I have been struggling to write about this for a long while now. Perhaps because for a long time I wasn’t ready to share my honest thoughts. Lately though, after bouts of contemplation as Ramadan rolls around, I figured I should share my rumination on this experience with hopes of reaching out to anyone facing a similar struggle because you know, the path to Him should never be a lonely one.
So here’s my story about how I used to be in love.
In deep, mad, heady love.
You see, music and me… we were tight. I think my love for him at one point grew to be a tad obsessive. But as I grew older, I realised that I see no future for us; we just couldn’t work out and I no longer feel the same way I had once felt towards him. Pretty sure the feeling’s mutual. We wanted different things. We had conflicting views. I had to end it. But it’s not easy. You see, I’d be a hypocrite if I said that he is out of my life completely because truth is, a little bit of him still lingers. I simply do not meet him as often as before. Just the occasional moment. When I’m out for a run. Or when I want his company as I do my work.
I am aware that when it comes to music, it has and will always be a debatable issue that dwells in the grey area. Contested by many scholars as its impermissibility is not explicitly stated in the Qur’an. Some argued that it is, citing evidences alluding to it, while others contend that it has its merits, positing that certain genres are permissible. I would, however, concur with one thing: I believe that music truly does have the power and the potential to influence people to do certain things – good or bad. I won’t try to discuss the fiqh of it; it is not in my place to comment. I am simply coming from the perspective of someone whose life once revolved around music and treading along the path of spiritual betterment had me realise how it has slowly turned into a relationship I lose interest in keeping. Speaking from pure experience, having an addiction to music brings more harm than good to my soul.
If you have been the rare few who have been following me since the start of my Instagram days many years ago, you would know that I was quite the concert enthusiast. I’d attend a concert almost every other month. I used to be, what you call, a music addict. “I can’t live without music” was one of my life mottos as I doodled it on notebooks or typed it out in biographies. Some friends once knew me as ‘the girl with the good music taste’ – good referring to real, indie, non-sellout, obscure kind of music. I pride myself for it. I knew many indie bands (you name it, I probably loved it). Attending concerts turned into a hobby – an expensive one I must say. One after another, my excitement in life became dependent on when the next concert was happening as I marked the dates on calendars. I felt cool, in the loop, and being actively aware in the music scene gave me a kind of high. A “safe”, “rather halal, not quite haram” high. Hur hur.
Alas, it was temporary. It was all, always temporary. Thrilling at first as I wait in anticipation for the concert, at my peak of euphoria during the show, and then finally, the dreaded post-concert depression hits like an airplane and I crumble into a pile of misery. It’s a cycle. What I once thought was a healthy obsession, turns out into a rather unhealthy addiction. I’d travel for concerts. I’d brave long queues for an autograph. I’d need music in my ears to function when doing my work.
But all of that, as difficult as it was to admit it, gradually left me feeling unsatisfied and empty on the inside.
I’d say the turning point for me was easily during the period when my mother had fallen ill and eventually passed away. I started reevaluating my priorities, sorting out what I no longer held valuable in my life anymore. Isn’t it wonderful how life has the best natural filter that can help us see things with a fresh new pair of eyes? At that life-altering point, I no longer find music at all valuable, helpful, or bringing peace in my heart. So I made du’a to help me aspire and achieve a state of serenity in my heart, and a stronger connection with God.
This brought me to a simple conclusion. That if a believer sincerely wanted to be close to his Creator, then he/she would leave what does not bring him/her close to Allah. A part of obeying God is not only to do what He has commanded us to, but equally important is to leave what He doesn’t want us to do. So the question we should ask ourselves is this: Does this particular action bring you closer to Allah? If your answer is yes, it sparks peace in your heart and make you remember Him often, then keep it. If not, if it only clutters the space in your heart and brings you further away from the remembrance of your Creator, then discard it.
I sought an escape through music but I wasn’t escaping – I felt trapped instead. Songs didn’t really bring me complete ease in the heart. Even if it did, it was false and momentary. And you know the saying – if something disturbs the peace of your heart, let it go. So let go I tried. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. I tried. I failed. I tried again. I failed again. I deleted my playlists and music libraries but Youtube is still there. This struggle led me to become more desperate in my prayers to Him – I wanted Him to bring me closer to Him, to remove from my heart all the things that are not beloved to Him, and to make my heart love all the things that are beloved to Him.
“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.” (AI-Baqarah, 2:216)
I suppose I knew that things have changed when I tried listening to the songs that I used to love and I no longer feel the same. That magnetic attraction no longer exists. One of us have changed. It’s not the music. It’s just… me. We were no longer a good fit for each other. And in that moment, I knew that my prayers were heard.
From my experience, these were all the red flags I encountered, nudging me that music’s not ‘the one’:
- When I tried to concentrate on my prayers, the songs I’ve been listening to will be playing in my head like background music, and this affects my concentration no matter how much I try. At times, this distraction would render me clueless as to which raka’ah I’m in.
- This might sound weird but I tried to do this personal experiment where I listen to music and make dzikr at the same time… and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work. The music will almost always drown out the dzikr that I consciously tried so hard to make in my heart.
This reminds me of the saying by Abdullah Ibn Masud radiallahu anhu, a companion of the Prophet ﷺ, “The love of the Quran and the love of music cannot combine in the heart of a believer.”
- Music gets dated and boring to listen to repeatedly. Qur’anic verses on the other hand are timeless. For example, I can put Surah ar-Rahman on loop and never get bored of the reciter’s melodious voice and the meaning of His words is always uplifting and timeless.
- When I’m at a concert, the atmosphere around me does not bring me peace and tranquility in my heart. Instead, it gives me an unsettling feeling. I’d pray to God not to take my life away at a place like that. This I think is an indication that it’s not a place He likes; a place void of the remembrance of Him, and therefore should not be a place we frequent, or visit.
- Post Concert Depression would always leave me wanting more. PCD should be a warning to me that no matter how much music I consume, no matter how many concerts I attend, the void in my heart will never be filled.
- As I tread on this path of learning the Qur’an, of reciting, reflecting, tadabbur, music doesn’t have the same allure it once had to me anymore. It just doesn’t hold a candle to His words when it is peace I am seeking. The most beautiful melody of the most masterfully composed music will never give me as much contentment and tranquility as the beautiful recitation of His words settling serenely in the chaotic fist of my heart.
So in taking the first step to getting closer to Allah, I have to acknowledge what is it that is preventing me from achieving a sweeter connection with Him. If I find myself spending three quarters of the day listening to songs after songs, and only a quarter (or sometimes even less) listening to the Qur’an, then I need to take a step back, see where I’m going wrong, and make some serious changes in my life.
It took me a considerable amount of time to rid this addiction, but making progress is better than stasis. It is not going to be an instant change, I can promise you that, but it is a gradual one. What matters is we try to strive for less music, more Qur’an. These are some tips which had helped me personally. Try and see which of these ways works best in ‘getting over’ music:
- Start by clearing your music library in our phones and computers. Typically, out of the 56789 tracks, there are only four or five that will be on repeat. The rest are usually skipped. I’m sure this is the case with most people too. So the first step I took was to delete the rest of the tracks that I don’t even listen to, and keep the 5 or 6 tracks that I really liked at the moment. And then I’d listen to it repeatedly until I got sick of it.
- I found a great alternative to listening to music/ radio: Podcasts! If you’ve been following me, you’d know how much I love listening to it and I’ve been recommending some on my IG. Qalam, SWISSCcast, Productive Muslim, The Mad Mamluks, Amaliah Voices, Honest Tea Talk, Boys in a Cave, just to name a few. I slowly replaced my music library with Qur’an recitations and Islamic lectures. And that has made a huge difference.
- A friend, who’s also on a quest to listen to more Qur’an and less music, once asked me how do I reduce my music consumption. I told her that one of the things I do is to download the Qur’an Pro app because it’s convenient for me to simply choose my favourite reciters and download the surahs in my phone. You can play your favourite surahs whenever you have the time. Listening to Qur’an in the morning while I’m getting ready for work makes me feel more at ease and at peace than listening to a top 50 hit on the radio. It starts my day right!
- Start unliking / unfollowing artists and avoid any updates from bands and singers which you have previously admired and any news on upcoming concerts by your favourite musicians. This was my desperate attempt to stop rekindling my love for it. (Whenever there was any news of my favourite bands coming to Singapore, I would freak out and start saving up to buy tickets. But alhamdulillah, right now, any news of my once favourite bands coming to Singapore no longer had the same fangirl effect on me hehe.)
As a Muslim, we believe that everything we do in this temporary life, should be done with the aim of getting closer to Allah and attaining His pleasure. I grew up in a family where my dad once discouraged me to pursue being in the music industry. My late mom used to comment when I religiously memorised song lyrics (“Dari hafal lagu lagi baik hafal Qur’an” – it always sounds more ‘burn’ in Malay, hur hur). My brother stopped listening to music and does not encourage his children to listen to music too. It might seem regimental, and overly pedantic, but I can see the why now, and what it prevents us from. I suppose for me at this stage, I try to balance it out and approach this with moderation. There is a consciousness that nudges me when I listen to songs for hours on end; a God-given redirection, an indication that He is reminding you to remember Him. With music in the heart, it’s really hard to pour more Qur’an into the same space too. So it’s a matter of priority – what do we want to fill our hearts with?
Now that im not knee-deep in this relationship anymore, I get a rather uncomfortable, unsettling feeling in my heart whenever I hear music (what more those with obscene lyrics) in shops or in cabs. I’d grab my earphones and plug it in my phone to listen to some Qur’an and I’d feel instantly at ease. I suppose this is how I know Allah has assisted me in forgetting my once-lover, losing the addiction and developing instead a deeper appreciation for the rhythm of His divine words, because of this hadith:
On the authority of Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said,
Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said: Whoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him. – Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari
This is the love I never want to risk anything for. I want it completely. So I am finally letting you go and finally losing my addiction to you, music, and I wish you all the best. We’ve crossed paths and you’ve come to teach me a lesson, and for that I am ever grateful.
So, that was the story on how I broke up with music. Getting out of this obsessive relationship personally for me, was truly one of the best decisions, moving forward. We are still on good terms. He still lingers sometimes, though not for long. But still, I’d rather not let him back in again. It’s better for my heart.
We’re moving on.
This has been something which I have been struggling with personally since a few years ago when I genuinely wanted to better myself and return to the path of submitting completely to Allah. I felt that I needed to right myself first before I speak about it. May my little sharing bring benefit to you, fellow struggler, who’s struggling on the path of seeking His pleasure. And what better time to start working on listening to less music than this month of Qur’an, Ramadhan?