Islamic music

Islamic music may refer to religious music, as performed in Islamic public services or private devotions, or more generally to musical traditions of the Muslim world. The heartland of Islam is the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia. Due to Islam being a multi-ethnic religion, the musical expression of its adherents is vastly diverse. Indigenous traditions of various part have influenced the musical styles popular among Muslims today.

A Musical Gathering – Ottoman, 18th century

Historically, the question of whether music is permitted in Islamic jurisprudence is disputed,[1] and traditionally it was a common practice of pious Muslims who "enjoined what was good and forbade what was bad" in accordance to Islamic law to destroy musical instruments.[2]

Secular and folk musical stylesEdit

Middle EastEdit

All of these regions were connected by trade long before the Islamic conquests of the 7th century, and it is likely that musical styles travelled the same routes as trade goods. However, lacking recordings, we can only speculate as to the pre-Islamic music of these areas. Islam must have had a great influence on music, as it united vast areas under the first caliphs, and facilitated trade between distant lands. Certainly, the Sufis, brotherhoods of Muslim mystics, spread their music far and wide.

North AfricaEdit

The Berber and Arabic speaking countries of North Africa, such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, share some musical traditions with Egypt and the Arab countries of the Middle East. Popular modern styles of music such as Raï and Chaabi originated in Berber countries. In addition, West African influences can be heard in the popular music of Gnawa.

Horn of AfricaEdit

Somali oud player Nuruddin Ali Amaan

Most Somali music is based on the pentatonic scale. That is, the songs only use five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. At first listen, Somali music might be mistaken for the sounds of nearby regions such as Ethiopia, Sudan or Eritrea, but it is ultimately recognizable by its own unique tunes and styles. Somali songs are usually the product of collaboration between lyricists (midho), songwriters (lahan), and singers ('odka or "voice").[3] Instruments prominently featured in Somali music include the kaban (oud).

West AfricaEdit

Islam is the largest and oldest organized religion in this region, although indigenous Sahelian and Saharan styles and genres are more prominent than those influenced by Middle-Eastern theory.

West African musical genres are more varied, and tend to incorporate both native and Berber influences, rather than those of Arab origin. A long history of court griot music based on historical accounts and praise-singing exists in the region. Wind and string instruments, such as the Kora harp, xalam lute, or Tambin flute (similar to the ney) are generally preferred to percussion, although percussion instruments such as the talking drum and djembe are also widely played among Muslim populations

Central AsiaEdit

Many of the countries in Central Asia such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have been heavily influenced by Turkic and Persian culture. Bowed instruments are common, as is bardic singing.

South AsiaEdit

The music of the Muslim countries of South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Pakistan) as well as countries with sizeable Muslim minorities (India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) merged Middle Eastern genres with indigenous classical musical modes, and is generally distinct in style and orchestration, yet due to the strong links encountered between the Middle-East, Central Asia, and South Asia, it is closer to Middle-Eastern styles than those of the periphery of the Islamic world, which tend to be purely indigenous.

Southeast AsiaEdit

"Al-Ushyaaq" Arab-Indonesian Gambus musical ensemble in Jakarta, 1949

Muslim-majority Indonesia has been significantly less influenced by Middle Eastern traditions than South Asia. As a result, many local musical styles predate the coming of Islam, although exceptions include Malay Zapin and Joget, and the Indonesian Gambus (derived from Qanbus), all of which show strong Middle Eastern influence.

There are also local music genres in Muslim-majority regions in Southeast Asia that are influenced by Arabian traditions, such as the tagonian of the Sundanese people and glipang of the people of Probolinggo

The music of South East Asia's Muslim-majority regions is more closely related to the musical genres of South East and East Asia. Gong chime ensembles such as Gamelan and Kulintang existed in the region before the arrival of Islam, and musical theory and method owe more to heavy Chinese influence, as well as HinduBuddhist principles, than to Arabic musical philosophy. Variations of one of two main scales prevail in the region among different ensembles: slendro and pelog (both of which originated in Java).

In Java, use of the gamelan for Islamic devotional music was encouraged by the Muslim saint Sunan Kalijogo.

Types of Muslim devotional recitation and musicEdit


Nasheeds are moral, religious recitations recited in various melodies by some Muslims of today without any musical instruments. However, some nasheed groups use percussion instruments, such as the daff. Singing moral songs of this type without instrumentation is considered permissible (halal) by many Muslims.

Sufi worship services are often called dhikr or zikr. See that article for further elaboration.

The dhikr of South Asian Muslims is "quietist". The Sufi services best known in the West are the chanting and rhythmic dancing of the whirling dervishes or Mevlevi Sufis of Turkey.

However, Sufis may also perform devotional songs in public, for the enjoyment and edification of listeners. The mood is religious, but the gathering is not a worship service.

In Turkey, once the seat of the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate, concerts of sacred song are called "Mehfil-e-Sama' " (or "gathering of Sama'"). Song forms include ilahi and nefe.

In South Asia, especially Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, a widely known style of Sufi music is qawwali. A traditional qawwali programme would include:

  • A hamd—a song in praise of Allah
  • A na`at—a song in praise of Muhammad
  • Manqabats—songs in praise of the illustrious teachers of the Sufi brotherhood to which the musicians belong
  • Ghazals—songs of intoxication and yearning, which use the language of romantic love to express the soul's longing for union with the divine.

Shi'a qawwali performances typically follow the naat with a manqabat in praise of Ali, and sometimes a marsiya, a lamentation over the death of much of Ali's family at the Battle of Karbala.

The most well-known qawwali singer in modern times is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Another traditional South Asian genre of Sufi music is the Kafi, which is more meditative and involves solo singing as opposed to the ensemble form seen in qawwali. The most widely known exponent of the Kafi is the Pakistani singer Abida Parveen.

Sufi music has developed with the times. A Pakistani Sufi rock band, Junoon, was formed in the 1990s to bring a modern twist to suit the new younger generation. The band achieved wide popularity, in Pakistan as well as in the West.

Music for public religious celebrationsEdit

  • Ta'zieh music—Ta'zieh is a passion play, part musical drama, part religious drama, rarely performed outside Iran. It depicts the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, venerated by Shia Muslims.
  • Ashurah music—performed during the Muharram mourning period, commemorating the deaths of Imam Hussein and his followers. (Shia)
  • Thikiri (from the Arabic word "Dhikr" which means remembrance of God—performed by the Qadiriyya Sufi orders of waYao or Yao people in East and Southern Africa (Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa).
  • Manzuma—moral songs performed in Ethiopia.
  • Madih nabawi—Arabic hymns praising Muhammad.



Although there are a wide variety of opinions on the permissibility of musical instruments, those who produce Islamic music with instruments often feature the following instruments:


Recent introductions:


When lyrics are not simply repeated and elaborated invocations (Yah Nabi and the like), they are usually poems in forms common in the local literature.[citation needed]

Differences of opinion over prohibitionEdit

Strictly speaking, the words ‘Islamic religious music’ present a contradiction in terms. The practice of orthodox Sunni and Shi‘a Islam does not involve any activity recognized within Muslim cultures as ‘music’. The melodious recitation of the Holy Qur'an and the call to prayer are central to Islam, but generic terms for music have never been applied to them. Instead, specialist designations have been used. However, a wide variety of religious and spiritual genres that use musical instruments exists, usually performed at various public and private assemblies outside the orthodox sphere.

— Eckhard Neubauer, Veronica Doubleday, Islamic religious music, New Grove Dictionary of Music online[4]

The question of permissibility of music in Islamic jurisprudence is historically disputed,[1] and with the advent of a whole new generation of Muslim musicians who try to blend their work and faith", the issue "has taken on extra significance."[5] Views on music range from it being strictly forbidden, to generally forbidden but with varying restrictions such as singing is allowed, or only one or two instruments are allowed, or music is allowed if it does not lead listeners into temptation.

Prohibited, no exceptionsEdit

Those who believe the Quran and hadith "strictly" prohibits music include the Salafi, and Deobandi.[5]

The Quran does not specifically refer to music itself. Yet, some scholars (Ibn ‘Abbaas, Al-Hasan al-Basri, Al-Sa’di, Ibn al-Qayyim, Abu’l-Sahbaa’)[6] have interpreted the phrase "idle talk" in Sura (chapter) of Luqman as referring to music:

  • “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks [in another translation: "the amusement of speech"; in yet another: "theatrics"] to mislead others from the path of Allah…” [Luqmaan 31:6].[6]

Several scholars have also proposed as evidence that music is forbidden the passage in which Allah says to Iblis: "And befool them gradually, those whom you can fool among them, with your voice, mobilize against them all your cavalry and infantry, manipulate them in their wealth and children, and make them promises.” [al-Israa’ 17:64][7][8][9]

It has also been said that some hadith refer to music, "always in an unfavourable way"[5] -- for example:

  • "Singing sprouts hypocrisy in the heart as rain sprouts plants";[5]
  • "There will be among my Ummah people who will regard as permissible adultery, silk, alcohol and musical instruments".[10] Some dispute the authenticity of this hadith, most notably Ibn Hazm al-Dhahiri.[11] -- but there is disagreement over whether these hadiths are reliable or weak.[5]

The popular Salafi fatwa website Islam Question and Answer states "the majority of scholars say that [music] is haraam (forbidden), including the four imams of fiqh", i.e. the founders of the four Sunni schools of fiqh: Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man, Malik ibn Anas, Al-Shafi‘i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.[12] In his survey of Islamic scholarship of "enjoined what was good and forbade what was bad" in accordance to Islamic law, historian Michael Cook found that "attacks on offending objects are a ubiquitous theme ... There are, for example, chess-boards to be overturned, supposedly sacred trees to be cut down and decorative images to destroy or deface ... But the targets that are mentioned again and again are liquor and musical instruments. (An exception was sometimes made for tambourines which were used to announce marriages.)"[13]

Some exceptionsEdit

  • Other Muslims believe musical instruments are haram and only vocals are allowed, but the performer must be of the same gender as the audience.[14]
  • Non-instrumental music (whatever the audience) has led to a rich tradition of a cappella devotional singing in Islam.[5] In support of singing being halal, the jurist Abu Bakr ibn 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."[15]
  • There are some Muslims who believe drums are permissible, but no other instruments.[5]
  • Zakir Naik, maintains musical instruments are haram except for two -- the daf (a traditional one sided drum) and tambourine, which are also mentioned in Hadith.[16]
    • An exception in the prohibition of music can be made for women playing the Daf, at celebrations and festivals, according to a minority group of Sunni Islam and another a group of Shiites.[17] This exception comes from a well-known hadith in which two small girls were singing to a woman,[6] and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad instructed Abu Bakr to let them continue, stating, "Leave them Abu Bakr, for every nation has an Eid (i.e. festival) and this day is our Eid".[18]
  • Still other Muslims believe that all instruments are allowed, provided they are used for acceptable or halal types of music and are not exciting.[15] Hence there is a long history of instrumental accompaniments to devotional songs, particularly in the Shia and Sufi traditions.[5] Many Sufi orders use music as part of their worship.[19]
  • According to the Irish Times, "a majority of Muslims" follow the view taken by modern scholars such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi that music is forbidden "only if it leads the believer into activities that are clearly defined as prohibited, such as drinking alcohol and illicit sex".[5]

Imam al-Ghazzali, reported several hadith and came to the conclusion that music in and of itself is permitted, saying: "All these Ahadith are reported by al-Bukhari and singing and playing are not haram." He also references a narration from Khidr, wherein a favorable opinion of music is expressed. Although this is disputed by others who disagree.[20][14] On the other hand, his account of forbidding wrong in (Book 19 of) his celebrated work The Revival of the Religious Sciences, includes as forbidden activities listening to musical instruments and singing girls.[21]

Notable people who are regarded as having believed music is halal include Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, Ibn al-Qaisarani, Ibn Sina, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Rumi, Ibn Rushd, and Ibn Hazm.[citation needed][22][23]

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Yusuf al-Qaradawi in his book "The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam", states songs/singing is not haram unless:

  1. the subject matter of songs is "against the teachings of Islam", such as praising wine;
  2. the "manner" of singing is haram, such as "being accompanied by suggestive sexual movement";
  3. it leads to "excessive involvement with entertainment", such as wasting time that ought to be spent on religion;
  4. if it "arouses one's passions, leads him towards sin, excites the animal instincts, and dulls spirituality";
  5. if it is done "in conjunction with haram activities – for example, at a drinking party".[15]

Shia and IranEdit

Based upon the authentic Islamic ahadith, numerous Iranian Grand Ayatollahs; Sadiq Hussaini Shirazi, Mohammad-Reza Golpaygani, Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, Ahmad Jannati and others, ruled that all music and instrument playing is haram, no matter the purpose.[24][25][26] Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini held similar religious position, stating on 23 July 1979: "If you want independence for your country, you must suppress music and not fear to be called old‐fashioned. Music is a betrayal of the nation and of youth."[27] During the Iranian Revolution, Khomeini said: " is like a drug, whoever acquires the habit can no longer devote himself to important activities. We must completely eliminate it."[28] From 1979 to 1989, all the music on radio and television was banned except occasional "revolutionary songs" that were performed in a strong martial style.[29] After Khomeini's death, reformist Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations gradually lifted the ban on music. The current supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, in 2014 has stated his admiration of Western music,[30] and nowadays music is officially permitted in Iran by the government as long as it is either Iranian folk music, Iranian classical music, or Iranian pop music.[31]

Contemporary Islamic musicEdit

Notable nasheed artists include:

Notable Sufi singers include:

Noted composers:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Al-Shawkani, Muhammed. Nayl Al-Awtaar. 8.
  2. ^ Cook, Michael (2003). Forbidding Wrong in Islam, an Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. attacks on offending objects are a ubiquitous theme ... There are, for example, chess-boards to be overturned, supposedly sacred trees to be cut down and decorative images to destroy or deface ... But the targets that are mentioned again and again are liquor and musical instruments.
  3. ^ Abdullahi, pp.170–171
  4. ^ Neubauer, Eckhard; Doubleday, Veronica (2001). "Islamic religious music". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.52787. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved 2021-04-12.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Scholars and musicians hotly debate whether music is permissible or not". Irish Times. 21 July 2006. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b c "Ruling on music, singing and dancing – Islam Question & Answer". Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  7. ^ "Surah Al-Isra - 1-111". Retrieved 2021-08-31.
  8. ^ Islam-QA website: "Ruling on so-called 'Islamic' songs with musical instruments" Islam-QA retrieved June 22, 2013
  9. ^ "Sunan Ibn Majah 4020 – Tribulations – كتاب الفتن – – Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)". Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  10. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 5590.
  11. ^ ibn Hazm, Abu Muhammad Ali. Al-Muhalla.
  12. ^ "50687-He loves Islam but he cannot give up classical music!". Islam Question and Answer. 13 April 2006. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  13. ^ Cook, Forbidding Wrong, 2003, p.32
  14. ^ a b Magrini, Tullia (2005). Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean. University of Chicago Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-226-50165-5.
  15. ^ a b c AL-QARADAWI, YUSUF (13 December 2006). "Singing and Music in Islam". Islamicity. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  16. ^ Is Music Permitted in Islaam? – Dr Zakir Naik, retrieved 2021-06-16
  17. ^ "Music and Singing: A Detailed Fatwa". SunniPath. Archived from the original on 2008-04-23. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  18. ^ Sahih Bukhari: "Sahih Bukhari Volume 005, Book 058, Hadith Number 268" retrieved October 27, 2016
  19. ^ "Is there room for music in Islam?". BBC. 2007-08-07. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
  20. ^ Shahbaz Center for Sufism & Islamic Studies" retrieved October 27, 2016
  21. ^ Cook, Michael (2003). Forbidding Wrong in Islam, an Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 99.
  22. ^ "Music & Singing – – Your best source for Submission (Islam)".
  23. ^ What Does Islam Say on Music? (Islam Online – Ask The Scholar) Archived 2006-10-21 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Ayatollah Sayed Sadiq Hussaini al-Shirazi » FAQ Topics » Music".
  26. ^ Bureau, Gareth Smyth for Tehran (2015-03-13). "Iran's ayatollahs spring a surprise". the Guardian. Retrieved 2021-08-24.
  27. ^ Kifner, John (1979-07-24). "Khomeini Bans Broadcast Music, Saying It Corrupts Iranian Youth". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-08-24.
  28. ^ "Music and power in Iran: An instrument of propaganda and control –". – Dialogue with the Islamic World. Retrieved 2021-08-24.
  29. ^ Baily, John (2016). War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan: The Ethnographer’s Tale. Taylor & Francis, p. 109.
  30. ^ The Telegraph: "Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei reveals surprising taste for Western music" retrieved October 27, 2016
  31. ^ The Guardian (Tehran Bureau): "Iranians pump up the volume for banned tunes" retrieved October 27, 2016

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit