Music is haram. Music is halal. … and the debate continues ad infinitum. I recently listened to a lecture called 'The End of Music' by Kamal Mekki (mp3 of this at the bottom of the post), and māshā'Allāh it is probably the best talk I have heard on this topic.
I remember when music used to be a struggle for me personally. I remember when I started making a concerted effort to try to memorize Qurʾān (and by memorize here I mean to learn more than the last 15 surahs of the 30th juz) I naturally thought it would be a good idea to put some Qurʾān on CD's and listen in the car. Where to find this Qurʾān though? My parents had audio cassettes but I had no tape player (not that I would go to tapes in the CD age anyway). So I did what every young music lover would do at that time – I got on Napster (remember those days?) and searched for Qurʾān (boy do I feel old).
I made a CD with random recitations to compile a full disc of the 30th juz. I later came to find that I had a mix of Sudais and Sa'd al-Ghamidi – both of whom I still get a nostalgic feeling from when listening to them.
I faced a dilemma now though. As I would drive to school in the morning, I would try to put on the CD. However, being a music buff, I would listen to music as well. I would alternate between the 2 at random, before slowly moving on to a system that didn't last too long: Listen to Qurʾān on the way to school, and listen to music on the way home. Something in my heart just told me that this was wrong. I want to emphasize here, that at this point in my life, I was just starting to make an effort to learn my deen beyond the Sunday School foundation I had while growing up, and had not yet up to this point heard or read anything on whether music was halal or haram. It was just my gut instinct telling me that I was gaining reward on half my trip, and on the other half – probably not so much.
The Qurʾān CD helped though, and alḥamdulillāh I was finally able to memorize Surah al-A'laa which had been a dream of mine since childhood. For some reason I always liked listening to the last 2 ayaat, and remember them being recited often in Isha and in Ramadan at the masjid. It was also at this point, the longest surah I had ever memorized, and it gave me motivation to push forward even more (may Allāh(swt) enable all of us to memorize the Qurʾān). I decided drastic action was in order.
I went up to my computer and deleted about 20gb of mp3 files, and sold off a collection of around 200+ albums at a used CD store (though I have since come to find that money was probably not halal to take). People who knew me were shocked. How could someone just throw away such a 'treasure' of music, including rare and live recordings, and tons of albums covering multiple genres. Alḥamdulillāh, Allāh (swt) gave me the tawfeeq to take that push and just do it. I'm sharing this here, because I hope people are not scared to just quit, and know that it can be done, no matter how much you might love music.
It wasn't that easy though, and for some time I still struggled with it. Qurʾān to and from school lasted for a bit, but slowly turned into Qurʾān and Nasheeds. Qurʾān and Yusuf Islam. Qurʾān and Soldiers of Allāh (don't laugh, you know you listened to them too). After that, I went back to Napster and expanded my search, and finally found Islamic lectures by people such as Siraaj Wahaj. Now, alḥamdulillāh, I finally had my mix of what to listen to – lectures and Qurʾān.
Even after the fact, it is not easy to be completely free from music. It's easy to check what is on the radio, or all of a sudden remember a song you used to like when you hear it outside in a store or something like that. Even now I might hear something on TV (lately its the Indiana Jones theme) and it will get immediately stuck in my head and I have to run to my computer and put some Qurʾān on and get rid it out.
The talk by Kamal Mekki is amazing though. He not only covers the obvious fiqh aspects of it, but gives a realistic breakdown of the issue and how it affects your heart. One thing that strikes me is that some scholars actually referred to music as the Qurʾān of Shaytaan. Whether you think music is halal or haram is really a side issue when you assess how it affects your heart. Is your heart attached to the Qurʾān or to music? I strongly believe the two are definitely mutually exclusive and cannot coexist in one's heart. Anyone who makes a serious effort to read Qurʾān daily or to memorize it cannot at the same time be listening to music without it having a negative effect.
The actual talk was reviewed by the da‘wah Center which produced it (you can read their review here) so I won't reinvent the wheel. The only thing I wanted to add that was interesting was when he read out the beginning of a song lyric, and everyone could complete it. Then he would start an āyah and see how many people could finish it. Very interesting :)
The talk covers the fiqh aspect and has an interesting Q&A where such questions are addressed: Isn't the fact that babies naturally dance to music proof that it is good?
One reflection I wanted to share from the talk was about what you subconsciously are attached to. He mentions stories about people who were prompted to say the Shahadah on their death beds, but were only able to say song lyrics. Think about when you're driving and something happens. Are the first words out of your mouth something like, “bismillah” or something like”oh crap!”? :)
Finally, Kamal Mekki wrote a poem that he recited during the talk which I thought was really good, especially for english. It's copied here from the review on the da‘wah center website.
O Muslim, lawful things have good attributes
Where is the good in singing, dancing and listening to flutes?
Can we compare the words of singers and sounds of Musicians
To the Glorious Qurʾān, its lessons, wisdoms and admonitions?
How many singers do you know and give admiration,
And how many do you know of the companions and the following generation?
How much do you spend on singers from your dollars?
Compared to how many you know of Islamic Scholars.
Do you see how much is memorized of Music songs?
While you ignore the book to which memorization belongs?
How much do you memorize of these incantations?
And swayed back and forth in intoxication?
Have you not seen those who follow the misguided?
And increase the loudness of the Music, when they should hide it?
And who writes their songs? thinkers, or men of academia?
Or maybe scholars, like Ahmad, Malik or maybe ibn Taymiyah.
O you who listens to music..
Don't you see that All the songs of the world and all the lyrics you've seen
Wouldn't compare in reward to Alif Laam Meem
To download the mp3 of this click here.
And: Shabab ul-Haq – Wiping Away a Sea of Sins (interview with a youth on giving up music)