Dear Guilty Feet Have Got No Rhythm,
You say you love music, art, and dancing with your wife, but have heard or read that they are all haram – possibly from hadeeths such as ones that threaten dire consequences to those who make figures, or that those who create the like of which God has created will be arraigned on the Day of Judgement and asked to blow life into that which they created.
We will initially bundle these together, since really one answer suffices, so forgive us for a bit of a lengthy answer. The answer begins with a true anecdote from mid twentieth century Egypt when one of the leading Muslims reformers went to lecture at Al Azhar University. Cinema had just recently been introduced into the country, and one of the conservative students, wanting to embarrass the lecturer, tried to put him on the spot by asking, “So, Sheik, do you think movies are halal or haram?” The Sheik smiled calmly and replied, “Son, halal movies are halal, and haram movies are haram.” That is entirely our stance on art, music, dancing, etc.
Precisely this attitude was reflected by the official fatwa council in Yemen when they were asked whether television was haram or halal. The replied with two analogies, saying that television was not intrinsically halal or haram. First, they likened television to a mirror, saying that it reflects the picture before it; if that picture is good and beautiful and wholesome, then it is halal; if it is vulgar, or lewd or reflecting evil, then it is haram. Alternatively, they said to consider television like a glass vessel; if this vessel is filled with wine, it becomes haram, while if it is filled with honey, it is halal.
Now, let us get a bit more specific. In approaching matters like this, we begin by recognizing that there are a lot of opinions out there saying that so many things are haram, leaving people who like to enjoy those things in a quandary. Obviously, there are haram things and they should be avoided. However, usually, the haram is clear-cut and known to all, and when a significant number of people have significant questions as to whether something is haram, it is time to step back and methodically look at the situation. What does “methodically” mean? First, we start at the most general level, which is the universally accepted juristic rule that the default state of things is that they are halal, unless proven otherwise (sort of like the legal maxim, innocent until proven guilty). Some people seem to approach Islam in precisely the opposite way, vastly widening the circle of haram, and asking for proof that things are halal. This juristic principle is well encapsulated in the book The Halal and Haram in Islam, by the leading twentieth century scholar Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, “The first asl, or principle, established by Islam is that the things which Allah has created…are essentially for man’s use, and hence are permissible. Nothing is haram except what is prohibited by a sound and explicit nas from the Law-Giver, Allah (SWT).” He explains that a nas is a verse of the Quran or a clear, authentic hadeeth which explicitly states the prohibition, stating “if the nas is not sound, as for example in the nas of a weak hadeeth, or if it is not explicit in stating the prohibition, the original principle of permissibility applies.”
This caution directly reflects the Quranic attitude (portion of 7:32):
قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّتِىٓ أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِۦ وَٱلطَّيِّبَـٰتِ مِنَ ٱلرِّزْقِ
Say: 'Who is there to forbid the beauty which God has brought forth for His creatures, and the good things from among the means of sustenance?'
Another general principle comes from the hadeeth wherein a man was worried that liking to wear handsome robes and shoes would be prideful and bar him from heaven. The Prophet (PBUH) replied,
“surely Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” (Sahih Muslim; Riyad as-Salihin Book 17, Hadith 65).
After grounding ourselves in these principles, we then need to examine the juristic evidence about the specific issue closely, which is somewhat outside the scope of what we do in this column. However, let us tackle the case of music, to illustrate this idea. Here, you will find a spectrum of opinions. To begin with, there is little debate that singing is halal, as long as the lyrics are not inappropriate, and do not encourage to that which is haram. Quoting from Sheik Al Qaradawi’s book,
“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 not be in any way obscene or harmful to Islamic morals.”
Later, he states, “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.”
Even with this, there will be a spectrum of opinions. More conservative scholars, for example, will say that singing is not haram, but music is, and so if it is accompanied by music, it then becomes haram. This opinion, for instance, is expressed by the scholar Sheik Uthman al-Khamees. Other scholars, like Sheik Tariq al Suwaidan, disagree, and do not consider music intrinsically haram. He states that the hadeeths against music are all weak, except for one, which appears in Sahih al Bukhari, and it is in fact this hadeeth which the conservative voices usually quote:
“From among my followers there will be some people who will come to consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful….” (Sahih al-Bukhari Book 74, Hadith 16)
From this hadeeth, it is then surmised that musical instruments are haram and that the Prophet portended that a time would come when some in his umma would make the haram into halal. However, even though the hadeeth appears in Sahih al Bukhari, the great medieval scholar Ibn Hazm, for example, did not accept this hadeeth as sound (technically, he considered it mu’allaq, but we will not get into such technical issues here). Sheik al Suwaidan, moreover, considers that the prohibitions in this hadeeth are of two types: general, such as illicit sex, and conditional, such as silk, which is certainly halal for women. He believes that music falls into the conditional category and becomes haram when combined with the other harams – e.g., debauched evenings of “wine, women and song,” as the saying goes.
We delved into these details just to show that simply quoting a hadeeth often isn’t sufficient to settle a matter, the way some people pretend. Once again, that doesn’t mean that sound hadeeths can be refused based on people’s whims and desires, but rather, that there is an analytical methodology to dealing with them, and often a range of scholarly opinions when this methodology is applied by scholars who are fit to do this. Sheik Yusuf al Qaradawi, for example, after making it clear that singing is not prohibited, states, “There is no harm in its being accompanied by music which is not exciting.”
Therefore, our opinion, and God knows best, is: enjoy good music!
Regarding art, the same applies – art not meant to glorify individuals, or to create statues to be worshipped, or to compete with God’s capacity as the Creator, can be beautiful and can be a glorification of the One who has created beauty in this world, and giving humans the capacity to appreciate it and try to reflect it. There are various opinions regarding statues as differentiated from art on canvas, but we’ll leave that to you to explore given the above background. Regarding dancing with your wife, the Prophet PBUH is reported to have watched the Abyssinians perform in his own mosque (probably playing with spears, and possibly also gymnastic dancing, etc), along with his wife Aishah, and encouraged them as they performed. Personally, we do not feel comfortable dancing in public, but view that as a personal choice rather than an issue of halal and haram. So, if you and your wife love dancing and feel comfortable doing so in front of other people, dance with your wife to your heart’s content, but obviously avoid lewd and suggestive moves in the dancing – lol, you know what we mean.