Facing the Music: The Hadith of Instruments

I begin in the name of Allah who revealed the Quran so hearts would not fill with affection for anything else and appointed a Prophet so tongues would not fill with salawaat for anyone else.

Music is a common topic of debate and discussion among Muslims today. The dominant legal position in Islamic history was the prohibition of music, however, some individual scholars, like Ibn Hazm, were known to uphold its permissibility.

A major prooftext for the position against music is the hadith of musical instruments in Sahih Bukhari. This hadith is very apparent in indicating the prohibition of music.

As a result of the larger debate about music, this hadith is caught in the crossfire. Those who permit music have various ways of rejecting or reinterpreting it.

This article is specifically about the hadith, its authenticity, and its interpretation, with a special emphasis on responding to objections regarding it.

1. Purpose

Despite the widespread nature of the Muslim discourse on music, I found that most complex discussions of this hadith online are dominated by those who claim music is permissible. I also found that many arguments made by their side were left without direct response despite the weakness apparent in the arguments.

Most discussions by those who forbid music are largely general and do not address many of the specific detractions people make against the position.

This situation is neither due to incompetence of the anti-music position nor the strength of the pro-music arguments. It is instead a result of the complacency of those who prohibit music. Most of the time, people in the minority feel much more need to offer drawn-out arguments than those in a dominant majority.

However, I realized this state of affairs is harmful. It confuses a lot of people into thinking the allowance of music is a perfectly valid position because they hear arguments in favor of it with complex words and concepts they do not understand.

That is why I decided to write this article in which I explain the issue as lucidly as possible and provide responses to the pro-music arguments against this hadith. I also aim to represent other people’s arguments as fairly and strongly as I can to avoid straw-manning their positions.

I do not intend in this article to cover all the evidence of music’s prohibition like verses of the Quran or other ahadith. I will particularly focus on this hadith in Sahih Bukhari.

I also do not intend to cover the exact fiqh rulings of when music is allowed. There is no doubt some instruments are allowed on some occasions like Eid or marriage. But, that is not the topic of this article In sha Allah.

2. How Evidence Works

When proving laws in Islam, there are three major characteristics we need to consider about any piece of evidence:

  1. Authority
  2. Authenticity
  3. Strength of Meaning (Dalalah)

The first characteristic, authority, is to consider whether the given statement being used as evidence is attributed to someone who holds authority in Islam such that we need to listen to his judgements. Allah says ⟪Obey Allah and the Messenger⟫ (3:32), so Allah and the Prophet (SAW) hold absolute authority in Islam. Since this article is about a hadith attributed to the Prophet (SAW), there is no need to contemplate over authority here, but discussion about authority would be necessary when appealing to consensus, majority, or verdicts of the companions of the Prophet (SAW).

The second characteristic is authenticity. It is not enough to simply attribute a statement to someone; we need to determine whether that statement authentically traces back to them. Considering authenticity would not be a concern in verses of the Quran, but it is necessary in ahadith of the Prophet (SAW).

The third characteristic is strength of meaning (also called “dalalah” in Arabic). It refers to the question, “How strongly does this piece of evidence actually support the claim we are making?” Even after one proves a quote is authentic, he still needs to show that the quote actually supports the ruling he wishes to support with it.

This article will consider the authenticity and meaning of Sahih Bukhari’s hadith of musical instruments and respond to objections given to these aspects of the evidence.

3. The Hadith

3.1 Authenticity and Versions

Bukhari in the Book of Drinks in his Sahih wrote under the subheading “Chapter of what has come about those who legalize wine and call it by other than its name”:

And Hisham ibn Ammar said: Sadaqah ibn Khalid narrated to us: Abdurrahman ibn Yazid ibn Jabir narrated to us: Atiyyah ibn Qais al-Killabi narrated to us: Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam al-Ash’ari narrated to us, saying: Abu Amir—or Abu Malik—al-Ash’ari narrated to me—by Allah he did not lie to me—: that he heard the Prophet (SAW) say:

There will be people from my ummah that will legalize hir (zina), silk, khamr (wine), and ma’āzif (musical instruments). And there will be some people who will stay near the side of a mountain and in the evening their shepherd will come to them with their sheep and ask them for something, but they will say to him, ‘Return to us tomorrow.’ Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection.”

Sahih Bukhari

This chain is fully connected since Hisham ibn Ammar was Bukhari’s teacher. There are plenty of corroborations of this hadith to Hisham ibn Ammar. The narrators in the chain from Hisham to Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam (RA) are reliable, so the hadith is authentic.

Some people criticized Atiyyah ibn Qais as will be discussed later, but this criticism does not affect the hadith in its authenticity.

As for Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam, Abu Amir, and Abu Malik al-Ash’ari, all of them are companions of the Prophet (SAW). One of the narrators of this hadith doubts whether the narration comes from Abu Amir or Abu Malik, but Bukhari notes in his Tarikh that the narration actually comes from Abu Malik al-Ash’ari.

The hadith has corroborating chains to Ibn Jabir. Bishr ibn Bakr narrated this hadith from Ibn Jabir with the rest of the chain to Abu Malik, and this is quoted by Ibn Asakir in his Tarikh, Ibn Hajar in Taghleeq at-Ta’leeq, and Abu Dawud in his Sunan (but in summarized form).

This hadith also has corroborating chains to Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam. Bukhari quotes two corroborations in his Tarikh. The first is a different wording of the hadith through Malik ibn Maryam:

ِAbdullah ibn Salih > Muawiyah ibn Salih > Hatim ibn Huraith > Malik ibn Maryam > Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam > Abu Malik al-Ash’ari > Prophet (SAW): Some people from my ummah will drink wine, calling it by another name, and musical instruments will be played and female singers will sing over their heads. Allah will cause the earth to swallow them and He will make some of them monkeys and pigs.

At-Tarikh Al-Kabeer, Sunan Ibn Majah

The second corroboration is an abridgement through Ibrahim ibn Abdul-Hameed:

Sulaiman ibn Abdurrahman > Jarrah ibn Maleeh > Ibrahim ibn Abdul-Hameed > Someone who informed him > Abu Malik al-Ash’ari: I heard the Prophet (SAW) about (the prohibition of) wine and instruments.

At-Tarikh Al-Kabeer

Both these corroborations have weakness in them. The first has weakness due to Malik ibn Maryam being majhul (not a well-known narrator). The second has weakness due to the narrator above Ibrahim ibn Abdul-Hameed being anonymous. But, it is possible this person is Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam if we use the other narrations to fill in the missing information.

Despite the weakness of these two other narrations, they are still useful to provide supporting evidence to the main narration. The following is a diagram of the different chains of this hadith to Abu Malik (RA):

Blue represents those narrations which mentioned musical instruments directly, while the yellow blocks represent narrations which have been shortened and do not mention instruments. Dotted lines are used to represent chains of narrators which were not mentioned for the sake of space.

This hadith also has weak shawahid[1] and mursal[2] narrations that support it. One of the shawahid Tirmidhi narrates in his Sunan is from Imran ibn Husain:

Abbad ibn Ya’qub > Abdullah ibn Abdul-Quddus > A’mash > Hilal ibn Yisaf > Imran ibn Husain: that the Prophet (SAW) said, “There will be collapsing (of the earth), transformation (into animals), and qadhf in this ummah.” One of the Muslims asked, “O Messenger of Allah, when is that?” He said, “When singers and instruments become widespread and wine is drunk.”

Tirmidhi commented: This hadith has also been transmitted from A’mash from Abdurrahman ibn Sabit from the Prophet (SAW) as a mursal hadith, and this is a ghareeb hadith.

Tirmidhi also said: I asked Bukhari about this hadith and he said: This has been transmitted from A’mash from Abdurrahman ibn Sabit from the Prophet (SAW) as a mursal hadith. Abdullah ibn Abdul-Quddus is muqarib ul-hadith (mediocre in hadith).

Sunan Tirmidhi

Weak shawahid are narrated from Ali ibn Abi Talib, Abu Hurairah, and Anas ibn Malik (RA) as well. This is only counting shawahid for the hadith of a future group using musical instruments and being punished. If one counted the shawahid in support of the prohibition of music, the number would be even higher.

These are weak narrations that would not be accepted on their own, but their existence can be used to support each other and the fully connected and strong chain of Sahih Bukhari.

An example of the mursal narration through Abdurrahman ibn Sabit is what Ibn Abi Shaibah quotes in his Musannaf:

Wakee’ > Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Murrah > Amr ibn Murrah > Ibn Sabit: The Prophet (SAW) said, “My ummah will have collapsing (of the earth), transformation (into animals), and qadhf.” They asked, “Even though they testify that there is no god except Allah, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Yes, when musical instruments, wines, and wearing silk become widespread.”

Musannaf Ibn Abi Shaibah

This is a strong chain to Ibn Sabit, but the narration is mursal because Ibn Sabit is a tabi’i. However, mursal narrations can be used for corroboration.

There are also mawquf narrations (statements from companions without explicit attribution to the Prophet) from different companions to support this hadith [3], and mawquf narrations about the future are often understood to come from the Prophet (SAW).

All of this means that the hadith is strongly authentic both from the perspective of its singular chain and from the perspective of corroboration.

3.2 Meaning

In all these narrations, the Prophet (SAW) predicts the coming of a group in his ummah that will legalize musical instruments or have musical instruments played for them and will be punished as a result.

An action being promised punishment or a specific group being punished for an action is evidence of that action being a sin because Allah does not punish people for anything except sins (almost by definition).

So, when the Prophet (SAW) said, “May Allah curse the Jews and the Christians; they took the graves of their prophets as places of worship,” this informed us that taking their graves as places of worship is sinful and forbidden. (Sahih Muslim)

In the same way, since a group is condemned and will be punished for legalizing and utilizing instruments, we understand that this is sinful and forbidden for us to do.

4. Objections to Authenticity

Those who rejected the use of this hadith in prohibiting musical instruments criticized it from two angles: its authenticity and its meaning. We will first consider criticisms of its authenticity. I will first explain what the criticism is, then I will respond to it.

4.1 Direct Objections

4.1.1 Disconnect In the Chain (Inqita’)

Ibn Hazm is one of the most famous scholars who rejected the prohibition of music. He criticized this hadith in a couple of ways. One way he criticized it is by alleging that there is a disconnect in the hadith.

His argument is based on the fact that Bukhari said “Hisham ibn Ammar said” instead of “Hisham ibn Ammar narrated to us.” He argued this meant there was a disconnect in the chain between Bukhari and Hisham ibn Ammar.

This is a poor argument because Hisham ibn Ammar was definitely a teacher of Bukhari, as he explicitly says “narrated to me” from Hisham ibn Ammar in other parts of his Sahih.

As Imam Muslim says explicitly in his Introduction to Sahih Muslim, there is complete consensus among the hadith scholars that there is no need for explicit statements of narration (like “narrated to me”) when a person quotes from his teacher. So, the default is to assume that Bukhari received this narration from Hisham ibn Ammar, and it goes against the methodology of the hadith scholars to assume a disconnect.

Additionally, we have clearly connected versions of this chain from Hisham ibn Ammar from other sources like the Sahih of Ibn Hibban.

So, there is no doubt that there is no disconnect in the chain.

4.1.2 Doubt About Companion

Another way he criticized the narration is the confusion between Abu Malik and Abu Amir. Abu Malik is a well-known companion with several ahadith. Abu Amir is not that well-known. So, he said the confusion between the companions makes the hadith weak.

This criticism goes against the agreement of hadith scholars that the narrations of all the companions are accepted. When that is the case, a hadith with confusion between two companions is not reduced in authenticity.

Additionally, it is not impossible to resolve the confusion as Imam Bukhari indeed does in his Tarikh when he concludes that the hadith actually comes from Abu Malik al-Ash’ari (RA).

4.1.3 Inconsistency (Idhtirab)

Some people criticized this hadith by saying there is idhtirab (inconsistency) in the different versions of the hadith.

Firstly, one version of the hadith talks about people legalizing instruments and another version only mentions that a group will listen to instruments. This, they said, is inconsistency in the hadith’s transmission which makes the hadith weak.

Secondly, the second version of the hadith (which describes the group as listening to the instruments) sometimes has this detail about musical instruments and sometimes it is shortened and does not have this detail. This is even more inconsistency.

Thirdly, Abu Dawud reports this narration of Abu Malik in his Sunan as well.

However, in his transmission, he reports it as “people who will legalize khaz (silk hybrid cloth) and hareer (silk)” instead of “people who legalize hir (zina) and hareer (silk).” This is another inconsistency

All of this, they said, makes the hadith weak.

The response to this is that idhtirab only weakens a hadith when the different versions are impossible to resolve or explain. If simply the existence of different versions made a hadith weak, every hadith and even the Quran would be considered weak! But, that is absurd.

In our case, we have two narrations which give the same message about a group who will use wine and instruments. One narration wording it as “legalize” and another simply mentioning the instruments being played does not change the essential meaning of the hadith. So, there is no harmful idhtirab between the two versions of the hadith. There will be more discussion about the meaning of the second version in a later section.

As for the second argument that some transmissions of the second version do not even mention the instruments, that is only because those are shortened or summarized versions of the hadith.

The common chain of the second version is: Muawiyah > Hatim > Malik > Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam > Abu Malik.

Transmissions from Zaid ibn Hubab and Abu Salih from Muawiyah do not mention musical instruments and stop at, “There will be people from my ummah who will drink wine, calling it by another name.”

Transmissions from Ibn Wahb, Abdullah ibn Salih, and Ma’n ibn Isa add the detail, “and musical instruments will be played (for them).”

The color blue is for the narrations that include instruments and the color yellow is for the narrations that do not.

This is an obvious case of some narrators shortening the hadith. The existence of shortened versions for a hadith is not at all harmful idhtirab in any sense of the word.

As for the third argument that Abu Dawud’s version replaces hirr with khaz, that is a clear case of a muharraf narration (a narration where dots got mistaken or mixed up). The two words حِر and خَزّ‏ have identical shapes except for the dots, and it is clear one of the narrators of Abu Dawud’s version confused them together. This is not at all grounds to weaken the hadith as a whole.

In fact, Abu Dawud’s version functions as corroboration for the “legalize” wording tracing back to at least Ibn Jabir.

In summary, we can see that the claims of harmful idhtirab do not hold up to much scrutiny. The narration does have different wordings and transmissions that have minor mistakes in them, but that is common to all narrations of anything, be it Sunnah or Quran, and not something specific to this narration.

4.1.4 Weakness of Atiyyah ibn Qais

Some people criticized the hadith based on the strength of the narrator Atiyyah ibn Qais. They argued that none of the early scholars explicitly called him a strong narrator. Abu Hatim ar-Razi called him salih al-hadith (ok with hadith) [4], but this does not indicate strength. Abu Hatim’s son comments:

When it is said that someone is fully trustworthy (thiqa) or is exact in his narrations (mutqin thabt), then it is someone whose narrations are taken as proof. When it is said that someone is truthful or that he is ok, then his hadiths are written down and studied. This is the second degree. When it is said that someone is a “shaykh” then he is in the third degree. His hadiths are written down and studied, but it is below the second degree. When it it said that someone is “salih al-hadith” then his hadiths are written down to be taken into consideration.

Jarh wat-Ta’deel by Ibn Abi Hatim

Bukhari never uses any other narration through Atiyyah ibn Qais and Muslim only uses his narrations a few times as corroborations rather than the main narrations of a chapter. All of this indicates, they said, that Atiyyah ibn Qais cannot be relied upon and this hadith is weak.

The response is that the very same quote from Ibn Abi Hatim states the hadith of people who are described as salih al-hadith are taken into consideration, and we have compared this hadith to many corroborations. There are at least two corroborations for Atiyyah’s hadith to Abu Malik, and with the existence of these corroborations, the hadith is definitely taken into account.

Additionally, there is no criticism of Atiyyah from the early scholars and there is only praise even if we accepted that it is weak praise. Then, what is the excuse for rejecting this hadith?

Another important note is that Ibn Hibban includes Atiyyah in his list of reliable scholars, although Ibn Hibban was known for being lenient.

4.2 Appeals to Authority

After trying to criticize the hadith directly, many people attempted to criticize the hadith by appealing to authority. Since there is no early hadith scholar who explicitly called this hadith weak, they had to look for indirect indications from them.

All the arguments are based on assumptions and theories, and things built on assumption can be easily rejected based on assumption.

4.2.1 Bukhari’s Ta’leeq of the Hadith

Bukhari in his Sahih starts the hadith with the phrase “And Hisham ibn Ammar said,” and he does not use “narrated to me” like he usually does for hadith. This indicates, they said, that Bukhari did not consider this hadith an actual entry in his Sahih but rather one of the additional ta’leeqaat. So, it does not reach the standard of his Sahih.

Some went further and argued that the fact that Bukhari does ta’leeq of this hadith is evidence Bukhari either considered this hadith weak or thought the hadith had weakness in it.

Ta’leeq (literally: to leave something hanging) in the context of Sahih Bukhari refers to when Bukhari attributes a statement or hadith to someone without mentioning a fully connected chain or starting with a clear phrase of connection like “he narrated to me.”

One of the evidence they quote is that Ibn Hajr says:

I have studied a great number of places where [al-Bukhari] said in al-Jami’ (i.e. Sahih al-Bukhari), “Person X said to me,” and found that in another of his works he said “Person X narrated to me.” Al-Bukhari does not allow someone to use the words “he narrated to me” by someone who received a hadith (solely) via an ijaza (written or oral authorisation to narrate something), and this is proof that he heard these traditions from these people. However, the reason he used this expression (in the Sahih) is to distinguish between that which meets his standard and that which does not, and Allah knows best.

Nukat on Sahih Bukhari

Additionally, Ibn Hajr wrote a book titled Taghleeq at-Ta’leeq in which he comments on the authenticity of the mu’allaq narrations of Sahih Bukhari. In this book’s introduction, Ibn Hajr notes six possible reasons for Bukhari doing ta’leeq of a narration:

  1. To avoid repetition of a narration he already fully quoted elsewhere
  2. He already quoted a full hadith that gives a similar meaning
  3. To emphasize that a narration does come from someone by saying “He said” explicitly. This is when a full chain he quoted for that narration elsewhere contains a mudallis so people could be unsure whether the chain is authentic or not. (This might be complicated to understand, but it is not relevant.)
  4. It is a statement of a companion and they are not the main purpose of the book
  5. One of the narrators does not reach a level of accuracy and precision
  6. One of the narrators, despite being accurate, does not reach Bukhari’s standards, so he points this out by keeping the narration mu’allaq, whether used as an Asl (main narration of a chapter intended to be strongly authentic) or a Shahid (supporting narration, not intended to be fully authentic)

The first four reasons are clearly not relevant to this narration about music, so they say, 5 or 6 must be at play. Hence, this narration being mu’allaq in Sahih Bukhari proves Bukhari thought there was weakness in the narration.

Firstly, before explaining why this is a misunderstanding of what Ibn Hajr (RA) actually means, it is important to note that this argument does not prove the narration as weak anyway. Even if one granted that the narration does not reach the level of authenticity Bukhari demanded, that does not disprove the narration. The hadith is still strong with plenty of corroboration, and whether Bukhari thought it reached his high standards does not change that it is authentic enough to act on.

Secondly, we can reverse this question about ta’leeq. If someone asks, “Why does Bukhari keep this hadith mu’allaq,” it is also important to ask in return, “Why does Bukhari mention the full chain of this hadith?” Even if someone posits the possibility of disconnect (which was shown to be a weak argument earlier), why mention the full chain from Hisham ibn Ammar?

Most of the time when Bukhari does ta’leeq of a narration, he does not mention the chain of the narration except the companion. But, sometimes, he mentions the full chain. One possible reason is to show the reader where the chain of a supporting narration meets the chain of the main narration. Another possible reason is that Bukhari considers the hadith authentic. Clearly, the first reason does not apply to the hadith of music since it is itself the main narration of the chapter. So, it must be the second reason that applies.

Now, what does Ibn Hajr actually mean?

Ibn Hajr does not intend for the mentioned six reasons to be the only reasons that a hadith is mu’allaq in Sahih Bukhari. He mentions other possible reasons as well, saying, “Some scholars that he did this when received the hadith in a revision session.”

For this hadith of music, Ibn Hajr opined that he may have kept it mu’allaq due to the doubt in the companion, even though this does not affect the authenticity.

The point is that there are possible reasons for Bukhari to do ta’leeq that do not involve the hadith having weakness in it. It could be because he wished to note something about the hadith that does not affect its authenticity.

Ibn Hajr’s 5th and 6th reasons also do not necessarily intend that the hadith is inauthentic. Ibn Hajr himself indicates that the hadith could be authentic even to the standard of Bukhari, since he mentions that Bukhari could bring this hadith as an Asl (the main narration of a chapter), and Bukhari only brings authentic narrations as an Asl.

Bukhari could consider a hadith authentic due to corroboration and other reasons but bring it through a chain with a narrator he is not fully happy with. This is the type of case Ibn Hajr means in his 6th reason for ta’leeq. When bringing this hadith, Bukhari could use his ta’leeq to indicate he knows there is a weak narrator but he still considers the hadith authentic when brought as the main narration.

This narration of music is brought as the main and only narration of Bukhari’s chapter. Claiming that Bukhari simply abandoned his conditions for this hadith is absurd.

4.2.2 Bukhari Not Having A Chapter For Instruments

Some people argued that Bukhari not having a chapter for musical instruments indicates he felt the hadith was weak or at least the part about musical instruments was weak. They say Bukhari intended to include all fiqh topics in his Sahih.

This is a weak argument from assumption. One can very easily reverse the argument by asking: Why does Bukhari not have a chapter for the permissibility of musical instruments (outside Eid or marriage) if he believed it was allowed?

Clearly, the idea that musical instruments were bad was not uncommon at the time as shown by plenty of narrations in circulations about them being bad. So, why doesn’t Bukhari refute this idea explicitly in his Sahih?

No one can say he did not do this because there is no explicit hadith which allows musical instruments. Bukhari would not limit himself to using explicit hadith to prove this topic if there were no authentic hadith prohibiting music.

Many of those who claim the permissibility of music even argue using some ahadith in Bukhari where the Prophet permitted music on the day of Eid. Why didn’t Bukhari do the same?

If someone argues that Bukhari was unsure about music’s permissibility, then he has left his position that Bukhari weakened the hadith of music.

The reality is we cannot get into the head of Bukhari to confirm his exact intentions for choosing to have a chapter or not have a chapter.

For example, Bukhari has no chapter on the zakah of gold. The zakah of gold is only mentioned in ahadith brought under other chapters. He also has no chapter on the quantity of the zakah on gold and silver, even though everyone agrees it is 2.5%. He brings a hadith which indicates this but only under the chapter about the zakah of sheep. None of this can be taken by someone to indicate that Bukhari did not believe in these concepts or did not think the hadith about them was not authentic.

So, the reason Bukhari did not have a chapter explicitly about musical instruments can range from Bukhari thinking the prohibition of music was obvious to simply not finding a good place to put such a chapter. Using his inaction as proof is quite farfetched.

Some people argued that Bukhari only thought the version that just included wine was authentic. That is why he alluded to its wording “calling it by another name” in the heading for this hadith. He only brings this different version of the hadith because the more accurate version has the majhul narrator Malik ibn Abi Maryam in it. Otherwise, they say, he thought that was the only authentic version.

This argument makes no sense. It essentially entails Bukhari knew most of the content of a hadith was inauthentic (and essentially false!) but brought it in his Sahih anyway because he wanted to avoid violating some arbitrary principle he had made up about avoiding majhul narrators! How ridiculous of a thought is that?

4.2.3 Abu Dawud

Some people argued that Abu Dawud not mentioning musical instruments in his transmission of the hadith in his Sunan is evidence he thought that part of the hadith was weak.

They also argued that Abu Dawud not bringing the hadith under his chapter about music also indicates he considered the hadith weak.

Abu Dawud narrated the hadith under his chapter about khaz:

Abdul-Wahhab narrated to us: Bishr ibn Bakr narrated to us: from Abdurrahman ibn Yazid ibn Jabir: Atiyyah ibn Qais narrated to us, saying: I heard Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam al-Ash’ari say: Abu Amir or Abu Malik narrated to me by Allah and, another oath, he did not lie to me: that he heard the Prophet (SAW) saying, “There will be people in my ummah who will legalize khaz and silk” and he said some more things, then said, “Some of them will be transformed into monkeys and pigs until the Day of Judgement.”

Abu Dawud commented: (This is weak because) twenty or more of the companions of the Prophet (SAW) wore khaz. Among them were Anas and Bara ibn Azib.

Sunan Abu Dawud

The response is that Abu Dawud mentions in his letter to the people of Makkah about his Sunan:

Sometimes, I shortened a long hadith, because if I had written it completely, some people who heard it would not be able to learn it and they would not understand the fiqh point from it. So, I shortened hadith for that (reason).

Risalah Abi Dawud

This is the reason Abu Dawud shortened the hadith in his Sunan. He wished to highlight the part about khaz being prohibited and to show that this part of the narration is weak. It is an unsupported assumption to say he shortened it because the rest of the hadith is inauthentic. After all, he did not even mention the part about wine which is the most authentic part of the hadith!

The part about خَزّ‏ is a mistake from the more correct version of the narration as it is in Sahih Bukhari, which says حِر (i.e. zina).

Additionally, if Abu Dawud thought the hadith as a whole was so weak, why did he not comment on the weakness of the hadith as a whole? Abu Dawud only criticized the part of the hadith on khaz, and he surely knew other transmissions of the hadith do not use that word. Thus, his silence can be assumed to indicate that he did not find a problem with the rest of the hadith.

As for Abu Dawud not bringing this hadith under the chapter about music, that is also an argument built on assumptions. Abu Dawud only mentions two narrations in his chapter titled “The dislike of singing and instruments” in the Book of Manners.

The first hadith is a hadith about when Ibn Umar (RA) heard music being played and covered his ears until it stopped, and he said the Prophet (SAW) did the same. (Sunan Abu Dawud) The second hadith mentions that Abu Wail (one of the tabi’ieen) heard music being played at a wedding, so he wrapped his arms around his knees (presumably to reduce the noise going to his ears) and narrated a hadith through Ibn Masud (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Ghina (singing) plants hypocrisy in the heart.” (Sunan Abu Dawud)

Shaykh Hatim al-Awni argued that both of the narrations Abu Dawud mentions in this chapter are weak. One narration Abu Dawud explicitly calls munkar. The other narration has an anonymous person in the chain! He argued that, if the hadith of Bukhari was authentic in the eyes of Abu Dawud, he would have definitely brought it in this chapter, especially when he brought this hadith in other chapters.

This argument can be reversed against the one who made it. You can see that both the narrations Abu Dawud brings are clearly problematic and one of them has an anonymous person in the chain. Even if you wish to argue the hadith is weak, this hadith of Bukhari is stronger than some of the narrations Abu Dawud brings in his chapter about music. Then, why didn’t Abu Dawud bring Bukhari’s hadith if he was going to bring very weak narrations anyway?

In fact, Abu Dawud brings the hadith of khaz even though he notes it is weak in the chapter about khaz. Why does he not bring the same hadith for musical instruments and note its weakness if he considered it weak?

So, we can see the idea that Abu Dawud not bringing this hadith in that chapter indicates its weakness does not make sense.

I have pondered over this section of the Sunan Abi Dawud and I found a better explanation for Abu Dawud’s choices, but only Allah truly knows what he was thinking.

The best way to understand Abu Dawud’s choices is to say he brought narrations in this chapter which inform us what to do when we hear music. That is why it is in the Book of Manners.

Both of these narrations teach us what to do when we hear music (cover our ears or wrap our arm around ourselves), and that is why Abu Dawud mentioned these two narrations in his chapter instead of hadith that specifically prove the prohibition of music. It is possible he assumed the prohibition of music was already obvious or proven in other chapters so he did not need to repeat it.

4.2.4 Ahmad Ibn Hanbal

Some people argued that Imam Ahmad not narrating this hadith in his Musnad is evidence this narration is weak or Imam Ahmad considered it weak because of the well-known principle that anything not in the Musnad is suspicious.

Imam Ahmad in the Musnad only narrates a shortened version of the hadith without mentioning instruments:

Zaid ibn Hubab narrated to us: Muawiyah ibn Salih narrated to us: Hatim ibn Huraith narrated to me: from Malik ibn Abi Maryam: We were sitting with Rabee’ah al-Jarshi and discussing about the tila (an alcoholic drink) in the reign of Dhahhak ibn Qais. We were like this when Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam, the companion of the Prophet, entered.

We said to him, “Someone mentioned tila so we were discussing it.”

He said: Abu Malik al-Ash’ari narrated to me that he heard the Prophet (SAW) say: “Some people from my ummah will drink wine calling it by another name.

[Abdurrahman ibn Ghanam added:] The one who narrated to me (Abu Malik) is more truthful than you or me, and the one who was narrated from is more truthful than him or me or you.

Then, he said: By Allah, I heard it from Abu Malik who heard it from the Prophet (SAW).

Then, Dhahhak said: Uff to them for (drinking) the drink of the end of times.

Musnad Ahmad

The response is, as mentioned before, this narration being transmitted in shortened form does not mean the longer form is not authentic.

It is narrated by Zaid ibn Hubab from Muawiyah in this shortened form as recorded in the Musnad and by Abu Salih in this shortened form from Muawiyah as recorded in Bukhari’s Tarikh. Bukhari in his Tarikh was not very concerned about bringing full narrations in the first place, so he could have shortened it on purpose.

It is narrated in the longer form which includes the instruments by Ibn Abi Shaibah from Zaid ibn Hubab and from Ma’n ibn Isa, Ibn Wahb, and Abdullah ibn Salih from Muawiyah.

The color blue is for the narrations that include instruments and the color yellow is for the narrations that do not.

Zaid ibn Hubab was known to be a weaker narrator. Imam Ahmad commented about him: “He was saduq (reliable) but he had a lot of mistakes.”

Secondly, Imam Ahmad himself narrated several narrations in his Musnad about the prohibition of instruments which are definitely weaker than this hadith. So, his not mentioning this hadith is not actual evidence he thought the narration was weak when he narrated weaker narrations anyway.

More likely, Imam Ahmad simply did not receive this hadith in its full form from his teachers so he did not narrate it.

5. Objections to Interpretation

As can be seen in the previous sections, this hadith is authentic, and that was the judgement of most of the careful muhaddithun.

Even some contemporary hadith scholars like Abdullah al-Judai who argued music was permissible still considered this hadith authentic.

Instead of arguing against the authenticity of the hadith, he argued against the interpretation of the hadith. This section will deal with some of the prominent arguments in this line of thought.

5.1 The Hadith Does Not Say Instruments Are Haram

One argument is that Bukhari’s hadith only says they “legalize” wine, instruments, etc. and never directly says instruments are prohibited. They say legalization does not entail it was prohibited, so it is not proof instruments are prohibited.

This is the worst of all the arguments ever made in this discussion. It is obvious to any fair-minded reader that the words of the hadith condemn this legalization.

5.2 Music Is a Background Description

Some people say the second version of the hadith is more authentic and it says, “Some people from my ummah will drink wine, calling it by another name, and musical instruments will be played and female singers will sing over their heads.” In this narration, they say, musical instruments are a background description of the people who drink wine.

The actual intention is, they say, to criticize people who legalize wine and the wording of Bukhari is a mistake.

Firstly, it is strange to reject the version Bukhari chose to include in his Sahih and to prefer the narration of Malik Ibn Abi Maryam (who is majhul) over the narration of Atiyyah ibn Qais (who is at least described as salih ul-hadith). It is one thing to use a majhul narrator for corroboration and another thing to prefer his wording.

Secondly, even granting that the second wording is more accurate, we do not grant that it does not prohibit the mentioned musical instruments. The Prophet (SAW) gives the whole description before saying these people will be punished. There is no evidence to separate one description from the other description.

If someone said to you, “There are some people who do X, and they also do Y and Z. They will be punished,” you would understand this as a prohibition of all three acts.

There is no evidence in the Prophet’s words that indicate that the other acts are less important or are not sinful.

The other versions of the hadith also support the view that music itself is being criticized. The mursal version is, for example, clear:

Ibn Sabit: The Prophet (SAW) said, “My ummah will have collapsing (of the earth), transformation (into animals), and qadhf.” They asked, “Even though they testify that there is no god except Allah, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Yes, when musical instruments, wines, and wearing silk become widespread.”

Even if we granted that it is possible to interpret the second version of the hadith as having music only as a background description and the focus being wine, it is not rational to prefer this interpretation in light of the many other clear versions of this hadith.

5.3 The Hadith Only Means Instruments Along With Wine and Zina are Haram

Other people, in the same line of thought, argued that the musical instruments mentioned in the hadith are sinful when paired with zina and wine or when the music encourages zina and wine. Without that link, music is permissible.

In Bukhari’s version, this interpretation is difficult to maintain. The hadith states, “[they] will legalize zina, silk, musical instruments, and wine.”

Firstly, the Prophet (SAW) uses the word “and” and does not use the word “with.”

Secondly, even other than musical instruments, the three things mentioned are all individually forbidden. Zina is sinful even if not paired with wine and silk. Men wearing silk is sinful even if not paired with zina and wine. Drinking wine is sinful even if not paired with zina or silk. What would be the basis of giving this special status to musical instruments then?

Thirdly, if musical instruments are permissible in themselves, there would be no point of mentioning them in the hadith. Why mention the pairing of a permissible thing with an impermissible thing when you can just mention the impermissible thing? It would be like if someone said, “people will legalize wine, zina, and laughing.” Obviously, laughing at gatherings of wine and zina is bad but it makes no sense to mention laughing as an individual part of the criticism when you can just mention the impermissible things.

Fourthly, if we took the logic that pairing things together means they are only prohibited when done at the same time, it would lead to the absurd conclusion that wine is only prohibited when paired with gambling since Allah in the Quran always criticizes wine and gambling together.

In the second version of the hadith, it is possible for someone to argue that the Prophet says the group that does all these things including musical instruments will be punished. So, the punishment does not apply to any individual thing but doing all of them together.

The response is twofold. Firstly, it does not make sense for the Prophet (SAW) to mention the detail of musical instruments if he intended no criticism of the instruments themselves. Either musical instruments are halal or they are not. If they are halal like laughing, then it does not make sense to mention them.

Secondly, it is not rational to use a possible implication, if we granted it is possible, of one version of a hadith when other versions clearly condemn musical instruments explicitly.

5.4 The Hadith Only Means Inappropriate Music Is Haram

Some people argued that music is only forbidden if it contains inappropriate content. One evidence they provided for this is that silk is permissible for women even though the hadith criticizes those who legalize silk. This, they said, is evidence that the hadith can intend specific types of those things being forbidden.

Firstly, this interpretation does not make sense in most of the versions including Bukhari’s version which specifically mention musical instruments as opposed to singing. Instruments, obviously, do not contain any content, either appropriate or inappropriate. Some versions of the hadith mention singing as well, but they mention it in addition to instruments.

Secondly, the comparison between only prohibiting a type of music and prohibiting silk for men is weak. In one case, wearing silk itself is prohibited for a whole group of people (men), and it is not uncommon for Allah and the Prophet to speak about men without specifying. In the other case, you would be reducing the criticism of instruments to the criticism of a specific kind of music. It is the difference between a prohibition that applies to a specific group (which is 50% of the population) and the prohibition itself being limited to a small percent of what it apparently indicates.

Some people further push on the many exceptions related to silk as evidence that this hadith is not a very strong indicator of all-out prohibition. They argue that silk in small amounts mixed with other clothes is allowed. So, this hadith is either inauthentic or means something other than prohibition.

The response is that minor forms of something being forgiven and allowed is not the same as that thing not being sinful. The same applies to many prohibitions. Allah explicitly prohibits blood in the Quran, but there is no debate that trace amounts of blood left in meat are forgiven. The same applies to silk. It is prohibited for men to wear in a full way, but small amounts of silk mixed with other clothes has been permitted by the Prophet (SAW).

The permissibility of small or mixed amounts does not affect the prohibition of the full thing.

This permissibility of small amounts is also only established by evidence. Silk and blood are allowed in these small amounts because of the clear example of the Prophet (SAW). If there was no such example, we would be required to stay away from it all.

6. Other Objections

6.1 Why Is There No Explicit Hadith Forbidding Music?

Some people argued that a prohibition such as music would require an explicit command instead of indirect commands. Even if granted that this hadith on its apparent seems to prohibit music, this hadith is clearly indirect. It is a description of the future. Why is there no explicit direct statement from the Prophet (SAW) prohibiting music? The lack of such a direct statement, they said, motivates us to interpret the hadith in other ways even though the apparent of the hadith indicates prohibition of music.

This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments, and it requires the most knowledge to answer.

The response is that many prohibitions and laws of Islam reach us in indirect ways. It is possible they were commanded directly at some point, but for a reason in Allah’s wisdom, the only texts we have for them are indirect.

An example is the prohibition of homosexual relationships. There is no verse in the Quran nor an authentic hadith which directly says “Homosexual relationships are sinful” or “are haram.” Instead, we have verses in the Quran which indirectly but clearly refer to this prohibition in the story of Lut (AS). Even in this story, there is no direct statement by Lut (AS) that it is a sin. Rather, the verses are rhetorical questions ⟪Do you approach men with desire instead of women? Rather, you are a transgressing people!⟫

Despite all of this, no one of knowledge disputes the prohibition of homosexual relationships.

Other examples are the prohibition of cannibalism and the obligation of burying the dead (and not cremating them). None of these have a very clear authentic hadith about them nor direct verses in the Quran. But, there is complete agreement that these are the laws of Islam.

One reason this would happen is that the law is assumed to be obvious. In that case, either the lawgiver would never need to say it explicitly or, even if the lawgiver did say it explicitly, the companions or later transmitters would not feel the need to transmit this obvious statement. So, they would rather say or transmit indirect statements which provide other information alongside prohibition.

In the case of homosexuality, Allah tells us the story of Lut (AS) and only indirectly mentions the prohibition as part of the story in passing. In the case of music, the companions transmitted particularly how a future group would be destroyed due to their indulgence of music but did not feel the need to transmit a direct statement of prohibition. It is also possible the Prophet never felt the need to give a direct statement of prohibition other than this.

Some scholars disputed this point by arguing that music was common at the time as illustrated in many narrations, so a direct statement of prohibition would be required if the prohibition existed.

The response is that, although music was common on many occasions, it was also common knowledge that music was impious and satanic. This dichotomy is illustrated in the most famous hadith of the Prophet (SAW) with regard to music:

Aisha (RA) narrated:

Abu Bakr came to my house while two small Ansari girls were singing beside me (while using the duff) the stories of the Ansar about the Day of Buath. But, they weren’t singers. Abu Bakr said, “The musical instruments of Satan in the Prophet’s house??” And that was on the Day of Eid, so the Prophet (SAW) said, “O Abu Bakr, every nation has their Eid, and this is our Eid.”

Sahih Bukhari

Abu Bakr (RA) clearly had the idea that musical instruments were impious, and the Prophet (SAW) did not correct this conception. Instead, the Prophet (SAW) indicated that some occasions, like Eid, can allow musical instruments.

Aisha (RA), the narrator of the hadith, also added “they weren’t singers” to further clear the girls of blame, indicating that it would be blameworthy to do it normally.

So, this understanding that music in general was impious except for its use at specific occasions in specific ways was already well-known, and that is one reason people would not need clear statements about it.

However, what was generally understood in one generation can rapidly become entirely unknown to the next generation. We can clearly see that with homosexuality today. That is why indirect statements of prohibition need to be taken as part of law even in the absence of direct statements.

6.2 How Can Something Forbidden Be Allowed Sometimes?

Some people said it does not make sense for music to be prohibited but allowed for Eid. Either music is pure or impure. If it is impure, it should never be allowed, let alone on Eid!

The response to this is that music is not prohibited because of its inherent impurity. It is prohibited due to other reasons in Allah’s wisdom. In light of those reasons, Allah also allowed it on certain times like Eid and marriage.

We can theorize about those reasons. Perhaps Allah decided that music leads to evil if left unchecked, and that is obvious in how music almost always degenerates into immorality. So, possibly because of the inherent risk associated with music, God heavily restricted it, allowing it sometimes and not allowing it most of the time. In this way, people are not affected by the risk.

6.3 The Reasons Given For Prohibiting Music Do Not Make Sense

Some people said that many people theorize reasons for the prohibition of music but those reasons rarely apply all the time. Those reasons, like wasting time or leading to sin, also apply to many other things that are totally permissible. For examples, games waste time. Should we ban all of them as well?

The response is that music is not prohibited by us using our rationality to decide it is prohibited. Music is only prohibited due to the teachings of the Prophet (SAW), and all reasons are just theories.

Secondly, a reason for prohibition does not need to apply all the time nor does it need to be unique to the prohibited item. Allah can choose to prohibit something for a reason which only applies sometimes.

Allah in the Quran Himself prohibits alcohol and gives the reason for it. He said ⟪Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer.⟫ (5:91)

Following this sort of logic would lead someone to argue, “But, I will drink in moderation so there will be no animosity and I will not forget prayer!” Another person could argue, “But, other things also cause animosity and make you forget prayer, like games!”

This is all obviously absurd. Allah prohibited wine because it causes these harms in a general sense, and them not happening all the time or them applying to other things do not reduce the prohibition of wine.

A more material example is drunk driving in non-Muslim countries. They prohibit driving when you are above a certain blood-alcohol level. The reason for the law is that drunk drivers are generally bad at driving and cause accidents. But, in reality, there are many people who are better than the average driver even when their blood-alcohol level is high. This does not make drunk driving any less prohibited for them. This is because the government does not trust individuals to judge themselves and has decided to implement a general law for the greater good.

The same applies to music. It is possible music was prohibited because Allah decided it would waste too much time or it would be too much of a distraction or it would lead to sin, and this would not be affected by the fact that those harms only happen sometimes and also apply to other things which are permissible. Allah has decided to prohibit music as a whole because He did not trust individuals to recognize when they would be harmed by it and, even if they could decide, He decided them listening to music would encourage others who could not handle it to listen to it.

7. Conclusion

In conclusion, we can see that the hadith of musical instruments in Sahih Bukhari is strong in its authenticity and accurate in its interpretation. We have seen much of the evidence that proves its authenticity, and we have seen its proper interpretation.

  1. A shahid (pl. shawahid) is when another companion narrates a similar statement from the Prophet (SAW).
  2. A mursal narration is when a tabi’i narrates directly from the Prophet (SAW) without mentioning the Sahabi whom he got the information from. There is difference of opinion about whether mursal narrations are evidence by themselves, but there is no doubt they can be supporting evidence.
  3. المعرفة والتاريخ – ت العمري – ط العراق | تراث
  4. Jarh wat-Ta’deel by Ibn Abi Hatim (link)

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