Is Islam Anti-Art?

About two years ago, I was doing a little soul-searching. I was in the midst of trying to discover my place in Allah’s plan. This period of reflection still exists and has led me to some rather fascinating territory.

While on this quest, I would often ponder certain questions. One of the questions I pondered was Islam’s position on art…or at least the most widely accepted position.

During this…period of reflection…I was trying to improve my understanding of Islam, increase my faith, become a better Muslim, improve my spirituality, and move closer to Allah.

Therefore, you are free to make what you will of what I write and I welcome you to contribute constructive comments. Just remember the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that a Muslim is one whom other Muslims are safe from their hands and tongue.

Alright then.

Recently I’ve started pondering upon some of the restrictions that exist in Islam. You know what they are.

There are others, but I was trying to list some of the more obvious restrictions that are mentioned specifically in the Quran and were more or less physical restrictions, rather than spiritual restrictions (i.e. blasphemy).

And then there are other restrictions, found primarily in the hadith (sayings, statements, stories, and traditions of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). These restrictions, in my opinion, seem to be against certain artistic forms; especially music and painting/photography/drawing.

So I began to think to myself, is Islam anti-art? And if it is, why? What harm does Allah and His messenger see coming from these art forms?

Of course, there are certain arts that Islamic culture doesn’t completely restrict. Poetry, if used to praise Allah or guide humanity towards the truth, is allowed. Also calligraphy is an acceptable art form as is architecture.

But why is music, singing, and by extension, dancing forbidden? And why isn’t this restriction mentioned specifically in the Quran like the riba, pork, and alcohol?

And what harm can painting, drawing, or photographing human figures bring? And once again, why didn’t our Lord specifically forbid this in the Quran?

Before going any further, I must say that I am aware that the rules and orders coming from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are sanctioned by Allah and are in fact, just as binding as restrictions found in the Quran.

Now, when it comes to the restrictions we find in the Quran, it is very clear that these things are dangerous and harmful to man. One needn’t be a genius to figure these out and only need to look at the facts surrounding the forbidden act.

  • Pork – The pig has to the most disgusting and nasty animal in the world. It lives and eats in its own filth. I’ve seen a pigsty before and it was absolutely filthy. As dirty as dogs are, pigs are even worse. I don’t even see the difference between eating a pig and eating a dog. Both animals are equally nasty. Even cooked pork leaves a horrible stink. How anyone can put swine into their mouth is beyond me.
  • Riba (interest, usury) – At small amounts, Riba doesn’t seem to hurt much. However, in the long run, participating in interest does nothing more than force the poor into economic slavery to the rich. It makes the rich greedy and the poor spend outside their means. Today, several poor nations are burdened under crushing debt from wealthy nations. Even some wealthy nations (like the U.S.A.) are beginning to buckle under their dependence on Riba. To me, Riba is like a fire that eventually consumes all wealth.
  • Alcohol – Many people don’t see the harm in drinking alcohol in moderation. It is impossible to keep everyone from abusing alcohol. And unlike other vices (like eating pork and smoking), drinking alcohol often leads to the death of others. In 2008 almost 12000 people were killed in drunk driving accidents in the U.S.A. Furthermore, there’s little benefit to drinking alcohol except that it lowers our inhibitions and makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do when sober.
  • Gambling – In the state where I used to live, there’s a big debate over whether Bingo should be legalized or not. The main argument for allowing gambling in Alabama is that it can increase tax revenues and create jobs. But these are pretty flimsy arguments, in my opinion. Gambling does not produce any tangible goods nor provide any useful service. It only succeeds when most of the people who participate lose. And in those cities and states where gambling has been legalized and taken root, organized crime has followed (e.g. Las Vegas and Atlantic City). And along with gambling, comes other abhorrent forms of entertainment such as strip shows and burlesque.
  • Fornication – Do I really have to explain why fornication (i.e. premarital sex) is forbidden? If I must explain I’ll try to keep it brief. As the world has become more accepting of sex before marriage, we have seen more teenage pregnancies which leads to more youth crimes, more abused children, more violent crimes, and more imprisoned youth. I dare say that if the family structure was more revered and honored in the U.S., we’d see lower crime rates and a safer society in general.
  • Lying, killing, stealing, cheating – These are all self-explanatory.

So I had to ask myself, why is music forbidden? How many people have died because they listened to The Beetles? Or Bach? Or Michael Jackson?

I suppose we could extrapolate that some harm comes from listening music. Maybe some people listened to gangsta rap or heavy metal and then decided to kill someone. But that’s rare and both forms of music are pretty modern. If music is bad now, it should have been bad for centuries. Hence, I don’t think that’s a good reason for it to be forbidden.

Maybe we can say that listening to music has led to fornication or premarital sex. And yes, most modern music is about sex and love. But music was around in the 1700’s also and it doesn’t seem to have led to an epidemic of fornication. I really don’t see that as the reason either.

Then when we look at where the prohibition of music comes from, I was left even more confused. I know there are some verses in the Quran that forbid “vain speech.” But they aren’t as direct as the verses that forbid pork and alcohol and gambling.

So far, I’ve only been able to find two hadiths that allude to music being forbidden in Islam.

The first was during the ‘Eid (festival) in Prophet Muhammad’s time (peace be upon him) when some girls were playing a tambourine and singing in his house. Abu Bakr came in and shouted “The instruments of the devil in the Prophet’s house?”

Even though Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) allowed the singing and music for the festival, the words of Abu Bakr clearly indicate that the Muslims of that time felt they were sinful.

The other hadith is the one most often quoted concerning music. It is when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

There will be some people who will consider extra-marital sex, wearing silk, drinking alcohol, and the use of musical instruments, as lawful.

Since the prophet was speaking of people in the future making music lawful, it is obvious that it was unlawful during his time.

I do not doubt the authenticity of these hadith, but I am still forced to ponder why was music considered unlawful in the first place (I guess we could ponder the same for wearing silk, but that’s for another time).

And then we go to visual arts that create representations of people and animals. This would include painting, sculpture, drawing, and photography.

Once again, there are no verses in the Quran that forbid these arts. But there are multiple hadiths that seem to show that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) forbade them.

But why were they forbidden? How many deaths have been caused by Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa? Which families were destroyed because they read a Sunday morning cartoon strip? I understand that many statues were worshiped in the past, but who’s bowing down to the Statue of Liberty today?

These thoughts have been swarming through my head for the past three days since my last post. What is the harm in these things? Why did Prophet Muhammad tell us to leave them alone? Is Islam anti-art?

And then one day, during this period of reflection, I received some unsettling news.

A young Muslim man I knew back in Atlanta died suddenly yesterday. He was younger than me (I was 33 years old at the time) and had four very young children. The oldest was only 11.

He went into cardiac arrest while he was driving. An ambulance revived him, but he had a seizure later at the hospital that ended his life. It appears he had a clogged artery.

While me and this young man were not really close friends, we were always friendly. His oldest son was best friends with my son. His ex-wife and my wife were also very good friends. He was a person I knew of; when we saw each other we would chat for a while, but we were not the best of buddies.

What strikes me most is the suddenness of his death, his youth, and the four little kids he left behind.

This is not the way I wanted to understand the prohibition of music and some other art forms. Nonetheless, I think I get it now.

All of these things are just a waste of time, and time is one thing we just don’t have that much of. I’m not saying that this is the only reason or even the primary reason that they were forbidden. But I do believe that leaving them behind will give us more time to spend in the worship of Allah.

Think to yourself: “How many hours have I wasted listening to music and admiring/creating art?”

Instead of listening to music, I could have been reading Quran. Instead of drawing, I could have bee studying Arabic.

In general, I must now reevaluate how I spend my time and to what I devote my life. I don’t know when I’m going to return to Allah. I don’t know if I’m going to see another Ramadan, or see my children grow up. So with whatever little time I have left on this planet, I realize that I must seek to use every minute of it in a more beneficial manner.

I’m not exactly sure what this means, but I know it doesn’t mean that I’m going to spend my life reading dusty books. But I do hope that going forward, I will try to utilize my time more wisely. This would include:

  • Cutting back on movies and television.
  • Spending more time with my children.
  • Fasting more regularly (Mondays and Thursdays, three middle days of the month).
  • Performing the night prayer.
  • Becoming more involved with the Muslim community here.
  • Exercising more.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you shouldn’t listen to music. I believe you should do your own search and sincerely ask Allah to guide you towards the truth.

I remember a quote from one of my earliest Islamic teachers as a young man. It seems this man always spoke in parables and wise sayings.

There are three things we can never get back: The spoken word. The arrow that has been shot. And wasted time.

When I was in Senegal, I learned to never say “I’m bored” around Brother Muhammad. He would always counter with:

Have you learned all the rules of tajweed? Have you committed at least forty hadiths to memory? Have you memorized the entire Quran? Don’t tell me you’re bored ’cause I’ll find something for you to do.

I encourage you to think about how you spend your time everyday and if there is a way for you to use it more wisely. Is there something you do too much of that can be cut back? Are there certain Islamic acts that you know you should do, but never seem to have the time for?

If you were to suddenly go into cardiac arrest, would you be satisfied with how you’ve spent your time on this world?

Spread the word

15 Responses to Is Islam Anti-Art?

  1. I used to wonder the same thing; why is music prohibited? Alhamdulillah, a person once told me that, “Music has the same/similar effects on the heart as the Qur’an does on the heart”. This sounds pretty legit to me, although it may not be entirely true. When you listen to music full blast with headphones in your ears, you become overwhelmed by the enchanting instruments and the catchy beat…you become absorbed in the music and most likely, 9 times out of 10, you aren’t thinking of Allah (SWT). So, music has a negative effect on the heart. I can’t exactly explain it, but yes, listening to it temporarily gives you an excited and happy feeling…but it really doesn’t solve your problems and later, you might feel more depressed. When you listen to the Qur’an on full with headphones, the effect is countless times better. Its beautiful, its soothing, and it makes you remember Allah (SWT). And its soothing for the heart, now and later. It isn’t temporarily, it lasts.

  2. As-salaamu ’alayka wa rahmatullaah

    Music is indirectly mentioned thrice in the Qur’aan and I have found these daleel to be helpful, and very enlightening (taken from islamqa.info/en/ref/5000).

    [If this is too much to read then skip to “—-Conclusion—-“]

    Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

    “[Allaah said to Iblees:] And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice (i.e. songs, music, and any other call for Allaah’s disobedience)…” [al-Israa’ 17:64]

    It was narrated that Mujaahid (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice” – his voice [the voice of Iblees/Shaytaan] is singing and falsehood. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: This idaafah [possessive or genitive construction, i.e., your voice] serves to make the meaning specific, as with the phrases [translated as] “your cavalry” and “your infantry” [later in the same aayah]. Everyone who speaks in any way that is not obedient to Allaah, everyone who blows into a flute or other woodwind instrument, or who plays any haraam kind of drum, this is the voice of the Shaytaan. Everyone who walks to commit some act of disobedience towards Allaah is part of his [the Shaytaan’s] infantry, and anyone who rides to commit sin is part of his cavalry. This is the view of the Salaf, as Ibn ‘Abi Haatim narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas: his infantry is everyone who walks to disobey Allaah. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan).

    “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing) to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah…” [Luqmaan 31:6]

    The scholar of the ummah, Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: this means singing. Mujaahid (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: this means playing the drum (tabl). (Tafseer al-Tabari, 21/40).

    Al-Hasan al-Basri (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: this aayah was revealed concerning singing and musical instruments (lit. woodwind instruments). (Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 3/451).

    Al-Sa’di (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: this includes all manner of haraam speech, all idle talk and falsehood, and all nonsense that encourages kufr and disobedience; the words of those who say things to refute the truth and argue in support of falsehood to defeat the truth; and backbiting, slander, lies, insults and curses; the singing and musical instruments of the Shaytaan; and musical instruments which are of no spiritual or worldly benefit. (Tafseer al-Sa’di, 6/150)

    It was reported from Abu Umaamah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not sell singing slave women, do not buy them and do not teach them. There is nothing good in this trade, and their price is haraam. Concerning such things as this the aayah was revealed (interpretation of the meaning): ‘And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing) to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah…’ [Luqmaan 31:6].” (Hasan hadeeth)

    Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The interpretation of the Sahaabah and Taabi’in, that ‘idle talk’ refers to singing, is sufficient. This was reported with saheeh isnaads from Ibn ‘Abbaas and Ibn Mas’ood. Abu’l-Sahbaa’ said: I asked Ibn Mas’ood about the aayah (interpretation of the meaning), ‘“And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks’ [Luqmaan 31:6]. He said: By Allaah, besides Whom there is no other god, this means singing – and he repeated it three times. It was also reported with a saheeh isnaad from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with them both) that this means singing. There is no contradiction between the interpretation of “idle talk” as meaning singing and the interpretation of it as meaning stories of the Persians and their kings, and the kings of the Romans, and so on, such as al-Nadr ibn al-Haarith used to tell to the people of Makkah to distract them from the Qur’aan. Both of them are idle talk. Hence Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “Idle talk” is falsehood and singing. Some of the Sahaabah said one and some said the other, and some said both. Singing is worse and more harmful than stories of kings, because it leads to zinaa and makes hypocrisy grow (in the heart); it is the trap of the Shaytaan, and it clouds the mind. The way in which it blocks people from the Qur’aan is worse than the way in which other kinds of false talk block them, because people are naturally inclined towards it and tend to want to listen to it. The aayaat condemn replacing the Qur’aan with idle talk in order to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah without knowledge and taking it as a joke, because when an aayah of the Qur’aan is recited to such a person, he turns his back as if he heard them not, as if there were deafness in his ear. If he hears anything of it, he makes fun of it. All of this happens only in the case of the people who are most stubbornly kaafirs and if some of it happens to singers and those who listen to them, they both have a share of this blame. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan, 1/258-259).

    “Do you then wonder at this recitation (the Qur’aan)?
    And you laugh at it and weep not,
    Wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing)”
    [al-Najm 53:59-61]

    ‘Ikrimah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: it was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that al-sumood [verbal noun from saamidoon, translated here as “Wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing)”] means “singing”, in the dialect of Himyar; it might be said “Ismidi lanaa” [‘sing for us’ – from the same root as saamidoon/sumood] meaning “ghaniy” [sing]. And he said (may Allaah have mercy on him): When they [the kuffaar] heard the Qur’aan, they would sing, then this aayah was revealed.

    Ibn Katheer (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning) “Wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing)” – Sufyaan al-Thawri said, narrating from his father from Ibn ‘Abbaas: (this means) singing. This is Yemeni (dialect): ismad lana means ghan lana [sing to us]. This was also the view of ‘Ikrimah. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer).

    Al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The four madhhabs are agreed that all musical instruments are haraam. (al-Saheehah, 1/145).

    [End of quotes, although there’s much more evidence on the page]

    —-Conclusion—-

    From the evidence it is clear that music is a tool of Shaytaan, which refers to al-ghaib (the unseen). If Allah and His Messenger have warned us about this serious matter i.e. al-ghaib we should take heed as Allah says “Say: None in the heavens and the earth knows the Ghaib (Unseen) except Allaah” (al-Naml 27:65) Therefore we should do as Allah has said of the believers: “And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination.” (al-Baqarah 2:285)

    When we look around ourselves we can see the effect music has on people. On TV we see nightclubs and the wretched people inside who have lost control of themselves, they dance and move to the music because it can control them, but if it were to be turned off the would stop acting like fools. Next time such a scene comes on a TV ad, movie etc. I advise that you mute the sound and soon you will realize that these people just look like frogs in a blender (lol). Moreover when NATO attacks our Ummah, they have heavy metal and death rock and whatever new is the trend nowadays, and such music has an effect on people. Moreover, here are some misguided people (soufees), may Allah save us from joining them, a short 2 min. video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81ugp2lVX4M

    The fact of the matter is that just like what we see, what we hear can have as strong of an effect.

    Thank you, if you’ve stayed with me up to this point.

    Baarakallahu feekum wa Jazaakumullah khayraa.

    • Wa Alaikum Salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

      Jazakallah Khair for sharing this information. It is wise that people look at all the evidence and strive to make a sound decision. You have certainly provided quite a bit of evidence for everyone, May Allah reward you.

  3. Salam!

    This is a well-written article, alhamdulillah.

    I take a bit of a middle-stance on ‘art’ in Islam, and it is a fairly minority one. I do draw live beings sometimes, but I’m always careful never to have 3D forms, nor to display them in rooms (this makes plenty of sense to me, just like how you wouldn’t pray with a statue in front of you, you wouldn’t pray near images). This is the opinion I was brought up with, and I think if you want to find the daleel you can look it up (I believe that al-Qaradawi explained it quite nicely).

    As a girl who loves art, I think that the main reason that we are asked to avoid drawing live beings is that when you begin becoming interested in live observational drawing, you almost inevitably need to learn anatomy, or the human figure. This is usually learned through life-drawing (nude models). Of course, for Muslims this is forbidden, as we must both observe hijab and lower our gazes. So whereas I love comics like the Muslim Show, and other drawings with a good message to them, it’s hard to not fall into that particular haram when you practice drawing of live beings. There is so much more to art than just drawing live beings though!

    As for music – I am not as strict about it as others. I don’t think it’s the end of the world if someone plays an instrument, as long as they are doing this with the properly researched Islamic opinion and in the correct environment. However, I do not have any playlists nor music on my phone, and I avoid listening to songs, simply because the majority of music is simply time-wasting, as you mentioned, for most humankind. Not to mention that 99% of songs are advocating unIslamic lifestyles, which of course is haram.

  4. Well I know of a brother on a site called DeviantArt who makes a lot of Islamic drawings to try to spread Islam and clear misconceptions. I don’t know if it’s allowed but many people have learned from it and don’t see Islam with concern anymore. Sure these things, music and art can be bad but it depends on the user and how they use it.

    If everything that can be used for bad would be banned, then what would be left? Science has done a lot of bad but also a lot of good, for example. But science is definitely not banned in Islam!

    But yes, I agree this is one of the things which is best left in between the believer and Allah. Each of us have to use our own intellect and reason and weight the pros and cons.

  5. You seem to be a sincere person. It seems you would like like to increase your spirituality. Why then would you mistrust yourself ( your Self- soul etc) and have to be Told what is spiritual rather than try to discern for yourself? Knowledge does not come From books ; it is put into books, right? Well then one’s belief that you should follow what another says about Life and spirituality rather than looking inward seems to imply a sense of self- distrust. The question is whether Belief( which has no basis in an actual Reality since anything can be ” believed”) is as important as Knowledge – that which one actually Knows to be true rather than just what one has been told or , perhaps, wishes to be true. Actual spiritual courage and knowledge would seem to come to the sincere seeker who will reject ” belief” in favor of the higher value of ” knowledge”. Good luck to you and yours.

  6. MA. Such a beautifully guiding article. I just fell in love with it. Sharing it everywhere. May Allah bless u with noir
    from all sides bro. See you in Jannah IA.

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