it should be known that singing originates in a civilization when it becomes abundant and (people) progress from the necessities to the conveniences, and then to the luxuries, and have a great diversity of (luxuries). Then, the craft of singing originates, because it is required only by those who are free from all the necessary and urgent needs of making a living and care for domestic and other needs. It is in demand only by those who are free from all other worries and seek various ways of having pleasure. In the non-Arab states before Islam, music was highly developed in cities and towns. The (non-Arab) rulers cultivated it eagerly. It went so far that the Persian rulers felt a great concern for musicians. Musicians had a place in their dynasty and attended their sessions and gatherings and sang for them. The same is (still) the case with the non-Arabs at this time in all their regions and provinces.

The Arabs originally had (only) poetry. They composed a kind of speech consisting of equal parts of harmonious proportions, as far as the number of consonants with and without vowels was concerned.

… However, (the Arabs) did not know anything except (poetry), because at that time, they practiced no science and knew no craft. The desert attitude was their dominant trait. Now, camel drivers sang when they drove their camels, and young men sang when they were alone (with each other at times of leisure and recreation). They repeated sounds and hummed them. When such humming was applied to poetry, it was called singing.

… The Arabs continued this way during their desert and pre-Islamic period. Then, Islam made its appearance. (The Arabs) took possession of (all) the realms of the world. They deprived the non-Arabs of their rule and took it over. They had their well-known desert attitude and low standard of living. In addition, they possessed the thriving religion (of Islam) and that (Muslim) religious severity which is directed against all activities of leisure and all the things that are of no utility in one’s religion or livelihood. Therefore, (music) was avoided to some degree. In their opinion, only the cadenced recitation of the Qur’an and the humming of poetry which had always been their way and custom, were pleasurable things.

Then, luxury and prosperity came to them, because they obtained the spoils of the nations. They came to lead splendid and refined lives and to appreciate leisure. The singers (now) left the Persians and Byzantines. They descended upon the Hijaz and became clients of the Arabs. They all sang accompanied by lutes, panduras, lyres, and flutes.

The Arabs heard their melodious use of sound, and they set their poems to music accordingly. In Medina, Nashit al-Farlsi, Tuways, and Sa’ib Khathir, a client of ‘Abdallah b. Jafar (b. Abi Talib), made their appearance. They heard the poems of the Arabs and set them to music. They did it well, and they became famous. Ma‘bad and his class of singers, as well as Ibn Surayj and his ilk, learned from them. Continual and gradual progress was made in the craft of singing. Eventually, in the days of the `Abbasids, (the craft of singing) reached its perfection with Ibrahim b. al-Mahdi, Ibrahim al-Mawsili, (Ibrahim’s) son Ishaq, and (Ishaq’s) son Hammid. (The music) and the (musical) sessions of Baghdad during the (‘Abbasid) dynasty have remained a topic of conversation down to the present time.

(People at that time) constantly had games and entertainments. Dancing equipment, consisting of robes and sticks, and poems to which melodies were hummed, were used. That was transformed into a special kind (of entertainment). Other dancing equipment, called kurraj, was also used. (The kurraj) is a wooden figure (resembling) a saddled horse and is attached to robes such as women wear. (The dancers) thus give the appearance of having mounted horses. They attack and withdraw and compete in skill (with weapons). There were other such games intended for banquets, wedding parties, festivals, and (other) gatherings for leisure and entertainment. There was much of that sort in Baghdad and the cities of Iraq. It spread from there to other regions.23

Another work which discusses the history of ghinā’ is al-Mufaṣṣāl fī Tārīkh al-‘Arab Qabl al-Islām, where Jawād ‘Alī writes:

الغناء: وطرب الأعراب، طرب ساذج يتناسب مع طبيعة بيئاتهم، وكذلك كان غناؤهم غير معقد ولا متنوع. أما طرب أهل الحضر، فكان أكثر تعقيدًا وتفننًا ولا سيما طرب أهل الحضر الساكنين في ريف العراق وفي بلاد الشأم، وعند أهل اليمن، فاستعملوا آلات طرب متعددة، أخذوا بعضها من الأعاجم الذين اتصلوا بهم، كما أخذوا من أولئك الأقوام ألوانًا من ألوان الغناء وفنونه. هذا الاختلاف لا بد أن يقع، لاختلاف أهل الوبر وأهل المدر في البيئات، وفي الطباع والعادات.

… وذكر أهل الأخبار أن الجاهليين كانوا يستمعون إلى القيان. وأن فارس كانت تعد الغناء أدبًا والروم فلسفة.

Al-Ghinā’: The ṭarb of the Arabs was simple and in accordance with their natural environment, and their singing was not complicated and did not have variety. As for the ṭarb of the people of cities, then it was more complex and skillful, especially the ṭarb of those city dwellers who lived in the ends of Iraq and in Syria, as well as amongst the people of Yemen. They would use various instruments of ṭarab, some of them which were taken from the Persians who had come in contact with them, just like they had taken from them some forms of ghinā’ and their skillset. This difference must occur due to the different environments, temperaments, and customs of those who live in villages and cities.

…and the historians narrate that the people from the days of ignorance would listen to entertaining slave-girls, while the Persians would consider singing a discipline, while the Romans would consider it a philosophy.24

He then adds another section on the principles of ghinā’ during the pre-Islamic Arabs and says:

ويذكر أهل الأخبار أن الأنواع المذكورة كانت غناء العرب، حتى جاء الإسلام وفتحت العراق، وجلب الغناء والرقيق من فارس والروم، فغنوا الغناء المجزأ المؤلف بالفارسية والرومية، وغنوا جميعًا بالعيدان والطنابير والمعازف والمزامير. وذكر أيضًا أن الغناء قديم في الفرس والروم، ولم يكن للعرب قبل ذلك إلا الحداء والنشيد

Historians mention that the aforementioned types were the singing of the Arabs, until Islam came and conquered Iraq. This attracted singing, and slaves from Persia and Rome who would sing songs composed in Persian or Roman. They would all sing with the lutes, tambours, string instruments, and oboes. They have also mentioned that ghinā’ existed in Persia and Rome since a long time, while the Arabs had no such thing before that except camel drivers’ songs and hymns.

Shahīd Muṭahharī also makes this point in his very important work Reciprocal Services Between Islam and Iran:

غنا و موسیقی در ایران سابقه طولانی دارد ، مردم این مرز و بوم با آن‌ مأنوس بودند عرب با موسیقی و غنا جز به صورت بسیط و ساده‌اش آشنا نبود ، پس از امتزاج با ایرانیان ، لهو و غنا به سرعت انتشار یافت . عجب این است‌ که سرزمین حجاز از خود سرزمینهای عراق و شام که مرکز اصلی این صنعت بود جلو افتاد . حجاز از نیمه دوم قرن اول هجری هم مرکز فقه و حدیث بود و هم‌ مرکز لهو و موسیقی . امرا و حکام و متمکنین اموی سخت از لهویات ترویج‌ می‌کردند و به آنها سرگرم بودند . برعکس ، ائمه اهل‌البیت علیه‌السلام‌ شدیدا مخالفت کردند که در فقه و حدیث شیعه منعکس است .

Ghinā’ and music have a very long history in Persia and residents of this region were very much familiar with it.

Arabs were only familiar with a very simple form of ghinā’ and music. Once they mixed with the Persians, lahw and ghinā’ quickly spread amongst them. What is surprising is that the region of Ḥijāz then superseded even Iraq and Syria, the two main places for this skill. Ḥijāz from the second half of the first century was a center of Fiqh and ḥadīth, and as well as a center for lahw and music. The rulers, governors and those appointed by the Umayyads promoted different forms of lahw, and were themselves occupied with it. On the contrary, the Imams of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) were severely against it, which is seen reflected in the Shī‘ī Fiqh and ḥadīth.

Jalaluddin Homaei (d. 1980) also argues in like fashion, saying that Arabs had no familiarity with the discipline of ghinā’ until they were exposed to Persian culture. Later, instead of benefiting from the scientific and academic aspect of music, Arab rulers began to use it for corrupt reasons and used it for their own luxury and entertainment.25

Opinions of Early Muslims

After this brief historical description of the context of ghinā’ in Arabia, we want to now investigate the verdicts of Muslim jurists from the first two centuries. This second investigation is crucial and is one of the methodological principles employed by Ayatullah Borūjerdī. We do not have time to explain his methodology here in detail, but the principle says that there is a very deep relationship between Shī‘ī narrations and the religious verdicts of the non-Shī‘a at the time. Non-Shī‘ī verdicts were common and widespread in the Muslim lands, and so if the Imams (a) would teach a ruling we must understand what the Muslim population was following at the time. The Imams (a) would look at the practice of the Muslims and wherever they would see a problem they would present their concerns with it, and wherever they saw that the Muslims were correct in their practice, they would either reiterate it or dwell into other dimensions of it.

The statement of Ayatullah Borūjerdī was that the jurisprudential narrations of the Imams (a) are like marginal notes written on a book. We also find this attention being given to non-Shī‘a rulings to better understand the context in the works of classical jurists like Sayyid Murtaḍa, Shaykh Mufīd and Shaykh Ṭūsī, which unfortunately diminished over the course of time.

We want to see what the view on ghinā’ was during the time of the Prophet (p), then the companions, then the tābi‘īn, and then the famous jurists that lived during the time of Imam Bāqir (a) onwards. After we do this, only then will we begin investigating the narrations of ghinā’.

When we look at our own major sources of jurisprudence, we do not find anything from the Prophet (p) on ghinā’, either directly or indirectly. Yes, in some other works like Awāli al-La’ālī such reports exist, but these works are not really significant when it comes to deriving law. However, when we look at Sunni works, we find a couple of narrations from the Prophet (p).

In Musnad of Ibn Ḥanbal and Sunan of Ibn Mājāh they cite the following report:

لا يحلّ بيعُ المغنياتِ ولا شراؤهنّ ، وأكلُ أثمانِهنّ حرامٌ

Do not sell the female singers, nor purchase them, and their prices are unlawful.

This narration says it is prohibited to buy and sell singers, but does it prove ghinā’ is prohibited? There is no conflict in the prohibition of a slave-girl being sold or bought for the sole purpose of ghinā’ in a specific context, while ghinā’ qua ghinā’ remains permissible. Secondly, the Ahl al-Sunnah scholars themselves have weakened this narration, because the chain of transmission from Abu Umāmah to the Prophet (p) is disconnected and the chain itself contains untrustworthy people.

When we investigate further, we realize we do not find any reliable report from the Prophet (p) which prohibits ghinā’ at all. Another contextual indicator that leads us to believe this is because when the topic of ghinā’ was popularized during the time of the later Imams (a) and became a disputed matter amongst jurists of that era, the Imams (a) never spoke of its prohibition by referring to the Prophet (p). This is while we believe that whenever a matter was highly debated amongst the jurists of that time and the Prophet (p) had spoken about it, the Imams (a) would often mention and cite the Prophet (p). We do not find them doing this in the discussions of ghinā’.

These contextual indicators on their own may not lead us to this conclusion, but when you begin to start putting them together, you gain a better understanding of this matter. On the contrary, the Ahl al-Sunnah even have narrations from the Prophet (p) where he allows ghinā’, in both Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim and al-Bukhārī from ‘Ā’isha:

 قَالَتْ دَخَلَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ وَعِنْدِي جَارِيَتَانِ مِنْ جَوَارِي الأَنْصَارِ تُغَنِّيَانِ بِمَا تَقَاوَلَتِ الأَنْصَارُ يَوْمَ بُعَاثَ ـ قَالَتْ وَلَيْسَتَا بِمُغَنِّيَتَيْنِ ـ فَقَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ أَمَزَامِيرُ الشَّيْطَانِ فِي بَيْتِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَذَلِكَ فِي يَوْمِ عِيدٍ‏.‏ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ يَا أَبَا بَكْرٍ إِنَّ لِكُلِّ قَوْمٍ عِيدًا، وَهَذَا عِيدُنَا ‏”

Abū Bakr came to my house while two small Ansari girls were singing beside me the stories of the Ansar concerning the Day of Bu‘āth. And they were not singers. Abū Bakr said protestingly, “Musical instruments of Satan in the house of Allah’s Messenger!” It happened on the ‘Īd day and Allah’s Messenger (p)  said, “O Abū Bakr! There is an ‘Īd for every nation and this is our ‘Īd.”26

This narration is interesting because it explicitly says some laywomen were singing, but yet they are said to not be professionally trained singers (mughannīyāt). All in all, from the Prophet’s (p) time, we do not find any evidence that he prohibited ghinā’ qua ghinā’, and if anything, there are some reports like above that indicate it was allowed.

Moving to the next stage, both Ahl al-Sunnah and Shī‘ī scholars have discussed the opinion of the companions. Some scholars have said Ibn ‘Abbās and few others would mention ghinā’ when explaining the verse of lahw al-ḥadīth, but it is unknown whether they believed ghinā’ is categorically prohibited, or only ghinā’ which is an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth with the conditions that are mentioned in the verse is prohibited.

Other than them, there is a list of companions who believed in the permissibility of ghinā’ and our scholars such as Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī in his treatise on ghinā’ have also mentioned these names. Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī has two treatises on ghinā’, in one of his treatises he strengthens the view of prohibition, but in the second one, he inclines towards the view of Fayḍ Kāshānī. Unfortunately, the second treatise is lost, but the first treatise is extant. In that treatise he says:

و ‌من‌ بالغ‌ ‌في‌ إباحته‌ ‌من‌ العامّة نسب‌ سماع‌ الغناء ‌من‌ الصحابة ‌إلي‌ ‌عبد‌ اللّه‌ ‌بن‌ ‌جعفر‌ و ‌إبن‌ الزبير و المغيرة ‌بن‌ شعبة و معاوية؛ و ‌کان‌ ‌هذا‌ يعدّ ‌من‌ مطاعن‌ معاوية

And from those amongst the non-Shī‘a who exceeded in their consideration of it as permissible, attributed the listening of singing to companions such as ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far, Ibn al-Zubayr, al-Mughīra b. Shu‘ba and Mu‘āwīyh, and this was seen as one of the negative traits of Mu‘āwīyah.27

Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī mentions four companions, but the Ahl al-Sunnah have mentioned up to twelve companions. In ‘Umdah al-Qārī28 which is a commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, he mentions a few names like ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. ‘Awf, Sa‘d b. Abī Waqqās, ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar, Mu‘āwīyah, Amr b. ‘As, Nu‘mān b. Bashīr, Ḥassān b. Thābit. Even this list was added to in Nayl al-Awṭār: Abu Mas‘ūd Anṣārī, Barā’ b. Mālik, ‘Abdullah b. Zubayr, Qurẓah b. Ka‘b, Rabī‘, Riyā b. Mutarib, Bilāl, ‘Abdullah b. Arqam, Usāmah b. Zayd.

I also want to mention a side point: this discussion we are having does not just have a jurisprudential angle, but also a theological one. The Imami Shī‘a have a discussion in theology known as maṭā‘in, which is to recount the evil acts and faults of some of the companions. In those theological discussions, some of the Imami Shī‘a scholars have mentioned the fact that some companions believed in the permissibility of ghinā’ as a fault. See for example ‘Aqabāt al-Anwār of Mīr Ḥāmid Ḥusayn or ‘Allāmah Amīnī’s al-Ghadīr29 where he mentions the faults of the second caliph and mentions the permissibility of ghinā’ as one of those faults.

Were there any companions who considered ghinā’ prohibited? We do not find such a list in either Sunni or Shī‘ī books, not even the name of Imam ‘Alī (a). Although in the list of companions who believed in its permissibility, we find some companions whose opinions have no relevance or importance to us, yet, we also find names of some companions who were important figures.

For example, Qurẓah b. Ka‘b was a companion of the Prophet (p), but also a close companion of Imam ‘Alī (a) who participated in battles with him. Likewise, we find the name of ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far the husband of Lady Zaynab (s) in this list and so it is important to pay attention to that. He died at the age of 90 and was present in the battle of Siffīn. Sayyid Khū‘ī in his Mu‘jam al-Rijāl says that Imam ‘Alī (a) was very over-protective about the life of ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far alongside the lives of Imam Ḥasan (a) and Ḥusayn (a).

Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī in his treatise says that the attribution of the permissibility of ghinā’ to ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far has been mentioned in some works of history, that it says he would engage in ghinā’ and even have slave-girls who would sing for him. Muḥaqqiq Sabzwārī says this attribution is not proven for him and casts doubt on it.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is really no reason to doubt this attribution, especially since the same historical sources mention these attributions to many other companions. We cannot just feel the urge the need to dismiss these attributions simply because we feel uneasy, or it may seem to conflict with a certain perception we have made up. What can be seen in the historical reports is that the ghinā’ which ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far would engage in had nothing to do with the corrupt type of ghinā’ that became popular in later decades of the Islamic civilization.

This is important because these are close partisans of Imam ‘Alī (a), and if these companions had no issue with ghinā’ while being close companions of Imam ‘Alī (a) then we could speculate that there was no clear prohibition uttered by the Prophet (p) or the Imam (a).

In the treatise of Ghinā’ by al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 255) he says:

وكان لعبد الله بن جعفر الطّيار جوارٍ يتغنَّيْن وغلامٌ يقال له ‏”‏ بديع ‏”‏ يتغنَّى فعابه بذلك الحكم بن مروان فقال‏:‏ وما عليَّ أن آخذ الجيِّد من أشعار العرب وأُلقيه إلى الجواري فيترنَّمن به ويشذِّرنه بحلوقهنَّ ونغمهنّ‏!‏‏‏

‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far al-Ṭayyār had a young female maid who would sing and a servant who was known as Badī‘ who would sing. Al-Ḥakam b. Marwān reproached him for that and said: “Why should I not select the finest Arab poetry and arrange it for slave-girls to sing with their sweet voices!”30

Anṣāb al-Ashrāf of Balādhurī also writes:

كان لعبد الله بن جعفر، غلام فارسي سقط إليه يقال له نشيط، وكان يغني بالفارسية ويضرب على غنائه بالعود، ثم فصح فغنى بالعربية

‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far had a Persian boy who came at his disposal known as Nashīṭ. He would sing in Persian and use sticks as instruments while singing. Then he becomes eloquent and began singing in Arabic.

It is interesting to note that the criticism of Ja‘far does not seem to be a religious critique, rather a cultural critique since the Arabs at the time were still going through this socio-cultural change and some would consider it a blemish for an elderly experienced person in life to listen to ghinā’.

In al-‘Iqd al-Farīd there is an entire chapter on what constitutes a good voice, and the author also records this attribution to ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far. Al-Kāmil of Abu al-‘Abbās (d. 286) also has a chapter on singing amongst the Arabs and there he brings the dialogue between ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far and ‘Amr b. al-‘Ās in the context of ghinā’.

Despite all these historical discussions, we still cannot arrive at any conclusion on ghinā’ as we still need to investigate the opinions of later non-Imami jurists, especially those at the time of Imam Bāqir (a) and Imam Ṣādiq (a). Shaykh Ṭūsī in al-Khilāf says:

مسألة ٥٤: الغناء محرم، يفسق فاعله، و ترد شهادته. و قال أبو حنيفة و مالك و الشافعي: هو مكروه و حكي عن مالك أنه قال: هو مباح.

Issue #54: Al-Ghinā’ is prohibited, one who engages in it is deemed a sinner and their testimonies are rejected. Abū Ḥanīfa, Mālik and Shāfi‘ī say it is detested (makrūh). It is relayed from Mālik that he said it was permissible (mubāḥ).

و قال أبو يوسف: قلت لأبي حنيفة في شهادة المغني و النائح و النائحة‌؟ فقال: لا أقبل شهادتهم.

Abū Yūsuf said: I said asked Abū Ḥanīfah about the testimony of a singer and a male and female eulogist, and he said, ‘I do not accept their testimonies.’

و قال إبراهيم بن سعد الزهري: هو مباح غير مكروه. و به قال عبيد الله بن الحسن العنبري. و قال أبو حامد: و لا أعرف أحدا من المسلمين حرم ذلك

Ibrāhīm b. Sa‘d al-Zuhrī said, it is permissible and not detested. ‘Ubaydullah b. al-Ḥasan al-‘Anbarī held the same view. Abū Ḥāmid said, I do not know of anyone amongst the Muslims who considers it prohibited.31

The three Sunni Imams believed it was makrūh, and a few other non-Imami jurists believed it was permissible. Abū Ḥāmid said he did not know anyone from amongst the Muslims who prohibited ghinā’ qua ghinā’.

In al-Fiqh ‘ala al-Madhāhib al-Arba‘a, the views of numerous Sunni scholars are mentioned:

الشافعية – قالوا: قال الإمام الغزالي في الإحياء: النصوص تدل على إباحة الغناء

ونقل في الإحياء أيضاً أن الشافعي قال: لا أعلم أحداً من علماء الحجاز كره السماع إلا ما كان منه في الأوصاف

The Shāfi‘īyyah say: al-Imām al-Ghazzālī in al-Iḥyā’ said, the texts signify on the permissibility of al-ghinā’. It is also relayed in al-Iḥyā that Shāfi‘ī said, I do not know of any scholars from Hejaz who considers listening to it undesirable unless it is from those that has certain qualities.32

The Ḥanafīs would say:

الحنفية – قالوا: التغني المحرم ما كان مشتملاً على ألفاظ لا تحل كوصف الغلمان، والمرأة المعينة التي على قيد الحياة

The Ḥanafīyyah said, Prohibited singing is that which is inclusive of impermissible word, such as describing young boys or a specific woman who is still alive…33

If the content has no issue, then there is no problem. As for the Mālikis:

المالكية – قالوا: إن آلات اللهو المشهرة للنكاح يجوز استعمالها فيه خاصة كالدف “الطبل” والغربال “الطار” إذا لم تكن فيه صلاصل، والزمارة والبوق إذا لم يترتب عليهما لهوكثير؛ ويباح ذلك للرجال والنساء

The Mālikīyyah said, the famous instruments of lahw for marriage are allowed to be used, especially if it is the ṭābl or ṭār, as long as it does not have chains, and the horn and trumpet as long as it does not result in excessive lahw. This is allowed for both men and women.

As for the Ḥanbalīs:

الحنابلة – قالوا: … أما الغناء فإن تحسين الصوت والترنم في ذاته مباح، بل قالوا: إنه مستحب عند تلاوة القرآن إذا لم يفض إلى تغيير حرف منه أو إلى زيادة لفظه، وإلا حرم. فالترنم وتحسين الصوت بعبارات الوعظ والحكم ونحوها كذلك.

The Ḥanābilah said, …as for al-ghinā’, then the beautification of the sound and singing with a tune in it and of itself is permissible, rather they have said, it is desirable (mustaḥabb) when reciting the Quran as long as it does not result in the change of a word from it or an addition to it, or else it is prohibited. Singing in a tune and good voice with lyrics containing admonitions, wisdom and its like has a similar ruling.

In al-Mughnī of Ibn Qudāmah some of these views are asummarized as well:

وَاخْتَلَفَ أَصْحَابُنَا فِي الْغِنَاءِ؛ فَذَهَبَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ الْخَلَّالُ، وَصَاحِبُهُ أَبُو بَكْرٍ عَبْدُ الْعَزِيزِ، إلَى إبَاحَتِهِ. قَالَ أَبُو بَكْرٍ عَبْدُ الْعَزِيزِ: وَالْغِنَاءُ وَالنَّوْحُ مَعْنًى وَاحِدٌ، مُبَاحٌ مَا لَمْ يَكُنْ مَعَهُ مُنْكَرٌ، وَلَا فِيهِ طَعْنٌ

وَعَنْ عُمَرَ – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ – أَنَّهُ قَالَ: الْغِنَاءُ زَادُ الرَّاكِبِ. وَاخْتَارَ الْقَاضِي أَنَّهُ مَكْرُوهٌ غَيْرُ مُحَرَّمٍ. وَهُوَ قَوْلُ الشَّافِعِيِّ، قَالَ: هُوَ مِنْ اللَّهْوِ الْمَكْرُوهِ. وَقَالَ أَحْمَدُ: الْغِنَاءُ يُنْبِتُ النِّفَاقَ فِي الْقَلْبِ، لَا يُعْجِبُنِي. وَذَهَبَ آخَرُونَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا إلَى تَحْرِيمِهِ

Our companions have differed on the matter of ghinā’. Abū Bakr al-Khallāl and his companion Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-‘Azīz believe in its permissibility. Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-‘Azīz said: al-Ghinā’ and al-Nawḥ have the same meaning, they are allowed as long as they are not from the evil nor a flaw.

And from ‘Umar – may Allah be pleased with him – who said: al-ghinā’ is the provision of the rider. Al-Qāḍī chose the position of undesirability, but not prohibited, and this is also the view of al-Shāfi‘ī who said: It is from the detested lahw.

Aḥmad said: al-Ghinā’ cultivates hypocrisy in the heart and it does not amaze me. Other group of our companions believed it was prohibited.34

Imami Narrations

How many narrations exist on the prohibition of ghinā’? We do not have an exact quantity. Some relied on 3-4, some relied on more and some on less. In fact, some have said we do not have more than one narration on the prohibition of ghinā’. If that is the case, then what does it mean if someone says we have narrations that are mustafīḍ in this subject? Such claims are made on a subjective basis because these narrations could be mustafīḍ for one jurist, but not for another.

Over here we would like to cite the words of our teacher Ayatullah Mīrzā Jawād Ṭabrīzī, in his Irshād al-Ṭālib:

بل وهذه هي العمدة في الحكم بحرمة الغناء، وإلّا فما ذكره المصنّف رحمه الله – من إشعار الروايات المتقدّمة بأنّ‌ المحرم هو عنوان اللهو والباطل، وإن كان ذلك في كيفيّة الصوت – لا يمكن المساعدة عليه، فإنّ‌ الاعتبار بالظهور لا بالإشعار

Rather these are most of the narrations used to argue for the prohibition of ghinā’, otherwise those reports which the author – may Allah have mercy on him – has mentioned regarding the allusion of some aforementioned reports towards the prohibition of lahw and falsehood, even if it be in the quality of the voice, then it is not possible to use them as an aid, because prima-facie has authority, not an allusion.35

According to Ayatullah Ṭabrīzī, there is really only one narration that clearly proves the prohibition of ghinā’, and other narrations which according to Shaykh Anṣārī only allude to prohibition are not enough to give a religious verdict. That one narration is the one we mentioned in our first lesson from al-Kāfī:

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الرَّيَّانِ عَنْ يُونُسَ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ الْخُرَاسَانِيَّ ع وَ قُلْتُ إِنَّ الْعَبَّاسِيَ‌ ذَكَرَ أَنَّكَ تُرَخِّصُ فِي الْغِنَاءِ فَقَالَ كَذَبَ الزِّنْدِيقُ مَا هَكَذَا قُلْتُ لَهُ سَأَلَنِي عَنِ الْغِنَاءِ فَقُلْتُ لَهُ إِنَّ رَجُلًا أَتَى أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع فَسَأَلَهُ عَنِ الْغِنَاءِ فَقَالَ يَا فُلَانُ إِذَا مَيَّزَ اللَّهُ بَيْنَ الْحَقِّ وَ الْبَاطِلِ فَأَنَّى يَكُونُ الْغِنَاءُ فَقَالَ مَعَ الْبَاطِلِ فَقَالَ قَدْ حَكَمْتَ.

We have already stated this narration is not enough to prove the absolute prohibition of ghinā’ since it tells us to refer to our intuitions. This is because our intuition does not say all types of singing are problematic, rather only some forms of it which lead to corruption of the intellect or lewd acts.

Imam Khumaynī in his al-Makāṣib also relies on one main narration in his discussion and that is from al-Kāfī as follows:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ ابْنِ فَضَّالٍ عَنْ يُونُسَ بْنِ يَعْقُوبَ عَنْ عَبْدِ الْأَعْلَى قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع عَنِ‏ الْغِنَاءِ وَ قُلْتُ إِنَّهُمْ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص رَخَّصَ فِي أَنْ يُقَالَ جِئْنَاكُمْ جِئْنَاكُمْ حَيُّونَا حَيُّونَا نُحَيِّكُمْ فَقَالَ كَذَبُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ يَقُولُ- وَ ما خَلَقْنَا السَّماواتِ وَ الْأَرْضَ وَ ما بَيْنَهُما لاعِبِينَ‏ لَوْ أَرَدْنا أَنْ نَتَّخِذَ لَهْواً لَاتَّخَذْناهُ مِنْ لَدُنَّا إِنْ كُنَّا فاعِلِينَ. بَلْ نَقْذِفُ بِالْحَقِّ عَلَى الْباطِلِ‏ فَيَدْمَغُهُ‏ فَإِذا هُوَ زاهِقٌ وَ لَكُمُ الْوَيْلُ مِمَّا تَصِفُونَ ثُمَّ قَالَ وَيْلٌ لِفُلَانٍ مِمَّا يَصِفُ رَجُلٌ لَمْ يَحْضُرِ الْمَجْلِسَ.

Muḥammad b. Yaḥya has narrated from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from Ibn Faḍḍāl from Yūnus b. Ya‘qūb from ‘Abd al-A‘la who has said the following:

“I once asked Abū ‘Abdillah (a) about al-ghinā’. I said that they think the Messenger of Allah (p) has granted permission in singing the song, ‘We have come to you, we have come to you, so offer us greetings, offer us greetings, we will offer you greetings.’

He (the Imam) said, ‘They have spoken a lie. Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, says, [21:16-18] “We did not create the heavens and the earth just for fun. Had We wanted to play games, We could have certainly done so with things at hand. We bring forward the Truth to crush and destroy falsehood; it is doomed to be banished. Woe to you for your way of thinking about Allah!”’

He (the Imam) then said, ‘Woe upon the one who ascribes something to one who is not present in the gathering.’”36

Some scholars have said this narration is not reliable due to Ibn Faḍḍāl, however, we do not have a problem with this narration. The verse is saying Allah (swt) does not engage in lahw, and anyone who attributes lahw is condemned. Imam Khumaynī says:

فلا شبهة في دلالتها على الحرمة ولا في إطلاقها لقول حقّ‌ أو باطل.

There is no ambiguity in the signification of the narration on its prohibition, and neither in its absolute nature with respect to the lyrics being true or falsehood.37

Can this narration be really used as evidence? There are a number of points:

1) The question being asked in the report is regarding a line of poetry and we do not have any information regarding this poem, how was it recited, what were the lines before and after this stanza, what other behaviour would people engage in when singing this? In other words, the question is about a qaḍīya shakṣīyyah, a specific poem that both the questioner and the Imam (a) know about, and the ruling is being given about this specific poem. This is tantamount to asking a jurist today about a specific song or poem, and they may consider it problematic due to some other reasons.

Sayyid Khamenei also agrees with this:

معلوم می شود آهنگ معروفی بوده است

It is thus known that it was a famous song.38

Ultimately all we can say is that this song with these lyrics was disliked and prohibited by the Prophet (p), but we do not know anything else about it and hence cannot conclude that ghinā’ in all its forms is absolutely prohibited.

2) If the Prophet (p) considered singing these lines of poetry prohibited, does this signify that ghinā’ qua ghinā’ prohibited? There is no relationship because it is possible the Prophet (p) may have disliked or ideally preferred people to not sing these lines of poetry, but he did not consider it essentially prohibited. In Jāmi‘ al-Madārik Sayyid Aḥmad Khūnsārī alludes to this as well:

مجرّد عدم الترخيص لا يستفاد منه الحرمة فإنّ‌ الحكيم لا يرخّص في اللّغو و لا يلتزم بحرمة ما هو لغو بمجرّد كونه لغو

A mere impermissibility does not indicate prohibition, because the Wise does not give permission in vain, and does not necessitate any prohibition of that which is merely vain for the fact that it is vain.39

3) There is also a lack of correspondence between the question and answer. The question is about two things: i) about ghinā’ and ii) the specific lines of poetry whose permissibility was attributed to the Prophet (p), whereas the response of the Imam (a) is only with respect to the second question. Perhaps the Imam (a) answered the first question, which could have been a qaḍīya ḥaqīqīyyah, but it has not been recorded in this narration.

Ayatullah Durchai’ī in his Mīzān al-Fiqāha was also attentive towards this issue.

4) This narration also has another issue and that is, it contradicts with a number of other narrations which allow ghinā’ in marriage ceremonies. Many jurists have allowed it in marriage ceremonies, and so if we wish to reconcile between these narrations, perhaps one could say that the Prophet (p) did not want people to sing this specific song while under the impression that the Prophet (p) recommended it and found it to be an ideal song.

The Ahl al-Sunnah have recorded this report in their works where they say the Prophet (p) encouraged these lyrics in a marriage ceremony. One version of it as follows:

احتجوا في اباحة الغناء و استحسانه بقول النبي صلّى اللّه عليه و سلم لعائشة: اهديتم الفتاة إلى بعلها؟ قالت: نعم. قال: فبعثتم معها من يغني؟ قالت: لا. قال: أ و ما علمت ان الانصار قوم يعجبهم الغزل، أ لا بعثتم معها من يقول

أتيناكم أتيناكم # فحيّونا نحيّيكم

To defend the permissibility of ghinā’ and its approval, they cited the statement of the Prophet (p) to ‘Ā’isha: “Did you give the young girl a gift?” She replied, ‘Yes’. He then asked, “Did you send someone with her to sing?” She replied, “No”. So the Prophet said, “The Ansar are a people who enjoy celebration by singing poetry, so send someone to recite ‘We have come to you, we have come to you, so offer us greetings, offer us greetings, we will offer you greetings.’”40

One of our scholars has said this report is problematic, not just because of its chain of transmitters, but more so because the Prophet’s (p) concern over whether a singer was sent to a wedding of an Ansar does not match the responsibilities and duties of the Prophet (p). What does the Prophet (p) have to do with whether a singer was sent to someone’s marriage ceremony? However, we believe this explanation is not valid because when we look at some other sources, we get a better picture as to whose wedding this was and that there is no problem with the Prophet (p) asking such a question.

In Usd al-Ghābah we read:

الفارعة بنت أسعد بن زرارة

ب: الفارعة بنت أسعد بن زرارة الأنصاري أوصى بها أبوها أبو أمامة أسعد وبأختيها حبيبة وكبشة إلى رسول الله صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فزوجها رسول الله صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ من نبيط بن جابر من بني مالك بن النجار.

أخبرنا أبو منصور بن مكارم بن أحمد بن سعد المؤدب، بإسناده عن المعافي بن عمران، حدثنا أبو عقيل، عن بهية، عن عائشة، قالت: أهدينا يتيمة من الأنصار، قالت: فلما رجعنا، قال النبي صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: ” ما قلتم؟ ” قالت: سلمنا وانصرفنا. قال: ” إن الأنصار قوم يعجبهم الغزل، ألا قلت يا عائشة: أتيناكم أتيناكم فحيونا نحييكم “. وهذه اليتيمة هي الفارعة بنت أسعد بن زرارة

Al-Fāri‘ah bt. As‘ad b. Zurārah

Al-Fāri‘ah bt. As‘ad b. Zurārah al-Anṣārī, her father gave her, her sister and a ram under the custodianship of the Messenger of Allah (p), so the Messenger of Allah (p) married her to Nabīṭ b. Jābir from Banī Mālik b. al-Najjār.

Abū Manṣūr b. Makārim b. Aḥmad b. Sa‘d al-Mu’addab with his chain from al-Mu‘āfī b. ‘Imrān from Abū ‘Aqīl from Bahīyah from ‘Ā’isha who said: We gifted an orphan from the Anṣār. When we returned, the Prophet (p) said, “What did you say to them?” She (‘Ā’isha) said, “We send our greetings and returned back.”

The Prophet (p) said, “The Ansar are a people who enjoy celebration by singing poetry. O ‘Ā’isha did you not say ‘We have come to you, we have come to you, so offer us greetings, offer us greetings, we will offer you greetings.’”

This orphan was al-Fāri‘ah bt. As‘ad b. Zurārah.41

With this context, we realize that the Prophet (p) was playing a fatherly role for an orphan girl who he was taking care of.

Another set of narrations that are used to argue for the prohibition are those that say it is impermissible to listen (istimā‘) to ghinā’. These narrations are used to say if it is prohibited to listen to ghinā’ then it is also necessarily prohibited to do ghinā’. One of these narrations is from al-Kāfī:

عَلِيُّ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ هَارُونَ بْنِ مُسْلِمٍ عَنْ مَسْعَدَةَ بْنِ زِيَادٍ قَالَ: كُنْتُ عِنْدَ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فَقَالَ لَهُ رَجُلٌ بِأَبِي أَنْتَ وَ أُمِّي إِنَّنِي أَدْخُلُ كَنِيفاً لِي وَ لِي جِيرَانٌ عِنْدَهُمْ جَوَارٍ يَتَغَنَّيْنَ وَ يَضْرِبْنَ بِالْعُودِ فَرُبَّمَا أَطَلْتُ الْجُلُوسَ اسْتِمَاعاً مِنِّي لَهُنَّ فَقَالَ لَا تَفْعَلْ فَقَالَ الرَّجُلُ وَ اللَّهِ مَا آتِيهِنَّ إِنَّمَا هُوَ سَمَاعٌ أَسْمَعُهُ بِأُذُنِي فَقَالَ لِلَّهِ أَنْتَ أَ مَا سَمِعْتَ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ يَقُولُ- إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَ الْبَصَرَ وَ الْفُؤادَ كُلُّ أُولئِكَ كانَ عَنْهُ مَسْؤُلًا فَقَالَ بَلَى وَ اللَّهِ لَكَأَنِّي لَمْ أَسْمَعْ بِهَذِهِ الْآيَةِ مِنْ كِتَابِ اللَّهِ مِنْ أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَ لَا عَرَبِيٍّ لَا جَرَمَ أَنَّنِي لَا أَعُودُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ وَ أَنِّي أَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ فَقَالَ لَهُ قُمْ فَاغْتَسِلْ وَ سَلْ مَا بَدَا لَكَ فَإِنَّكَ كُنْتَ مُقِيماً عَلَى أَمْرٍ عَظِيمٍ مَا كَانَ أَسْوَأَ حَالَكَ لَوْ مِتَّ عَلَى ذَلِكَ احْمَدِ اللَّهَ وَ سَلْهُ التَّوْبَةَ مِنْ كُلِّ مَا يَكْرَهُ فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَكْرَهُ إِلَّا كُلَّ قَبِيحٍ وَ الْقَبِيحَ دَعْهُ لِأَهْلِهِ فَإِنَّ لِكُلٍّ أَهْلًا.

“Once I was with abu ‘Abd Allah, ‘Alayhi al-Salam, when a man said, ‘I pray to Allah to keep my soul and the souls of my parents in service for your cause, I enter my WC (water-closet) and I have neighbors who have singing slave-girls who play musical instruments and perhaps I sit longer, listening to them.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘You must not do so.’ The man said, ‘By Allah, I do not go to them; it is only my listening to them with my ears.’ He (the Imam) said, ‘For the sake of Allah, have you not heard Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, saying, [17:36] “…the ears, eyes, and hearts will all be held responsible for their deeds.”’ He replied, ‘Yes, by Allah, as if I have not heard this verse of the book of Allah from non-Arab or Arab people. However, I will not return to it if Allah so wills and I ask forgiveness from Allah. He (the Imam) said, ‘You must go and take a shower, then ask what you want, because you were involved in a great thing and how terrible your condition could have been had you remained in such condition! Praise Allah and ask Him to forgive you because of what He dislikes and He dislikes only bad and indecent matters; and you must leave evil and indecent things to indecent people; everything has its associates.’”42

This is also a reliable narration. The narration apparently says, “do not listen” and jurists have said it proves you do not even need to physically be in a gathering of ghinā’, since listening to it in any way is not allowed. The person even asks the Imam (a) that I do not go to the gathering, I am in my own house, rather I am merely hearing the sounds.

This narration has used by some jurists to prove recommendation of ghusl of istighfār, although there are scribal errors for the prayer (ṣāllī), with ask a question (sal). Regardless, some observations we can offer on this report:

1) Can we really understand the prohibition of listening to all ghinā’? There are two qualities mentioned by the questioner: i) the singers were women, can we do ilghā al-khuṣūṣiyyah? Since there is a possibility that there is a different ruling for men listening to women singing, we cannot assume that gender has no role in this ruling; and ii) this singing is alongside the use of musical instruments.

If you want to use this narration to say both these qualities are irrelevant and ghinā’ qua ghinā’ is prohibited, we cannot do that. The Imam (a) has not said in this narration that ghinā’ is prohibited.

This critique is also offered by Ayatullah Ṣāni‘ī, although his works have not been published yet. Shaykh Aḥmad al-Nārāqī in his al-Mustanad has also mentioned this:

و أمّا رواية مسعدة، فمع اختصاصها بغناء الجواري المغنّية، مشتملة على ضرب العود أيضا، فلعلّ‌ المعصية كانت لأجله.

As for the narration of Mas‘adah, then given its specification to ghinā’ of a female slave-girl songstress, it is also inclusive of using lute sticks, then perhaps the sin was due to the latter.43

2) Does the verb “lā taf‘al” signify prohibition? Regardless of your opinion on that question or the nature of how that prohibitive sentence signifies prohibition, all scholars agree that if there is a contextual indicator present that alters the prima-facie of the prohibition then that is to be taken into consideration.

We believe there are a number of contextual indicators in this narration that make us think it signifies kirāha, such as the Imam (a) mentioning later commands like doing ghusl and pray. These two are not obligatory, but perhaps because this individual was of high status, the Imam (a) asked him to engage in these extra efforts.

3) There is another issue that I did not find a response for in the works of the jurists. This person who extends his stay in the toilet, was he knowledgeable of the rule or ignorant? He is apparently ignorant, because he believed physically being in the gathering is prohibited, not merely listening to ghinā’. In that case, if a person was ignorant of the ruling, he has not committed a sin to begin with, so what does he have to repent for and perform a ghusl and prayers of repentance? How can the Imam (a) say he committed a great crime?

I only know Ayatullah Fāḍil Lankarānī who became attentive to this aspect, and he concluded that the person was not a jāhil qāṣir, because if he was then the Imam (a) would not have condemned him.

I think there is one other possibility to explain the command of the Imam (a) to do ghusl of repentance. Perhaps if an act is makrūh and can bring a person on the brink of sin, the Imam (a) can ask him to repent and perform the ghusl of repentance, and so even if this act was committed unknowingly, it may have certain effects on the person. This is more so true when we consider the type of ghinā’ that was popular in the time of Imam Ṣādiq (a) which was often accompanied with lewd behaviour. To prevent the person from first delaying his stay in the toilet, then next trying to see what is going on in his neighbour’s house, and then eventually physically attending the gathering, the Imam (a) asks him to repent.

The narration is also not really a very technical jurisprudential narration. Tāba does not always mean to repent from sinning, especially since it just means to return back to Allah (swt). In a narration it says:

سَلْهُ التَّوْبَةَ مِنْ كُلِّ مَا يَكْرَهُ فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَكْرَهُ إِلَّا كُلَّ قَبِيحٍ وَ الْقَبِيحَ دَعْهُ لِأَهْلِهِ فَإِنَّ لِكُلٍّ أَهْلًا

Ask Him to forgive you because of what He dislikes and He dislikes only bad and indecent matters; and you must leave evil and indecent things to indecent people; everything has its associates.

The act is makrūh which is inclusive of ḥarām and makrūh, and it is detested. In other words, a person of your status should not get close to these activities.

So this prohibitive command is not very clear in prohibition, rather it is more apparent in kirāha and it being a disliked act.

A second narration that is used in this discussion is a reliable report from al-Kāfī:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ عَنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ بْنِ أَبِي الْبِلَادِ عَنْ زَيْدٍ الشَّحَّامِ قَالَ قَالَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع‏ بَيْتُ الْغِنَاءِ لَا تُؤْمَنُ فِيهِ الْفَجِيعَةُ وَ لَا تُجَابُ فِيهِ الدَّعْوَةُ وَ لَا يَدْخُلُهُ الْمَلَكُ.

Muḥammad b. Yaḥya from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from al-Ḥusayn b. Sa‘īd from Ibrāhīm b. Abī al-Bilād from Zayd al-Shaḥḥām who said, Abū ‘Abdillah (a) said,

‘The house of singing is not safe from tragedy, and prayers are not accepted and angels do not enter in it.’44

Some observations:

1) When we look at this narration, we realize that the subject matter of this narration is not a singer or the act of singing, rather it is bayt al-ghinā’. The House of ghinā’ is a place that becomes specifically known for gatherings of ghinā’.

2) These types of consequences mentioned in narrations are present for many necessary and disliked or recommended acts. When we look at works like Thawāb al-‘A’māl wa I‘qāb al-‘A’māl of Shaykh Ṣadūq, we realize many acts have rewards promised for them, or they have some negative consequences mentioned for them, however, that does not necessarily mean the act is obligatory or prohibited. This narration says angels do not enter bayt al-ghinā’, but we have the same thing for a house that has a dog in there, but is it prohibited to have a dog in the house? There is no necessary relationship between the two.

There are a number of other narrations like this about bayt al-ghinā’, and these do not prove prohibition.

A Note on Approaching Narrations

There are two approaches to investigating narrations in our books. One approach is when a jurist goes through every single narration, analyzing them, checking their chain of transmissions, those that are weak they put them aside, and those that are strong they analyze their text and see what they prove.

Another approach is of those jurists who will look at all the narrations together, weak and strong, whether the content proves the point or not, and then give their verdict. They do not believe they have to find one single narration to prove a verdict, rather they decide to paint an image of the subject by looking at all the narrations together, even if some narrations happen to be weak, but jurists say they gain conviction on the verdict.

Sayyid Khū’ī has employed the second method in the matter of ghinā’. In his discussions on al-Makāsib he writes:

الثالث: الروايات الدالّة على حرمة الغناء و حرمة تعليمه و تعلّمه و حرمة التكسّب به و استماعه، و أنّه ينبت النفاق في القلب كما ينبت الماء الخضرة.

و أنّه يورث الفقر و القساوة و ينزع الحياء. و أنّه رقية الزنا، و يرفع البركة و ينزل البلاء كما نزل البلاء على المغنّين من بني إسرائيل. و أنّه ممّا وعد اللّه عليه النار و بئس المصير. و أنّه عشّ‌ النفاق، و أنّ‌ الغناء مجلس لا ينظر اللّه إلى أهله، و أنّ‌ استماع الغناء نفاق و تعلّمه كفر، و أنّ‌ صاحب الغناء يحشر من قبره أعمى و أخرس و أبكم و أنّ‌ من ضرب في بيته شيئا من الملاهي أربعين يوما فقد باء بغضب من اللّه فإن مات في أربعين مات فاجرا فاسقا مأواه النار و بئس المصير، و أنّ‌ من أصغى إلى ناطق يؤدّي عن الشيطان فقد عبد الشيطان، و أنّ‌ الغناء أخبث ما خلق اللّه و شرّ ما خلق اللّه، و أنّه يورث الفقر و النفاق، و أنّ‌ من استمع إلى الغناء يذاب في اذنه الإفك.

و غير ذلك من المضامين المدهشة التي اشتملت عليها الأخبار المتواترة.

و الروايات الواردة في حرمة الغناء و إن كان أكثرها ضعيف السند، و لكن في المعتبر منها غنى و كفاية. و العجب من المحقّق الأردبيلي حيث قال في محكي شرح الإرشاد: ما رأيت رواية صحيحة صريحة في التحريم. و هو أعرف بمقاله.

Third: The narrations45 which signify the prohibition of ghinā’ and the prohibition of teaching it, learning it, earning money with it, listening to it, and that it cultivates hypocrisy in the heart just like water grows green plants. It results in poverty, hardening of the heart and eliminates modesty. It is a means to fornication, removes blessings and descends calamities just like the calamities that befell the singers of Bani Israel. It is from those matters for which Allah has promised hellfire and a wretched destination. It is the nest of hypocrisy, and ghinā’ is a gathering where Allah does not look at its people, listening to ghinā’ is hypocrisy and learning it is disbelief. A singer will be resurrected from their grave blind, dumb and mute. One who uses such instruments for it in their home for forty days, the anger of Allah will be incurred, and if they die within those forty days, they will die as a corrupt and immoral person whose abode is hellfire and a wretched destination. One who pays attention to a speaker who conveys information from Satan, then they have worshipped Satan, and ghinā’ is from the most disgusting and most evil things created by Allah, it cultivates poverty and hypocrisy, and one who listens to it, melted lead will be poured in their ear.

And many other astonishing contents which are present in the widely transmitted narrations. The narrations specifically related to the prohibition of ghinā’, even though most of them have weak chains of transmission, but the few reliable ones from it are sufficient. It is strange that Muḥaqqiq Ardibīlī said as it is relayed from Sharḥ al-Irshād, that ‘I have not seen an explicit authentic narration on its prohibition,’46 and he is more aware of what he has said.47

We do not agree with Sayyid Khū’ī’s approach here, because these narrations are not all at the same level, and interestingly he himself admits most of these narrations are weak. For example, if a narration promises punishment in the fire, you can possibly understand the prohibition of the act from it, but you cannot understand prohibition from a narration which says angels do not enter the house which is known for ghinā’. The only thing these narrations prove is that ghinā’ in general is prohibited, but they do not tell us what type of ghinā’ is prohibited, or whether all forms of it are prohibited.

Why did Sayyid Khū’ī use this approach in this subject, even though it is unlike him in other discussions, and most other jurists did not use this approach in this matter either? Perhaps if he had used the first approach, he would not have been able to arrive at the conclusion that ghinā’ is prohibited.

We do not have time to investigate all the narrations on the subject, but we will for the sake of argument assume we do have solid authentic narrations that establish for us that ghinā’ is prohibited. The second step that we have to take is to investigate narrations that apparently show ghinā’ is permissible. In other words, how do we understand conflicting narrations on the matter and how do we reconcile them with the assumed view that ghinā’ is prohibited?

There are a few narrations that apparently conflict with narrations that prohibit ghinā’. We will go through a few of them only. Shaykh Kulaynī records a report in al-Kāfī:

عِدَّةٌ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي حَمْزَةَ عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ أَبَا جَعْفَرٍ ع عَنْ كَسْبِ الْمُغَنِّيَاتِ فَقَالَ الَّتِي يَدْخُلُ عَلَيْهَا الرِّجَالُ حَرَامٌ وَ الَّتِي تُدْعَى إِلَى الْأَعْرَاسِ لَيْسَ بِهِ بَأْسٌ وَ هُوَ قَوْلُ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ- وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ‏

From a group of our companions, from Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from al-Ḥusayn b. Sa‘īd from ‘Alī b. Abī Ḥamzah from Abī Baṣīr who said:

“I once asked Abu Ja‘far (a) about the legal status of the income from female music playing singers. He (the Imam) said, ‘Such singing and playing music of females where men are also present is unlawful. There is no offense in inviting female singers on the occasion of a wedding program. It is in the words of Allah, most Majestic, most Glorious, [31:6] “Among people are those who purchase useless talk to make people lose the path of Allah.”48

In this narration, the Imam (a) divides between permissible and impermissible ghinā’, even though the question was about the occupation of female singers. He (a) says, if men gather in their sessions, then it is not permissible, but if they are singing in weddings with only females, then there is no issue with it.

These types of narrations have been used by scholars like Fayḍ Kāshānī to argue that ghinā’ itself is not prohibited, rather it is these extra attributes associated with it, such as men attending the gatherings of these female singers, lewd activities happening in these gatherings and so on, which make the notion of ghinā’ prohibited.

However, most jurists understood these narrations as mentioning an exception to the absolute prohibition of ghinā’. They say ghinā’ is absolutely prohibited, but the only exception is women-only gatherings at weddings.

Another narration is as follows:

أَحْمَدُ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بْنِ سَعِيدٍ عَنِ النَّضْرِ بْنِ سُوَيْدٍ عَنْ يَحْيَى الْحَلَبِيِّ عَنْ أَيُّوبَ بْنِ الْحُرِّ عَنْ أَبِي بَصِيرٍ قَالَ قَالَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع‏ أَجْرُ الْمُغَنِّيَةِ الَّتِي تَزُفُّ الْعَرَائِسَ لَيْسَ بِهِ بَأْسٌ لَيْسَتْ بِالَّتِي يَدْخُلُ عَلَيْهَا الرِّجَالُ.

Aḥmad b. Muḥammad from al-Ḥusayn b. Sa‘īd from al-Naḍr b. Suwayd from Yaḥya al-Ḥalabī from Ayyūb b. al-Ḥurr from Abī Baṣīr who said, Abū ‘Abdillah (a) said,

‘The payment for a female songstress in wedding ceremonies provided men do not attend her singing program.’49

Once again we note that impermissible ghinā’ is being highlighted as a scenario where men are present in these gatherings.

The contemporary jurist Sayyid Kāẓim Ḥā’irī has also addressed and highlighted this issue in an article which has been published:

The conclusion of what we have said is that ghinā’ on its own is not prohibited, rather it is prohibited when men are present amongst a gathering of women or when it is accompanied with music. Likewise, ghinā’ in the Quran and examples mentioned in the Quran, without music, is neither ḥaram nor makrūh, but ghinā’ with vain lyrics, without the presence of men or music, amongst women is makrūh. This is because the least possible ruling for something vain in Islam is kirāhat, just as some previous narrations and the narration of ‘Anbasa signified.50

However, is ghinā’ that is done in weddings an exception to the prohibition of severe lahw – is it a takhṣīṣ – or is it an exclusion where ghinā’ in weddings is not even being considered lahw (takhaṣṣuṣ)? Some jurists believed ghinā’ done in women-only gatherings is the second case and not even lahw to begin with. Ayatullah Mu’min has also written a paper on ghinā’51 and has explained this matter.

These narrations are very important because they highlight the realities of that era, because there is no difference in the essence of ghinā’ whether it is done in a female-only gathering or in a mixed gathering and indicates that there is something else beyond mere ghinā’ that is being considered here. In other words, these narrations tell us the criterion of prohibition, which is crucial for our discussion.

Another narration exists which makes matters more complex, and that is a report which speaks of the permissibility of ghinā’ on days of celebration (‘Īd). One such reliable narration is as follows:

وَ سَأَلْتُهُ عَنِ‏ الْغِنَاءِ أَ يَصْلُحُ فِي الْفِطْرِ وَ الْأَضْحَى وَ الْفَرَحُ يَكُونُ قَالَ لَا بَأْسَ مَا لَمْ يُزْمَرْ بِه‏

I asked him (a) about ghinā’, is it appropriate on the day of Fiṭr, Aḍḥa and joyous occasions? He (a) replied, ‘There is no problem as long as no blowing instruments are used.’52

If someone has a problem with the attribution of this narration to Imam Kāẓim (a) then they cannot use this, but we will assume it is reliable for the sake of argument. This narration shows that ghinā’ is permissible on ‘Īd al-Fiṭr and al-Aḍḥa and any other day of celebration. Jurists have generally ignored this narration because it is a solitary report and not enough to establish an exception to the overwhelming narrations prohibiting ghinā’ with all sorts of condemnation. However, there are a few jurists who relied on this narration and made an exception to the impermissibility of ghinā’ on these occasions, just as they did for weddings.

Some have said ‘Īd al-Fiṭr and al-Aḍḥa are days of worship and supplication, and it does not make sense for Allah (swt) to pollute it by permitting ghinā’. However, we should say this is not really a technical jurisprudential critique, because why is it so far-fetched to say that Allah (swt) has considered the day of ‘Īd as a day of worship where we engage in the prayers in the morning, but later in the day we can celebrate and organize ceremonies and gatherings of festivities where ghinā’ is allowed? Sayyid Kāẓim Ḥā’irī is one of those jurists who allowed ghinā’ on these days as well, as long as problematic musical instruments are not used alongside it.

Summary of Discussion

1. We believe the discussion on whether the intellect can judge the prohibition and permissibility of ghinā’ has not been discussed at length by jurists.

2. We discussed whether the Quran proves anything on the matter. We said the Quran has not explicitly spoken about ghinā’, but it has used some general concepts that are problematic, and some extreme forms of ghinā’ can be an instance of those concepts. Those concepts are lahw al-ḥadīth, qawl al-zūr, or laghw. The Imams (a) do not refer people to an unknown source like Kitāb ‘Alī (The Book of Imam ‘Alī), nor a specific verse that says ghinā’, rather they refer people to verses that use the aforementioned verses. In that case, we must look at the verse and see what exactly it proves.

The verse does not say just any type of lahw is prohibited, rather it is lahw in content and it causes misguidance which is prohibited. This would mean that a very specific instance of ghinā’ is an instance of the type of lahw being mentioned in the verse of the Quran.

3. We believe a change took place in the concept of ghinā’ in the early period of Islam. The ghinā’ that existed at the time of Prophet (p) and the era of the companions, its perception is very different than what we see in later Umayyad and early Abbasid era when Imam Ṣādiq (a) was living. When we look at the era of the Prophet (p) we do not find severe condemnation against ghinā’, but in the era of Imam Ṣādiq (a) it becomes a very hot topic and the Imams (a) use severe language against it. This indicates that ghinā’ had become a source of lewd behaviour and gatherings in the time of the later Imams (a).

4. We find numerous treatises and extensive discussions in books of the jurists, especially in the last 400 years, on the topic of ghinā’. In these works, we realize that the main source of argument for jurists in this discussion were the narrations of Imam Ṣādiq (a) from the second century hijri of Islam.

Some may respond and say since we do not have anything from before Imam Ṣādiq (a) on the subject of ghinā’, we cannot just rely on historical sources to develop a picture of the nature and use of ghinā’ before his (a) time. In other words, we should just ignore the intellectual history of ghinā’ before that and simply begin from second century hijri onwards.

The question is, why? Why can we not use historical sources to learn about the use and nature of ghinā’ before Imam Ṣādiq (a) and then be able to judge whether the Prophet (p) had said anything against or for it? These are the same historical sources we use to learn about the sīrah of the Prophet (p), these are the same sources we use to learn about the day of ‘Āshūrā’, if we consider these sources to be useless and without any value then we must say our knowledge of the ‘Āshūrā’, the Prophet (p) and other matters is non-existent.

Of course, I am not saying anything that appears in the work of any historian should be taken at face-value without any critical investigation, but rather what I am saying is that just because something did not appear in our ḥadīth works does not mean our path to determining what happened during or before their time is closed.

The case of ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far for example is a very important one, as he is the son-in-law of Imam ‘Alī (a) and the husband of Lady Zaynab (s). If his name appears in so many early historical sources indicating he would listen to ghinā’, the same sources that also mention the list of many other companions that we readily accept, and there seems to be no justifiable reason for us to exclude and cast doubt on the attribution of this matter to ‘Abdullah, then that is an important matter for us because it can tell us that ghinā’ was not necessarily a prohibited matter, or else we may have seen Imam ‘Alī (a) say something about it.

We cannot say Imam Ṣādiq (a) prohibited ghinā’, and since it is prohibited, we cast doubt on whether ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far was really engaging in this prohibited practice. The fact of the matter is that the nature of ghinā’ is not the same, these are two different things at the time of ‘Abdullah b. Ja‘far and at the time of Imam Ṣādiq (a).

Look at the work al-Ja‘farīyāt, where we find one narration attributed to the Prophet (p) which I will cite only as an additional point, because scholars dispute the actual reliability of the work:

أَخْبَرَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ أَخْبَرَنَا مُحَمَّدٌ حَدَّثَنِي مُوسَى قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا أَبِي عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ جَدِّهِ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ جَدِّهِ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ أَبِي طَالِبٍ ع قَالَ: إِنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص مَرَّ عَلَى‏ قَوْمٍ‏ مِنَ‏ الزِّنْجِ‏ وَ هُمْ يَضْرِبُونَ بِطُبُولٍ لَهُمْ وَ يُغَنُّونَ فَلَمَّا نَظَرُوا إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص سَكَتُوا فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص خُذُوا بَنِي أَرْفِدَةَ مَا كُنْتُمْ فِيهِ لِيَعْلَمَ الْيَهُودُ أَنَّ دِينَنَا فِي فُسْحَةٍ.

‘Abdullah narrated to us from Muḥamamd who narrated from Mūsa from his father, from his father, from his grandfather Ja‘far b. Muḥammad from his father from his grandfather ‘Alī b. al-Ḥusayn from his father from ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (a) who said:

The Messenger (p) walked past a group of men from the Zanj while they were striking their drums and singing. When they saw the Messenger of Allah they went silent, so the Messenger of Allah said, ‘O sons of Arfidah, act according to what you have been in, so that the Jews may know that our religion offers ample freedom.’53

In other words, we do not find any evidence from the time of the Prophet (p) that ghinā’ is prohibited, and on the contrary, we find a few reports that are signifying its permissibility.

We need to take these things into consideration so that we can paint a better picture of ghinā’ before we say mere singing without any extra qualities is prohibited. Did we not say yesterday that according to Sayyid Khū’ī majority of the narrations on the topic are weak? Muqaddas Ardibillī also says, ‘I did not even find one authentic narration prohibiting ghinā’’ – although we do not agree with Muqaddas on this matter, but nevertheless we had jurists who believed there is nothing strong to rely on to outlaw ghinā’ in absolute terms.

In I‘lām al-Wara it is recorded that when the Prophet (p) came to Medina the women of Anṣār of Banū Najjār were singing lines of poetry for the Prophet (p) and he (p) thanked them. Some reports say Abū Bakr was upset and tried to stop these women and the Prophet (p) said to not be so tough on people. If you do not want to accept this report, then there is another report in al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah where women and children sang tala‘ al-badr ‘alaynā, to which the Prophet (p) said he (p) loves them.

These are reports that exist in the works of history, why do the jurists not take these into consideration? Even if they end up concluding these are weak and cannot be used to prove anything, but at the very least this is a topic that needs research in order to determine the Prophet’s (p) stance on ghinā’ during his time.

Red Lines on Ghinā’

As per our discussion, we conclude there are four red lines when it comes to ghinā’:

  1. Ghinā’ whose singing style is such that it takes a person out of their general normal state into an abnormal or intoxicating-like state. This is prohibited both based on the intellect and as well as according to the sharī‘ah. This is usually when ghinā’ is accompanied with ṭarab, nice sound etc. This view was held by Jāmi‘ Namāzī and Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥusayn Kāshif al-Ghiṭā’.
  2. The contents of ghinā’ cannot be problematic and prohibited, or else it will become an instance of qawl al-zūr.
  3. The singer should not have the motivation to misguide people – iḍlāl ‘an sabīlillah – even if the contents of it are not problematic per say, it is still prohibited.
  4. The atmosphere of where ghinā’ takes place cannot be a problematic gathering, such as a mixed gathering, or where lewd behaviour is taking place, or alcohol is being served and so on.

The issue of singing and music is a very important discussion to be held in our time. Whether it is prohibited, or permissible, whether you think it is good or bad, at the end of the day it is something that has become a part and parcel of human life. In the past, singing and music was not a widespread matter, unlike today due to technology and all sorts of different instruments that exist, and how easily it is disseminated.

Given this scenario, it is a matter that needs to be addressed and investigated extensively so we can figure out the clear red lines of the matter through Islamic sources. I wish we had great scholars like Shahīd Beheshtī or Shahīd Muṭahharī today who would be able to use their academic strength, moral courage and freedom of expression to openly discuss matters like this.

What we have been telling people is that ghinā’ is from the major sins. Even if it is a sin, why is it a major sin? They will respond that Allah (swt) has promised hellfire and punishment for engaging in it. However, Quran has not even mentioned ghinā’ in the Quran so where did He (swt) promise hell-fire for it? They will recite the verses we recited in our lessons, but we have shown that a very specific type of ghinā’, that becomes an instance of lahw al-ḥadīth that causes misguidance, that is a major sin, not ghinā’ qua ghinā’ in all of its forms.

What is unfortunate is when you ask people whether other things like eating and wasting the wealth of people in a country is a major sin or not, they will say no, because Allah (swt) has not promised punishment for it. Instead, they will say only eating and wasting the wealth of orphans is a major sin since it is mentioned in the Quran – but eating the wealth of an entire nation is not a major sin! Is this really acceptable? That eating the wealth of orphans is a major sin, but destroying an entire nation and community of people by looting their wealth is not a major sin?

Our sensitives on these matters need to be reasonable and sensible. When we look at the life of Imam ‘Alī (a) we see how sensitive he is over someone even stealing something from a lady – whether she is a Muslim or non-Muslim – then if that person dies, they will be deserving of it. How can we ignore all these incidents and show extra sensitivity to matters that are in fact very much open to revisiting, discussion and investigation?

We have taken a sin that was very restricted to specific conditions and have expanded its concept so much that we end up telling people that all forms of ghinā’ are absolutely prohibited. For example, consider this response by Ayatullah Muḥammad Hādī Mīlānī when he was asked:

It is impermissible.54

What happens when we create this atmosphere? Religious people are completely out of touch with this field, they do not specialize in it, even in its permissible form as it is seen as taboo, and instead irreligious people or those who are not too concerned with opinions of jurists enter into these fields and control what is promoted in society. Sayyid Khamenei who has a lot more experience in this field has also alluded to this problem, even before the revolution he had familiarity with the subject.

متأسفانه هدف موسیقی در شرق، منظورم ایران و کشورهای عربی است وگرنه از وضعیت موسیقی در هند و چین و سایر ممالک خاور دور، خبر ندارم. به هر حال، تاریخ موسیقی ایران در طول قرون ممتد – چه قبل و چه بعد از اسلام – را خوانده‌ام و از سیر و سرنوشت موسیقی عرب – به خصوص بعد از اسلام – مطلعم. آنچه بر اساس مطالعات خودم می‌توانم بگویم، این است که موسیقی در منطقه ما، برای هدف‌های متعالی به کار نرفته است و این به خلاف سیر موسیقی در اروپاست.

می‌دانید که من به طور طبیعی از جمله آدم‌های غرب‌ستیزم. چنانکه هیچ ویژگی غرب، مرا مبهوت و مجذوب نمی‌کند. در عین حال، ویژگی‌های مثبت غرب را از روی محاسبه، تأیید می‌کنم. یکی از آن ویژگی‌ها، مقوله موسیقی است.

درست است که در غرب، موسیقی‌های منحط وجود دارد. اما در همان نقطه از جهان، از دیر باز موسیقی های آموزنده و معنا دار هم بوده است؛ موسیقی ای که برای گوش سپردن به آن، انسان عارف واقف خردمند، می تواند بلیت تهیه کند، در سالن اجرای کنسرت بنشیند و ساعتی، از آن لذت ببرد. در غرب موسیقی هایی که گاهی یک ملت را نجات داده و گاهی یک مجموعه فکری را به سمت صحیح هدایت کرده، کم نبوده است. غرب برخوردار از چنین ویژگی‌ای نیز بوده و هست.

Unfortunately, the objective of music in the East – and by that I mean Iran and Arab countries, otherwise I do not have information on the status of music in India, China and other countries in the region, while I have studied the history of music in Iran over the centuries, before and after Islam, and am aware of the status of Arabic music, especially after Islam – as per my studies I can say that music in our region has not been used for transcendental objectives, and this is unlike the journey of music in Europe. As you know, naturally I am amongst those who are not fond of the West, because no quality of the West leaves me in awe nor attracts me. Nevertheless, I acknowledge the positive qualities of the West as per my analysis, and one of those qualities is music.

It is true that in the West degenerate music exists, but at the same time, they did have informative and meaningful music, music that a wise mystic person can buy a ticket to listen to, sit in a concert hall and enjoy for hours. In the West, there have been many types of music that have sometimes saved a nation and sometimes guided a set of ideas in the right direction. The West has had and still has such a feature.55

If we had encouraged and promoted religious people to enter this field, we could have been able to do a lot of positive work in society using this tool. I wish there was more time to expand and discuss this topic in much more length.


  1. Sharḥ al-Qawā‘id, pg. 37.
  2. Miftāh al-Karāmah, vol. 12, pg. 179.
  3. Al-Kāfī, vol. 6, pg. 435.
  4. Al-Makāsib al-Muḥarrama by Muḥammad ‘Alī Arākī, pg. 167.
  5. Jawāhir al-Kalām, vol. 22, pg. 50.
  6. Al-Badr al-Zāhir fī Ṣalāt al-Jumu‘ah wa al-Musāfir, transcriptions by Ayatullah Muntaẓarī.
  7. Vol. 6, pg. 435.
  8. Vol. 2, pg. 84.
  9. Al-Bayān fī Tafsīr al-Qurān, pg. 22.
  10. Mawsū‘ah al-Imām al-Khū’ī (al-Makāsib al-Muḥarrama), vol. 35, pg. 473.
  11. Ḥāshīya al-Makāsib, vol. 1, pg. 89.
  12. He says: “You have learned that the prima-facie of the verses do not signify on the ruling of ghinā’, but the exegesis of the Imam (a) and its application on ghinā’ signifies that it is from the inner meanings of the verses which no one knows except one in whose homes the Quran was revealed.”
  13. Pg. 45.
  14. Al-Makāsib al-Muḥarrama by Muḥammad ‘Alī Arākī, pg. 176.
  15. Vol. 6, pg. 112
  16. Pg. 64.
  17. Al-Makāsib, vol. 1, pg. 296
  18. Mustanad al-Shī‘a, vol. 14, pg. 134
  19. Vol. 5, pg. 119
  20. Jāmi‘ al-Madārik, vol. 3, pg. 20.
  21. Vol. 5, pg. 276. Translation from, chapter 5, verses 15-19, pg. 96.
  22. Al-Istī‘āb of Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, vol. 2, pg. 276; al-‘Iqd al-Farīd of Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih vol. 4, pg. 402 & 7, pg. 165; Nayl al-Awṭār, of Imam al-Shawkānī, vol. 8, pg. 105.
  23. See translation of al-Muqaddimah by Franz Rosenthal, chapter on The craft of singing and music.
  24. Al-Mufaṣṣal fī Tārīkh al-‘Arab Qabl al-Islām, vol. 9, pg. 106.
  25. Tārīkh Adabīyāt Īrān.
  27. Risālah fī Taḥrīm al-Ghinā’, pg. 2
  28. Vol. 5, pg. 160.
  29. Vol. 8, pg. 117.
  30. Rasā’il al-Jāḥiẓ, vol. 2, Kitāb al-Qiyān, Pg. 159
  31. Al-Khilāf, vol. 6, pg. 305
  32. Al-Fiqh ‘ala al-Madhāhib al-Arba‘ah, vol. 2, pg. 41.
  33. Ibid., pg. 43
  34. Al-Mughni, by Ibn Qudāmah, vol. 10, pg. 155.
  35. Irshād al-Ṭālib fī Sharḥ al-Makāsib, vol. 1, pg. 334.
  36. Vol. 6, pg. 433
  37. Al-Makāsib al-Muḥarramah, vol. 1, pg. 359.
  38. Pg. 94
  39. Jāmi‘ al-Madārik fī Sharḥ al-Mukhtaṣar al-Nāfi‘, vol. 3, pg. 18.
  40. Al-‘Iqd al-Farīd, vol. 7, pg. 8.
  41. Usd al-Ghābah, vol. 7, pg. 210.
  42. Vol. 6, pg. 432.
  43. Mustanad al-Shī‘a fī Aḥkām al-Sharī‘ah, vol. 14, pg. 137
  44. Vol. 6, pg. 433.
  45. See al-Kāfī, vol. 6, pg. 431; al-Wāfī, vol. 17, pg. 205; al-Wasā’il, vol. 17, pg. 303; al-Mustadrak, vol. 13, pg. 212; al-Biḥār, vol. 76 pg. 239 onwards.
  46. Majma‘ al-Fā’idah wa al-Burhān, vol. 8, pg. 59.
  47. Mawsū‘ah al-Imām al-Khū’ī, vol. 35, pg. 473
  48. Vol. 5, pg. 119
  49. Al-Kāfī, vol. 5, pg. 120.
  50. Ghinā wa Mawsīqī
  51. Mafhūm Ghinā’ye Ḥarām
  52. Masā’il ‘Alī b. Ja‘far, pg. 156.
  53. Pg. 157.
  54. Dīdgāh-hāye ‘Ilmī: Pāsukh beh Pursesh-hāye Fiqhī, Kalāmī, Falsafī, ‘Irfānī, Tafsīrī wa Tārīkhī
  55. Itmām-e Ḥujjat Rahbar-e Inqilāb Darbāreh Mawsīqī wa Konsart, ISNA.