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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

One of the most perplexing points in Islam is its attitude towards music, and for centuries the legists have argued the question whether listening to music (al-sama) is lawful or not. It is not easy to comprehend how the question arose, seeing that there is not a word of direct censure against music in the Koran, and above all, in face of the fact that music was almost an indispensable article in the social life of the Arabs. According to A History of Arabian Music (London, 1929, p. 22), "Orientalists are divided on the question of the origin of the Islamic censure of listening to music. One group attributes it directly to the Prophet Muhammad himself, whilst the other holds that it was manufactured by the theologians of the Abbasid era, who were jealous of the inordinate attention paid to music and musicians." Baidawi (2:209) writes that the Koranic verse "He increases in His creatures that which He wills" (35:1), refers to the "beautiful voice." Besides, "Verily, the most hateful of voices is braying of the ass" (31:18), where we have a negative praise of the beautiful voice, and then it is argued that singing is allowable since it is laid down: "Say, who has forbidden the adornment of God, which He has provided for His creatures" (7:30), vide Ihya Ulum (p. 214).

In Arabia, the Bedouin soul was essentially music loving. Its aspirations, its movements, and its impulses were all reflected in the rhythmic expression of Arabic verse, whose meter could be as short or long as the step of a camel. Under the rule of the Qoraish at Mecca, the poets and minstrels from all parts of the peninsula vied with each other for supremacy in their art during the fair of Ukaz. It was here that the singing girls (qainat or qiyan) sang the famous mu'allaqat. The Arabic music of pre-Islamic era is predominantly secular, and the musicians retained their pagan character. During the pilgrimage, the pilgrims appear to have indulged in those primitive musical chanting, which still exist in the tahlil and talbiyya. One fragment of the ritual performed during the hajj has been preserved in the words ashriq thabir kaima nughir, is said to have been sung during the ifada to Mina. St. Nilus tells us of the Arabs of the north, who chanted a hymn while encircling the sacrificial stone. Noeldeke likens it to the tahlil. Both Imru'u l'Qais and Labid, the pre-Islamic poets, speak of "maidens circling a pillar," which would most likely be performed in a dance, accompanied by music or song. Islam adopted the performance of hajj in a refined form, not along with song and music attached in the ritual. Islam never really eradicated the pagan ideals of the Arab so far as music is concerned, but the charge that the opposition to listening was fabricated by the Abbasid jurists. The old pagan chanting of the pilgrimage, the tahlil and talbiyya, which were turned favourably to the account of Islam and became lawful, even to the allowability of the tabl (drum) and shahin (fife) as an accompaniment (Ihya Ulum, p. 220).

Anas bin Malik related that the Prophet used to make him sing the huda (caravan song) when traveling, and that Anjusha used to sing it for the women and al-Bara bin Malik for the men (Ibid. p. 217). Ghazali testifies that the huda did not cease to be one of the customs of the Arabs in the time of the Prophet, and in the time of the Companions, and that it is nothing but poems equipped with agreeable sounds (salawat tayyiba) and measured melodies (alhan mauzuna) (Ibid). The singing (ghina) was based on a simple type of song, also called nasb, which was but an improved form of camel-driver's chant (huda). They accompanied themselves on an instrument of strings (muwattar), more generally it was a harp-like instrument (mi'zafa), a percussion wand (qadib) or a tambourine (mizmar). Ibn Athir writes that once the Prophet heard the voice of the singing-girl when passing the abode of Hassan bin Thabit, who asked if it were sinful to sing. The Prophet said, "Certainly not!" (Usd al-Ghaba, 5:496).

We also read that the girls greeted the Prophet in jubilant in Medina from the housetops with recitation (inshad) set to melody (lahn), and accompanied by the beating of tambourines (dufuf) (Ihya Ulum, p. 224). Syed Waheeduddin writes in The Benefactor (Lahore, 1964, p. 33) that, "The Banu Najjar led the welcoming crowds in full armour, their weapons glistening in the sun. The whole of Yathirab lined the road in orderly rows. Young girls played on their tambourines and sang song of welcome. There was an unprecedented marry-making, and when Muhammad came to the group of Umar bin Awf Najjari, the well-dressed girls came out of seclusion, danced and sang to the tune of music the following ballad: "We belong to the clan of Najjar, (we are) Muhammad's soldiers from the Jari." Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406) writes in Muqaddimah (2:404) that, "In Medina, Nashit al-Farisi, Tuways and Sa'ib Khathir, a client of Abdullah bin Jafar (bin Abu Talib), made their appearance. They heard the poems of the Arabs and set them to music. They did it well, and they became famous. Ma'bad and his class of singers, as well as Ibn Surayj and his ilk, learned from them."

There is a story of A'isha who took to one of the Ansar his bride. When she returned, the Prophet said to her, "Did you lead the girl to her husband?" She said, "Yes." He then said, "And did you not send someone who could sing?" She said, "No." The Prophet then said, "Surely you knew that the Ansar are people who delight in the ghazal." Bilal was the son of an Abyssinian slave-girl. To him the Prophet is claimed to have once said, "O'Bilal, sing us a ghazal" (Ibn Hisham, p. 205). Once the Prophet was riding with some Companions when he asked one of them to recite the poetry of Umayya. A hundred lines were recited for him, and the Prophet said at the finish, "Well done!" "And when the satire in the poetry and the talking about it wearied them," says the tradition, "it was said,

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