Music and Musical Instruments (4) – Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei

Source: Syed Khamenei, Risāleh yeh Amῡzeshī (v.2), Ahkām e Mu’āmilāt, p. 120 – 127

Definition: Music in the general sense has two meanings:

1. Music is the art of composing sounds in such a way that the listener enjoys listening to it. On this basis any sound which has high and low pitches and to which the listener gets pleasure from is called music, be it from a human, musical instrument or even an animal like a bulbul. Even to the extent that if a person is speaking but does so by oscillating his tone and pitch it can be considered music.

2. The other meaning for music which is conventionally understood is that sound produced by musical instruments. Although what is meant here by sound isn’t just any sound haphazardly made by those instruments but rather when it is played in a professional manner.

Criteria of impermissibility in musical instruments

If the musical instruments are accompanied by a song whose lyrics are deviating from the path of God it is forbidden (if any of the following occur):

  1. Causes a deviation in thoughts and beliefs,
  2. It causes a person to commit sin, also known as deviated actions (dhalālat amalī), like a song which is sexually exciting (and encourages a person to commit forbidden acts),
  3. Makes a person heedless to the obligatory commands (amr wājib)

The condition of “gatherings of entertainment” in the impermissibility of musical instruments

The criteria in the impermissibility of musical instruments is whether they are deviating (mudhil) and entertaining (lahvi). However keeping in mind that what normally gets played at gatherings of entertainment (majlis lahv) are those entertaining sounds (sawt lahvi), on this basis it could therefore be said that any sound produced by instruments that is suitable for a gathering of entertainment is forbidden. Although it should be noted the assessment (tashkhīs) of this is with the layman (‘urf).

Some examples of forbidden entertainment (lahv muharram)

1. The sound is sexually exciting

2. Exciting and causes a person to commit sin. Meaning the sound is of such a style that it forces a person to commit a sin.

3. A sound which prevents a person from acting on his obligatory acts, such as an attractive sound that makes people abandon jihād, earning a livelihood, education etc. This sound would be considered to be part of forbidden entertainment.

4. Sounds and tunes which make a person indifferent to religious matters and takes him out of a religious atmosphere. This is an example of entertainment which deviates from the path of God

5. A sound which makes a person dance. This is the most obvious and clear-cut example of sounds which are forbidden.

To summarise it can be said, any sound or tune which makes a person careless about religion, sin and religious obligations is forbidden.

If a song is played from the television it’s reach will be far more expansive than if that song was merely played in a room. On this basis there is a difference in the potential effect (the song has) in these two places. It’s possible that something in one place wouldn’t be considered forbidden (harām) but when it’s reach becomes greater it becomes forbidden. Even though the sound from musical instruments are played on television, the very instruments themselves shouldn’t be shown, as by seeing them it’s possible that the environment could become entertaining (lahvi). On this basis, it should be prevented to this extent (from being shown). Therefore the criteria is that if the sound in any shape or form can create an entertaining (environment) then it is forbidden.

Point: The criteria in the discussion is the potentiality (of the effects occurring and not whether it is active). Therefore it is not necessary the listener currently has the (negative) effects of listening to the music. But if the nature of the music is sexually exciting, or it keeps a person from his obligatory acts or makes him commit sin, it is forbidden.

A clear example of something non-entertaining (ghayr lahvī)

It isn’t the case that musical instruments are always deviating from the path of God or a form of (forbidden) entertainment. There are a number of instances where they are definitely not forbidden, such as drums or trumpets played during the time of war or a beat played at the traditional wrestling arenas (zῡrkhāneh) which regulates this sport. These sounds are not considered entertaining (lahvī).

Buying and Selling Musical Instruments and Teaching and Learning Them

Creating an instrument that has both forbidden and permissible uses is permissible, however if one of the conditions is for the instrument to be used in an impermissible manner, then this transaction is both forbidden (harām) and void (bātil).

Teaching and learning musical instruments is forbidden if done so via songs that are deviating and entertaining, as here the practical element is being learnt and not just the theory of it. Here the problem isn’t the teaching in and of itself, but rather the type of music that is being taught.

The buying and selling of these instruments follow the same reasoning. If the instrument being purchased can be used for both forbidden and permissible uses and there is no intention for it to be used in a forbidden manner, then there is no problem with such a transaction. However if it is clear that there is an intention for the instrument to be used in a forbidden manner, and such a transaction would be considered assisting and helping something forbidden, then the transaction itself is forbidden.

Propagating Music

Anything which normalises music within the society and makes it popular is to be considered a form of propagation. Keeping in mind that currently entertaining (lahvī) music is more prominent than non-entertaining (ghayr lahvī), on this basis its propagation should be prevented as when music is spread amongst society forbidden acts shall also spread.

If a time was to come where you couldn’t find any forbidden music in society and musicians were trained in such a way that they were producing music that was permissible and would take a person closer to God, then establishing centres and exhibitions for its propagation would have no issue. However today this isn’t the case and the country’s situation in relation to music is not ideal as forbidden music is a lot more prominent than the permissible. Given these circumstances propagating music is not permissible.

Is teaching and learning music a form of propagation?

Teaching and learning music is not a form of propagation. However, if teaching and learning music got to such an extent that in every city and in every road there were classes and there were advertisements to attract the youth to this it would then indeed be considered propagation, and anything which propagates music is not allowed.

Musical Instrument Exhibitions

What has been absolutely agreed upon is that propagation of music within this society is not allowed, and on this basis putting musical instruments on display and holding exhibitions would be considered a form of propagating forbidden acts. Therefore such exhibitions would not be allowed.

Questions & Answers

1. What is the ruling on holding exhibitions for musical instruments by the Islamic Republic?

Answer: Anything which normalises music within the society and makes it popular is to be considered a form of propagation. Keeping in mind that currently entertaining (lahvī) music is more prominent than non-entertaining (ghayr lahvī), on this basis anything which increases forbidden acts in society and makes people indifferent to it should be prevented. However this is a secondary ruling (‘unwān thānawī) and not a primary one (‘unwān awalī).

2. What is the ruling on learning entertaining music with the intention of getting a degree or just some familiarity with it?

Answer: Learning music which is forbidden and entertaining is impermissible irrespective of whether the person is learning it, teaching it, or just wants to get familiarity with it.

3. What is the ruling for someone who learns music with the intention of using it just for himself and not to play it for others?

Answer: So long as the music is not of the forbidden type there is no problem with it.

4. What is the ruling on listening to Western music, when it is likely that the listener through the music will gain an affinity for the West?

Answer: From the perspective of its impermissibility there is no difference whatsoever between western music and non-western music. The criteria of what makes music forbidden is the same for both types. However, if someone develops an affinity for Western culture because of the music then from a secondary ruling (‘unwān thānawī) it is not permissible even if the music being listened to is not entertaining.

5. By keeping in mind that one of the responsibilities of media is to introduce people to good and keep them away from bad, is it therefore permissible to play forbidden music to educate people about its negative consequences?

Answer: Entertaining music which deviates from the right path is without an iota of a doubt forbidden. To play such music even if it is done so with the intention of educating people is not a sufficient reason to allow it to be played.

6. Is it allowed to play forbidden music with the purpose of achieving a more important goal like resisting the cultural soft war or Western policies, either doing so temporarily or for a specific group of people in a specific location?

Answer: This assessment is a grave mistake. To think that we can temporarily make something forbidden popular within a society and then remove its effects whenever we wish is a tragic and dangerous error of judgement. Unfortunately this form of erroneous thinking can be seen in many civilised people today.

7. What is the ruling on playing permissible music in days of mourning?

Answer: If the layman considers it to be a violation of the sanctity of those days then it is absolutely forbidden. For example, if a song was to be played on the night of Ashῡra which people considered to be an insult to the sanctity of the day, then this would be forbidden. However if people did not think so then playing this music would not be forbidden, even though it is better for this type of music to be kept away from religious events.

8. There are a number of Farsi radio stations where listeners call in and request for music from the time of the Shah to be played. What is the ruling for this?

Answer: If the music is entertaining then it does not make a difference whether it is being listened to from inside Iran or not, in a mosque or in a street, it will be considered forbidden.

9. What is the ruling on an elegy recited in or accompanied with a melancholic tune?

Answer: Simply being melancholic, meaning the sound is in accordance with a sad musical melody, does not affect the ruling on its permissibility or impermissibility. The criteria remain whether or not it is entertaining and deviating from the path of God, and simply being an elegy does not make it exempt from this ruling.

10. Does listening to music for therapeutic purposes make it permissible?

Answer: Many people think that listening to music is an essential part of life just like eating and drinking. This is not correct, even though it is the case that music can be effective in healing certain illnesses. However this can never be a reason for making (forbidden) music permissible. Yes listening to such music at times of emergency (dharῡrī) is allowed like it would be (in extreme circumstances) for consuming wine for someone who’s ill. In this scenario, the consumption of wine for this sick person doesn’t imply wine has become allowed! What it means is this forbidden action for this specific person is allowed and not for everyone.

11. Is the ruling different for electronic instruments compared to physical ones? Or Iranian made to foreign?

Answer: There is no difference between Iranian and non-Iranian, modern or old, electronic or non-electronic, the criteria for being forbidden is the same.

12. What is the ruling on playing the daf (circular drum similar to a tambourine) at weddings?

Answer: There is no difference between a wedding and other scenarios, as the daf is a musical instrument and if the sound played from it is entertaining (lahvī) it is not allowed. If it not entertaining then there is no problem in it being played.

13. During weddings sometimes music is played from items such as saucepans and bowls, what is the ruling in this situation?

Answer: There is no difference between these items and the daf, if the sounds being made are entertaining (lahvī) than it is not allowed. On this basis there is no difference between actual musical instruments and other non-musical items that are used to make music.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.