Love of poetry is planted in human nature. Where does this passion reside in the human body is a riddle that challenges the biologists and evolutionists. There is no area in the mind for emotions: love, hatred, etc. ‘Much there is,’ the human body seems to tease the humans, ‘that you are ignorant of.’
The Prophet – otherwise a serious and sober person – had, on a couple of occasions listened to poetry. Hassan b. Thabit recited his poems right in his mosque, in his august presence. But of course, that was more or less poetry of religious character.
When poetry is sung, it becomes song. Actually, poetry is arrangement of words to specific sounds. Add to it the chanting qualities of a Dau’d, and birds and mountains could join in chorus.
People’s ‘morning song’ is a well-known phenomenon. Men and women, adults and children, hum songs in the morning while they bathe and attend to household work. But those who are so cheerful in the morning, are rarely singing in the evening, and never at bed times. It seems singing tires people, rather than relaxing them, as generally thought, and so, they will rather sleep off quietly, than sing out on sleep.
Children are fonder of songs than adults. Lessons are taught through songs. Not only they listen with interest but also sing out, as they play with toys. They miss the morning songs lesser than adults.
Morning and evening, birds and insects do their singing and are good at it. They soothe the souls. Songs of the insects add to the mystery of the forests at night.
Islam does not have any substantial objection to poetry or songs. The Qur’an has only disapproved of aimless, meaningless, purposeless poetry. The Prophet encouraged that we chant out the Qur’an. He is also reported to have said, “Fulfill your desire for music by reciting the Qur’an in melodious tones.”
Quite surprisingly, he also said that, “he who does not recite the Qur’an in melodious tones is not of us.” Although interpretations vary, the apparent meaning should drive fear into those who cannot sort of ‘sing out the Qur’an.’ This is because to recite the Qur’an in melodious tones requires plenty of recitation. It is through good amount of recitation following tajweed rules that a person will be able to develop his own, personal, melody. So perhaps, the ability or inability to recite the Qur’an in melodious tune reveals how much a person recites. The conclusion is: if he cannot do it in melody, he has not recited it much; and he who does not recite much ‘is not of us.’
Love of music also seems to be in the nature of humans, but, with the exception that not every human seems to be in love with it. While almost everyone will listen with interest to a poem well-sung, not everyone will listen to music with joy, no matter what class of it: classical or modern. Many ears are deaf to it. Some are too sensitive to it. They are irritated by every musical sound. It is noteworthy that not every thing that the humans like or love is good for them. Humans’ love of the bitter (tobacco and wine), for example, does not mean that these things are good for them.
It is greatly the youth (barring the serious ones aiming at successful future) who seem to fall victims to music. And they want it loud. In fact, for the modern youth, the louder the music, the better. And, it is not the soft music that they are fond of, but the hard type (pop music). The West assumes that interest in sober classical music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and others) is a sign of good taste and culture. If that is true, then it is a bad remark on modern culture. The great majority of music-lovers of the modern times have no ear for classical music. The youths crowding into music concert halls, have perhaps never heard any of the classical masters.
It is still to be discovered why it is that musicians offer their best when on hard drugs, and why those who listen to lots of music end up taking drugs. There seems to be some relationship between music and drugs. Some become restless if not supplied with their usual dose of music. So too, many music lovers appear to be ‘not quite normal.’ They are quiet, not very interactive, and given to themselves.
A curious fact is that country folks, including its youth, do not seem to have an eager ear for music; neither hard nor soft, neither classical nor modern. At best, a few enjoy playing simple musical instruments such as flutes. And they too ‘enjoy playing,’ that is, are not given to listening. Curiously again, poets generally believe that it is in the countryside that the ‘true man’ is to be found. He is portrayed by them as artless, unassuming, and natural, in comparison to the city-dweller who they think is artful, artificial, and far from natural.
Music also seems to have some relationship with disturbed spirits. That is, fondness for music is more prevalent among those who feel that somehow their life is incomplete, that they are spiritually exhausted, and that they need something to pep-up their downcast spirits.
Thus, what comes out is that music seems to have something to do with: youth, with those pre-disposed to it, the psychologically disturbed; city, rather than the countryside dwellers, and those whose society nurtures it.
Looking at other aspects, one discovers that although songs have been popular among women, and women are good at singing, it is strange that they are not good at playing music. There have been women-poets, though not many. They have been a popular subject of poetry, until the modern times (when they abandoned their position of love and respect), but not as many of them have been poets nor instrument players. At best they can beat small drums, though not skillfully.
In the West, music is now taught in specialized institutes. It is part of every school curriculum there. Yet, women’s presence as composers or players of musical instruments remains at the stubborn zero level.
It is also not popular with the serious-natured people. In fact, as noted by Greek writers, it is the superfluous who eschew greater interest in music.
It is also noticeable that after a session with music, either in the home atmosphere, or in concert halls, people seem to become duller, less active, and not inclined to hard work.
Could this be the reason why the music-mad West has become less productive, unable to compete with the Chinese worker? Conversely, has the great demand for 24-hour, running music in the West, psychological reasons behind it? Could it be said that it is a kind of drug?
Playing music in workplaces does not increase productivity of the laborers. It could have the opposite effect. Music is in fact sort of a palliative, mildly opiative, and a tranquilizing tablet. Plato remarked that music led to depression and psychological disorders. He even suggested censure of music by the authorities. Only certain ‘harmless’ types were to be allowed to the public (Britannica).
It seems also that some men lose control over their minds with a certain type of music, a fact well employed at the beginning and during battles. With its help, headless soldiers can be enthused into laying their lives for their ruling masters – who loot the state wealth after the victorious soldiers have been dispatched to perdition.
An inexplicable phenomenon of music is that it can be dangerous to young women. They fall in love with singers and musicians and offer their selves: body and soul, as free gift to the musicians, although in real life the personalities of musicians is quite often quite loathsome.
While the Greeks thought that the intellect of a person was an important element for appreciation of music, Western music does not seem to demand any such qualification. It is said that pop-music is not only stupid, but can make its lover more stupid.
Christianity employs music heavily. Once upon a time, the Roman Catholic Church declared it an article of faith. The Church depends heavily on music for creating a somber atmosphere. In some parishes, Church attendance seems to be little more than a weekly musical event. When they lose control, the worshippers, men and women, take to dancing on the Church floor.
In contrast to the Greek and Christian suggestions that Text should be given greater emphasis than to sound, modern music is entirely sound, and no Text. In fact, the youth in the non-Western world who stamps his feet, throws up his arms, and twists his body in complete ecstasy, hardly understands the Text.
It is generally recognized that as against the instrumental, there can be vocal music (e.g. “Ave Maria” songs). But, in truth, it is Muslim poets who excel in vocal music when they present their poems during the ‘poetical evenings’ (Musha`ira) reciting their poems (sans music) in melodious tones that they themselves compose.
Pseudo-Sufis introduced music into the so-called “Dhikr” sessions. But the consistent criticism of the scholars forced them to keep it in low profiles. With music penetrating into every home and every head, their sima` sessions are more or less out of vogue.
It is universally agreed that music arouses emotions, although the ‘how’ of it is not understood. But no one ever thought that it activates human intellect, or has anything to with it. Some would say in fact, that it impairs it.
The long and short of the above goes to demonstrate that there is no definite advantage of music for human mind, psyche, or soul. Beyond a ‘passing rendezvous’ its waves could indeed be harmful to many. The opinion of the scholars therefore, that except in passing, simple kind of music, such as of drums or tablah, and an occasional bout with it, is either altogether haram (which is the majority view) or strongly disapproved.
Qurtubi quotes a hadith which reports the Prophet (saws) as having said “I have been sent to destroy musical instruments.” In another report he warned, “When my Ummah indulges in fifteen things, punishments will descend upon it.” Then among the things he counted, one was, “popularizing singers and musical instruments.”
He also informed that, “He who sat in a (musical) session, listening to a (female) singer will have lead poured into his ears (in the Hereafter).”
Another statement warns that he who indulged in (musical) songs will not hear the recitations of the dwellers of Paradise.
Early Muslims were so cautious about it that they ruled, “If a man died, and he had a (female) slave-girl singer singing with musical instruments) in his retinue, then, “do not pray over him if he died.”
In fact, Imam Malik (who had played some musical instruments when he was a lad) ruled that if someone purchased a slave-girl and discovered that she is a singer, he had the right to treat this as a defect in her, and could return her. There was no difference in opinion among the Madinans over this issue.
Some have even ruled that a Muslim could break musical instruments if he found them with another, with no penalty due. Imam Abu Haneefah, however, said that a Muslim had the authority to break the instruments, but will have to compensate for the loss to the owner.
Most scholars have ruled that a singer (singing to music) may not be accepted as a witness in an Islamic Court of Law.
When a girl entered into `A’isha’s house with tinkling anklets, she asked her to be sent out saying that the “angels depart with such sounds.”
What should a Muslim do if he happens to be in a place where music is being played? He is sinless for any hearing, because he never intended it, nor had the ability to stop it. After all, an occasional little of it is not haram. It is the frequent, and a good bout with it, that is. Such an occasional encounter, for a short while, with the intention to please a tired soul, is considered similar to a person walking into a garden to refresh himself. The intention is to prepare oneself better for acts of obedience.
To conclude, singing is in perfect order. It is music that receives Islamic displeasure. Going by the manner in which the Prophet and his succeeding generations treated it, the great majority of scholars have evinced their strong dislike. Were their opinions guided by the influence of Plato and Aristotle? Aristotle’s opinion was that music has the power to mold character. (So, it is necessary to control its quality [and quantity – so thought he]. Plato on the other hand was quite critical of music’s influence. It receives his frown. But, their views do not seem to have influenced opinions of the Muslim scholars. Most were, in any case, unaware of Greek opinions (if they knew their names); and, with the disapproval of the Prophet and his immediate followers, music was more or less absent from Muslim society when their opinions were formed and disapproval sounded. Muslim scholars did not have a chance to measure the influence of music on humans, good or evil; they simply went by religious directions; especially the generations that immediately succeeded the Prophet. They were unanimously against music.
Abstaining from the disapproved is no minor achievement; especially when the fondness for it is in human nature. What is the reward? Well, they will get quantity, quality and variety of it in Paradise. Its dwellers will listen to music at will. They will gather together under a tree whose leaves – as the winds blow – will play all kinds of music for them.