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The Fatwa Endorsing Music | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, who is well-known for his Quranic recitation, provoked a storm of controversy in Saudi Arabia recently, after he stated that he was convinced by the juristic argument that singing accompanied by musical instruments was not prohibited in Islam, and that it would only be prohibited if this music was obscene or immoral.

As a result of this, a number of Saudi preachers and clerics rose up against this Sheikh who was the Imam of the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca for a brief period of months before stepping down from this position after making an anti-Shiite statement. In the wake of this statement, Sheikh al-Kalbani received support and encouragement from the same people who are now attacking him. This is what al-Kalbani said himself in an interview published in the current July 2010 edition of the “Fawasel” magazine.

The issue of singing and entertainment is a juristic and social issue in some aspects, and any humble reader of old and contemporary books of jurisprudence is well aware that this issue is controversial and inconclusive. Some scholars consider this religiously prohibited, while others consider it permissible.

This is neither the time nor place to elaborate on this, and anybody who is interested in this could read the book “Music and Singing in the Balance of Islam” which was written by researcher Sheikh Abdullah Bin Yusuf al-Judai, who is a former member of the European Council for Fatwa and Researcher.

What caught my attention in the Fawasel magazine article is that when the magazine asked members of the entertainment industry their opinion of al-Kalbani’s fatwa some of them expressed cautious support while others refused even to comment.

The strangest response came from Saudi composer Salah al-Hamlan, who openly said “As a composer, I am not happy with this fatwa and I consider it to be wrong, for Islam is clear [on this issue] and there is no ambiguity. We as composers know that singing is forbidden; scholars should counter al-Kalbani’s fatwa and respond to it.”

Strange and surprising words! What is even stranger is that this man continues to work in the entertainment industry, so how can we explain this paradox?

We are not going to ask the composer about where he got his religious information from, and who told him that the religious viewpoint “is clear…and there is no ambiguity.” We are also not going to ask him if he has read what Muslim jurists like [Yusuf] al-Qaradawi, Ibn Hazm, Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar [Mahmud] Shaltut, and Sheikh Abdullah al-Judai have written about this issue.

It is clear that he has not read the above religious references, or studied their scholarly writings and compared and contrasted their opinions in order to reach a conclusive opinion on the religious permissibility of singing. This is unlikely due to this composer’s preoccupation with composing music, and so he would not have had time to read or verify these juristic arguments and the differences between them, and so he is merely repeating what he has been told that “Islam is clear [on this issue] and there is no ambiguity.”

There is indeed a huge problem in education with the existence of duplicity between actions and thought.

Let us look at another surprising illustration of this which is unrelated to composer Salah al-Hamlan. This is like seeing a young man that is addicted to visiting nightclubs or who is a huge fan of the worst kind of seductive female singers lecturing others about the prohibition of listening to even the most simple musical tune played on the Rebec musical instrument on the grounds that “while it is true that I am a sinner, the truth is clear.”

The problem with such psychological justifications that some preachers do not object to promoting amongst ordinary people is that over the course of time these give rise to hypocritical and duplicitous behavior. Those who practice what they themselves believe to be religiously prohibited therefore overstate their rhetoric and viewpoints against all those who attempt to introduce open-minded opinions that contradict their own beliefs. These people go to the extreme and condemn the moderate jurists as a kind of psychological compensation for their own actions.

Usually, examples such as this [who do not practice what they preach] are even more strict and severe in their rhetoric than the actual jurists themselves, for the issue stems from their own inner desires and their justifications of this, rather than from logic and reason.