Shari’a Law: Music, Song, and Dance

The major purpose of this article is to illustrate how Islamic Shari’a law originates. Its minor purpose is to present the Islamic view of music, song, and dance. The article, Islamic Law & its Challenge To Western Civilization, notes that Islamic law is derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam. The Sunnah of Muhammad comes mainly from the ancient collections of Muhammad’s traditions which are called ahadith (singular, hadith). The two most respected collections are the Sahih al-Bukhari and the Sahih Muslim ahadith. The following quotations are from those two collections, respectively,

Sahih al-Bukhari recorded,

Narrated ‘Urwa on the authority of ‘Aisha: On the days of Mina, (11th, 12th, and 13th of Dhul-Hijjah) Abu Bakr came to her while two young girls were beating the tambourine and the Prophet was lying covered with his clothes. Abu Bakr scolded them and the Prophet uncovered his face and said to Abu Bakr, “Leave them, for these days are the days of ‘Id and the days of Mina.” ‘Aisha further said, “Once the Prophet was screening me and I was watching the display of black slaves in the Mosque and (‘Umar) scolded them. The Prophet said, ‘Leave them. O Bani Arfida! (carry on), you are safe (protected)’.” Volume 2, Book 15, Number 103.

Al-Bukhari’s records there were two girls who were beating a tambourine, so Abu Bakr scolded them.  Apparently, Muhammad was resting, since his face was covered, and he might have been quietly enjoying the lively music himself.  Whatever the case, Muhammad told Abu Bakr to, “Leave them alone.” Next, we read that ‘Aisha, Muhammad’s child bride, watched the energetic display of the black slaves dancing and sporting in the Mosque. ‘Aisha enjoyed the performance, so it met with Muhammad’s approval.

Sahih Muslim recorded,

‘A’isha reported: The Messenger of Allah (way peace be upon him) came (in my apartment) while there were two girls with me singing the song of the Battle of Bu’ath. He lay down on the bed and turned away his face. Then came Abu Bakr and he scolded me and said: Oh! this musical instrument of the devil in the house of the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him)! The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) turned towards him and said: Leave them alone. And when he (the Holy Prophet) became unattentive, I hinted them and they went out, and it was the day of ‘Id and negroes were playing with shields and spears. (I do not remember) whether I asked the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) or whether he said to me if I desired to see (that sport). I said: Yes. I stood behind him with his face parallel to my face, and he said: O Banu Arfada, be busy (in your sports) till I was satiated. He said (to me): Is that enough? I said: Yes. Upon this he asked me to go. Book 004, Number 1942.

Imam Muslim records that Abu Bakr believed musical instruments were of the devil. However, ‘Aisha reported that two Ansar girls were singing a song of the Battle of Bu’ath. In this case, Muhammad gave them permission to continue singing the song. The Negroes from Abyssinian danced and sported with their shields and spears. Muhammad gave ‘Aisha his approval to watch their display of athletic prowess. In fact, he watched the event too while she peered around him. 

The two ahadith quoted above provide the historical data that is the legal basis for the following Shari’a legal determination.



r40.1 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for the condemnation of musical instruments, flutes, strings, and the like by the Truthful and Trustworthy (Allah bless him and give him peace), who

“does not speak from personal caprice: it is nothing besides a revelation inspired” (Koran 53:3-4),

let those who refuse to obey him beware lest calamity strike them, or a painful torment. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

(1) “Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.”

(2) “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.”

(3) “Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.”

(4) “This Community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones.” Someone asked, “When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said, “When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.”

(5) “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful ….”

All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical instruments of all types are unlawful (Kaff al-ra’a’ ‘an muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama’ (y49), 2.269-70).

r40.2 (Nawawi:) It is unlawful to use musical instruments—such as those which drinkers are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute—or to listen to them. It is permissible to play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions, and other times, even if it has bells on its sides. Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow middle, is unlawful (Mughni al-muhtaj ila ma’rifa ma’ani alfaz al-Minhaj (y73), 4.429-30).


r40.3 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for listening to singing that is not accompanied by instruments, one should know that singing or listening to singing is offensive except under the circumstances to be mentioned in what follows. Some scholars hold that singing is sunna at weddings and the like, and of our Imams, Ghazali and ‘Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam say that it is sunna if it moves one to a noble state of mind that makes one remember the hereafter. It is clear from this that all poetry which encourages good deeds, wisdom, noble qualities, abstinence from this-worldly things, or similar pious traits such as urging one to obey Allah, follow the sunna, or shun disobedience, is sunna to write, sing, or listen to, as more than one of our Imams have stated is obvious, since using a means to do good is itself doing good (Kaff al-ra’a’ ‘an muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama’ (y49), 2.273).


r40.4 (Nawawi: (n: with commentary by Muhammad Shirbini Khatib)) It is not prohibited to dance ((Shirbini:) which is not unlawful because it is only motions made while standing or bowing. Furani and others have expressly stated that neither is it offensive, but rather is permissible, as is attested to by the hadith related in the Sahihs of Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) stood before ‘A’isha (Allah be well pleased with her) to screen her from view so that she could observe the Abyssinians sporting and dancing) —unless it is languid, like the movements of the effeminate (Mughni al-muhtaj ila ma’rifa ma’am alfaz al-Minhaj (y73), 4.430).

Step 1

The first step appeals to the Qur’an to justify the Shari’a laws on music, song and dance. A quotation from Sura an-Najm 53 is offered the reader. This Sura is vital, basic, and foundational to all Shari’a law. Non-Muslims readers need to stop and focus upon these verses (ayah, singular; ayat, plural), because they have profound implications for all Islamic law. Essentially, these ayat imply that Muhammad himself is a divine revelation and a pattern for all human conduct.  

Here, the Qur’an states that Muhammad is neither astray nor misled. Further, it states that he neither said nor did anything of his own desire, because all his desires were only from Allah.  Everything that Muhammad said, did, thought, or felt was an inspiration from Allah who is the Lord of the Universe. Since Allah, the All-Wise, taught Muhammad perfectly about everything, Muhammad was endued with wisdom, and he appeared among men as the epitome of all perfections and all virtues that could be possibly actualized in human form. Therefore, Muhammad is the perfect and pristine model for all the world to emulate.  

Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. 
Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. 
It is no less than inspiration sent down to him: 
He was taught by one Mighty in Power, 
Endued with Wisdom: for he appeared (in stately form); 
Sura 53:2-6

مَا ضَلَّ صَاحِبُكُمْ وَمَا غَوَى
وَمَا يَنطِقُ عَنِ الْهَوَى
إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا وَحْيٌ يُوحَى
عَلَّمَهُ شَدِيدُ الْقُوَى
ذُو مِرَّةٍ فَاسْتَوَى‭.
  سورة النجم

Consequently, everything that Muhammad said, did, thought, or felt provides the substance for Islamic law. This point cannot be over emphasized.  

Step 2

After the quotation from the Qur’an, the next step presents historical evidence for Muhammad’s views on musical instruments. The mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute are evil musical instruments.  However, as quoted above on the authority of ‘Aisha, the hadithic traditions record that Muhammad permitted two Ansar girls to play a tambourine. Therefore, tambourines are permissible musical instruments. These instruments have to be permissible, because Muhammad is the perfection of divine wisdom on the topic of musical instruments, and he gave his tacit approval to them.

‘Aisha was 6 years old when Muhammad legally married her. He was over fifty years old at the time. The co-habited together as man and wife when she was nine years old. Naturally, she was a curious young girl. So, when the Negroes from Abyssinia were sporting with their spears and daggers in the mosque, she wanted to see the excitement. Muhammad let the young girl peer at them while she was screened by himself.  After awhile, she grew bored and went back to playing. 

This seemingly little episode in the life of young ‘Aisha impacted Shari’a law. It permitted dancing and spectator sports in Islam. Why? Simply because Muhammad permitted his young wife to look at the Abyssinians when they danced and sported in the mosque. 

Step 3

It is not permissible to reason about the difference between a tambourine and the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute. Human reason might not discern any substantial difference between these musical instruments. If these instruments were played before an ethicist, the ethicist would not be able to discern the moral status of these musical instruments from their sound or appearance. To the natural ear all these musical instruments are able to make a lovely melody. A spectral analysis of their respective audio frequencies would prove useless too. Furthermore, these musical instruments were made taboo for the remainder of human history, because Muhammad is final revealer of Allah’s sovereign will regarding mandolins, tambourines, and flutes. 

We notice that the Shari’a laws on dancing and sports were justified on the basis of Muhammad’s approval of viewing the Abyssinian Negroes sporting with their spears and daggers. This justification is not an appeal to the need for exercise, common sense, health, conscience, or nature. The basis for the permission is that the activity is Sunnah. It was permitted and approved by Muhammad, and that reason suffices alone. 


Shari’a law is easy to understand. It begins with the Qur’an and its statement that every aspect of Muhammad’s life was inspired by Allah. Next, it looks to the historical record to determine what Muhammad said and did. Once the determination of his approvals and disapprovals are made, they are codified in Shari’a law. It is not open to rationalization or question. In fact, their faith in Muhammad’s conduct and sayings is supra-rationale or beyond rational questioning. 

This does not mean that reason plays no role in Islamic law; it does. There are human activities that did not exist in Muhammad’s time. So, Shari’a scholars engage in analogical reasoning and Islamic consensus to address modern day problems. However, even here, the ancient traditions of Islam play a determinative role. 

Non-Muslims have little idea how central Muhammad is to Islam. Muslims believe he is the perfection of human beauty and moral conduct. So, they want to dress like him, eat like him, think like him, live like him, worship like him, and brush their teeth like him. Of course, they are very modest about their success in these objectives.