Qais Hussain is a 16-year-old A Level student and writer from Bradford. Here, he writes about his changing relationship to music as a young Muslim.
I grew up in your typical Pakistani Muslim household in Bradford, where we ate chicken masala and karahi gosht every other evening and went to mosque as soon as school finished. Family time was a huge part of my life. Both my parents are incredibly liberal and westernised – my mother doesn’t wear a scarf. But for years, I was brought up to believe that music is evil.
As far as I can remember, it all started when an advert popped on the TV featuring someone dancing to a song. I was seven years-old. My grandma told me that listening to music is forbidden. Those who did would go to hell, she said, and my mosque echoed the message, saying that people who listened to music would receive “snakes” and “scorpions” in their grave.
My upbringing meant that I never listened to music until recently.
Growing up, this was okay. Living in Bradford and having a huge Muslim population at my school meant many of my friends didn’t listen to music either. Some were even more orthodox than me and wouldn’t participate in singing at school or watch TV with the slightest bit of music. I didn’t feel alone at all.
But since leaving secondary school last year in March, and going to a college where I’m the only Muslim in my year, my perception has changed. My friends listen to tunes all the time: blasting them in the library, on the bus and off their phones. After 16 years of of feeling like I couldn’t be Muslim and listen to music, I started to ask – is music really that bad?
I decided to find out for myself. The first song I started with was “Huncho For Mayor”, by UK trapwave pioneer M Huncho. Over 80 of my friends follow him on Instagram, so I thought he would be a good place to start.
I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong by listening to him. Why was I brought up to believe differently?
Though there are no direct references to music in the Quran, certain Hadiths (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad) argue that music is haram, like when Abu Huraira reported the Prophet Muhammad saying: “the bell is the musical instrument of the Satan.”
Equally, others feel that listening to music is okay.
Al-Ghazzali, one of the most influential Muslin philosophers and scholars of the 11th century, wrote an essay titled ‘Music and Singing’ where he said: “Whoever says that all music is prohibited, let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited.”
There is no unequivocal answer on whether Muslims are allowed to listen to music or not. The fashionable consensus is that music can be placed into three broad categories. Legitimate, controversial and illegitimate.
Qira’at, the call to prayer and religious chants are legitimate. Almost all other types of non-religious music are controversial; and illegitimate music is considered to be the one that takes people away from their faith, like songs about smashing shots in the club and smoking weed.
Clearly, M Huncho’s trap-wave music fell into the illegitimate category.
Now, when I listen to rap, I try to avoid ‘illegitimate’ music by finding music with a positive message.
Dave’s “Question Time” is one of my favourites. Even though Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn aren’t players in mainstream politics anymore, the lyrics are still pertinent. Dave chats about how we’re all “struggling with getting by” and how that’s “the reality for millions of people”, which is a perfect summary of how life is right now.
Music has helped me stay motivated and positive during lockdown – it’s necessary for keeping away the bleakness outside. But my taste has swerved away from rap – I’ve been getting into stuff like Olivia Rodrigo’s power ballad (and TikTok smash) “Drivers License”. It’s therapeutic.
After listening to music for around four months, I came clean to my grandma. I thought she would rage at me, but after I presented her with the facts she was calm and simply said: “you will go in your own grave one day”. She then added: “only God knows what is truly wrong or right.”
I spent all of my childhood not listening to music, but I don’t regret it. The lack of music I had as a child, perhaps, saved my parent’s hundreds of pounds on CDs, going to events and buying celebrity merchandise.
I don’t regret my decision, because I wasn’t alone among my friendship group – many of my friend’s didn’t listen to music; many of them still don’t. My only regret is that I didn’t discover my own views on music earlier.
I wished I had searched for myself and learned whether music was allowed or not at a younger age. Then again: how could a seven year-old research about whether music is allowed or not? I’m just glad that I’m finally listening to music, on my terms.