Fostering Artistic Expression

Is music and art forbidden (haram) in Islam?

The Quran does not prohibit music, art, or any other forms of artistic expression. Artistic expression in Islam is meant to reinforce the awareness of God and his creation, and is a means to obtain divine knowledge while manifesting God’s beauty in the world. Throughout history, Muslim artists have formed their own aesthetics of various art forms such as poetry, calligraphy, music, storytelling, and intricate geometric patterns.

Quranic Support

“He made beautiful everything he created.” (32:7)

Say, “Who prohibited the nice things God has created for his creatures, and the good provisions?” Say “Such provisions are to be enjoyed in this life by those who belief. Moreover, the good provisions will be exclusively theirs on the day of resurrection.” (7:32)

The Prophet’s Sayings

“Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty.” Sahīh Muslim (911)

“God has inscribed beauty upon all things.”

“God desires that if you do something you perfect it.”

Critics of artistic expression say that artforms attempt to recreate what God has already created and perfected, and serve to distract people from remembering God. They cite the Prophet’s saying which forbade the creation of human images in the same way that the Ten Commandments prohibits graven images. This prohibition on images has resulted in art being widely labelled as forbidden and actively discouraged.

Other forms of art, such as singing and dance, are also encapsulated in this struggle for Muslim women in particular. Some take the opinion that Islam forbids women to dance and sing in front of men, while others hold that playing instruments is considered haram, or forbidden.

Despite these limitations, Muslim women have been fostering their own artistic expression for centuries. Poetry and eloquence in writing and storytelling was an important expression of art in early Arabia. For example, the 9th century “Thousand and One Nights” tells a story of Scheherazade, a clever daughter of the Vizier, who distracts a merciless, bloodthirsty King and deters him from enacting violence by reciting stories of genies, princes, and talking animals over the span of 1,001 nights. Scheherazade’s stories, which include Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor, continue to be recounted and enjoyed to this day. As such, Scheherazade is ancient proof of women as storytellers and artists who empower others and create peace.

WISE Position

Given that art reinforces awareness of God and human existence, we believe that women artists can be an important vehicle for spreading beauty, innovating new aesthetics that contemplate the beauty of God and his creation. Many western Muslim women use their artwork as a medium to express faith in their daily lives. Their artwork provides new forms of dialogue, through which negative stereotypes of Muslim women can be dismantled.

Women Active in the Issue

Heba Amin, Aylin Aykan, Nageen Hyat, Nimah Nawwab, Sajida Amin-Sabjee Khan, Bina Sharif, Huda Totanji, Amirah Sackett

Related Articles

Mistiaen, Veronique. “Muslima exhibition: interviews and art by Muslim women.” The Guardian. 20 May, 2013. McMurray, Anaya. "Hotep and Hip-Hop: Can Black Muslim Women Be Down with Hip-Hop?." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 8.1 (2008): 74-92. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 1 July 2010.