Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Musical Instruments | Lesson 6

We have been discussing whether these narrations are considering musical instruments on their own prohibited in an absolute manner, or are they speaking about it from the perspective of lahw. Although we have very briefly gone over this discussion in the previous lesson, in this lesson we will summarize some of the points and reiterate the significance of this discussion.

Let us look at two verdicts by jurists so we can understand how these discussions impact their conclusions:

1) In one verdict, Ayatullah Gulpaygani considers music – absolutely – prohibited, and it does not matter whether it is being played at a wedding, or in war, in a mourning ceremony, in segregated or unsegregated gatherings etc.

2) In one verdict, Ayatullah Khū’ī considers only that music prohibited which is lahwi instead of all musical instruments as problematic like music played in mourning gatherings, or war etc.

These two jurists arrived at different conclusions and after our discussions so far, we can see how they arrived at these two conclusions. The first jurist studied the narrations and understood them to be considering all musical instruments prohibited, whereas the second jurist understood them to be problematic only when they are used as lahw.

When we have narrations that seem to point toward both positions, we have to find some contextual indicators by which we can prefer one interpretation over the other.

a) One of the indicators we can consider here are the words in the narrations themselves. When we look at the usage of the words, we do not find a narration that refers to these prohibited objects as “musical instruments”, instead what we find is “instruments of lahw”. This is very important because this phrase itself emphasizes the dimension of lahw in musical instruments. While specific names of musical instruments are mentioned in narrations, but when the Arabs would refer to them as a category, they would refer to them as instruments of lahw as that is where these instruments would often be used.

Our narrations have used these musical instruments in that same context, where these instruments were used for purposes of lahw. Hence, the issue with Ayatullah Gulpaygani’s verdict is that he says anything that is considered “music” is prohibited, whereas there is no narration that such says a thing in our literature. In order to be consistent with the narrations, he should have said anything that is considered “an instrument of lahw” is prohibited.

Even when look at the early dictionaries, we notice how authors of those books would define these musical instruments as instruments of lahw, they would not refer to them as “musical” instruments. This heedlessness from understanding the context of that time, and how they were using these words and phrases, leads a conclusion which is not precise and accurate.

If we were to look at the entire set of narrations on this subject from this perspective, we realize that there is no contradiction between these reports to begin with.

b) The Quran also uses the word lahw for musical instruments:

وَإِذَا رَأَوْا۟ تِجَـٰرَةً أَوْ لَهْوًا ٱنفَضُّوٓا۟ إِلَيْهَا وَتَرَكُوكَ قَآئِمًا ۚ قُلْ مَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ خَيْرٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهْوِ وَمِنَ ٱلتِّجَـٰرَةِ ۚ وَٱللَّهُ خَيْرُ ٱلرَّٰزِقِينَ

[62:11] When some Muslims see a trade or entertainment they disperse, going out towards it and leave you, O Messenger, standing on the pulpit. Say, O Messenger-: The recompense for righteous action with Allah is better than the trade and entertainment that you go out towards. Allah is the best of providers.

Even our exegetes such as ‘Allāmah say entertainment here is a reference to people playing certain musical instruments, yet you see the Quran referring to them as lahw.

c) A third contextual indicator are some of the narrations themselves. One of the narrations was by A‘mash cited earlier, where Imam Ṣādiq (a) says:

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

Another narration is recorded in Da‘ā’im al-Islām1 from Imam Ṣādiq (a) where he says:

وَ عَنْهُ ع أَنَّهُ قَالَ: مَرَّ بِي أَبِي رِضْوَانُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْهِ وَ أَنَا غُلَامٌ صَغِيرٌ وَ قَدْ وَقَفْتُ عَلَى زَمَّارِينَ وَ طَبَّالِينَ وَ لَعَّابِينَ أَسْتَمِعُ فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِي وَ قَالَ لِي مُرَّ لَعَلَّكَ مِمَّنْ شَمِتَ بِآدَمَ فَقُلْتُ وَ مَا ذَاكَ يَا أَبَتِ فَقَالَ هَذَا الَّذِي تَرَاهُ كُلُّهُ مِنَ‏ اللَّهْوِ وَ اللَّعِبِ‏ وَ الْغِنَاءِ إِنَّمَا صَنَعَهُ إِبْلِيسُ شَمَاتَةً بِآدَمَ حِينَ أُخْرِجَ مِنَ الْجَنَّةِ.

Imam Ṣādiq (a) says when he was a small boy, him and his father (a) were walking until he – Imam Ṣādiq – stopped by a group of people to listen to them playing musical instruments and watch their entertainment. My father grabbed my hand and said, “Keep walking, perhaps you will become from those who rejoiced at Adam.” So I (a) said to him, “What do you mean O my father?”. He (a) replied, “All of what you see is from lahw, la‘ib, and ghinā’, which Iblīs created in order to rejoice Adam’s expulsion from heaven.”

Someone can say this narration is weak in its chain of transmission,2 however we are not citing this narration to prove a ruling, rather we are using this report to investigate the usage of words and their meanings from early texts.

d) Another contextual indicator is to look at the opinions of the jurists, particularly those jurists who were known for a lot of affinity with the narrations or their mother tongue was Arabic. We are not citing these scholars to derive a jurisprudential conclusion because their ijtihād is not binding on us, but we can look at their words to see how they were understanding different words and phrases.

When we look at the words of Shaykh Mufīd, Shaykh Ṭūsī, Abu Ṣalāh al-Ḥalabī, Ibn Idrīs al-Ḥillī, Ibn Barrāj and many other jurists, all consider these musical instruments as instruments of lahw.3

e) Another contextual indicator is to cite the concept of inṣirāf, which we have alluded to in one of our previous lessons. Some contemporary scholars like Shaykh Makārim Shīrāzī4 believe this is the strongest contextual indicator to for the position that musical instruments were only being considered prohibited in these narrations due to their dimension of lahw. The assumption here is that because these instruments were so prevalent in their use of lahw, this is what the narrations are speaking about and addressing.

Shaykh Makārim says because the benefit of these instruments in lahw was more prevalent, we must understand these reports in that way. The example he gives is if a narration says alcohol is prohibited, we understand that its prevalent benefit is its consumption and hence drinking it is prohibited, not using it as antiseptic alcohol. Likewise, the non-prevalent use of musical instruments will not be prohibited.

We have an observation on the way Shaykh Makārim has tried to cite inṣirāf as a contextual indicator. When narrations say alcohol is prohibited, the prevalent use of it is drinking; when narrations say gambling tools are prohibited, the prevalent use of it is to play with those tools; likewise, when musical instruments such as barbaṭ is prohibited, the prevalent use of it is to play and hit these instruments. If someone uses these instruments for non-prevalent use such as carrying food or cooking food, that would not be problematic, but the prevalent use of these instruments is in them being used. In this case, it would not matter whether these instruments are used in entertainment gatherings or in war.

Therefore, inṣirāf the way Shaykh Makārim has explained is not very accurate and perhaps there is a different way to explain this aspect.

There is one more contextual indicator that we can add to this list and that is what we will address in the next lesson.


  1. Vol. 2, pg. 209
  2. While looking into this narration further, I came across the Baḥth al-Khārij transcripts of Ayatullah Asharfī Shaḥrūdī, who denies this report on the basis that it implies the Imam (a) at a young age was listening to music whereas theologically speaking the Imams – even at a young age – are protected from impurities and sins.
  3. Ustādh Mahallatī quotes the opinions from the works of some of these jurists, but I have omitted them for brevity.
  4. Kitāb al-Tijārah, pg. 354