Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Musical Instruments | Lesson 4

In this lesson, we will look at just a few reports jurists entertain when discussing the subject of musical instruments. We will not go through all of them as there are many, some saying there are around forty narrations. Before we get into those narrations, we want to organize them categorically. For students who are new to ḥadīth analysis, it is imperative for them to know that a good practice is to gather similar reports first as this will help you understand the reports holistically.

In our discussion, we will first categorize the reports into those that speak about instruments of lahw, and those that speak specifically about musical instruments. When you categorize narrations like this, it may be possible that you begin to understand that what is relevant in this topic is musical instruments themself, regardless of whether they constitute instruments of lahw or are played in a way that constitutes lahw. However, it may also be possible for you to take instruments of lahw as the relevant criterion, in which case musical instruments will be allowed when they are not used as lahw, such as during war.

In essence, when we put these two categories of narrations in front of us, our goal is to determine which of these sets of narrations have primacy and are conveying the main criterion for prohibition.

Category One

1. Report from ‘Uyūn al-Akhbār in which Imam Riḍā (a) writes a letter to Ma’mūn listing all the key aspects of Islam. Near the end of the letter he writes:

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ الْوَاحِدِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عُبْدُوسٍ النَّيْسَابُورِيُّ الْعَطَّارُ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ بِنَيْسَابُورَ فِي شَعْبَانَ سَنَةَ اثْنَتَيْنِ وَ خَمْسِينَ وَ ثَلَاثِمِائَةٍ قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا عَلِيُّ بْنُ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ قُتَيْبَةَ النَّيْسَابُورِيُّ عَنِ الْفَضْلِ بْنِ شَاذَانَ قَالَ: سَأَلَ الْمَأْمُونُ عَلِيَّ بْنَ مُوسَى الرِّضَا ع أَنْ يَكْتُبَ لَهُ مَحْضَ الْإِسْلَام‏

وَ الِاشْتِغَالُ بِالْمَلَاهِي وَ الْإِصْرَارُ عَلَى الذُّنُوب‏

…and being occupied with instruments of lahw and persisting on sins.

 In one of our other classes, we have already discussed the chain of transmitters of this report so we will not be addressing it here. Shaykh Ṣadūq has narrated this report with a number of chains of transmission, but only one of them is reliable. Of course, there are some scholars like Sayyid Khū’ī who do not consider this report authentic at all.

2. A second report is from Imam Sadiq (a) in which he speaks about the affairs of end of times:

وَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ عَنْ بَعْضِ أَصْحَابِهِ وَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ ابْنِ أَبِي عُمَيْرٍ جَمِيعاً عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ أَبِي حَمْزَةَ عَنْ حُمْرَانَ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع فِي حَدِيثٍ قَال‏

رَأَيْتَ النِّسَاءَ يَبْذُلْنَ أَنْفُسَهُنَّ لِأَهْلِ الْكُفْرِ وَ رَأَيْتَ الْمَلَاهِيَ‏ قَدْ ظَهَرَتْ‏ يُمَرُّ بِهَا لَا يَمْنَعُهَا أَحَدٌ أَحَدا

…you will see women striving hard (to impress) the disbelievers and instruments of lahw will become manifest, while people will pass by them and no one will stop them.

These two reports and others like them speak of instruments of lahw in general and appear to be condemning their use.

Category Two

Some of the reports that speak about musical instruments in particular were already mentioned in the previous lesson. A few more are as follow:

1. One report from Imam Ṣādiq (a) speaks about the reason why the Prophet (p) was sent forth by Allah (swt) and one reason this report mentions is that he (p) came to remove string and wind musical instruments:

مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ يَعْقُوبَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ وَ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ يَحْيَى عَنْ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ وَ عَنْ عِدَّةٍ مِنْ أَصْحَابِنَا عَنْ سَهْلِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ جَمِيعاً عَنِ ابْنِ مَحْبُوبٍ عَنْ خَالِدِ بْنِ جَرِيرٍ عَنْ أَبِي الرَّبِيعِ الشَّامِيِّ قَالَ: سُئِلَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع عَنِ الْخَمْرِ فَقَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص- إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ بَعَثَنِي رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ وَ لِأَمْحَقَ الْمَعَازِفَ وَ الْمَزَامِيرَ وَ أُمُورَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ وَ الْأَوْثَانَ وَ قَالَ أَقْسَمَ رَبِّي‏ لَا يَشْرَبُ عَبْدٌ لِي خَمْراً فِي الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا سَقَيْتُهُ مِثْلَ مَا يَشْرَبُ مِنْهَا مِنَ الْحَمِيمِ مُعَذَّباً أَوْ مَغْفُوراً لَهُ وَ لَا يَسْقِيهَا عَبْدٌ لِي صَبِيّاً صَغِيراً أَوْ مَمْلُوكاً إِلَّا سَقَيْتُهُ مِثْلَ مَا سَقَاهُ مِنَ الْحَمِيمِ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ- مُعَذَّباً بَعْدُ أَوْ مَغْفُوراً لَهُ.

…Allah (swt) has sent me forth as a mercy for the worlds, and to eradicate string and wind instruments, as well as other matters of Jāhilīyyah…

This report also exists in the books of Ahl al-Sunnah such as the Musnad of Ibn Ḥanbal.

3. Imam Ṣādiq (a) has been reported to have said in one narration:

وَ عَنْهُمْ عَنْ سَهْلٍ عَنْ سُلَيْمَانَ بْنِ سَمَاعَةَ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ الْقَاسِمِ عَنْ سَمَاعَةَ قَالَ: قَالَ أَبُو عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع‏ لَمَّا مَاتَ آدَمُ شَمِتَ بِهِ إِبْلِيسُ وَ قَابِيلُ- فَاجْتَمَعَا فِي‏ الْأَرْضِ‏ فَجَعَلَ إِبْلِيسُ وَ قَابِيلُ- الْمَعَازِفَ وَ الْمَلَاهِيَ شَمَاتَةً بِآدَمَ ع- فَكُلُّ مَا كَانَ فِي الْأَرْضِ مِنْ هَذَا الضَّرْبِ الَّذِي يَتَلَذَّذُ بِهِ النَّاسُ فَإِنَّمَا هُوَ مِنْ ذَلِكَ.

Imam Ṣādiq (a) said: When Adam passed away, Iblis and Qābīl rejoiced. They both gathered together and made music instruments and instruments of lahw as tools of rejoicing maliciously against Adam. So anywhere you see these instruments being played on earth by which one seeks pleasure, then it is from that.

4. Perhaps one of the more important narrations is the following report from Imam Ṣādiq (a):

وَ عَنْ عَلِيِّ بْنِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ النَّوْفَلِيِّ عَنِ السَّكُونِيِّ عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص‏ أَنْهَاكُمْ عَنِ الزَّفْنِ وَ الْمِزْمَارِ وَ عَنِ الْكُوبَاتِ وَ الْكَبَرَاتِ.

Imam Ṣādiq (a) said, that the Prophet (p) said: I prohibit you from dancing, wind instruments, string instruments and drums.

This is the only narration we know of that speaks of dancing (zafn), but also mentions musical instruments. This is one of the main narrations jurists use to argue for musical instruments being prohibited absolutely, even when there is no lahw involved.

Recall, that a very similar discussion also exists in the topic of chess, as we have a set of reports that consider gambling prohibited, while a second set speak of chess specifically. Majority of our jurists took the narrations on chess as relevant, while in the last century some jurists began to see chess as an instance of gambling in those reports.

5. Another narration is attributed to Imam ‘Alī (a):

وَ فِي عُيُونِ الْأَخْبَارِ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عُمَرَ الْبَصْرِيِّ عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ الْوَاعِظِ عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ أَحْمَدَ بْنِ عَامِرٍ الطَّائِيِّ عَنْ أَبِيهِ عَنِ الرِّضَا ع فِي حَدِيثِ الشَّامِيِ‏ أَنَّهُ سَأَلَ أَمِيرَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع عَنْ مَعْنَى هَدِيرِ الْحَمَامِ الرَّاعِبِيَّةِ قَالَ تَدْعُو عَلَى أَهْلِ الْمَعَازِفِ وَ الْمَزَامِيرِ وَ الْعِيدَانِ.

Someone asked Imam ‘Alī (a) about the meaning of the noise a pigeon makes, and the Imam (a) said: She invites the people who play instruments of string, wind and sticks.

This report has a weak chain of transmission.

When a jurist looks at this second set of narrations, they have to determine whether they are going to take the absolute nature of the second set as a criterion for prohibition or deem them restricted by the first set of narrations. Many jurists opted to take a precautionary approach as they did not want to give a verdict where musical instruments that are not used for lahw become permissible.

Shaykh Ja‘far Subḥānī in his Kitab al-Shahādāt1 discusses this matter and affirms that the difference of opinion amongst jurists arises due to how one reconciles these two sets of reports. However, he does not explicitly offer his own opinion.

Ways to Reconcile

There are at least two, if not more, ways to reconcile these two set of narrations.

1) One way is by resorting to a third set of reports where musical instruments are mentioned as examples of instruments of lahw. According to these reports, musical instruments are merely problematic due to the aspect of lahw, but if there is no lahw involved, there is no reason to consider them prohibited. Consider the following report:

وَ بِإِسْنَادِهِ عَنِ الْأَعْمَشِ عَنْ جَعْفَرِ بْنِ مُحَمَّدٍ ع فِي حَدِيثِ شَرَائِعِ الدِّينِ قَالَ: وَ الْكَبَائِرُ مُحَرَّمَةٌ وَ هِيَ الشِّرْكُ بِاللَّهِ وَ قَتْلُ النَّفْسِ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ وَ عُقُوقُ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَ الْفِرَارُ مِنَ الزَّحْفِ وَ أَكْلُ مَالِ الْيَتِيمِ ظُلْماً وَ أَكْلُ الرِّبَا بَعْدَ الْبَيِّنَةِ وَ قَذْفُ الْمُحْصَنَاتِ وَ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ الزِّنَا وَ اللِّوَاطُ وَ السَّرِقَةُ وَ أَكْلُ الْمَيْتَةِ وَ الدَّمِ وَ لَحْمِ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَ مَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ مِنْ غَيْرِ ضَرُورَةٍ وَ أَكْلُ السُّحْتِ وَ الْبَخْسُ فِي الْمِيزَانِ وَ الْمِكْيَالِ وَ الْمَيْسِرُ وَ شَهَادَةُ الزُّورِ وَ الْيَأْسُ مِنْ رَوْحِ اللَّهِ وَ الْأَمْنُ مِنْ مَكْرِ اللَّهِ وَ الْقُنُوطُ مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ وَ تَرْكُ مُعَاوَنَةِ الْمَظْلُومِينَ وَ الرُّكُونُ إِلَى الظَّالِمِينَ وَ الْيَمِينُ الْغَمُوسُ وَ حَبْسُ الْحُقُوقِ مِنْ غَيْرِ عُسْرٍ وَ اسْتِعْمَالُ التَّكَبُّرِ وَ التَّجَبُّرُ وَ الْكَذِبُ وَ الْإِسْرَافُ وَ التَّبْذِيرُ وَ الْخِيَانَةُ وَ الِاسْتِخْفَافُ بِالْحَجِّ وَ الْمُحَارَبَةُ لِأَوْلِيَاءِ اللَّهِ وَ الْمَلَاهِي الَّتِي تَصُدُّ عَنْ ذِكْرِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ مَكْرُوهَةٌ كَالْغِنَاءِ وَ ضَرْبِ الْأَوْتَارِ وَ الْإِصْرَارُ عَلَى صَغَائِرِ الذُّنُوب‏

…and instruments of lahw which repel one away from the remembrance of Allah (azwj) are detested, like signing and string instruments…

This report considers using a string instrument as an example of instrument of lahw. Another report is from Tuḥaf al-‘Uqūl which Shaykh Anṣārī also records in the beginning of his al-Makāṣib:

إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ الصِّنَاعَةَ الَّتِي حَرَامٌ هِيَ كُلُّهَا الَّتِي يَجِي‏ءُ مِنْهَا الْفَسَادُ مَحْضاً نَظِيرَ الْبَرَابِطِ وَ الْمَزَامِيرِ وَ الشِّطْرَنْجِ‏ وَ كُلِّ مَلْهُوٍّ بِهِ وَ الصُّلْبَانِ وَ الْأَصْنَامِ وَ مَا أَشْبَهَ ذَلِكَ مِنْ صِنَاعَاتِ الْأَشْرِبَةِ الْحَرَامِ وَ مَا يَكُونُ مِنْهُ وَ فِيهِ الْفَسَادُ مَحْضا

…God has forbidden only the industries that are wholly illegal and that are harmful, such as the manufacturing of musical instruments, chess, every instrument of illegal amusement, crosses, statues…

The report about Adam (a) and Iblis can also be cited as a further indicator. These types of narrations could lead a jurist to attain assurance that the relevant criterion for the prohibition is lahw, not musical instruments on their own.

2) A second way to reconcile is by citing the concept of inṣirāf from the linguistic discussions on legal theory. Mīrzā Muḥammad Taqī Shīrāzī2 alludes to this in his Fiqh discussion when speaking of singing:

و لا دليل على حرمة اللّهو النّوعي و الشّأنيّ‌ في الغناء كما في غيره من آلات اللّهو كما في ضرب الأوتار فإنّ‌ ضرب الأوتار إذا فرض كونه بصوت يمنع منه الأسماع و تتنفّر منه الطّباع من جهة غلظ الصّوت و خشونته أو نحو ذلك لم يعدّ من الملاهي و لم يشمله قوله (- ع -) في تعداد الكبائر و الملاهي الّتي تصدّ عن ذكر اللّه كالغناء و ضرب الأوتار …

…هذا مضافا الى إمكان منع ارادة (- المشهور -) لهذا الإطلاق و التّعميم في موضوع التّحريم و لو فرض شمول لفظ الغناء له لغة لدعوى انصرافه في موضوع أدلّة التّحريم الى ذلك كما سيأتي دعواه من (- المصنف -) (- قدّه -) بل لو فرض إطلاق في الغناء لكان احتمال انصرافه الى خصوص المطرب بالفعل قويّا جدّا كما لا يمكن نسبة إرادة الإطلاق إليهم في ضرب الأوتار لمثل الصّورة المفروضة

There is no evidence for the prohibition of lahw naw‘ī and sha’nī in singing, just like there is no evidence for it in other instruments of lahw such as playing string instruments. If a string instrument is played, and assuming it makes a sound that one’s nature dislikes due to its horrible sound, such a matter is not going to make it an instrument of lahw and is not inclusive of his (a) narration, where he recounts the major sins and considers instruments of lahw that repel one from the remembrance of Allah (swt), like singing and playing string instruments as an instance of that…

This is on top of the possibility that the famous position did not accept the absolute nature (iṭlāq) and generality (ta‘mīm) in the subject-matter of what is prohibited, even if it is assumed that the word ghinā’ is inclusive of all those instances linguistically, due to inṣirāf in the subject-matter of evidence proving prohibition, as it will be reiterated by the author himself.

In fact, even if one assumes iṭlāq in ghinā’, the possibility of its inṣirāf to something which actively delights someone is very seriously strong, and likewise, it is not possible to attribute the view of iṭlāq to the jurists when it comes to playing string instruments in our assumed scenario…

In the next lesson, we will speak about a third possible reconciliation and that is by revisiting our assumptions about the absolute nature – iṭlāq – of these narrations to begin with.



  1. Vol. 2, pg. 258
  2. Ḥāshiyah on al-Makāṣib, pg. 93