Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Musical Instruments | Lesson 2

Our jurists generally begin their discussions based on the narrations, whereas we have reiterated many times that a discussion should begin with the intellect, then the Quran, and then eventually the hadith. We have explained this order in other discussions. Many jurists think since we have a plethora of narrations on numerous topics from the Ahl al-Bayt (a), unlike the Ahl al-Sunnah, that we are needless from having to resort to the intellect or even the Quran, and can go directly to the narrations to determine our answer. This approach is used in the topic of musical instruments as well, but it has been critiqued, as I highlighted in the previous lesson.

We want to address whether the intellect says anything about musical instruments. The intellect does not say anything about the actual instances of musical instruments on their own, rather the intellect can possibly give a judgement on a category and concept which is then applied on an instance. Do we have a concept that is applied on musical instruments which the intellect considers problematic? We said there are two concepts; one is lahw. Lahw is different than musical instruments such as tambourine and drum; rather what we do with those instruments can be deemed lahw.

We have to address two issues:

1) Can we universally say lahw is rationally detested and legally prohibited?

2) If such a major premise is established by the intellect or religion, can we consider the use of musical instruments an instance of lahw?

Both of these questions have to be addressed. As for the first premise, our jurists have discussed this matter and we cited the opinion of Ayatullah Borūjerdī in our last lesson. Ayatullah Borūjerdī said the intellect does not say every lahw is universally detested, rather only certain degrees of lahw are detested by the intellect. He said, that lahw which takes a person out of their normal state is considered detested and problematic. A large number of our scholars have accepted this opinion. If we also side with this opinion, we will not be able to say musical instruments are rationally detested, rather only their use in a way which takes a person out of their normal state would be considered lahw that is rationally detested and religiously prohibited.

A second take on lahw is offered by Shaykh Anṣārī in his al-Makāsib. He agrees lahw is problematic, but says we need to identify its definition:

و لكن الإشكال في معنى اللّهو، فإنّه إن أُريد به مطلق اللعب كما يظهر من الصحاح و القاموس؛ فالظاهر أنّ القول بحرمته شاذّ مخالف للمشهور و السيرة؛

1) But the problem is in the meaning of lahw, for if it means absolutely any form of idle play as it is apparent from al-Ṣiḥāḥ and al-Qāmūs, then apparently considering this prohibited is extremely odd and against the popular view and practice (of the Muslims).


ما يكون عن بَطَرٍ و فسّر بشدّة الفرح كان الأقوى تحريمه، و يدخل في ذلك الرقص و التصفيق، و الضرب بالطشت بدل الدفّ، و كلّ ما يفيد فائدة آلات اللهو.

2) That which is from baṭar, which is explained as extreme happiness, then the stronger opinion is its prohibition, and under this definition matters like dance and clapping, and hitting a dish instead of a ṭabl, and all that which conveys the same use of musical instruments.

و لو جعل مطلق الحركات التي لا يتعلق بها غرض عقلائي مع انبعاثها عن القوى الشهوية، ففي حرمته تردد.

3) If it is defined as all forms of movement which have no reasonable objective, while it originates from strong carnal desires, then there is a doubt in its prohibition.1

Shaykh Anṣārī does not give any evidence or contextual indicator for why he sides with the second definition. Why is it not possible to go with a lesser degree of lahw? How did Shaykh Anṣārī conclude that extreme happiness is prohibited or that Islam deems it problematic? This is very strange. Did Prophet Ya‘qūb (a) not feel extreme happiness when he meets Prophet Yūsuf (a)? How about the extreme happiness that families felt after the 8-year war when many prisoners of war returned back to their homes after years? The daughter of Imam Khumaynī, Zahrā Muṣṭafawī narrates – and I am citing this from one medium – that when the revolution was victorious, I was at Masjid ‘Alawī with Imam Khumaynī where they announced the victory, and Imam Khumaynī began clapping due to extreme happiness that he felt.

Is Shaykh Anṣārī arriving at this definition through its instances? If that is the case, then we have to determine whether the instances he mentions are even prohibited to begin with, such as clapping or dancing. When we discuss dancing, we will cite a narration from Sakūnī, and will cite the opinion of some scholars such as Sayyid Khū’ī who believes not all forms of dance are prohibited.

It is for this reason that Sayyid Khū’ī critiques Shaykh Anṣārī and says:

انا لا نعرف وجها صحيحا لما ذكره المصنف (رحمه الله) من تقوية حرمة الفرح الشديد

We do not know an explicit justification for why the author (r) has strengthened the prohibition of extreme happiness.2

Another matter we can raise here is to look at musical instruments from the perspective of corruption (fasād). In other words, the intellect considers anything that causes corruption detested. Once again, we can ask the same two questions again; does the intellect consider anything that causes corruption universally detested and second, are musical instruments an instance of that?

We will not investigate this premise in our lessons, and will just take it for granted and say this principle is correct. However, we will question whether all use of musical instruments are instances of corruption or not. Ayatullah Mīrzā Muḥammad Taqī Shīrāzī (d. 1920) who was known for his knowledge and piety, has this to say about this topic a century ago while commenting on a narration from Tuḥaf al-‘Uqūl which considers certain musical instruments as a source of pure corruption:

و فيه الفساد محضا ان اريد بالفساد المفاسد الظاهرة لاهل العرف لاسموم القاتلة و الحياوانات المؤذية و الايذاء و الشتم و النميمة و نحوها من المفاسد المتبينة، فانتفائها معلوم في غالب افراد اللهو، بل كثير منها مما ينتفع بها و يتعلق بها الاغراض العقلايئة

If what is meant by corruption are those apparent forms of corruption that are known by people such as lethal poisons, or animals that can hurt you, or harm, abuse, slander and other forms of clear corruption, then their absence is known in most instances of lahw. Rather, most of those instances can be of benefit and people use them for reasonable objectives.3

This is being said at a time when musical instruments still had not become mainstream amongst religious communities, and religious people would most definitely stay away from them and would see their use as prohibited and in a negative light.

In conclusion, neither the concept of lahw nor the concept of corruption are intellectually applicable on instances of musical instruments universally and in an absolute manner. This is the conclusion many great contemporary jurists have also arrived at, including Imam Khumaynī.

What are we meant to do with the narration in Tuḥaf al-‘Uqūl? Is there a way to explain it away in a way, by saying that this is a submissive matter, or whether it is speaking of a matter as a al-qaḍīyah al-khārījīyyah. We will explore this report in the next lesson.


  1. al-Makāsib, vol. 2, pg. 47.
  2. Miṣbāḥ al-Fiqāha, vol. 1, pg. 649.
  3. Ḥāshīya on al-Makāsib, pg. 134