Among the entertainments, which may comfort the soul, please the heart, and refresh the ear is singing.
Islam permits singing under the condition that it is not in any way obscene or harmful to Islamic morals. There is no harm in its being accompanied by music, which is not exciting. In order to create an atmosphere of joy and happiness, singing is recommended on festive occasions such as the days of 'Eid, weddings and wedding feasts, births, 'aqiqat (the celebration of the birth of a baby by the slaughter of sheep), and on the return of a traveler.
'Aishah narrated that when a woman was married to an Ansari man, the Prophet (peace be on him) said, " 'Aishah, did they have any entertainment? The Ansar are fond of entertainment.'' (Reported by al-Bukhari.) Ibn 'Abbas said, " 'Aishah gave a girl relative of hers in marriage to a man of the Ansar. The Prophet (peace be on him) came and asked, 'Did you send a singer along with her?' 'No,' said 'Aishah. The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) then said, The Ansar are a people who love poetry. You should have sent along someone who would sing, 'Here we come, to you we come, greet us as we greet you.' " (Reported by Ibn Majah.)
'Aishah narrated that during the days of Mina, on the day of 'Eid al-Adha, two girls were with her, singing and playing on a hand drum. The Prophet (peace be on him) was present, listening to them with his head under a shawl. Abu Bakr then entered and scolded the girls. The Prophet (peace be on him), uncovering his face, told him, "Let them be, Abu Bakr. These are the days of 'Eid." (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.) In his book, Ihya ulum al-deen, (In the quarter on "Habits", in the book Listening to Singing.), Imam al-Ghazzali mentions the ahadith about the singing girls, the Abyssinians playing with spears in the Prophet's Mosque, the Prophet's encouraging them by saying, "Carry on, O Bani Arfidah," his asking his wife, 'Aishah, "Would you like to watch?" and standing there with her until she herself became tired and went away, and 'Aishah's playing with dolls with her friends. He then says: Al-Bukhari and Muslim in the two Sahihs report all these ahadith, and they clearly prove that singing and playing are not haram.
From them we may deduce the following:
- First: The permissibility of playing; the Abyssinians were in the habit of dancing and playing.
- Second: Doing this in the mosque.
- Third: The Prophet's saying, 'Carry on, O Bani Arfidah,' was a command and a request that they should play; then how can their play be considered haram?
- Fourth: The Prophet (peace be on him) prevented Abu Bakr and 'Umar from interrupting and scolding the players and singers. He told Abu Bakr that 'Eid was a joyous occasion and that singing was a means of enjoyment.
- Fifth: On both occasions he stayed for a long time with 'Aishah, letting her watch the show of the Abyssinians and listening with her to the singing of the girls. This proves that it is far better to be good-humored in pleasing women and children with games than to express such disapproval of such amusements out of a sense of harsh piety and asceticism.
- Sixth: The Prophet (peace be on him) himself encouraged 'Aishah by asking her, "Would you like to watch?" (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
- Seventh: The permissibility of singing and playing on the drum... and what follows, to the end of al-Ghazzali's discussion on singing.
It is reported that many Companions of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with them) as well as second-generation Muslim scholars used to listen to singing and did not see anything wrong with it. As for the ahadith, which have been reported against singing, they are all weak and have been shown by researchers to be unsound.
The jurist Abu Bakr al-'Arabi says, "No sound hadith is available concerning the prohibition of singing," while Ibn Hazm says, "All that is reported on this subject is false and fabricated " However, since singing is in many cases associated with drinking parties and nightclubs, many scholars have declared it to be haram or at least makruh. They state that singing constitutes that kind of idle talk which is mentioned in the ayah, And among the people is the one who buys idle talk (at the expense of his soul) in order to lead (people) astray from the path of Allah without knowledge, holding it in mockery; for such there will be a humiliating punishment. (31:6) Says Ibn Hazm: This verse condemns a particular behavior, that of doing something to mock the path of Allah. Anyone who does this is an unbeliever; if he even should buy a copy of the Qur'an, doing so in order to make it the object of his mockery and thereby leading people astray, he would be an unbeliever. It is this type of behavior, which is condemned by Allah and not the idle talk in which one may indulge for mere relaxation, without intending to lead people astray from the path of Allah.
Ibn Hazm also refutes the argument of those who say that since singing is not of "the truth" it must be of "error," referring to the verse, "And what is beyond the truth except error?" (10:32). He comments, The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said, 'Deeds will be judged according to intentions, and everyone will get what he intended.' (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.) Accordingly, the one who listens to singing with the intention of using it in support of a sin is a sinner, and this holds true of anything other than singing (as well), while one who listens to singing with the intention of refreshing his soul in order to gain strength to do his duty toward Allah Ta'ala and to do good deeds, is a good and obedient servant of Allah, and his action is of the truth. And he who listens to singing intending neither obedience nor disobedience is doing something neutral and harmless, which is similar to going to the park and walking around, standing by a window and looking at the sky, wearing blue or green cloths, and so on.
However, there are some limitations to be observed in the matter of singing:
- 1. The subject matter of songs should not be against the teachings of Islam. For example, if the song is in praise of wine, and it invites people to drink, singing or listening to it is haram.
- 2. Although the subject matter itself may not be against the Islamic teachings, the manner of singing may render it haram; this would be the case, for example, if suggestive sexual movement accompanied the singing.
- 3. Islam fights against excess and extravagance in anything, even in worship; how, then, can it tolerate excessive involvement with entertainment? Too much time should not be wasted in such activities; after all, what is time but life itself? One cannot dispute the fact that spending time in permissible activities consumes time, which ought to be resaved for carrying out religious obligations and doing good deeds. It is aptly said, "There is no excess except at the expense of a neglected duty."
- 4. Each individual is the best judge of himself. If a certain type of singing arouses one's passions, leads him towards sin, excites the animal instincts, and dulls spirituality, he must avoid it, thus closing the door to temptations.
- 5. There is unanimous agreement that if singing is done in conjunction with haram activities—for example, at a drinking party, or if it is mixed with obscenity and sin—it is haram.
The Prophet (peace be on him) warned of a severe punishment for people who sing or listen to singing in such a situation when he said, Some people of my Ummah will drink wine, calling it by another name, while they listen to singers accompanied by musical instruments. Allah will cause the earth to swallow them and will turn some of them into monkeys and swine. (Reported by Ibn Majah.) This does not mean that they will be physically transformed into the bodies and outward form of monkeys and swine but rather in heart and soul, carrying the heart of a monkey and the soul of a pig in their human bodies.