In his tafseer, Imam Al-Qurtubi mentions that there are three verses which have been used by the ulamaa as proof of the contempt for and the prohibition of singing.
The first verse:
The first of these verses appears in Surah An-Najm as follows:
Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, addresses the disbelievers from the tribe of Quraysh,
|“Do you marvel at this statement, and laugh and do not weep, while you amuse yourselves [proudly] in vanities? Rather, prostrate before Allah and worship Him.”|
The important phrase is Allah’s saying, “wa antum saamidoon” (while you amuse yourselves [proudly] in vanities). Due to the root samada having various interpretations in the Arabic language, the scholars differ about this phrase’s meaning. As a result, different interpretations are given by the commentators of the Quran, such as the companions, taabi’een and later scholars of tafseer.
Al-Qurtubi refers to the various derived meanings mentioned by the linguists. Among the meanings understood from the root samada is the raising of one’s head up proudly or in disdain. When conjugated, the noun form sumood means leisure or idle play, while saamid (the doer of the action) means one who plays idly with musical instruments or other objects of play. It is said to the singing girl, “Asmideena!” (“Amuse us with your singing!”). However, saamid can also designate one who lifts his head in pride and haughtiness, as mentioned in the ancient dictionary, As-Sihaah. A further meaning derived from the root samada is the notion of standing motionless or idle. This was mentioned by Al-Mahdawi, one of the famous grammarians, but he added that the common, established meaning in the language points to the idea of turning away by making fun and amusement. Finally, Al-Mubarrid mentions the meaning of saamidoon saying, “Saamidoon means khaamidoon [silent, motionless].” 
At-Tabari mentions in detail the various narrations traced to the sahaabah and taabi’een. According to Ibn Abbaas, the word saamidoon in this verse refers to the mushrikeen’s habit of singing and playing noisily whenever they heard the Quran being recited, in order to drown out the reciter’s voice so that others wouldn’t hear it. This meaning is used by the people of Yemen. Ibn Abbaas also indicated a second, more general meaning for the word saamidoon; namely, that they were playing and amusing themselves and making light of the affair. The same opinion was held by, some taabi’een such as Ikrimah and Ad-Dahhaak. A third meaning given by Ibn Abbaas is that they held their heads up in pride. Other taabi’een have indicated certain meanings similar to the preceding linguists’ views. Thus, Qataadah reports Al-Hasan as saying that saamidoon is the mushrikeen’s being Inattentive and negligent. Mujaahid says it indicates their being in a state of extreme anger or rage.
Clearly, the term saamidoon has various possible meanings, e.g. that those referred to were singing noisily and amusing themselves with music and idle play, that they were holding their heads up in pride, or that they were exhibiting extreme anger and hatred for what they heard of the Ouraan and the message of Islam. Furthermore, it could indicate that they were indifferent, negligent and rejectionist in their attitude. All of these meanings are possible, and are not – in essence – contradictory. Most likely, saamidoon is a comprehensive description of their different reactions upon hearing the verses of the Quran and the new message of tawheed. However, it must be said that when a Quranic term yields a number of different possible meanings and we have no clear, authentically-reported statement from the Prophet defining it in a strict sense, then such a verse containing the said term cannot be used as an unequivocal, decisive proof (daleelun qat’ee) of any particular meaning. Thus, this verse cannot stand alone as an uncontestabie proof of the prohibition of singing, music, etc. Rather, other evidence, either from the Quran itself or from the authentic sunnah, must prove such a position.[ 8]
The second verse:
Another verse alleged to be proof of the illegality of music, singing, etc. is mentioned in Surah Al-Israa as follows:
After Iblees (Satan) refuses to bow before Adam as ordered, he requests that Allah grant him respite until the Day of Resurrection, so that he may misguide all but a few of the descendants of Adam (peace be upon him). Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, addresses Satan thus, “
|‘And excite any of them whom you can with your voice. Assault them with your cavalry and infantry, be a partner with them in their wealth and children, and make them promises.’ But Satan promises them nothing except deceit” |
It is related that some of the commentators from the generation of the taabi’een, such as Mujaahid and Ad-Dahhaak, [10 ]interpreted Satan’s exciting mankind with his voice to mean through the use of music, song and amusement. Ad-Dahhaak said it was the sound of wind instruments. However, according to Ibn Abbaas, the voice mentioned in the verse refers to every form of invitation which calls to disobedience to Allah, the Exalted. [11 ]After mentioning the various interpretations of the commentators, At-Tabari says, “The most correct of these views expresses that verily, Allah, the Blessed and Exalted, said to Iblees, “‘Excite whosoever of Adam’s progeny you can with your voice,'” and He did not specify any particular type of voice. Thus, every voice which is not an invitation to Allah’s worship and to His obedience is included in the meaning of Satan’s ‘voice’ which is referred to in the Quranic verse.” 
In conclusion, this verse – like the preceding one – is too general in its meaning, and is not by itself an explicit and unequivocal proof of the prohibition of music and singing, except in the case that such singing and music invites or leads to disobedience to Allah. Therefore, one must look at three times to emphasize his position. It is related that Ibn Abbaas said it referred to “singing and the like.” Jaabir is reported to view its meaning to signify singing and listening to songs.16 This general view pointing to censure of music and song was also held by a great number of taabi’een, such as Ikrimah, Mujaahid, Mak-hooi and Umar bin Shu’ayb, to name only a few.
The third verse:
The final verse, and the one most often presented as proof of prohibition, is located in Surah Luqmaan 
Allah, the Exalted, says,
|“And there are among men those who purchase idle talk in order to mislead others from Allah’s path without knowledge, and who throw ridicule upon it. For such there will be a humiliating punishment”|
After mentioning the condition of the felicitous (those who are guided by Allah’s Book and who benefit from listening to it), Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, reveals the condition of the miserable ones who refuse to benefit from hearing the word of God. They only devote themselves avidly to idle and foul talk, empty amusements and all other false works and deeds whose purposes are.to turn others away from Allah’s path and to make it the butt of mockery.
Ibn Jareer At-Tabari, in his Jaami’ul Bavaan, mentions that the interpreters of the Quran differed as to the meaning of the term “lahwal hadeeth” (idle talk) which occurs in the above-quoted verse. Their views regarding its meaning can be formulated into three basic categories.
The first category defines the term “lahwal hadeeth”: (a) singing and listening to songs, (b) the purchasing of professional male or female singers and (c) the purchase of instruments of amusement; namely, the drum (tabl). The elements of this category revolve around reference to the blameworthy usage of instruments of idle amusement, in short, music and song. This view was held by a number of companions such as Ibn Mas’ood, Jaabir and Ibn Abbaas. It is related that the former was questioned regarding the meaning of the verse under discussion to which he replied, “I swear by the One other than Whom there is no god that it refers to singing [ghinaa]”; he repeated it three times to emphasize his position. [14 ]It is related that Ibn Abbaas said it referred to “singing and the like.” [15 ]Jaabir is reported to view its meaning to signify singing and listening to songs. [16 ]This general view pointing to censure of music and song was also held by a great number of taabi’een, such as Ikrimah, Mujaahid, Mak-hooi and Umar bin Shu’ayb, to name only a few. 
The second category of interpretation centers around the idea that “lahwal hadeeth” indicates conversation inviting to or consisting of shirk (polytheism). This was the view of some tafseer scholars from the generation after the companions, such as Ad-Dahhaak and Abdur-Rahmaan bin Zayd bin Aslam. 
The third category conveys the meaning of all false talk, actions or deeds, whose nature it is to divert people from Allah’s path and from His worship and remembrance. For example, Al-Aaloosi relates that Al-Hasan Al-Basri was reported as saying that “lahwal hadeeth” includes “everything which distracts one from worship and the remembrance of Allah such as whiling the night away in idle conversation or entertainment, jokes, superstitious tales, songs and the likes thereof.” [19 ]Al-Aaloosi supports this view, saying that the verse should be interpreted to include all such blameworthy words and deeds which divert one from Allah’s path.
After having conveyed the previously-mentioned categories of tafseer, Ibn Jareer relates the commentary of Ibn Zayd about the verse, “And there are among men those who purchase idle talk in order to mislead others from Allah’s path without knowledge, and who throw ridicule upon it.” Ibn Zayd said, ‘The people referred to [in this verse] are the disbelievers. Don’t you see that it says [in the immediately following verse], “And when Our revelations are recited to such a person he turns away in pride as if he hadnt heard them, as if there was a deafness in his ears.” [20 ]The people of Islam are not as those described here, although some say the verse refers to Muslims [as well]. The verse refers to the disbelievers who pitched their voices in a tumultuous clatter in order to drown out the hearing of the Quran.” 
At-Tabari concludes by offering his own weighted preference for the general, inclusive meaning as conveyed in this final category. He states, ‘The most correct view regarding the meaning of “lahwal hadeeth” is the one which indicates every form of conversation [22 ]which diverts from Allah’s path -the hearing of which has been prohibited by Allah or His Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him). This is because the statement by Allah, the Exalted, is general and inclusive, and does not exclude certain forms of conversation. Therefore, His statement remains in its general context unless proof which specifies it appears; and singing and polytheism [shirk] are included in this general statement.” 
From what has preceded, it is to be understood that a specific or exclusive meaning such as singing or shirk cannot be proven; rather, the verse and particularly the phrase “lahwal hadeeth” should be interpreted as anything which diverts one from Allah’s path. Music, singing, etc. (since they occupy people’s attention and distract them from Allah’s worship and remembrance and invite to His disobedience), no doubt fall under the general censure, blame and rebuke cast upon those who fall into this category. However, this verse is not itself an explicit, unequivocal proof for the prohibition of music, singing, etc. Rather, its prohibition is conditional and incidental as stated above. Thus, this issue requires other external proofs which are both clear and categorical, so as not to leave the least bit of doubt in the mind of the conscientious, truth-seeking believer. In order to achieve such a lofty, yet absolutely vital objective, it is necessary to turn to the second source of the Islamic shari’ah, the authentic sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (upon whom be blessings and peace).
2 For details, see pp. 123-124 of vol. 17 of his tafseer.
3 See Al-Jowhari’s As-Sihaah. vol. 2, p. 489.
4 Al-Jaami’li Ahkaamil Ouraan. vol. 17, p. 123.
6 See Jaami’ul Bavaan ‘an Taweeli Aavil Quran. vol. 27, pp. 82-84.
7 See also Qurtubi’s tafseer, vol. 17, p. 123.
8 It is interesting to note that other major commentaries of “ahkaomul Quran” (jurisprudential rulings derived from the Quranic texts) do not even mention this verse as proof for the prohibition of music, etc. For example, see the works of Al-Jassaas, Ibnul-Arabi and Ilkeeyaa Al-Harraasi.
9 SurahAl-Israa, 17:64.
10 See Qurtubi’s tafseer, vol. 10, p. 289; Ibn Katheer’s Tafseerul Quranil Adheem. vol. 5, p. 91 and
At-Tabari’s tafseer, vol. 15, p. 118.
11 As reported in the narration of At-Tabari traced to Ibn Abbaas and Qataadah. See his tafseer,
vol. 15, p. 118, for details.
12 See At-Tabari’s tafseer, vol. 15, p. 118, for details.
other unambiguous texts which clearly show music, singing, etc. to be prohibited intrinsically and not due to some extraneous variable.
14 Related by Al-Bayhaqi, Ibnul-Mundhir and AI-Haakim in his Mustadrak. where he authenticated
it; and it was confirmed by Adh-Dhahabi.
15 See At-Tabari’s Jaami’ul Bayaan, vol. 21, p. 61, for the various narrations related to Ibn Abbaas.
16 Ibid., vol. 21, p. 62.
17 For details, see the tafseer of Ibn Katheer, vol. 6, p. 33 Ai-Qurtubi’s Al-Jaami’. vol. 14, pp. 51-53
and As-Suyooti’s Ad-Durr Al-Manthoor. vol. 5, pp. 158-160.
18 See the commentaries of Ibn Katheer, vol. 6, p. 334 and At-Tabari, vol. 21, p. 63.
19 Roohul Ma’aani. vol. 21, p. 67.
20 Surah Luqmaan, 31:7.
21 Related by At-Tabari in his tafseer, vol. 21, p. 63. The reference is to Surah Fussilat, 41:26, whose meaning may be rendered, “Those who disbelieve say, ‘Don’t listen to this Quran. Drown out the hearing of it, so that perchance you may overcome.'” There are other interpretations of it, but Ibn Zayd’s, as mentioned above, is the most obvious. See Al-Qurtubi’s tafseer, vol. 15, p. 356, for details.
22 That is, every form of communication.
23 Quoted from p. 63, vol. 21, of his Jaami’ul Bavaan ‘an Taweeli Aavil Quran.
Assalamalaikum! I am a recent revert to Islam and have started doing research into music and sound in the faith. I’m a music scholar and musician, so I admit the impetus for this particular research project was a bit personal. However, your article was illuminating on the subject. I was wondering if I could perhaps talk to you some more about this article in’sha’Allah?