i. Regarding the Prohibition of Songs and Music
It is generally believed that the attitude of Islam towards the fine arts is not very encouraging; it does not nurture the aesthetic sense found in human nature; thus, for example, it totally prohibits singing and music.
Unfortunately, this view is not consistent with the sources of Islam.
In this regard, it is necessary to bear in mind two important principles of interpreting the sharī‘ah.
Firstly, it is only the Qur’ān which prohibits anything in Islam. As far as the Ahādīth are concerned, they only explain something alluded to by the Qur’ān or state the corollary of some principle mentioned in the Qur’ān. They are not an independent source of Islam and must have some basis in the Qur’ān, the Sunnah or the established principles of sense and reason. Consequently, if some Ahādīth mention the prohibition of something, it is imperative to look up its basis in the original sources.
Secondly, if a particular matter has been elaborated upon in the Ahādīth, it is necessary to have a complete picture of it by collecting and analyzing all the Ahādīth on the subject. This is essential in order to get some idea of the context and background of what has actually been said or implied.
In the light of these two principles, it is evident that:
1. As far as the Quran is concerned, there is no mention of any absolute prohibition of music. On the contrary, it is a known fact that one of the other divinely revealed scriptures, the Psalms of David is basically a collection of hymns. The Prophet David (sws) used to sing on his harp the various Psalms revealed to him:
The Psalms mention:
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation (Psalms, 95:1)
Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. (Psalms, 96:1)
I will sing a new song to you, O God; on the ten-stringed lyre I will make music to you, (Psalms, 144:9)
The Qur’ān refers to this in the following words:
وَسَخَّرْنَا مَعَ دَاوُودَ الْجِبَالَ يُسَبِّحْنَ وَالطَّيْرَ وَكُنَّا فَاعِلِينَ (79:21)
And We caused the mountains and the birds to join with David in singing Our praise. And all these things could have been done only by Us. (21:79)
2. If the Qur’ān does not apparently mention this absolute prohibition, it is necessary to re-analyze all the Ahādīth on this subject to see whether they have been interpreted correctly.
If all Ahādīth pertaining to music are examined, the real picture which comes to light is that musical gatherings possessed various objectionable elements in them. The most prominent among them included lewdness and liquor consumption. Slave-girls used to dance before inebriated gatherings, where lewdness was rampant and promiscuity prevailed. They were a means of stimulating base emotions in people. There has been narrated in the Sahīh of Al-Bukhārī one such incident from which the extent to which such gatherings of music and dance had reached can be imagined. It took place right after the battle of Badr:
حُسَيْنَ بن عَلِيٍّ عليهم السَّلَام أخبره أَنَّ عَلِيًّا قال كانت لي شَارِفٌ من نَصِيبِي من الْمَغْنَمِ يوم بَدْرٍ وكان النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أَعْطَانِي مِمَّا أَفَاءَ الله عليه من الْخُمُسِ يَوْمَئِذٍ فلما أَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَبْتَنِيَ بِفَاطِمَةَ عليها السَّلَام بِنْتِ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم وَاعَدْتُ رَجُلًا صَوَّاغًا في بَنِي قَيْنُقَاعَ أَنْ يَرْتَحِلَ مَعِي فَنَأْتِيَ بِإِذْخِرٍ فَأَرَدْتُ أَنْ أَبِيعَهُ من الصَّوَّاغِينَ فَنَسْتَعِينَ بِهِ في وَلِيمَةِ عُرْسِي فَبَيْنَا أنا أَجْمَعُ لِشَارِفَيَّ من الْأَقْتَابِ وَالْغَرَائِرِ وَالْحِبَالِ وَشَارِفَايَ مُنَاخَانِ إلى جَنْبِ حُجْرَةِ رَجُلٍ من الْأَنْصَارِ حتى جَمَعْتُ ما جَمَعْتُ فإذا أنا بِشَارِفَيَّ قد أُجِبَّتْ أسنمتهما وَبُقِرَتْ خَوَاصِرُهُمَا وَأُخِذَ من أَكْبَادِهِمَا فلم أَمْلِكْ عَيْنَيَّ حين رأيت الْمَنْظَرَ قلت من فَعَلَ هذا قالوا فَعَلَهُ حَمْزَةُ بن عبد الْمُطَّلِبِ وهو في الْبَيْتِ في شَرْبٍ من الْأَنْصَارِ عِنْدَهُ قَيْنَةٌ وَأَصْحَابُهُ فقالت في غِنَائِهَاألا يا حَمْزُ لِلشُّرُفِ النِّوَاءِفَوَثَبَ حَمْزَةُ إلى السَّيْفِ فَأَجَبَّ أَسْنِمَتَهُمَا وَبَقَرَ خَوَاصِرَهُمَا وَأَخَذَ من أَكْبَادِهِمَا
Husayn ibn ‘Alī reported that ‘Alī said: “From among the spoils of Badr, a she-camel was given to me as my share. Besides her, the Prophet (sws) also gave me another she-camel from [the gains of] khums. When my marriage was decided with Fatimah the daughter of the Prophet (sws), I made a deal with a goldsmith belonging to the tribe of Qaynuqa‘ that he would go with me to bring a special type of grass by loading it on the camels. By selling this grass to the goldsmiths I wanted to throw my walīmah. For this, I arranged for ropes and packsaddle for my she-camels. These camels were sitting in the house of a person from the Ansār tribe. After gathering these things I went to the camels, I saw that someone had chopped off their humps and taken out their livers by cutting open their stomachs. I could not restrain my tears at this situation. I asked people: ‘Who is responsible for this?’ They replied: ‘Hamzah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib; he is drinking liquor in this house along with many people of the Ansār. A songstress is also present there along with his friends. What happened was that when she sang the following words: “Hamzah! Get up and slay these robust she-camels,” he immediately pounced on them with a sword and chopped off their humps, and took out their livers by slicing open their stomachs.”
In other words, musical gatherings were not disallowed per se. it was because of these forbidden elements found in them that they were forbidden. Thus in some narratives musical instruments are censured because of this aspect.They were used in gatherings which were vulgar and lecherous. Their positive use was never forbidden: We find narratives which show that such music and songs were not disallowed by the Prophet (sws):
عن عُرْوَةَ عن عَائِشَةَ قالت دخل عَلَيَّ رسول اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَعِنْدِي جَارِيَتَانِ تُغَنِّيَانِ بِغِنَاءِ بُعَاثَ فَاضْطَجَعَ على الْفِرَاشِ وَحَوَّلَ وَجْهَهُ وَدَخَلَ أبو بَكْرٍ فَانْتَهَرَنِي وقال مِزْمَارَةُ الشَّيْطَانِ عِنْدَ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم فَأَقْبَلَ عليه رسول اللَّهِ عليه السَّلَام فقال دَعْهُمَا فلما غَفَلَ غَمَزْتُهُمَا فَخَرَجَتَا وكان يوم عِيدٍ
‘Urwah reports that ‘Ā’ishah said: “The Prophet (sws) [once] came over to me. On this occasion, two slave-girls were singing the songs related to the battle of Bu‘āth. He lay down on a bed, and turned himself to the other side. [In the meantime], Abū Bakr came along and scolded me [for what was going on] and said: ‘Why these devilish musical instruments in the presence of the Prophet (sws)?’ The Prophet turned and said: ‘Leave them alone [and let them sing]. When Abū Bakr got involved in some work, I gestured towards these songstresses to go. So they went away. This was the day of ‘īd.
It is evident from the above narrative that the Prophet (sws) did not prohibit singing and music on the occasion of ‘īd. Not only did he not express any resentment on the two slave-girls singing, he even stopped Abū Bakr (rta) from asking them to discontinue.
The following narrative shows that singing with a musical instrument (tambourine) common in those times was also not prohibited by the Prophet (sws):
عن الرُّبَيِّعِ بِنْتِ مُعَوِّذٍ قالت دخل عَلَيَّ النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم غَدَاةَ بُنِيَ عَلَيَّ فَجَلَسَ على فِرَاشِي كَمَجْلِسِكَ مِنِّي وَجُوَيْرِيَاتٌ يَضْرِبْنَ بِالدُّفِّ يَنْدُبْنَ من قُتِلَ من آبَائِهِنَّ يوم بَدْرٍ حتى قالت جَارِيَةٌ وَفِينَا نَبِيٌّ يَعْلَمُ ما في غَدٍ فقال النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لَا تَقُولِي هَكَذَا وَقُولِي ما كُنْتِ تَقُولِينَ
Al-Rabī‘ bint Mu‘awwidh said: “When I departed as a bride [to my husband’s house], the Prophet (sws) came over to me and sat on my bedding the way you are sitting on it. At this time, our slave-girls were singing an elegy to the martyrs of Badr on a small tambourine. On this occasion, one of the slave-girls [while singing said the words]: ‘Present amongst us is the Prophet who knows what is going to happen in the future.’ At this the Prophet said: ‘Do not say this but sing what you were singing before.’”
It is evident from some narratives that the Prophet (sws) had kept a person called Anjashah who was a camel-driver who would sing marching tunes to boost the speed of the camels. During one journey, when these camels were impelled to trudge faster by his chants, the Prophet (sws) lovingly chided him that he should think of the women riding the camels lest they should fall down because of their fast speed:
حدثنا إِسْحَاقُ أخبرنا حَبَّانُ حدثنا هَمَّامٌ حدثنا قَتَادَةُ حدثنا أَنَسُ بن مَالِكٍ قال كان لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم حَادٍ يُقَالُ له أَنْجَشَةُ وكان حَسَنَ الصَّوْتِ فقال له النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم رُوَيْدَكَ يا أَنْجَشَةُ لَا تَكْسِرْ الْقَوَارِيرَ قال قَتَادَةُ يَعْنِي ضَعَفَةَ النِّسَاءِ
Anas reported that the Prophet had a camel-driver called Anjashah and he had a very melodious voice. [In one journey], the Prophet (sws) said to him: “Sing slowly O Anjashah lest you might break these delicate crystals.” Qatādah clarified that this refers to delicate women.
In the light of this analysis, the prohibition of music can be easily understood: only music and songs which possessed an element of immorality in them had been forbidden. Music, it is clear, was not condemned because of any intrinsic evil in it but because it was responsible for stimulating base sentiments in a person. The main object of the religion revealed to the Prophet (sws) was to cleanse and purify human souls from evil. All means which promote base emotions in people certainly could not be allowed in the society. He, therefore, strongly took exception to the gatherings of music and dance in order to rebuild the society on healthy lines.
In short, the prohibition of music and songs pertains to a few specific forms of this art; if they are not vulgar and lewd in nature, they cannot be regarded as forbidden.
ii. Regarding Istikhārahand Dreams
People generally think that istikhārahis a sure-shot way to find out the will of the Almighty in a particular matter. For this they even go to professional istikhārah-doers.
It needs to be realized that istikhārahis nothing but a supplication (du‘ā) to God. It asks God to guide us in matters in which it is difficult to take a decision. One can see how powerful and potent is this prophetic supplication from its words:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْتَخِيرُكَ بِعِلْمِكَ وَأَسْتَقْدِرُكَ بِقُدْرَتِكَ وَأَسْأَلُكَ مِنْ فَضْلِكَ الْعَظِيمِ فَإِنَّكَ تَقْدِرُ وَلَا أَقْدِرُ وَتَعْلَمُ وَلَا أَعْلَمُ وَأَنْتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ اللَّهُمَّ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ خَيْرٌ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاقْدِرْهُ لِي وَ يَسِّرهُ لِيْ ثُمَّ بَارِكْ لِي فِيْهِ وَإِنْ كُنْتَ تَعْلَمُ أَنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ شَرٌّ لِي فِي دِينِي وَمَعَاشِي وَعَاقِبَةِ أَمْرِي فَاصْرِفْهُ عَنِّي وَاصْرِفْنِي عَنْهُ وَاقْدِرْ لِي الْخَيْرَ حَيْثُ كَانَ ثُمَّ أَرْضِنِي
O Allah! I seek what is better through Your Knowledge, and through Your Might I seek strength, and I beg from You Your great blessings, because You have the might and I do not have the might. And You know everything and I do not know, and You have knowledge of the unseen. O Allah! If in Your Knowledge this action [which I intend to do] is better with regard to my religion, my life and my fate then destine it for me and make it easy for me and then add blessings to it for me. And O Allah! In Your knowledge if this action is bad for me, for my religion and for my fate, then turn it away from me and turn me away from it, and [O Allah!] whatever is better for me, ordain that for me wherever it is, and then make me satisfied with it.
Now, like every supplication, the Almighty either positively responds to it through some indication or there can be times when He defers action on it depending upon His wisdom. Thus, it needs to be realized that the istikhārahis no more than a supplication and is not a formula to find out the will of God.
Moreover, people generally think that only through dreams does one get an indication of Allah’s will after doing istikhārah. It is because of this misconception that they think that an indication through a dream is the only way to know the Almighty’s will in a particular matter. Actually, there are a number of ways in which this indication can come if at all. Dreams are just one of these. There may be several ways. For example, circumstances sometimes become more clear so that a person is able to judge for himself. Similarly, someone might just come along and help a person in his decision. Likewise, the Almighty may directly guide a person by giving him an inner indication.
However, whatever be the source, it is imperative that an indication which is against divine revelation and sense and reason should not be accepted. One should always act according to one’s common sense, since this sense is the foremost guidance provided by the Almighty to man. Generally, dreams help us in deciding when there is an indication from no other source. Again, what is interpreted from them should not refute knowledge, common sense or experience if it is to be accepted and if it does refute any of these bases, then that interpretation must be ignored.
iii. Regarding the Return of Jesus (sws)
Muslims generally believe that near the end of this world, Jesus (sws) who was lifted alive from this earth will re-appear, and this re-appearance will actually be a sign of the coming of the Day of Judgement.
While critically analyzing this issue, Ghāmidī writes:
As far as the narratives which record the advent of Jesus (sws) are concerned, though the muhaddithūn have generally accepted them; however, if they are analyzed in the light of the Qur’ān, they too become dubious.
Firstly, the personality of Jesus (sws) has been discussed in the Qur’ān from various aspects. The Qur’ān has commented on his da‘wah mission and his personality in many places. The cataclysm that will take place on the Day of Judgement is also a very frequently discussed topic of the Qur’ān. The advent of a celebrated prophet of God from the heavens is no small an incident. In spite of the fact that there were many instances in which this incident could have been mentioned, we find that there is not a single place in which it is mentioned in the Qur’ān. Can human knowledge and intellect be satisfied with this silence? One finds this hard to digest.
Secondly, the Qur’ān has recorded a dialogue of God with Jesus (sws) which will take place on the Day of Judgement. During the course of this conversation, the Almighty will ask him about the real sphere in which the Christians had gone astray: the divinity of Jesus (sws) and Mary. He will ask Jesus (sws) if it was as per his instructions that he had told people to deify himself and his mother whilst leaving aside God. In response to this question, among other things, Jesus (sws) will say that he instructed his people in the very manner he was asked by God and that as long as he remained among them he watched over what they were doing, and that after his own demise he was not aware of what good or evil they did, and that after his death it was God who watched over them. In this dialogue, one can clearly feel that the last sentence is very inappropriate if Jesus (sws) had also come to this world a second time. In such a case, he should have responded by saying that he knew what happened with them and that a little earlier he had gone to warn them of their grievous faults. The Qur’ān says:
مَا قُلْتُ لَهُمْ إِلاَّ مَا أَمَرْتَنِي بِهِ أَنِ اعْبُدُواْ اللّهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ وَكُنتُ عَلَيْهِمْ شَهِيدًا مَّا دُمْتُ فِيهِمْ فَلَمَّا تَوَفَّيْتَنِي كُنتَ أَنتَ الرَّقِيبَ عَلَيْهِمْ وَأَنتَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ شَهِيدٌ (117:5)
Never did I say to them except what You commanded me to do: “Worship Allah my Lord and your Lord,” and I was a witness over them while I dwelt with them. When You gave death to me, You were the Watcher over them and You are a witness over all things.(5:117)
Thirdly, in one verse of the Qur’ān, the Almighty has disclosed what will happen to Jesus (sws) and his followers till the Day of Judgement. Sense and reason demand that here He should also have disclosed his second coming before the advent of this Day; however, we find no such mention. If Jesus (sws) had to come, why was silence maintained at this instance? One is unable to comprehend any reason for it. The verse is:
إِنِّي مُتَوَفِّيكَ وَرَافِعُكَ إِلَيَّ وَمُطَهِّرُكَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ وَجَاعِلُ الَّذِينَ اتَّبَعُوكَ فَوْقَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ إِلَى يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ ثُمَّ إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأَحْكُمُ بَيْنَكُمْ فِيمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ (55:3)
“O Jesus! I have decided to give death to you and raise you to Myself and cleanse you from these people who have denied [you]. I shall make those who follow you superior to those who reject faith till the Day of Judgement.Then to Me you shall all return and I shall give My verdict in what you have been differing.” (3:55)
iv. Regarding Fate and Predestination
Some Muslims believe that their fate has been pre-written. If this is so, then why will some people be sent to Hell for deeds which were written down beforehand and they could do nothing about them? Also, what is the purpose of du’ā when it cannot change pre-determined fates?
In this regard, if the following points of clarification are kept in mind, they may prove helpful in removing the confusion which in general seems to surround this concept of predestination:
1. The Almighty has given us the free will to select between good and evil. If a person intends to adopt the right path, it is up to him, and if he intends to adopt the wrong path, it is entirely his choice. It is after this liberty given to us in exercising our intention that the Almighty will reward or punish us. This retribution therefore will be based on our own deeds and not under any compulsion of fate.
2. Whatever is written about our fate, concerns Allah’s knowledge about our fate. His prior knowledge does not mean that we are under any compulsion to do what has been written. It only means that He knows what we are going to do. Consequently, if Allah knows beforehand that such and such people will go to Hell or certain others will go to heaven, then it only means that such people will do the deeds which will lead them to a bad fate. In other words, a person’s deeds will determine his fate only. However, whatever deeds he will do are already in the knowledge of Allah.
3. Du‘ā has a great significance since it is an expression of tawh~īd. There are things which will be given to us if we only ask for them; otherwise we will not receive them. In other words, they are dependent upon du‘ā.So one cannot and should not disregard it.
v. Regarding the Prohibition of Portraits and Pictures
It is believed that Islam prohibits making pictures of living-beings. Unfortunately, the stance of Islam on this issue has been grossly misunderstood. It is not true that Islam prohibits pictures and portraits in the absolute sense. Only pictures which cultivate sentiments of worship in people are prohibited. Thus we see that not only does the Qur’ān not mention any such prohibition, it, in fact, praises the pictures and sculptures made by the Prophet Solomon (sws). Had there been any issue of prohibition with them, it would certainly have condemned this act:
يَعْمَلُونَ لَهُ مَا يَشَاء مِن مَّحَارِيبَ وَتَمَاثِيلَ وَجِفَانٍ كَالْجَوَابِ وَقُدُورٍ رَّاسِيَاتٍ اعْمَلُوا آلَ دَاوُودَ شُكْرًا وَقَلِيلٌ مِّنْ عِبَادِيَ الشَّكُورُ (13:34)
They made for him whatever he pleased: shrines and tamāsīland basins as large as watering-troughs, and built-in cauldrons. We said: “Act with gratitude House of David.” Yet few of My servants are truly thankful. (34:13)
We find more detail in the Bible regarding the portraits and statues placed in the Temple of Solomon:
In the inner sanctuary he made a pair of cherubim of olive wood, each ten cubits high. One wing of the first cherub was five cubits long, and the other wing five cubits—ten cubits from wing tip to wing tip. The second cherub also measured ten cubits, for the two cherubim were identical in size and shape. The height of each cherub was ten cubits. He placed the cherubim inside the innermost room of the temple, with their wings spread out. The wing of one cherub touched one wall, while the wing of the other touched the other wall, and their wings touched each other in the middle of the room. He overlaid the cherubim with gold. On the walls all around the temple, in both the inner and outer rooms, he carved cherubim, palm trees and open flowers. (1 Kings, 6:23-29)
He also made ten movable stands of bronze; each was four cubits long, four wide and three high. This is how the stands were made: They had side panels attached to uprights. (1 Kings, 7:27-28)
The face of a man toward the palm tree on one side and the face of a lion toward the palm tree on the other. They were carved all around the whole temple. From the floor to the area above the entrance, cherubim and palm trees were carved on the wall of the outer sanctuary. The outer sanctuary had a rectangular doorframe, and the one at the front of the Most Holy Place was similar. (Ezekiel, 41:19-21)
It is thus clear that the Qur’ān does not prohibit portrait and images in the absolute sense. The source of this prohibition are certain Ahādīth. By collecting and analyzing all these Ahādīth, the complete picture which emerges is that a particular category of pictures and portraits had acquired the status of idols and were worshipped. They were regarded as deities by the people of Arabia. As such, they used to consider them alive and capable of granting them their wishes. They used to bow down before them in adoration. There were many sacred pictures drawn on the walls, columns and the roof of the Ka‘bah, as a study of its history reveals. Consequently, there is mention of the fact that the portraits of Abraham (sws), Jesus (sws) and Maryam (rta) were sketched on its columns.
In the light of these details, the prohibition of portraits can easily be understood: only portraits which possess religious sanctity and lead people into worshipping them are prohibited. Pictures, photographs and image-making, it is clear, is not condemned because of any intrinsic evil in them, but because they contribute to the polytheistic tendencies of people. The Qur’ān regards monotheism as the fundamental article of faith, and the Prophet (sws) considered it his duty to eliminate any traces of polytheism in the society; therefore, he ordered for the elimination of portraits and images which had assumed the status of gods. Consequently, if these Ahādīth are carefully studied, the words which cannot be missed are “such pictures” and “these pictures”, which point only to a certain type of portraits and not to all forms. In this regard, another Hadīth often quoted in support of their total and unconditional prohibition has also not been interpreted correctly. The words of the Prophet (sws) as quoted in the Sahīh of al-Bukhārī are:
عَبْدَ اللَّهِ بن عُمَرَ رضي الله عنهما أخبره أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قال إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَصْنَعُونَ هذه الصُّوَرَ يُعَذَّبُونَ يوم الْقِيَامَةِ يُقَالُ لهم أَحْيُوا ما خَلَقْتُمْ
‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar reports from the Prophet (sws): “Indeed creators of such pictures will be punished on the Day of Judgement and it would be said to them: ‘Inject life in what you have created.’”
These words actually point to what has been stated earlier. People used to regard these images as living beings and as such used to invoke their help. The Hadīth warns such people and says that those who believe that these images are living creatures and will save them on the Day of Judgement from the wrath of the Almighty, shall actually be asked to inject life in them on that Day to redeem them of their punishment. This demand, of course, will only be meant to add insult to injury.
It is therefore evident that the prohibition of pictures pertains to a specific form. If the art of image-making and sculpturing does not cultivate the sentiments of worship towards something, then it is certainly not disallowed. Islam has no objection against photographs, which, today, have become a social need as well in the form of identity cards, passports, etc, whether they are made by a still camera or a video camera. Similarly, pictures of one’s relatives and family bear no label of prohibition.