Source: Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Risāleh yeh Amῡzeshī (v.2), Ahkām e Mu’āmilāt, p. 106 – 110
The (purpose of bringing the) discussion of singing within the chapter of transactions is so that it may be seen if such an action is permissible or not. For example, if someone receives a payment for singing, or if someone sells an item and stipulates the price of purchase to be the act of singing. In these examples, is such action allowed (jā’iz) or forbidden (muharram)? And is the transaction valid (sahīh) or invalid (bātil)?  However, before we can pass an edict on this transaction it’s pivotal we first look at the issue of singing (ghinā) itself and ascertain it’s jurisprudential position.
First Discussion: Meaning of Singing
Singing is understood in two ways:
1. General meaning of singing – lexical meaning (ma’nāyeh lugavī)
Singing is a term for everything which fulfils the criteria of being recited in a tune. The pillars of this tune are such as stretching and pulling the voice and increasing and decreasing the pitch of tone, and this is called tarji’.
Further explanation: Sometimes a matter is expressed simply through talking, like a conversation, and sometimes it is expressed through a form of recitation, like a person who is on a pulpit who relies on his voice to recite. Or like a person who hums to himself or a child who recites to himself. This is what is meant by the general meaning of singing.
2. Specific meaning of singing – conventional meaning (ma’nāyeh ‘urfī)
The other meaning of singing is what is popular understood, to recite in a specific fashion. Reciting in different pitches with it’s own rules, principles and technique. This is also another meaning for singing which in Farsi is referred to as khānandagī. (One thing to keep in mind) is that not everyone who raises their voice or recites something isn’t necessarily referred to as a singer (but rather the specific style of singing has to be upheld), and this is something very clear to the layman. Which is why singing is a conventional (‘urfī) issue, for example the person reciting the ādhān isn’t referred to as a singer, even though ādhān would classify as singing according to the first meaning we discussed, the lexical meaning. Similarly a person reciting the Qur’ān loudly or murmuring it to himself would never be referred to as a singer even though and it wouldn’t be classified as singing according to the second meaning, the conventional meaning, yet the first meaning would apply to it, as the recitation would contain tarji’. So it can be seen that these two meanings, the lexical meaning and the conventional meaning, can be separated from one another.
The focus of our discussion will be exclusively on the second type of singing. This is for the reason that when the layman hears the term “singing” he will immediately understand it in the conventional meaning of the word and completely ignore it’s lexical meaning.
Conditions that are not relevant to the second meaning of singing
In order to discern these meanings further and to enable us to separate them in doubtful scenarios, a number of these conditions will be mentioned and negated from our second meaning on singing.
1. Nice voice:
The meaning of singing is not dependant upon the singer having a nice voice. Some singers have good voices, some average and others bad. The useage of singing will qualify upon all of these types (based on other criteria) irrespective of whether the voice is bad or not.
2. Conformance with the musical scale
This will not qualify a sound as “singing” for the reason that any sound that comes out of the throat will automatically correlate with a certain type of musical note, regardless of whether the sound was made via singing or not. Any sound that has a pitch will fall into one of the musical notes, for example, the recitation of adhān will be on one of the types of musical notes of the musical scale. Therefore, the meaning of singing is not dependant on the conformity of the sound with the musical scale.
The meaning of singing is not dependant on the notion of causing tarab. There are three meanings given for tarab:
- Extreme happiness and excitement
- The state of agitation and unsteadiness which occurs during times of happiness and sadness. When a person is joyful and satisfied he will sense a state of agitation and lightness, and this is also felt during times of grief. When a person becomes sorrowful over a calamity a specific condition of restlessness and unease will take over. This feeling of restlessness and agitation is referred to as tarab.
- The peak of agitation and restlessness that occurs within a person and not just any type of this feeling as mentioned in the previous definition. At times this is caused by happiness and at times by sadness.
The meaning of singing is not dependant upon it causing agitation (itrāb). The meaning of “singing” will apply on criteria broader than whether it produces a form of agitation or not.
4. Appropriate to played in gatherings of entertainment and immorality (majālis ahl lahw wa fusῡq)
There is no difference between singing in gatherings of entertainment and immorality and singing in gatherings not considered to be immoral or entertaining. It’s possible that someone recites a passage from the poetry of Hāfiz and the listeners pay attention to the spiritual and higher meanings to it and it is possible for the very same poetry to be recited in a different gathering where the listeners clap and dance to it. For this reason, the meaning of singing is not dependant on the location in which it is being recited.
5. Having a musical melody
Every sound that comes out of the throat will naturally be considered to be a type of musical note, however the musical melody is something else. The musical melody is where someone starts at a certain pitch and continues through to the end such that if he was to act out of this rhythm musicians (of that genre) would consider it incorrect. However this form of melody changes with different conventions (‘urf). In Iranian music it is one form, and in Arabic music it is another form. For this reason having a musical melody alone is irrelevant to the understanding of singing.
6. Combined with musical instruments
It is not a condition for the meaning of singing that the recitation be coupled with musical instruments.
7. Combined with words
The understanding of singing is not dependant on it having words. It’s possible that what is being sung has words and doesn’t have words like in the case where a person is humming a tune to himself.
8. Erroneous lyrics (bātil bῡdan kalām)
Erroneous lyrics also have no relevance in the understanding of singing. It’s possible the lyrics could be true or they could be false, and in both scenarios, it is possible for the meaning of singing to be applicable to it. On this basis, if someone sings a poem or a eulogy in a specific manner it would be considered singing, and on the flip side, if someone sings something false or seducing it would still be singing, the nature of the lyrics is irrelevant.
Conclusion: All of these issues are more specific than the general meaning of singing and the idea of singing is not dependent on them.
Summary 1 – Meanings of singing
Summary 2 – Conditions not relevant
Sadiq Meghjee is a frequent contributor to Iqra Online and has been studying in the seminary of Qom for 6 years. Prior to entering the seminary he pursued an accounting qualification and worked in London. His field of interest is intellectual history.