This article sets out to contribute to the discussion on Islamic art. Its overall goal is to humbly offer a social science perspective on the questions “What is Islamic arts” and “What makes art Islamic.” First some historical examples on the discussion on music1 –music will be the example of Islamic art in the article– will be offered and discussed. Next, a theoretical perspective on Muslim scholarly interpretations of Islam will be discussed, followed by a section especially on Islamic arts and interpretation. The article will then return to Muslim scholarly arguments on music and discuss some interesting, present day artists’ suggestions on how to resolve difficult moral issues that are pressing when dealing with music and Islam. Finally, the article will return to the two main questions.
Muslim scholars have voiced their opinions on the legal status of different kinds of music throughout history. Even though the Qur’an contains no verses (or few, depending on the interpreter, see Otterbeck & Ackfeldt, 2012) making direct references to music, the hadith collectors wrote down several traditions regarding tonal expressions with accepted chains of transmission, isnād. Several of the legal scholars, who have over time become the most prominent, have commented on music. Other scholars, less known today, but of prominence during their lifetime, have written tracts that have survived to our days. Below, I will comment on two such tracts. The texts are interesting since their authors drew very different conclusions.