Saturday, May 9, 2015

Muhammad: Destroy all Musical Instruments

Yesterday I wrote about the Ayatollah Khomeini's negative views about fun, joy and humor.

It's tempting to dismiss this sort of thing as a manifestation of modern-day Islamic "extremism". After all, weren't Muslims in the "golden-age" of Islam trilling flutes and strumming harps, composing love-poetry and eating sherbet, while Europeans were scrambling around in the mud bashing each other with crude clubs?

We'll discuss the Islamic view of music and musical instruments shortly, but first let's backtrack for a moment and ask: How do we know what Islam itself allows or prohibits?

Well, as all faithful Muslims would agree, first you look at the Koran to see what Allah, or through him Muhammad, commanded or said. Then you look at the Hadith--accounts of what Muhammad said or did. That's pretty much it. As far as I can tell, there's no Natural Law tradition in Islam. In other words, the commands or prohibitions don't obviously have to make sense. If God said it or Muhammad said it or did it, that's good enough.

So, with reference to Muhammad. If he treated captives in a certain way--executing some, sparing others, selling still others into slavery, etc.--then your job is to figure out the pattern and imitate it. If he had this to say about how to treat political enemies, then that's how you treat them. If he liked cats, then cats are good. If he made love in this position but not that one, then guess what? If he smoked cigarettes in a cigarette holder, then you...

Okay, sorry, that was Ayn Rand, but the point stands.

Now, the question arises as to what to do if it appears that Muhammad said or did two contradictory things. If both are verified and accepted as true, then the latter one rules. Muhammad changed his mind, or circumstances changed or whatever, and you go with the last and basically ignore the first. The first one is abrogated.

And by the way, the changing one's mind thing applies to Allah himself in the Koran. Indeed, there are so many seeming instances of this that to the skeptic it gets a bit comical. Sure enough, the Koran has more than a few things to say about the phenomenon:
If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar (2:106). 
God abrogates and confirms what He pleases. His is the Decree Eternal (13:39). 
If We pleased We could take away that which We have revealed to you (17:86). 
When We change one verse for another (God knows best what He reveals), they say: "You are an impostor" (16:101).
You got that one right, Skippy.

It is this that lies at the heart of the issue of those "peaceful" versus "warlike" parts of the Koran. The peaceful ones are all chronologically earlier. Muhammad began by attempting to spread Islam in a non-coercive manner. When that didn't work, he took up the sword. It worked better. And that's where things stood when he died, and where they have stood ever since. The sword rules.

Now in the Hadith--the gathered sayings and deeds of Muhammed--there is sometimes a bit more controversy about which sayings are "verified". There are tens of thousands of the things and multiple compilers. I think it's fair to say that there's a great deal of agreement on much of the important stuff with some arguments around the edges.

So what did Muhammad have to say about musical instruments?

Bukhari, perhaps the most accepted and respected of the Hadith compilers has the Prophet saying:
From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks, and the use of musical instruments as lawful. And (from them), there will be some 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 Allah will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection (7:494).
Another compiler, Qudsi, relates:
The Prophet said that Allah commanded him to destroy all the musical instruments, idols, crosses and all the trappings of ignorance. Allah said that if a man took even a mouthful of wine, He would make him drink the same quantity of pus of the wounds of the people in Hell (19:5).
By the way, the pus thing is not unique. The Koran is filled with similar grotesque imagery.

It should be said that the Koran and Hadith are somewhat mixed when it comes to singing. On the weight of the overall evidence some have said that all singing is condemned, though this is hard to square with the preferred quasi-musical chanting of the Koran. The majority view, perhaps, is that while some singing is permitted, especially if for a religious or other serious motivation, in general, singing is frivolous and potentially dangerous.

It could lead to musical instruments.

In fairness, many Islamic scholars have interpreted the musical-instrument "prohibition" in a milder manner similar to the way singing is regarded. Some instruments in some contexts might be allowable as long as their purpose is not for frivolous enjoyment or entertainment. The scholar I just linked to even goes so far as to say that "the use of the drums are unequivocally permissible for festivals and weddings and joyous times." Take that, Ayatollah Sourpuss.

So, do people in Islamic countries use musical instruments? Even for entertainment? Do they do it even (close your eyes and cover your ears) just for fun?

Of course. Whatever the ruling ideology or government says, when it comes to fun, people are always trying. Perhaps it's evolutionary. Or if you prefer, God (the real God) has built the thirst for joy into our very spirit.

But when, say, ISIS in some new outrage, melts all the brass instruments of the Mosul Symphony Orchestra into war materiel, or bans whistling or cuts off the hands of twenty marimba players or whatever, and you hear or read people scolding, as you just know they will, that's not authentic Islam! Actually...

It is.

Don't blame me, man.

It all goes back to Muhammad.

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