Saudi Arabia: Do Only the Expats Play Instruments?

I was sitting here and thinking how much I miss playing the piano.  I grew up playing the piano and until Abdullah and I had moved to Saudi Arabia I always had a piano in my home.  As I think about music and instruments it occurred to me that I’ve not known Saudis who have had a piano, organ or even a violin in their home.  I know Saudis like music and may have traditional instruments or modern guitars but rarely any of the string or keyboard instruments found commonly elsewhere in the world.  There are music stores in Saudi Arabia which do sell all kind of instruments.  The (foreign) sales staff are “somewhat” knowledgeable of the instruments.  Somehow though, I have a hunch, that the main customers are probably expats.

I realize that there are Muslims who do not believe in music unless it is a natural sound such as from a drum.  Yet I do not want to think or accept that the majority of Saudis simply are not interested in what I like to call the ‘classic’ instruments.  Granted, not having music classes or instrument lessons at school can be a discouragement in gaining an interest in classic instruments.

I would welcome hearing from Saudis who have learned to play various instruments and how they gained their love of classical music and instruments.


26 Responses

  1. People are so indoctrinated here to think that music is bad that even many who listen to it regularly think they are just weak and that they are wrong. I have known some Saudi’s to play instruments- but not many. Mostly piano. There is also a great difficulty in finding a teacher even if you want your child to learn.

    Ironically there is a huge music industry throughout the region. So ultimately I think music will win out. Which I think is a good thing.

  2. Without being argumentative, I would respectfully disagree with you. While many Saudis listen to music, I don’t believe there are many at all who actually play an instrument. My understanding is that it is considered “haram” or a direct violation of the Koran. I don’t think a “good muslim” would entertain the thought of actully playing an instrument. If you go outside of the piano or as you suggested – a violin,(say for instance a trumpet or a trombone or a saxaphone,) I think that the number of Saudi’s playing anything other then that is decreased exponentially. This is just my opinion.

  3. Many good Muslims play many instruments. And we see it on Arabic TV here all the time. Orchestras full of Arab-Muslim musicians- just not Saudi’s. But yes currently- not many play instruments. However many Wahabi/Salafi type Muslims do think it is haram.

  4. Sandy,
    I was thrown back by your comments. I’m an American Muslim living in Riyadh currently. It’s not just “Salafi/Wahabi types that think it’s haram. I consider myself simply a Muslim, and call myself neither of those titles, and I do believe music to be categorically against what Islam holds to be permissible.

    I don’t think music will win out. because I simply think there’s not some battle going on. It’s a matter of preference what people do, and I would never say that Muslim who listen to music are “bad Muslims”. The fact that the ones that do listen to it, think that they’re weak or feel bad deep down about doing it, shows that they know the Quran and sunnah speak against it. When you start filling the heart with the beauty of the Quran and its recitation, I’ve found everything else just pales in comparison! It’s easy to look at it as something extreme because music is so part of peoples’ lives these days and is looked at an expression of self, but when you look deeply in it I found it to make perfect sense.

  5. @Nadia – ‘and call myself neither of those titles’

    I’ve never heard of a Salafi/Wahabi that DOES.

  6. Please ONE THING ONLY from the Quran that says music is haram. Just ONE!! (there’s nothing). Wahabi/Salafi indoctrinated Muslims are the only ones that think it haram. And there are plenty of those because the petrol money paid for that sort of Dawah worldwide. And even though it makes sense to YOU doesn’t make it Islamic. Of course no Muslim is required to listen to it. But it is Haram to make Haram what ALLAH didn’t make Haram.

    Many people have there hearts full of the beauty of Quran and that doesn’t make them dislike music. Or books. Or cats. Or calligraphy. Or fashion. Or cooking. Or gardening. Or exercise. These things are not mutually exclusive, and that sort of “reasoning” is how such extreme viewpoints come into being, and how hadiths get interpreted to mean things they don’t actually say.

    @Lynn, spot on. (I can’t believe I just said that- that’s twice in one day!)

  7. @Sandy – ‘that’s twice in one day!’

    Very good, very good…it won’t be much longer now… mwah ha ha!

  8. My two older sons are practicing muslims (yes, even here in the states) and forbid themselves just about everything that is forbidden in the quran (openly stated forbidden) yet both of them taught themselves how to play and instrument by themselves. My older son plays a mean guitar and the middle son plays piano like nobodies business. They were judged and found wanting in Bahrain by those who apparently know god better than others (have a direct line or something) and it made no difference to my boys. There is no prohibition against music and they would be the first to deny themselves the pleasure of it itf there were.

    In my opinion…the fact that the quran sounds so musical tells me that music in general is something god blessed us with…after all, if the “source” of all that IS god sounds so pleasing to the ear and ryhmes and has a “beat”…how can we say music is haram?

  9. Just because someone dosn’t listen to music does not make them a salafi/ ppl choose to listen to music because of certain information/proof that they think its ok..others have the right to say that in their opinion and research that its not ok for themselves personally ..Dont we have the rite as muslims to use our god given intellect and make these decisions for ourselves..
    Sandy you are quick to call those ppl who enforce the idea that music is haram salafi/wahabi..yet you don’t see that pointing the finger to those who merely have made the choice by themselves and what they thought was rite to avoid the very quality you are trying to stop.
    By claiming that you know more than others about what is halal and haram in this example is doing the same thing…there are many different opinions on certain things in islam..we don’t need to place ppl into cateogires just because it dosn’t fit in to what you like. Isn’t that a very wahabi./salafi way of thinking?

  10. They are making a claim that it is haram for all. And the burden of proof is on them. And they don’t have the proof. I can adjust my phrasing a bit. I don’t know who is Salafi/Wahabi- but music being haram is a Salafi/Wahabi belief. So sometimes I make the assumption that those practing this Salafi/Wahabi belief are indeed Salafi/Wahabi’s.

    What I don’t like about the Salafi/Wahabi beliefs is their expertise in the creation of more haram and trying to control everyone else. Personally- I very much want Muslims to be separated into catagories for two reasons. One it is is honest and reflects the reality- regardless of what the ideal is. And second I am tired of being associated with all the nonsense that many Muslims call Islam. And I have NO problem pointing the finger anymore. Perhaps when they stop trying to enforce their beliefs on the rest of us and stop inventing more harams- then I will. But as far as I am concerned this mentality is the breeding ground for extremism and I want no part of it and I want to be on the record of having spoken up about it.

    And on this topic, I apparently DO know more about haram than some others. And I’m not going to pretend that I don’t so that others had make public inaccurate claims on my faith without proof.

  11. When you start using your intellect to decide what is right and wrong, YOU become the lawmaker and remove that power from God. God has given us the intellect to realize that we need to worship him, but some things defy intellect, and are a matter of pure belief. Although Islam, actually is extremely logical there are still some things that our limited human intellect won’t understand. And that’s when we humble ourselves and say, “God knows best, and I was put on this earth to worship him, so if my purpose is to please him and be the best worshipper I can be, I’m going to have to just submit sometimes even though there are things that I can’t totally understand.

    It’s actually totally wrong to say people don’t call themselves Salafi. I agree with you on the Wahabi title, as it’s just used as a derogatory term by those that like to label people who are “too strict”, and no one says “Salam, I’m a Wahabi!”. But with Salafi actually there are soo many people that call themselves that. Whether in American or Saudi. I don’t like the title myself though, because it makes people think they are superior when many times they are lacking in manners and conduct and actions.

    With the verse from the Quran about music, I’ll refrain from getting into a fiqh discussion about it. People have done it so much and it will continue to go on. What’s there is there and insha’Allah we all make our decisions in life. We’re all striving for the same goal, and just help each other in good. 🙂 Too much back and forth doesn’t do good a lot of times.

  12. There is no verse. I have no problem submitting to what is actually there. And we all use our intellect as part of our decision-making process (or should- it’s a powerful Allah-given gift). That does not mean we are removing power from Allah- or that we require proof for every aspect of belief.

    And yes you are right- many Salafi’s self identify. And that too much back and forth often doesn’t do a lot of good- also true.

  13. “When you start using your intellect to decide what is right and wrong, YOU become the lawmaker and remove that power from God”

    I interpret this phrase to mean…once you start thinking, what is the point of god?

    And I say…exactly. 😉

  14. I can understand why some religions ban alcohol, but music? That is absurd.

  15. Sandy,
    If you enjoy reading, take a look at a book called Slippery Stone- an inquiry into Islam’s stance on Music. It’s by Khalid Baig by Open Mind Press.

    It’s not one of those typical music is haram books but rather goes into original source books in Arabic, many that have been translated for the first time. It also quotes alot from the Quran and Sunnah, and then scholars and jurists from all the schools of Islamic Law, in addition to Sufi and even Shiah.
    So it’s not coming from a narrow understanding. Might be an interesting read for you. 🙂 My husband is reading it now.

  16. I agree i don’t know of many saudi who play,sing etc., Bot my kids play instruments and my daughter sings .. I found no lack of Violin tutors for my son when we were there ( of course they were all indian ) professionally trained although not to teach and mostly only taught Indian classical music which wouldn’t make sense who didn’ tunderstand the language. however my son after learining indian classical violin could pick up western classical onhis own . so there is hope if youa re insaudi.

    As for haram debate, all i can say is F has a great voice and it would kill me if he stopped singing ( especially some of those terrible bollywood songs 🙂 )
    I don’t think god bestowed on him such a grand voice just to keep it quite or limit it to a few things.

    Music has the power to heal , bring joy and i think is v v essential for kids. If reciting koran is music how can singing about a million other things be wrong.

    From our family F is the only practising muslim and trust me he doesn’t feel an iota of guilt singing and playing the piano ( builts dexterity– v imp for a surgeon 🙂 )

    I thnk kids who can play and sing are very talented , it’s god’s gift to be nourished not supressed or demeaned. i have heard tons of saudi music and it’s lovely … i hope music spreads thru the region.

  17. One problem I have heard is that it is hard to find music instructors in KSA. I was told by a friend that one would have to go to Egypt or some similar place in order to study music at a university level. So I’d imagine this affects the number of people studying music in KSA.

    Although I agree that hearing the Quran recited sounds very beautiful (and I actually watched a documentary about a world-wide Quran recitation competition held each year for children) when recited, I do not see how anyone can find other forms of music to be evil unless the meaning behind the song is evil. If one is just talking about everyday life- well, I do not see the harm in that. Self-expression is good for the soul.

    I love dancing. I have loved dancing as far back as I can remember. Music is one of the best things for soothing me when I’m going through a rough time. I believe we are each created with different talents and loves in life. One of mine happens to be dancing. For me, it is and always will be a love of mine. And I think that God is okay with that. In fact, I think God created me that way. 😉

    You are all welcome to believe what you want, just please respect that I believe the way I do about dancing and music. Some Christians think that dancing is wrong, and that’s their business- not mine.

  18. The original Arabic source would be Quran. And there is still no verse. I am already familiar with many hadith in which the Prophet listened to music. Also, there has been continuous musical development throughout the Islamic empire and throughout it’s history. I have absolutely no interest in what the clergy have to say about this or the four remaining schools of thought- (also not mentioned in Quran and hadith). I”m guessing it probably is a pretty narrow book. It carefully selected every little thing it could find that might indicate an issue or negative quality of music, and either ignored, or creatively made irrelevant, the preponderance of everything else including nothing in Quran and the obvious presence of music at the time of the Prophet.

  19. It’s not what books like this say- so much as what they leave out. People who like this book, already believe music is mostly haram and love finding a scholarly book that “proves” what they already believe.

    However, a meaningful discussion requires that the researcher has not already decided the outcome. When the researcher already knows the answer- then looks for proof supporting their position-it is not proper research and it does not really make a case except for those that already share the same viewpoint.

  20. Well like I said people will always believe what they want to believe.
    As Muslims, we obey the Quran and the Sunnah. One doesn’t go without the other. If we could just rely on the Quran, we wouldn’t be able to do pretty much any act of worship clearly. Also, with regards to the verses in the Quran, and also the texts of the hadith, alot of times we don’t have enough knowledge to understand what the statements are referring to. That’s when we look at how the companions and those of the early generation after the Prophet understood it. It’s easy to pick and choose what we feel is right.
    Especially when everyone wants to make their own interpretation and we want to believe them because it’s what feels right to us and our culture and how we’ve been raised.

  21. “Salam, I’m a Wahabi!”

    They really don’t have to greet you that way. Their appearance will likely give it away (in the US anyway).

  22. I personally love this trend in the Muslim discourse – “Islam is extremely logical and easy to understand, scientists agree, researchers bow their head, anyone can do it.” “But then how come you do X and Y?” “Well, we don’t have knowledge and we have to go to XXX so he can do our thinking for us.” I’m, like, pick your position already. It’s either simple and easy and understand, and then you don’t need these armies of “jurists”, or it’s obscure and meaningless. It’s simple marketing, people. All these folks at Al-Azhar and other religious schools have bills and families, so they had to market this concept that “interpretation services” they provide are absolutely critically important to every Muslim, that Islam could not possibly be understood and practiced without their esteemed input. And I’m sorry to say, the world of Muslims fell for that, hook, line and sinker.

    If it’s not written down, maybe God didn’t mean to write it down? Maybe he had actually meant to leave it to your discretion? Did he delegate his duties to a bunch of men with beards? Or did they write up that power of attorney all by themselves?

  23. Nadia – if Allah is so against music then why did he allow such beautiful music to be created in the first place? Why did he create composers, musicians, instrument builders, etc??? If Allah/God doesn’t want me to listen to music he will tell me himself in some way. I don’t need some man’s interpretation of what God said to be a good person. If you believe Allah is responsible for all of creation then he is responsible for music as well. Would he deny you the beauty of a sunrise, a flower, your children??? Same thing isn’t it?

  24. NN you are right. My favorite is we have no clergy then we run to clergy for everything. Imagine it takes whole books to explain why something isn’t allowed because it isn’t clearly in the Quran. By picking and choosing Hadith that serve their purpose and ignoring – and in some cases suppressing other knowledge. It’s about power and control. Their other fatal mistake is equating Hadith for Sunnah. Hadith is no more than a possible source of Sunnah. And the “science” of Hadith they accept is far from foolproof.

    I would love to know any hadith that describes the complete prayer ritual. Please. Where is this hadith that teaches us to pray?

    I think it’s with the Quranic verse that tells us no music!

  25. “Well like I said people will always believe what they want to believe”

    and you (and others with similar thoughts) are fine with that…as long as those people believe exactly like you? You are assuming that muslims who come to conclusions that are different than yours (and others with your mindset) have not researched or studied or sought answers in earnest. Your assuming those muslims just didn’t like that “law” sent down by god and decided to ignore it for their own personal pleasure. Untl when will muslims like you (and those that believe similarly) give OTHER muslims that do not believe like you the assumed gift of intelligence, comprehension skills, and desire to find the answers to the questions they have…(just like you did I assume) even if those answers they found were not like yours?

    As soon as a religious person says (or thinks) your answer is wrong simply because it doesn’t match mine (or all the MEN who came before me) is the moment your argument fails. Period.

  26. “Especially when everyone wants to make their own interpretation and we want to believe them because it’s what feels right to us and our culture and how we’ve been raised.”

    Actually, I am constantly challenging my personal beliefs in order to grow as a person. I do not believe the same as I did when I was 4, 12, 18 or even 25 years old. I do not trust one book, but rather my God-given intellect, intuition, and wisdom. I also try to learn from other people’s experiences. Do you do this?

    “Well like I said people will always believe what they want to believe”

    Well said! As the saying goes, “I can’t argue with that logic!” In fact, I agree with you 100%.

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