Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Musical Instruments | Lesson 3

In our previous lesson, we said that the intellect does not directly comment or give a judgement on specific musical instruments. However, if we consider musical instruments under a certain category which the intellect deems to be detested, then it may be possible to deem it impermissible. Nevertheless, we saw that these categories, such as lahw or corruption are gradational and it is not the case that the intellect considers anything that happens to be an instance of lahw or corruption as impermissible in the Sharī‘a.

We now want to investigate textual evidence, starting with Quranic verses. Some scholars mentioned there was nothing in the Quran on this topic, and this has been the attitude of most of the jurists in this discussion. However, when we refer to the Quran or some narrations under certain verses and as well as opinions of the exegetes, we notice that some verses are linked to the topic of musical instruments.

One of the verses is from Surah Luqman:

وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِى لَهْوَ ٱلْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ

[31:6] And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech to mislead [others] from the way of Allāh without knowledge and who takes it [i.e., His way] in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment.

This verse was used in the topic of singing as well and since we covered this verse and as well as others last year in extensive detail, we will not expand on it again here. Those who said this verse cannot be used to deem singing impermissible, will also say it has nothing to do with musical instruments. However, this is not how Quranic exegetes generally understood it. Consider what ‘Allamah Ṭabrisī and Ṭabātabā’ī have to say about this verse:

يدخل فيه كل شي‌ء يلهي عن سبيل الله‌ و عن طاعته من الأباطيل و المزامير و الملاهي و المعازف

Everything that diverts a person from the path of Allah and His obedience is included in this, such as false reports, wind instruments, instruments of lahw and musical instruments.1

‘Allamah Ṭabātabā’ī says:

اللهو ما يشغلك عما يهمك ، ولهو الحديث : الحديث الذي يلهي عن الحق بنفسه كالحكايات الخرافية والقصص الداعية إلى الفساد والفجور ، أو بما يقارنه كالتغني بالشعر أو بالملاهي والمزامير والمعازف فكل ذلك يشمله لهو الحديث

Lahw is anything which occupies from that which should be your concern, and lahw al-ḥadīth is any statement that diverts you from the truth itself, such as superstitious tales and stories that are corrupt and transgressive, or other similar matters such as singing with problematic poetry, or with instruments of lahw, wind and musical instruments. All of these matters are inclusive of lahw al-ḥadīth.2

This shows that some of the greatest Shi‘i scholars had believed these verses included musical instruments, so we cannot just ignore their opinions and say the Quran has nothing to say about this topic. We should cite these opinions, and if we believe the opinions are weak, then we should critique them and offer an alternative explanation for these verses.

Last year when discussing the topic of singing, we went into detail on the concept of lahw al-ḥadīth and said there are certain conditions for it even if singing is included in it. We will say the same thing here; if this verse is inclusive of musical instruments, then it is only impermissible with the same conditions, such as when it diverts one away from Allah (swt) and leads you to prohibited matters. If that is the case, then this verse is not in conflict nor in contradiction with what the intellect would say. It is not adding or expanding anything to what the intellect deems problematic.

We will therefore move on to the narrations and not spend any more time on the verses, as much of the discussion on lahw al-ḥadīth was done last year when we discussed singing. We want to look at the narrations; the first set of these narrations do not just mention the legal ruling of musical instruments, rather they speak about the negative consequences of using these musical instruments as well.

Consider the first narration:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَعْقُوبَ عَنْ عِدَّةٍ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ خَالِدٍ عَنْ عُثْمَانَ بْنِ عِيسَى عَنْ إِسْحَاقَ بْنِ جَرِيرٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع يَقُولُ‏ إِنَّ شَيْطَاناً يُقَالُ لَهُ الْقَفَنْدَرُ- إِذَا ضُرِبَ فِي مَنْزِلِ الرَّجُلِ أَرْبَعِينَ صَبَاحاً بِالْبَرْبَطِ وَ دَخَلَ عَلَيْهِ الرِّجَالُ وَضَعَ ذَلِكَ الشَّيْطَانُ كُلَ‏ عُضْوٍ مِنْهُ عَلَى مِثْلِهِ مِنْ صَاحِبِ الْبَيْتِ ثُمَّ نَفَخَ فِيهِ نَفْخَةً فَلَا يَغَارُ بَعْدَهَا حَتَّى تُؤْتَى نِسَاؤُهُ فَلَا يَغَارُ.

Imam Ṣadiq (a) said: There is Satan called al-Qafandar. If barbaṭ (a musical instrument) is played in a house for forty days and men come to him then that Satan places every part of his (Satan’s) body on every part of the body of the owner of the house, then blows a blow; and thereafter he will not mind even if people go in on to his women.3

This narration is saying that the problem with using musical instruments is when strange men enter the person’s home to enjoy this entertainment and essentially create an unsegregated atmosphere at home. It is this that is problematic as it impacts the entire family. Although this narration is muwaththaq, it is not saying that a specific musical instrument is prohibited to use, rather it is describing a particular way in which it is being used that is problematic. This is something which the intellect would also consider wrong and problematic as it leads to lewd behaviour and vices.

The second narration which is not as reliable as the first one, but has a similar meaning is as follows:

وَ عَنْهُمْ عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عِيسَى أَوْ غَيْرِهِ عَنْ أَبِي دَاوُدَ الْمُسْتَرِقِّ قَالَ: مَنْ ضُرِبَ فِي بَيْتِهِ بَرْبَطٌ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْماً سَلَّطَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ شَيْطَاناً يُقَالُ لَهُ الْقَفَنْدَرُ- فَلَا يَبْقَى عُضْوٌ مِنْ أَعْضَائِهِ إِلَّا قَعَدَ عَلَيْهِ فَإِذَا كَانَ كَذَلِكَ نُزِعَ مِنْهُ الْحَيَاءُ وَ لَمْ يُبَالِ مَا قَالَ وَ لَا مَا قِيلَ فِيهِ.

Imam Ṣadiq (a) said: If barbaṭ is played in one’s house for forty days Allah gives its control to a Satan called al-Qafandar who sits on every part of the body of the owner of the house. When this happens bashfulness (the sense to feel ashamed of one’s indecent acts) is taken away from him and he does not mind whatever he says or is said about him.4

This narration says that a person’s modesty and bashfulness is taken away when the instrument is used. This seems to be the same narration as the first one and is in context of instruments being used in a problematic atmosphere.

The third narration is not authentic, but it is also like the above narrations since it mentions ethical vices that appear when one uses musical instruments:

وَ عَنْهُمْ عَنْ سَهْلٍ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ مَعْبَدٍ عَنِ الْحَسَنِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ الْجَزَّارِ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ- عَنْ كُلَيْبٍ الصَّيْدَاوِيِّ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع يَقُولُ‏ ضَرْبُ الْعِيدَانِ يُنْبِتُ النِّفَاقَ فِي الْقَلْبِ كَمَا يُنْبِتُ الْمَاءُ الْخُضْرَةَ.

The narrator says, I once heard Imam Ṣādiq (a) saying: Playing ‘Ud (a musical instrument) grows hypocrisy just as water grows green plants.5

The eighth narration in this chapter of al-Wasā’il is as follows, even though it contains narrators that are do not have explicit tawthīq:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَلِيِّ بْنِ الْحُسَيْنِ بِإِسْنَادِهِ عَنْ حَمَّادِ بْنِ عَمْرٍو وَ أَنَسِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنْ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ آبَائِهِ ع فِي وَصِيَّةِ النَّبِيِّ ص لِعَلِيٍّ ع قَالَ: يَا عَلِيُّ ثَلَاثَةٌ يُقَسِّينَ الْقَلْبَ اسْتِمَاعُ اللَّهْوِ وَ طَلَبُ الصَّيْدِ وَ إِتْيَانُ بَابِ السُّلْطَانِ.

Imam Ṣādiq (a) narrates from his forefathers that the Prophet (p) said to ‘Alī (a) in a will: O ‘Alī, three things harden the heart: listening to lahw, desiring to hunt, and going to the door of a Sulṭān.6

This narration also says that listening to lahw hardens the heart and is not speaking of a legal ruling. The eleventh narration from the chapter of al-Wasā’il is also weak, but it is as follows:

وَ فِي الْخِصَالِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَلِيٍّ مَاجِيلَوَيْهِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ يَحْيَى عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ أَحْمَدَ عَنِ السَّيَّارِيِّ رَفَعَهُ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ‏ ع‏ أَنَّهُ سُئِلَ عَنِ السَّفِلَةِ فَقَالَ مَنْ يَشْرَبُ الْخَمْرَ وَ يَضْرِبُ بِالطُّنْبُورِ.

Imam Ṣādiq (a) was asked about a lowly person, and he (a) said: One who drinks alcohol and one who plays with the ṭunbūr.7 

Safila is a lowly person and the Imam (a) is describing someone who plays the ṭunbūr, and as well as someone who drinks alcohol. This narration is not speaking about the legal prohibition of alcohol, rather it is speaking about the characteristics of a person who drinks and plays this specific musical instrument. Imam Riḍā (a) was also once asked about a lowly person and the Imam (a) says it is someone who eats in the marketplace in public. This shows this is not necessarily a legal prohibition, rather the Imam (a) is pointing out an act that is not in accordance with a person’s prestige.

These narrations all speak of musical instruments in specific contexts and when they lead to immoral vices, but do we not have narrations that are more absolute (muṭlaq) and are inclusive of musical instruments regardless of what they lead to? Whether they lead to corruption or lewd behaviour, and whether or not they are being used in problematic atmospheres or not? Do we have any narrations that seem to signify that all of those instances are prohibited?

As per the intellect we said there is nothing wrong with this, neither are the verses absolute. In the next lesson we will look at a number of narrations which seem to appear absolute.


  1. Majma‘ al-Bayān, vol. 8, pg. 490.
  2. al-Mizan, vol. 16, pg. 209.
  3. Wasā’il al-Shī‘a, vol. 17, pg. 312; originally from al-Kāfi.
  4. Wasā’il al-Shī‘a, vol. 17, pg. 313; originally from al-Kāfī.
  5. Ibid.; originally from al-Kāfī.
  6. Wasā’il al-Shī‘a, vol. 17, pg. 314; originally from al-Faqīh.
  7. Ibid.; originally from al-Khiṣāl.