Source: Syed Khamenei, Risāleh yeh Amῡzeshī (v.2), Ahkām e Mu’āmilāt, p. 111 – 116
Second Discussion: The ḥurmat (prohibition/impermissibility) of Singing
Singing, if done so in the form that it is deviating (from the Right Path) is forbidden. On this basis, there are two types of singing, one type that is permissible which neither deviates nor is it entertaining, and one type which is forbidden (due to it’s) entertaining and deviating nature.
Explanation of those factors which influence the impermissibility of singing
1. Being entertaining (mulhī bῡdan)
Entertainment (lahw) is defined as those things which keep an individual amused, and (in the process) makes him heedless of other things.
However, it should be noted that not every form of entertainment is forbidden, only that form of entertainment which becomes a source of deviation of people is.
For example, if a person is preoccupied with something or he’s just suffered a calamity or has some form of trouble or stress bothering him, by listening to a recitation he would become entertained and as a result, he would forget the troubles that were plaguing him. Or by watching a film he would be distracted from other things. These items are considered entertaining (lahwi) yet they are not forbidden.
2. Deviating from the path of God
Deviating is used with the meaning of straying away from the Straight Path, more generic than mere deviation in beliefs (aqā’id) or correct actions (‘amal).
a) Deviating in beliefs (idhlāl i’tiqādi): Singing in which a person begins to doubt and become sceptical towards Islamic beliefs, and it creates a state of indifference. This is something present in many instances of singing. For example someone who is entertained with such things will slowly find his mind changing, where a person normally would be inclined to going to the Mosque, meeting other believers and working within an Islamic environment, once a person is overwhelmed with such forms of entertainment after a while this attachment fades away and he will become deviated. So here deviation from the path of God means deviation from the fundamentals of religion.
b) Deviating in actions (idhlāl dar ‘amal wa dar furῡ’): Singing in which a person is taken towards forbidden action, or which creates within a person a feeling of carelessness towards sinning. Frankly speaking, this is the biggest danger posed by deviating singing and music that it makes a person indifferent towards the Truth and careless towards sin.
A few points in respect to the deviating nature under discussion
1. The type of deviation in singing
It is possible that the deviation that occurs (in the listener) is of three forms:
a) The words that are being sung are the cause for deviation. For example, the lyrics being sung cause a person to drink alcohol or takes them towards dressing inappropriately (bī hijabī). Or it prevents him from doing something good or replaces correct beliefs with incorrect ones.
b) The melody is such that it forces one to sin, for example a type of melody that is exclusively reserved for impermissible dancing. Or a sound which takes a person towards lust.
c) The situation, the condition and other external factors are a cause of deviation. For example, the singer has a few traits that deviate a person from the path of God, such as being a lady whose state has the ability to deviate a person. It is irrelevant whether the lyrics are sinful or not, or if the tune being sung is normal or not, but rather it is because she has these specific traits that are seductive and cause a person to fall into sin.
2. Criteria of being forbidden is the potential of it being deviating not whether it is actively so
Sometimes there is a song which for a person is considered to be deviating from the path of God, yet for someone else it wouldn’t be considered so. Perhaps because the latter’s faith and piety are stronger than the formers and is therefore not affected as such. Or perhaps because they have heard it so much that they have become desensitized and it has no effect on them, it’s neither arousing for them nor is it thrilling. On this basis people are different, is it possible that the ruling can be different for these types of people?
There is no difference in the impermissibility between these two people and these two conditions. It cannot be said that the song is currently considered to be deviating and therefore is forbidden but for the one who hasn’t felt the deviation it isn’t forbidden.
Factors not relevant in the understanding of forbidden singing
1. Causing of agitation (tarab)
Not only is the causing of agitation not considered relevant in the understanding of singing itself, it is also not a criterion in whether a song is forbidden or not. Under no circumstance is the state of agitation or psychological states which come about after listening to songs considered to be a criterion in the decision on whether it is forbidden or not. Sometimes there are scenes which cause a person to feel this way more than listening to songs could ever do. Sometimes there are reciters of eulogy who create this atmosphere and feeling where a person loses self control, this is the very same agitation (tarab). Or perhaps a joke is told where a person can’t control himself from laughing. Not only is this feeling in itself not forbidden, but rather a fortiori the singing which causes such a feeling is neither forbidden.
2. Having a fast rhythm
A fast rhythm is not a criteria for being forbidden.
3. Intention of being happy (qasd e tafrīh)
If the song is entertaining (lahwi), listening to it regardless of whether the intention was to be happy or not, to fill up spare time or not, is forbidden.
4. The severity of it being entertainment or not
Songs are consisted of three faculties, the sound, the lyrics and the singer. If only one of these is such that it becomes entertaining (lahw) while the other two do not, it will still be considered forbidden.
5. Motivation of the singer
If the song has become entertainment (lahw), it is forbidden to listen to regardless of whether the singer didn’t have the intention to do so.
The authority in assessing forbidden singing from the permissible (marja’ barāyeh tashkīs e misdāq)
The assessment of this subject, just like in all other subjects, is with the laymen (‘urf). To elaborate, once it has been understood that forbidden singing is singing which deviates a person from the path of God, the assessment of which types of songs present fit that criteria and are to be accorded such a ruling (misdāq e khārijī) is the responsibility of the laymen (amr e ‘urfī).
Sometimes in addition to the assessment by the layman, the assessment of the individual himself (mukallaf) is also necessary. For example, if the laymen consider a specific type of song to be impermissible yet the individual (mukallaf) doubts the validity of this assessment, naturally the assessment in this situation will be with the individual himself. If the individual agrees with the assessment of the laymen then it will be forbidden, if not and he doubts whether it is permissible or not, it will be left on the basis of permissibility.
Is a sound that causes dancing a criterion for being forbidden?
One of the matters that is crystal clear is that a sound which in and of itself is a cause for dancing is to be considered entertaining and deviating from the path of God.
Point: The notion of being entertaining is not limited to the tune nor to the content of what is being said. But the conditions and the environment linked to the song itself will have an effect. For example, if someone sits in a religious gathering and recites poetry from Hāfiz, and then, later on, recites the very same poetry in a gathering of ladies alongside a series of other immoral activities, in the first instance the poetry isn’t to be considered entertaining and deviating, but in the second it will. This idea can be extrapolated to an entire country, since the radio and the television is linked to the whole country not just a specific gathering. If the general environment was such that it would aid and enforce the entertainment of this song then this song would be considered entertaining and forbidden, but if the environment wasn’t such then the song wouldn’t be considered forbidden, even though in reality the song is still the same, the only difference being the environment in which it is being played.
For example in the Islamic Republic where everything is religion orientated and the environment is an Islamic one as opposed to a place where lust and desire are dominant, there will be a difference in what constitutes entertainment.
The responsibility of an individual (mukallaf) when in doubt
If it is not known whether a type of recitation is forbidden or not, it will be left with the ruling of permissibility.
1. Forbidden singing in the recitation of the Qur’ān and eulogies for Imām Hussayn
Every form of recitation that is entertaining is forbidden, with the recitation of the Qur’ān being no exception. In fact, in this case, it is even worse as it is considered a form of mockery of the Qur’ān.
2. Forbidden singing at a wedding
There is no difference between a wedding event and other events, if it is forbidden then it is forbidden even at a wedding event.
3. A man listening to his wife does not make it allowed
It is not allowed for a man to listen to his wife sing a song of the forbidden type.
4. Singing (of the forbidden type) is of the greater sins
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.