Music in Islam Series: The Healing Power of Music

By Nimira Dewji

Earlier: (1) Is listening to music unlawful? (2) Development of Music (3) The Art of Music in Islam

The Healing Power of MusicThe Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity) was a brotherhood that flourished in Basra, in Iraq, in the second half of the tenth century. They wrote a vast encyclopedic work (Rasa’il) of fifty-two tracts dealing with sciences and philosophy. The section on music focuses on harmony, emphasizing the idea that music reflects the harmonious beauty of the universe. Similarly, said the Ikhwan, the proper use of music at the right time has a healing influence on the body.  The Ikhwan devoted a special section to the making and tuning of instruments.

In his monumental work Qanun fi’l-tibb (Canon of Medicine), Ibn Sina (d. 1037) discusses a special relationship between music and medicine that recurs in Arabic and European texts even as late as the nineteenth century.

Al-Kindi (d.870), in his work Book of Sounds Made by Instruments Having One to Ten Strings, explains that instruments help create harmony between the soul and the universe; consequently, each society has instruments that reflect its nature, and each instrument is purported to express the specific beliefs and characteristics of the society to which it belongs.

Greek and Arabic literature refer to the healing of patients with music played on lyres and aulos (Shiloah p 51). In his encyclopedia, Mitfah al-tibb (The Key to Medicine), Ibn Hindu (d. 1019), acknowledges the healing qualities of music for some ailments so long as the services of professional musicians are employed. Ibn Sina (d. 1037) in his Qanun fi’l-tibb (Canon of Medicine), which was a standard medical textbook in Europe until the seventeenth century, writes about the musical nature of the pulse and the special relationship between music and medicine.

Shiloah states that from “about the fifteenth century on, the theory of music therapy held a prominent place in literature about music.”(p. 52).

References:
Amnon Shiloah. Music in the World of Islam. Wayne State University Press. Detroit.1995
The Ikwan al-Safa and their Rasa’il: An Introduction. Edited by Nader Al-Bizri. Oxford University Press, New York, 2008

Next: Influence of Western Music

2 thoughts

  1. Any person who, erroneously, thinks that “listening to music” is unlawful in Islam must be a person who knows little, if anything, about the true spirit of Islam or its holy book, the Qur’an. In more ways than one, the sublime Qur’an is an enduring symphony that encompasses the luminous “musical” beauty of God’s creation as reflected in this infinite universe, every part of which is infused with the “musical” praise of God’s majesty, mercy, and compassion. No civilization could possibly exist and flourish without music. Muslim physicians used music as an integral part of the healing process. It takes an “insane” person to think that music is “unlawful” in Islam. However, like many things in life, such as food and drinks, which can be used, or rather misused, to poison the human body, music can also be abused to poison the human spirit. The choice is ours. Food, drinks, and, yes, music are essential components of our existence and sustenance. If these are “abused” it is not because of their inherent “badness,” but rather because of the “choices” we humans have made.

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