The Joy and Pain of Music

pure unadulterated Beauty

One of the deal breakers for me and Orthodox Islam was it’s prohibition against music. While it is a  bit of a contentious issue, the fact is, the overwhelming majority of scholars of past and present have declared it haram. I could never wrap my mind around this idea as I’m a music lover and believe music is one of the greatest gifts we have and one of the most extraordinary inventions we can attribute to our species.

As I said, I never really bought into the idea that music is  forbidden, so I never fully gave it up. However, many Muslims continue to “struggle” with music. I continue to read blogs even today by young muslimahs who are buying into the Salafi mindsets and have been told and believe music is haram. They’ve either shunned it altogether or write about the guilt they feel that they’ve not been able to “give it up”.

 The idea that music is somehow evil and a sin  brought about much anger and it became difficult for me to even listen to something as innocuous as Bach, or any other type of music, even if it was void of sexuality or any subject that is looked down upon by the conservative crowd.  Even music consisting of  sexual overtones or fraught with rebellion or perhaps feminist ideas are a legitimate part of the human experience.  So, I began to see the opinion against music as simply an assault on human thought and emotion, or at least that which doesn’t involve love for Islam, either directly or indirectly.  In this way, as in many others, orthodox Islam seeks to monopolize the human experience by harnessing the emotions of the believer and claiming the only legitimate love and admiration one can have is for Allah, his messenger, his book and the sunnah. Everything else is sin and fuel for the fire.

Indeed, one of the primary reasons given as to why music is haram is because it evokes such strong  human emotion and runs the risk of weakening one’s feelings and love they feel when listening to the Quran. And perhaps that idea is right. Because when I listen to the Barber piece above, I’m sure that the composer who brought forth such a profound piece of beauty was surely very insightful, and my own knowledge of the human condition and existence is fortified more than it ever was by Islam or the Quran.

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29 Comments

Filed under Islam, music, Uncategorized

29 responses to “The Joy and Pain of Music

  1. almostclever

    Absolutely beautiful. This gives me chills. The death of art would be the first symptom of the sickness of a society.

  2. While I bought into the music is haraam thing, in my mind it strangely didn’t apply to classical music and anasheed. I made my music halaal by, as you pointed out, thinking that if it wasa “safe topic” or didn’t lift my heart out higher than my love for the Qur’an, then it was okay. That lasted for a while… longer than necessary. It took my hubby to buy me a saxophone to snap out of it. Actually, it took my depression and lack of love for life for my family and friends to figure out that I needed music back.

    I know one “shouldn’t” think of the Qur’an as a song — but it is a form of music and a good portion of the muslim world uses it as a form of entertainment! There is nothing more sublime or evocative than music. It has the power to heal, sway emotions, support revolutions — and I am a much happier person having music back in my life.

    Is it ironic that my return to the love of music started with Radiohead and ended with an Alice Cooper concert?

    • well that depends. did Alice Cooper bite the head off a chicken and proclaim his love for Satan?

      • Sigh. That’s Ozzie, and it was a bat. The chicken thing was a whole misunderstanding. He thought they could fly, and threw it into the crowd — who promptly tore the poor thing to bits.

        It may be ironic that he’s a fundamentalist Christian and teaches Sunday school though….

  3. The translation of the Quran I read mentioned singing in a good way so I made mention of this on my blog whenever I read it. Muslims talk about OT prophets being “their” prophets and King David was a known musician. The book of Psalms is a Hebrew songbook basically. I never understood this “music is haram” stuff, and I really feel for the ones who buy into that when they convert. Especially if they were music lovers pre-conversion.

  4. Music is the only language, the only creation that all humans, no matter where they live and no matter what beliefs they value, have in common– AND love. But it’s just that some (like certain Muslims) won’t admit it. Even the ones claiming it’s haraam listen to it, which I find very interesting. How do you “sin” knowing that you’re “sinning”?

    But I love music. I live for music. It’s the only thing that has the power, right after my little baby niece, to lift my spirit when I’m down! 😀

  5. I love music! So glad you enjoy it too 🙂

  6. I realize that all kinds of people have all kinds of beliefs — and there may be very good reasons for them. All the same, I’m glad that in my religion music was seen as a way to know and adore God.

  7. Dear Stephanie,
    I would like to comment about your opinion in Music in Islam, since you don’t have such experience in Islam and maybe as you’ve entered into it for short period in your life, you went out ..

    My friend,
    Songs are NOT HARM in islam, and muslims always sing when they have chance to, when they are happy, or in their marriage concerts, or national celebrations, or traveling, or even in wars to motivate themselves..

    The problem is in Music instruments, the basic ones are allowed for women with no problem, but for men so not to spend time on this…
    And music and quran can’t be gathered in one heart, one will push the other out, so it’s better to keep Quran inside, as it’s God’s words..

    Let’s do a test, Listen to the following quran reciting then listen to your music and tell me your opinion, (even if you don’t understand Arabic, it’s not a matter):

    Listen to Chapter of Ibrahim: which I like to listen to it a lot, it likes a consolation to prophet Muhammad (and for all who work to promote Islam too), as he was suffering from his people for years and they didn’t respond to him, imagine after 13 years only 75 accepted Islam of 65,000 people in Makkah !!

    So, this chapter talks about the prophets before Muhammad like Mosses and Ibrahim, and how they suffered too, and what those who fought them will suffer in the afterlife, even it states what SATAN will say to the people who refused Islam and followed him, on the day of Resurrection, blaming him for their bad destiny !!

    Chapter (44) – The Smoke:
    You can read it in English on: http://quran.com/44
    To listen to: http://audio.islamweb.net/audio/listenbox.php?audioid=188165&type=wma

    Chapter (14) – Ibrahim:
    You can read it in English on: http://quran.com/14
    To listen to: http://173.193.202.112/soufi_klf/014.mp3

    Note, when you listen to Quran for the first time, you feel disturbed, IT’S NORMAL, all the devils and spirits around you start vanishing, but within minute you will calm and your heartbeats return to normal, some their eyes turn in tears, they don’t know why, but it’s their spirits crying when they listen to their God’s words, they understand it even if they don’t speak Arabic, becuase they miss him …

    A German young man cried when listened to Quran

    Note, if you have problem in calming your children, especially small ones, you can put quran for them in very quite voice and see how they sleep in no time, believe me, my 4 years old daughter told me that !! I copied some small chapters on her psp and she listens to them and sleep in minutes..

    About the spirits, if you like to read about “why we feel God” Part 1,2,3 on:
    http://debatewithatheist.blogspot.com/

    Also, there is 3 parts for the story of Creation on the same blog, if you are interested.

    Regards,

  8. Sig

    == Orthodox Islam seeks to monopolize the human experience by harnessing the emotions of the believer and claiming the only legitimate love and admiration one can have is for Allah, his messenger, his book and the sunnah. Everything else is sin and fuel for the fire.==

    Nail, your head has been hit by Stephanie. In some circles, it’s so intense that you’re made to feel bad about loving your children or parents “too much” (and there is always someone, be it a shaykh or a busybody ‘friend’) to remind you that you have to cut ties with even your closest blood relatives if they do something ‘haram.’

    == Indeed, one of the primary reasons given as to why music is haram is because it evokes such strong human emotion and runs the risk of weakening one’s feelings and love they feel when listening to the Quran. ==

    I was told straight out from the start that the reason music is haram is that it can stir up emotions and that excessive emotion is a bad thing. It’s okay to cry for the love of allah or rasool, but crying over a child will get you “Patience is at the first blow,” let alone crying from seeing or hearing something excessively beautiful like music or art. What’s funny to me is that I first heard this from salafis or proto-salafis many years ago, but in the last decade or so before I quit the deen, I heard it from sufis too. Same shit, different sect.

  9. Abdallah

    My friend Sig,

    Please don’t INVENT in ISLAM, there is nothing called Islam Orthodox, you are mixing your beliefs before Islam with Islam, and you are getting very weird and un-tasty cocktail, and since you left Deen, I advise that you start again from the beginning and reset everything in your mind, and don’t be affected with what muslims do because of their traditions !!!!!!!

    We are 1.6 billion from all over the world and increasing day after day, every time you see muslim doing something new for you, ask him this is from Islam or from your traditions? then follow what is the in the books only.

    About Islam forbidden Music because it moves emotions, listen to the following Islamic songs (all translated to English) and see if they’ll move your emotions or not?

    Beauty of Islam (Proud being Muslim)

    Ramadan Nasheed (happiness)

    I am the servant (hope)

    Dust is my bed (sadness & hope)

    Want to Cry, listen to this Turkish Child Poem:

    The following with simple music instruments

    Brighter than Sun

    My Islam is colorful and beautiful

    My Islam is tolerant

    My Islam is refined

    Enjoy..

  10. N.

    I find most anasheed to be very dull and insipid, but for pious Muslims desperately seeking a ‘pure’ alternative of that devilish filth called music, it’s a godsend. I feel especially sorry for Muslims who love music from the depths of their souls, yet are told it’s an abomination which distances them from Allah. My uncle is one of them; from his constant back and forth shifts between abstinence from, and indulgence in, music, it’s obvious that this issue is a source of torment for him.

    By the way, Adagio For Springs is one of the most incredible pieces of music my ears have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, totally blows any Quran recitation right out the window, along with the anasheeds above that Abdallah has inflicted upon this page.

    Cheers.

  11. Qur’an, like music, is totally subjective. While I quite happen to like Mishary Rashid al-Efasi, and twice had the honour of praying the last 10 nights of Ramadaan behind him, other recitations really grate on me. Some put me to sleep, not because they’re peaceful.. but because they’re quite boring. There’s one reciter (the name escapes me) who sounds like a young child, and he shouts so loudly and shrilly, it’s like raking nails on a blackboard.

    When it comes to English anasheed, I’ve learned to become selective… sadly to the point of not listening at all. Just like I monitor what the baby watches on TV in terms of videos and advertising, I’ve learned to be watchful of Islamic-themed songs calling all non-Muslims kaafir, extolling the virtues of hijab — or non-English songs with gunshots and explosions in the background singing the praises of martyrs. *Shudder*

    Sami Yusuf is okay — but at the moment we’re reliving the Sufi and Jesuit performance troop Le Cercle de l’extase (The Circle of Extacy), who blend Sufi and Gregorian chanting into a lovely dialogue.

    • I agree some Quran recitations can be very beautiful, but as I said before when I learn that the meaning of the verse is speaking of eternal torture, or God’s vengence or jinn or just some random and obsolete social guidline, it always unsettles me a bit.

      The only nasheed I could ever tolerate was Sami Yusuf with musical instruments. I really dislike the rest of what I’ve heard, or at least I much prefer other types of music.

  12. Abdallah

    N.

    Believe me, we “Muslims” who feel sorry for you and for all people like you..
    And please, when you talk about Quran, which is your God and Creator words, try to select your words very carefully, use polite words..
    About throwing from the windows, remember when you stand in front of your God on the day of Judgment, and ask you: why you didn’t believe, then what you will say ??

    Actually there will be the Angels of the Day of Judgment, who are fierce from all infidels they will not wait your excuses, they will shoot you in Hell immediately…

    Read the following, so you expect what will happen to you, unless ALLAH wishes to guide you and open your heart and mind to Islam, otherwise you are among the unfortunate people…

    And for those who disbelieve in their Lord (Allâh) is the torment of Hell, and worst indeed is that destination (6)
    When they are cast therein, they will hear the (terrible) drawing in of its breath as it blazes forth (7)
    It almost bursts up with fury. Every time a group is cast therein, its keeper will ask: “Did no warner come to you?” (8)
    They will say: “Yes indeed a warner did come to us, but we belied him and said: ‘Allâh never sent down anything (of revelation), you are only in great error.'” (9)
    And they will say: “Had we but listened or used our intelligence, we would not have been among the dwellers of the blazing Fire!” (10)
    Then they will confess their sin. So, away with the dwellers of the blazing Fire (11) [Al-Mulk]

    Read too, what will happen to you because of denying Quran and mocking on muslims:

    Until, when death comes to one of them (those who join partners with Allâh), he says: “My Lord! Send me back, (99)
    “So that I may do good in that which I have left behind!” No! It is but a word that he speaks, and behind them is Barzakh (a barrier) until the Day when they will be resurrected. (100)
    Then, when the Trumpet is blown, there will be no kinship among them that Day, nor will they ask of one another. (101)
    Then, those whose scales (of good deeds) are heavy, – these, they are the successful. (102)
    And those whose scales (of good deeds) are light, they are those who lose their ownselves, in Hell will they abide. (103)
    The Fire will burn their faces, and therein they will grin, with displaced lips (disfigured). (104)
    “Were not My Verses (this Qur’ân) recited to you, and then you used to deny them?” (105)
    They will say: “Our Lord! Our wretchedness overcame us, and we were (an) erring people. (106) “Our Lord! Bring us out of this; if ever we return (to evil), then indeed we shall be Zâlimûn: (polytheists, oppressors, unjust, and wrong-doers).” (107)
    He (Allâh) will say: “Remain you in it with ignominy! And speak you not to Me!” (108)
    Verily! there was a party of My slaves, who used to say: “Our Lord! We believe, so forgive us, and have mercy on us, for You are the Best of all who show mercy!” (109)
    But you took them for a laughingstock, so much so that they made you forget My Remembrance while you used to laugh at them! (110)
    Verily! I have rewarded them this Day for their patience, they are indeed the ones that are successful. (111)
    He (Allâh) will say: “What number of years did you stay on earth?” (112) T
    hey will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day. Ask of those who keep account.” (113)
    He (Allâh) will say: “You stayed not but a little, if you had only known! (114)
    “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” (115)

    • Abdullah, if someone doesn’t believe the Quran is the word of God, it really makes little sense to use it as evidence to bolster God’s supposed threats to his creation. If I used quotes from the Avesta to admonish you on behalf of Ahura Mazda, would that mean anything to you? It’s the same for us non believers in Islam.

      • “About throwing from the windows, remember when you stand in front of your God on the day of Judgment, and ask you: why you didn’t believe, then what you will say ??”

        But don’t you believe that Allah controls who will believe and who won’t?

        “As to those who reject Faith it is the same to them whether thou warn them or do not warn them; They will not believe. “Allah hath set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing and on their eyes is a veil Great is the penalty they incur.” [Al-Qur’an 2:6-7]

        I’d ask Allah why he made me not believe and now is punishing me for it. Also, according to your own book, it doesn’t matter if you warn me or not I still won’t believe. So I wonder why you continue in this dialogue?

        • michele

          @Stephanie, though I feel Abdallah’s posts border on the ridiculous, it is YOU who made the choice not to believe, not Allah, if there’s nothing on the other side you are in good shape and if there is, I think we will all be judged according to our actions in our lifetime. No one knows who will or won’t be punished for anything, allahu alim. However, I would be concerned if I was trying to lead others away from belief while indulging my own personal choices.

          • could you choose to believe in Christianity, or Hinduism, or Wiccan? I don’t know that believe is necessarily a choice. I did choose to allow myself to explore my own doubts and questions, and well this is where it got me. Just as Muslims write about their experiences or mom’s write on the “mommy blogs” or cooks write about food, I too am writing about my experiences. Because Islam is my major frame of reference regarding religion ( I never really practiced Christianity in any practical sense) then you will see me write about my thoughts juxtaposed with Islamic theology. I can tell you dislike it strongly, but that’s your issue, not mine. As I said before, everyone enters my blog in their own free will. I am not forcing my belief (or lack thereof) on anyone. Many Muslims post here and engage in rather interesting dialogue without the accusatory tone. I respect them and some I consider friends.

          • michele

            You post your blog under tags like Islam, Muslims, etc. This is how many, including me, probably found it. If you are not interested in Islam anymore, why try to engage those looking for Islamic friendships, blogs, info, etc? Why not blog and communicate with other non-Muslims, apostates, et?

          • Much of this blog is about Islam but because it is in a light that you don’t approve of you raise objections to the way I tag my posts? There are apostates who post here, just as there are liberal Muslims (who by the way bring much to conversation) as well as conservative Muslims. There are also Christians and atheists who regularly post as well as Universalist Unitarians. I hardly go out trolling for unspecting Muslims, and if one does happen upon my blog, it is well within their power to surf on to the next site never to return. Likewise if someone has doubts about Islam, well I’m more than willingly to help them through the process of apostacizing (although I’ve yet to have anyone contact me with a “hey i’m thinking of apostacizing, can you help me?”)

            Actually, I believe you are the one who has returned time and time again despite your objections. The power to engage in dialogue is all yours here.

  13. Abdallah

    Dear Wood,

    Just a small comment, don’t compare Quran with anything else, don’t say like Music, nothing comparable to your God’s words ever..
    And about the voices, I agree with you not all of them are good, so you select what fit to your ear and feel more comfortable, the one that I pasted above: is for Old Egyptian Sheikh called: “Ahmad Mohammad Amer”, that I’m addicted to listen to his reading every day..

    —————————-
    Dear Stephanie,

    I used to such debates with Atheists and all of them have the same argument: WHY he created us like that and will tortured us?
    Knowing that this question, shows the conflict inside their brain and soul, they all believe in God from inside, but trying to justify not worshiping him, that he is unjust, which is NOT true ever..

    The reason is very simple:

    Look around you and see this wonderful world that is created for you and for all humans, and look to yourself, what he created in you that is completely perfect system, that with all world resources if they want to make a finger like human finger they can’t..
    So, perfect body in a perfect World done by your God, and after that you turn your back and whether say that other creature like Jesus, or holy cow, or rat or elephant is your God !! or being Atheist your turn your back and say that’s there is no God to all this Great Universe and it was created by itself!!!

    Then you are the one that is unjust and you will be treated the same on the Day of Judgment, you’ll be resurrected as blind and neglected too, Please read:

    “But whosoever turns away from My Reminder verily, for him is a life of hardship, and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection.” (124)
    He will say:”O my Lord! Why have you raised me up blind, while I had sight (before).” (125)
    (Allâh) will say: “Like this, Our Ayât (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) came unto you, but you disregarded them (i.e. you left them, did not think deeply in them, and you turned away from them), and so this Day, you will be neglected.” (126) [Ta-ha]

  14. Abdallah

    To know that ALLAH is your God and the only Creator, you must know that:

    ALLAH means “AL-ILAH” which is “The-God” there is no other meaning, and it comes from Aramaic language, “Alaha” and it’s the same word used by Jesus when talking about God, it’s the same “God Father” that is used in the new testament, it’s the same: “Elohim” mentioned in the Old testament, it only means the God the creator.

    Listen to it by yourself in Aramaic language in the movie “Passion of Christ”:

    To be sure more, Quoted from: Hebrew/Aramaic word for God?
    [In Hebrew: From there we also find two more words אלוה (“Eloah”) and אלוהים (“Elohim” sometimes spelled אלהים) whose origins are a bit cloudy, but most scholars believe that they descend from the same root as El. Eloah is singular where Elohim is grammatically plural,]
    [In Aramaic the root for God is “אלה” (Elah), but in the Emphatic state it is אלהא (Alaha). Depending on dialect, the vowels could pretty much be anything (Elaha, Eloho, Aloho, Alaha)]

    And to be sure that “ALLAH” is the Creator of the whole universe, hope you can read the 3 parts of “Story of Creation” on the following blog:
    http://debatewithatheist.blogspot.com/

    And, if you are still confused whether to worship your God, or a Cow, or an elephant, or a rat, or a golden statue, or a man on a cross, read the following: “WHY Islam is different?” hope it will help you:
    http://debatewithmuslim.blogspot.com/

  15. Abdallah

    But again regarding your question, why he created us like that: the answer is very simple:

    “HOW do you know your destiny?”

    Neither you nor I or anyone else knows where will go, whether to heaven or to hell !!
    The same as if your son has an exam, so you ask him to study to pass the exam, he says: “NO !! I will fail whatever I will do”, then what you will answer him?

    “How do you know, just try your best, and hopefully you will pass” the same thing for you..

    Finally, Please read the following “Kudsi Hadith” (means ALLAH talk by Prophet Muhammad’s words) will explain to you What God wants from you:

    Abu Dharr reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, said:

    “O My servants, I have made oppression unlawful for Me and unlawful for you, so do not commit oppression against one another.

    O My servants, all of you are liable to err except one whom I guide on the right path, so seek right guidance from Me so that I should direct you to the right path.

    O My servants, all of you are hungry (needy) except one whom I feed, so beg food from Me, so that I may give that to you.

    O My servants, all of you are naked (need clothes, i.e. money) except one whom I provide garments, so beg clothes from Me, so that I should clothe you.

    O My servants, you commit error night and day and I am there to pardon your sins, so beg pardon from Me so that I should grant you pardon.

    O My servants, you can neither do Me any harm nor can you do Me any good.

    O My servants, even if the first amongst you and the last amongst you and even the whole of human race of yours, and that of Jinn even, become (equal in) God-conscious like the heart of a single person amongst you, nothing would add to My Power.

    O My servants, even if the first amongst you and the last amongst you and the whole human race of yours and that of the Jinn too in unison become the most wicked (all beating) like the heart of a single person, it would cause no loss to My Power.

    O My servants, even if the first amongst you and the last amongst you and the whole human race of yours and that of jinn also all stand in one plain ground and you ask Me and I confer upon every person what he asks for, it would not, in any way, cause any loss to Me (even less) than that which is caused to the ocean by dipping the needle in it.

    O My servants, these are your deeds that I shall reward you for them, so he who deeds of yours which I am recording finds good should praise Allah and he who does not find that should not blame anyone but his ownself.”
    Sa’id said that when Abu Idris Khaulini narrated this hadith he knelt upon his knees.
    (Book #032, Hadith #6246)

    – عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، فيما روى عن الله تبارك وتعالى أنه قال ” يا عبادي ! إني حرمت الظلم على نفسي وجعلته بينكم محرما . فلا تظالموا . يا عبادي ! كلكم ضال إلا من هديته . فاستهدوني أهدكم . يا عبادي ! كلكم جائع إلا من أطعمته . فاستطعموني أطعمكم . يا عبادي ! كلكم عار إلا من كسوته . فاستكسوني أكسكم . يا عبادي ! إنكم تخطئون بالليل والنهار ، وأنا أغفر الذنوب جميعا . فاستغفروني أغفر لكم . يا عبادي ! إنكم لن تبلغوا ضري فتضروني . ولن تبلغوا نفعي فتنفعوني . يا عبادي ! لو أن أولكم وآخركم وإنسكم وجنكم . كانوا على أتقى قلب رجل واحد منكم . ما زاد ذلك في ملكي شيئا . يا عبادي ! لو أن أولكم وآخركم . وإنسكم وجنكم . كانوا على أفجر قلب رجل واحد . ما نقص ذلك من ملكي شيئا . يا عبادي ! لو أن أولكم وآخركم . وإنسكم وجنكم . قاموا في صعيد واحد فسألوني . فأعطيت كل إنسان مسألته . ما نقص ذلك مما عندي إلا كما ينقص المخيط إذا أدخل البحر . يا عبادي ! إنما هي أعمالكم أحصيها لكم . ثم أوفيكم إياها . فمن وجد خيرا فليحمد الله . ومن وجد غير ذلك فلا يلومن إلا نفسه ”
    الراوي: أبو ذر الغفاري المحدث: مسلم – المصدر: صحيح مسلم

  16. Wow, so beautiful! Thank you for sharing Steph!

    Yeah, music being Haram is one thing I never bought into with Islam. I’ve always loved music and never cut it out of my life. Never tried and highly doubt I ever will.

  17. That was a beautiful piece of music. Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t seen your blog before and am enjoying reading it.

  18. Sandy D.

    I agree Stephanie. I am a HUGE Music lover, and after I became Muslim, I still listen to it. I will never give up my music or playing my guitar. I believe that Allah gives people the gift of playing an instrument or writing a song, and that helps people get through hard times. I know Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (RIP Big Man) have helped me through some really hard times, and I will NEVER give up listening to or playing music. NEVER.

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