Advanced Jurisprudential Discussions on Musical Instruments | Lesson 1

These are transcripts from 12 advanced jurisprudence lessons given on singing (al-ghinā’) by Ustad Soroush Mahallati. These lessons were given during the Norouz holidays of March, 2022. A discussion on singing and musical instruments given by Ayatullah Sayyid Khamenei was also published on Iqra Online in 2018 which can be read here [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4].



Last year, over the course of 12 lessons we discussed the topic of ghinā’. This year (March 2022) we intend on continuing our discussion and expand on the concept of musical instruments. In the discussion on ghinā’ we discussed the concept of singing, but in these lessons we will be speaking of instruments and tools used to create musical sounds. These two discussions are completely separate, even though some confuse the two, but in reality music and singing are two separate issues.

In our lessons, we will first speak about instruments of lahw in general, and then instruments that are multipurpose and not restricted to just lahw. For example, the ṭabl – a type of drum – was first considered to be a musical instrument only, but today it can be used for other reasons as well.

Instruments of Lahw

We have numerous narrations on instruments of lahw. Some jurists believe the prohibition of using instruments of lahw is not even a matter of ijtihād, because ijtihād takes place in matters of speculation and unsurety. If one has certainty – qaṭ‘ – there is no room for ijtihad, such as in the obligation of Ṣalāt and Ṣawm, or prohibition of drinking alcohol. If a person doubts these rulings, it essentially constitutes as disbelief (kufr), since it is tantamount to doubting the well accepted matters of religion.

Regarding the prohibition of instruments of lahw there are many claims of consensus, both ijmā‘ manqūl and muḥassal, such as by Ṣāḥib al-Jawāhir. This may be true, regardless of whether we consider this ijmā‘ binding or not. However, some jurists have said this is not just a consensus, rather it is from the necessities of Fiqh, or necessities of the sect, or necessities of religion (like Ṣalāt). Sayyid Khū’ī believes it is from the necessities of religion and one who denies it has committed an act of disbelief. Consider his opinion:

ان هذه الروايات انما تدل على حرمة قسم خاص من اللهو، اعني الاشتغال بالملاهي والمعازف واستعمالها، ولا نزاع في ذلك، بل حرمة هذا القسم من ضروريات الدين بحيث يعد منكرها خارجا عن زمرة المسلمين

These narrations all signify the prohibition of a specific type of lahw, by which I mean, occupying oneself and using instruments of lahw and music. There is no contention on this matter, rather the prohibition of this type is from the necessities of the religion, such that one who rejects is outside the folds of the Muslims.1

When jurists have expressed such a clear view on a topic, then academically we must approach the matter very seriously and carefully. However, we do want to mention that some scholars like Imam Khumaynī clarify that rejecting a necessity of religion does not result in disbelief unless it necessitates the rejection of the message of Islam, or the Prophet (p) or the religion as a whole. If someone arrives at a different opinion and does not say the Prophet (p) gave a ruling which I reject, but rather they are saying the Prophet (p) never said such a matter, then that does not result in disbelief.

Regardless, as we will see throughout our discussions, this issue is not from the necessities of religion, even if it is a very famous and popular ruling.

Where should we start our discussion? Generally, our jurists begin their jurisprudential discussion from the narrations. With musical instruments they do the same, since they do not believe there is any rational or Quranic evidence against it. There are about 20 narrations which they discuss.

We want to start from another method, and for that I want to cite Sayyid Khamenei from his book:

به نظر ما، در قرآن هیچ آیه‌ای که دلالت بکند بر این – یا خود آیه بظاهرها یا روایاتی آن آیه را معنا کند مثل آنچه در باب غناء داشتیم – در آیات کریمه‌ی قرآن آیه‌ای را نیافتیم که از آن بشود برای حکم آلات العزف استدلال کدر. پس استدلال به کتاب، اینجا مورد بحث نیست.

In our opinion, there is no verse in the Quran that signifies this, or a verse itself in its apparent meaning, or narrations explaining away a certain verse, as we did in the discussion on singing. In the verses of the Quran, we did not find a verse that can be used to argue for the ruling on the use of musical instruments. Hence, using the Quran as evidence in this topic is not possible.2

Sayyid Khamenei says there is no rational or Quranic evidence for this discussion. However, we do not accept this approach. When we say a topic does not have a Quranic precedence, we need to see whether any narrations use verses of the Quran. If you recall in the discussion on ghinā’, the Imams (a) were repeatedly using Quranic verses to condemn singing. When we look at the narrations on musical instruments, once again we will find the Imams (a) citing verses of the Quran for its prohibition.

Consider this narration from the Tafsīr of ‘Alī b. Ibrahīm – ignoring its authenticity and authorship:

وَ الَّذِينَ‏ هُمْ‏ عَنِ‏ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُونَ‏ يعني الغناء و الملاهي‏

[23:3] and those who disregard idle talk; meaning singing and musical instruments.3

‘Allāmah Ṭabrasī also cites this opinion under this verse. Elsewhere in the Tafsīr of ‘Alī b. Ibrahīm it says:

وَ مِنَ النَّاسِ مَنْ يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ‏ قال: الغناء و شرب الخمر و جميع الملاهي‏

[31:6] And of the people is he who buys the amusement of speech; he said: singing, drinking alcohol, and all instruments of lahw.4

In the verse of Surah Jumu‘ah the following is reported:

قَالَ‏: كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص يُصَلِّي بِالنَّاسِ يَوْمَ الْجُمُعَةِ وَ دَخَلَتْ مِيرَةٌ وَ بَيْنَ يَدَيْهَا قَوْمٌ يَضْرِبُونَ بِالدُّفُوفِ وَ الْمَلَاهِي- فَتَرَكَ النَّاسُ الصَّلَاةَ وَ مَرُّوا يَنْظُرُونَ إِلَيْهِمْ- فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ‏ وَ إِذا رَأَوْا تِجارَةً أَوْ لَهْواً انْفَضُّوا إِلَيْها- وَ تَرَكُوكَ قائِماً قُلْ ما عِنْدَ اللَّهِ خَيْرٌ مِنَ اللَّهْوِ وَ مِنَ التِّجارَةِ- وَ اللَّهُ خَيْرُ الرَّازِقِين‏

The Messenger of Allah (p) was praying with the people on Friday when a caravan with food entered the city, and there was a group of people amongst them who were using the daff (tambourine) and instruments of lahw. So the people abandoned the prayers and went to see the carnival. Then Allah revealed the verse: [62:11] And when they see some merchandise or amusement, they break away to it, and leave you standing. Say, “ What is with Allah is much better than the amusement and the merchandise, and Allah is the best giver of sustenance.”5

The signification of these verses can definitely be questioned, however what we are trying to state here is that there do exist references and opinions in our own books where certain verses have been utilized to determine the ruling on musical instruments or certain words in the verses have been predicated on musical instruments.

Furthermore, if we can establish the Quran prohibits lahw, it will imply instruments of lahw are also prohibited. If certain instruments are multipurpose, then that is a different discussion and we will address that later, however there are verses about lahw which have been used to deduce the ruling on musical instruments. Therefore, it is not correct to say the Quran has nothing to say about this topic.

The second question is whether the intellect has anything to say about the ruling of musical instruments. Some jurists in the past have cited the intellect for the prohibition of musical instruments, such as Sayyid ‘Alī al-Ṭabāṭabā’ī (d. 1816), also known as Ṣāḥib al-Riyāḍ. If the jurists consider something prohibited based on the intellect, they classify it as qabīh, but if prohibition is based on a text, it is termed ḥurmah.

The intellect does not prohibit the use of any specific musical instrument, however if we consider these instruments as tools of lahw, then we can ask whether the intellect considers lahw qabīḥ or not. We say the intellect does not consider lahw qabīḥ absolutely and in all its instances, such that it considers a person worthy of punishment for it. This is because lahw is of various degrees. For example, if someone wastes their time, the intellect considers that lahw, but the intellect does not consider is so qabīḥ that it would assume its legal prohibition as well. It will say just consider it intellectually qabīḥ. This is what Muhaqqiq Irwani also says in his Hāshīyah on al-Makāṣib 6 while critiquing Ṣāḥib al-Riyāḍ; i.e. even if qubḥ is proven intellectually, it does not always prove legal prohibition.

If that is the case, then at what degree can we say lahw which is considered intellectually qabīḥ is also deemed legally prohibited? Shaykh Anṣārī has an opinion on this matter which we will cite in the next lesson, however consider the opinion of Ayatullah Borūjerdī on this matter:

و حرمة بعض أقسام اللهو و إن كانت قطعية لكن لا يمكن الالتزام بحرمة جميع أقسامه، إذ المحرم من اللهو هو ما أوجب خروج الإنسان من حالته الطبيعية، بحيث يوجد له حالة سكر لا يبقى معها للعقل حكومة و سلطنة، كالألحان الموسيقية التي تخرج من استمعها من الموازين العقلية و تجعله مسلوب الاختيار في حركاته و سكناته فيتحرك و يترنم على طبق نغماتها و إن كان من أعقل الناس و أمتنهم.

The prohibition of some types of lahw, even though it is for certain, however it is not possible to say all forms of lahw are prohibited. What is prohibited is lahw which results in a human exiting their natural state, such that they enter a state of intoxication where the intellect loses its control and authority. Such as in the case of musical sounds whose use can cause a person to abandon the rules of the intellect and negates free will from a person’s movements and stagnation, so that they begin to move and sing based on the musical notes, even if the person is the most intelligent and strongest of people.7

According to Ayatullah Borūjerdī, this is the degree of lahw which the intellect not only considers qabīh, but also legally prohibited.


  1. Miṣbāḥ al-Fiqāha, vol. 1, pg. 637.
  2. Ghinā’ wa Mawsiqī, pg. 343
  3. Vol. 2, pg. 88.
  4. Vol. 2, pg. 161.
  5. Vol. 2, pg. 367
  6. Vol. 1, pg. 41.
  7. Al-Badr al-Zāhir fī Ṣalāt al-Jumu‘ah wa al-Musāfir, pg. 297.