6 Reasons Why a Muslim Should Not Listen to Music

1. Allah has forbade it

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The interpretation of the Sahaabah and Taabi’in, that ‘idle talk’ refers to singing, is sufficient. This was reported with saheeh isnaads from Ibn ‘Abbaas and Ibn Mas’ood. Abu’l-Sahbaa’ said: I asked Ibn Mas’ood about the aayah (interpretation of the meaning):

‘“And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks.”

[Luqmaan 31:6]

He said: By Allaah, besides Whom there is no other god, this means singing – and he repeated it three times. It was also reported with a saheeh isnaad from Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with them both) that this means singing. There is no contradiction between the interpretation of “idle talk” as meaning singing and the interpretation of it as meaning stories of the Persians and their kings, and the kings of the Romans, and so on, such as al-Nadr ibn al-Haarith used to tell to the people of Makkah to distract them from the Qur’aan. Both of them are idle talk. Hence Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “Idle talk” is falsehood and singing. Some of the Sahaabah said one and some said the other, and some said both. Singing is worse and more harmful than stories of kings, because it leads to zinaa and makes hypocrisy grow (in the heart); it is the trap of the Shaytaan, and it clouds the mind. The way in which it blocks people from the Qur’aan is worse than the way in which other kinds of false talk block them, because people are naturally inclined towards it and tend to want to listen to it. The aayaat condemn replacing the Qur’aan with idle talk in order to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah without knowledge and taking it as a joke, because when an aayah of the Qur’aan is recited to such a person, he turns his back as if he heard them not, as if there were deafness in his ear. If he hears anything of it, he makes fun of it. All of this happens only in the case of the people who are most stubbornly kaafirs and if some of it happens to singers and those who listen to them, they both have a share of this blame. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan, 1/258-259)

2. The Prophet Sallahu Alayhi wa Sallam has forbade it

The Prophet sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam said,

“From among my followers there will be some people who will consider illegal sexual intercourse, the wearing of silk, the drinking of alcoholic drinks and the use of musical instruments, as lawful. And there will be some people who will stay near the side of a mountain and in the evening their shepherd will come to them with their sheep and ask them for something, but they will say to him, ‘Return to us tomorrow.’ Allah will destroy them during the night and will let the mountain fall on them, and He will transform the rest of them into monkeys and pigs and they will remain so till the Day of Resurrection.”

Reference : Sahih al-Bukhari 5590
In-book reference : Book 74, Hadith 16
USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 7, Book 69, Hadith 494

It was narrated that Naafi’ (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Ibn ‘Umar heard a woodwind instrument, and he put his fingers in his ears and kept away from that path. He said to me, O Naafi’, can you hear anything? I said, No. So he took his fingers away from his ears and said: I was with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and he heard something like this, and he did the same thing. (Saheeh Abi Dawood). Some insignificant person said that this hadeeth does not prove that musical instruments are haraam, because if that were so, the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) would have instructed Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with them both) to put his fingers in his ears as well, and Ibn ‘Umar would have instructed Naafi’ to do likewise! The response to this is: He was not listening to it, but he could hear it. There is a difference between listening and hearing. Shaykh al-Islam (Ibn Taymiyah) (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Concerning (music) which a person does not intend to listen to, there is no prohibition or blame, according to scholarly consensus. Hence blame or praise is connected to listening, not to hearing. The one who listens to the Qur’aan will be rewarded for it, whereas the one who hears it without intending or wanting to will not be rewarded for that, because actions are judged by intentions. The same applies to musical instruments which are forbidden: if a person hears them without intending to, that does not matter. (al-Majmoo’, 10/78).

Ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdisi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: the listener is the one who intends to hear, which was not the case with Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with them both); what happened in his case was hearing. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) needed to know when the sound stopped because he had moved away from that path and blocked his ears. So he did not want to go back to that path or unblock his ears until the noise had stopped, so when he allowed Ibn ‘Umar to continue hearing it, this was because of necessity. (al-Mughni, 10/173)

Al-Qaasim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Singing is part of falsehood. Al-Hasan (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: if there is music involved in a dinner invitation (waleemah), do not accept the invitation (al-Jaami by al-Qayrawaani, p. 262-263).

3. The 4 Schools of thought have forbade it

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The view of the four Imaams is that all kinds of musical instruments are haraam. It was reported in Saheeh al-Bukhaari and elsewhere that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said that there would be among his ummah those who would allow zinaa, silk, alcohol and musical instruments, and he said that they would be transformed into monkeys and pigs… None of the followers of the imaams mentioned any dispute concerning the matter of music. (al-Majmoo’, 11/576).

Al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The four madhhabs are agreed that all musical instruments are haraam.(al-Saheehah, 1/145).


Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The madhhab of Abu Haneefah is the strictest in this regard, and his comments are among the harshest. His companions clearly stated that it is haraam to listen to all musical instruments such as the flute and the drum, even tapping a stick. They stated that it is a sin which implies that a person is a faasiq (rebellious evil doer) whose testimony should be rejectedThey went further than that and said that listening to music is fisq (rebellion, evildoing) and enjoying it is kufr (disbelief)This is their words. They narrated in support of that a hadeeth which could not be attributed to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). They said: he should try not to hear it if he passes by it or it is in his vicinity. Abu Yoosuf said, concerning a house from which could be heard the sound of musical instruments: Go in without their permission, because forbidding evil actions is obligatory, and if it were not allowed to enter without permission, people could not have fulfilled the obligatory duty (of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil). (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan, 1/425).


Imaam Maalik (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked about playing the drum or flute, if a person happens to hear the sound and enjoy it whilst he is walking or sitting. He said: He should get up if he finds that he enjoys it, unless he is sitting down for a need or is unable to get up. If he is on the road, he should either go back or move on. (al-Jaami’ by al-Qayrawaani, 262). He (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “The only people who do things like that, in our view, are faasiqs.” (Tafseer al-Qurtubi, 14/55).

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: With regard to the view of Imaam Ahmad, his son ‘Abd-Allaah said: I asked my father about singing. He said: Singing makes hypocrisy grow in the heart; I do not like it. Then he mentioned the words of Maalik: the evildoers (faasiqs) among us do that. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan).


Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, explaining the view of Imaam al-Shaafa’i: His companions who know his madhhab (point of view) stated that it is haraam and denounced those who said that he permitted it. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan, 1/425).


Ibn Qudaamah, the researcher of the Hanbali madhhab – (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Musical instruments are of three types which are haraam. These are the strings and all kinds of flute, and the lute, drum and rabaab (stringed instrument) and so on. Whoever persists in listening to them, his testimony should be rejected. (al-Mughni, 10/173). And he said (may Allaah have mercy on him); If a person is invited to a gathering in which there is something objectionable, such as wine and musical instruments, and he is able to denounce it, then he should attend and speak out against it, because then he will be combining two obligatory duties. If he is not able to do that, then he should not attend. (al-Kaafi, 3/118)

4. The Sahabah, the Tabi’een and the Atba at Tabi’een have forbade it

Some people even have the nerve to suggest that the Sahaabah and Taabi’een listened to singing, and that they saw nothing wrong with it!

 Al-Fawzaan (may Allaah preserve him) said: We demand them to show us saheeh isnaads going back to these Sahaabah and Taabi’een, proving what they attribute to them.  Then he said: Imaam Muslim mentioned in his introduction to his Saheeh that ‘Abd-Allaah ibn al-Mubaarak said: The isnaad is part of religion. Were it not for the isnaad, whoever wanted to could say whatever he wanted to.

Some of them said that the ahaadeeth which forbid music are full of faults. No hadeeth was free of being criticized by some of the scholars. Ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: The ahaadeeth which were narrated concerning music being haraam are not full of faults as has been claimed. Some of them are in Saheeh al-Bukhaari which is the soundest of books after the Book of Allaah, and some of them are hasan and some are da’eef. But because they are so many, with different isnaads, they constitute definitive proof that singing and musical instruments are haraam.

All the imaams agreed on the soundness of the ahaadeeth which forbid singing and musical instruments, apart from Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali, but al-Ghazzaali did not have knowledge of hadeeth; and Ibn Hazam, but al-Albaani (may Allaah have mercy on him) explained where Ibn Hazam went wrong, and Ibn Hazam himself said that if any of (these ahaadeeth) were saheeh, he would follow that. But now they have proof that these reports are saheeh because there are so many books by the scholars which state that these ahaadeeth are saheeh, but they turn their backs on that. They are far more extreme than Ibn Hazam and they are nothing like him, for they are not qualified and cannot be referred to.

5. There is a specific way at specific time using a specific instrument that is permissble

The women at Eid or Wedding using the daff

The exception to the above is the daff – without any rings (i.e., a hand-drum which looks like a tambourine, but without any rattles) – when used by women on Eids and at weddings. This is indicated by saheeh reports. Shaykh al-Islam (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: But the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) made allowances for certain types of musical instruments at weddings and the like, and he made allowances for women to play the daff at weddings and on other joyful occasions. But the men at his time did not play the daff or clap with their hands. It was narrated in al-Saheeh that he said: “Clapping is for women and tasbeeh (saying Subhaan Allaah) is for men.” And he cursed women who imitate men and men who imitate women. Because singing and playing the daff are things that women do, the Salaf used to call any man who did that a mukhannath (effeminate man), and they used to call male singers effeminate – and how many of them there are nowadays! It is well known that the Salaf said this.

Young girls singing

In a similar vein is the hadeeth of ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her), when her father (may Allaah be pleased with him) entered upon her at the time of Eid, and there were two young girls with her who were singing the verses that the Ansaar had said on the day of Bu’aath – and any sensible person will know what people say about war. Abu Bakr (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “Musical instruments of the Shaytaan in the house of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)!” The Messenger of Allaah had turned away from them and was facing the wall – hence some scholars said that Abu Bakr (may Allaah be pleased with him) would not tell anybody off in front of the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), but he thought that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was not paying attention to what was happening. And Allaah knows best. He (the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him)) said: “Leave them alone, O Abu Bakr, for every nation has its Eid, and this is our Eid, the people of Islam.” This hadeeth shows that it was not the habit of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and his companions to gather to listen to singing, hence Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq called it “the musical instruments of the Shaytaan”. And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) approved of this appellation and did not deny it when he said, “Leave them alone, for every nation has its Eid and this is our Eid.” This indicates that the reason why this was permitted was because it was the time of Eid, and the prohibition remained in effect at times other than Eid, apart from the exceptions made for weddings in other ahaadeeth. Shaykh al-Albaani explained this in his valuable book Tahreem Aalaat al-Tarab (the Prohibition of Musical Instruments). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) approved of young girls singing at Eid, as stated in the hadeeth: “So that the mushrikeen will know that in our religion there is room for relaxation.” There is no indication in the hadeeth about the two young girls that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was listening to them. The commands and prohibitions have to do with listening, not merely hearing, just as in the case of seeing, the rules have to do with intentionally looking and not what happens by accident. So it is clear that this is for women only. Imaam Abu ‘Ubayd (may Allaah have mercy on him) defined the daff as “that which is played by women.” (Ghareeb al-Hadeeth, 3/64).

“No people go astray after having been guided except they developed arguments amongst themselves.” (Saheeh)

Abyssinians playing in the mosque of the Prophet

Some of them used the hadeeth about the Abyssinians playing in the mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) as evidence that singing is allowed! Al-Bukhaari included this hadeeth in his Saheeh under the heading Baab al-Hiraab wa’l-Daraq Yawm al-‘Eid (Chapter on Spears and Shields on the Day of Eid). Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: This indicates that it is permissible to play with weapons and the like in the mosque, and he applied that to other activities connected with jihaad. (Sharh Muslim). But as al-Haafiz ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: whoever speaks about something which is not his profession will come up with weird ideas such as these.

Some of them use as evidence the hadeeth about the singing of the two young girls, which we have discussed above, but we will quote what Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said, because it is valuable:

Ibn al-Qayyim  on the two girl singing “incident”

I am amazed that you quote as evidence for allowing listening to sophisticated songs the report which we mentioned about how two young girls who were below the age of puberty sang to a young woman on the day of Eid some verses of Arab poetry about bravery in war and other noble characteristics. How can you compare this to that? What is strange is that this hadeeth is one of the strongest proofs against them. The greatest speaker of the truth [Abu Bakr al-Siddeeq] called them musical instruments of the Shaytaan, and the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) approved of that appellation, but he made an exception in the case of these two young girls who had not yet reached the age of responsibility and the words of whose songs could not corrupt anyone who listened to them. Can this be used as evidence to allow what you do and what you know of listening (to music) which includes (bad) things which are not hidden?! Subhaan Allaah! How people can be led astray! (Madaarij al-Saalikeen, 1/493).

Ibn al-Jawzi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) was young at that time; nothing was transmitted from her after she reached the age of puberty except condemnation of singing. Her brother’s son, al-Qaasim ibn Muhammad, condemned singing and said that it was not allowed to listen to it, and he took his knowledge from her. (Talbees Iblees, 229). Al-Haafiz ibn Hajar (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: A group of the Sufis used this hadeeth – the hadeeth about the two young girls – as evidence that singing is allowed and it is allowed to listen to it, whether it is accompanied by instruments or not. This view is sufficiently refuted by the clear statement of ‘Aa’ishah in the following hadeeth, where she says, “They were not singers.” She made it clear that they were not singers as such, although this may be understood from the wording of the report. So we should limit it to what was narrated in the text as regards the occasion and the manner, so as to reduce the risk of going against the principle, i.e., the hadeeth. And Allaah knows best. (Fath al-Baari, 2/442-443).

If you want further evidence as to when it is permissible to beat the daff, please read: https://islamqa.info/en/20406

6. It distances you from the Quran and the Sunnah

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: How strange! What type of faith, light, insight, guidance and knowledge can be gained from listening to tuneful verses and music in which most of what is said is haraam and deserves the wrath and punishment of Allaah and His Messenger? … How can anyone who has the least amount of insight and faith in his heart draw near to Allaah and increase his faith by enjoying something which is hated by Him, and He detests the one who says it and the one who accepts it? (Madaarij al-Saalikeen, 1/485)

Shaykh al-Islam said, discussing the state of the person who has gotten used to listening to singing: Hence you find that those who have gotten used to it and for whom it is like food and drink will never have the desire to listen to the Qur’aan or feel joy when they hear it, and they never find in listening to its verses the same feeling that they find when listening to poetry. Indeed, if they hear the Qur’aan, they hear it with an inattentive heart and talk whilst it is being recited, but if they hear whistling and clapping of hands, they lower their voices and keep still, and pay attention. (Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 11/557 ff)

Some say that music and musical instruments have the effect of softening people’s hearts and creating gentle feelings. This is not true, because it provokes physical desires and whims. If it really did what they say, it would have softened the hearts of the musicians and made their attitude and behaviour better, but most of them, as we know, are astray and behave badly.

Some Q n A

How does music cause hypocrisy to grow in the heart, and not other sins?

This is one of the clearest indications of the Sahaabah’s understanding of the workings of the heart and their knowledge of diseases of the heart (i.e., spiritual diseases) and their remedies. It highlights the fact that they were indeed doctors of the heart, unlike those who deviate from their path.

It should be understood that singing has specific characteristics that affect the heart, instilling hypocrisy in the heart and causing it to grow, just as water causes plants to grow.

If a man of understanding reflects upon the condition of singers and the condition of people who remember Allah and read the Qur’an, the intelligence of the Sahaabah will become clear to him, and he will realise how much knowledge they had of spiritual diseases and their remedies. And Allah is the source of strength.

I don’t get it how it affects my heart, I don’t feel bad when I listen to music

Those who watch movies, if they had no music, would it be as interesting to watch? Every scene has a different tune playing in the background to suit the scene. If it is a horror, romantic or action scene, the music swiftly changes. This is because the music alters the mind, it puts a person into a different mood, it creates an effect on the heart and thus shaytaan uses this tool to entice us into haram.

It causes an eclipse to occur in the heart, which can’t be noticed that easily. The belief that Allah is watching us becomes overshadowed causing a person to enter into the state of ignorance, which paves the way to many more sins.


Perhaps – for fair-minded and objective readers – this summary will make it clear that the view that music is permissible has no firm basis. There are no two views on this matter. So we must advise in the best manner, and then take it step by step and denounce music, if we are able to do so. We should not be deceived by the fame of a man in our own times in which the people who are truly committed to Islam have become strangers. The one who says that singing and musical instruments are permitted is simply supporting the whims of people nowadays, as if the masses were issuing fatwas and he is simply signing them! If a matter arises, they will look at the views of fuqahaa’ on this matter, then they will take the easiest view, as they claim. Then they will look for evidence, or just specious arguments which are worth no more than a lump of dead meat. How often have these people approved things in the name of sharee’ah which in fact have nothing to do with Islam!

Strive to learn your Islam from the Book of your Lord and the Sunnah of your Prophet. Do not say, So-and-so said, for you cannot learn the truth only from men. Learn the truth and then measure people against it. This should be enough for the one who controls his whims and submits himself to his Lord. May what we have written above heal the hearts of the believers and dispel the whispers in the hearts of those who are stricken with insinuating whispers. May it expose everyone who is deviating from the path of Revelation and taking the easiest options, thinking that he has come up with something which  none of the earlier generations ever achieved, and speaking about Allaah without knowledge. They sought to avoid fisq (evildoing) and ended up committing bid’ah – may Allaah not bless them in it. It would have been better for them to follow the path of the believers.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There will appear people in my community, who will hold adultery, silk, alcohol and musical instruments to be lawful.” (Bukhari)

Isn’t the warning from the hadith above enough for us.  It’s clear that fatwas on music are already here making it permissible, I don’t think we are too far away from the time when fatwas on alcohol and zina start coming in. Today it might be unimaginable for even  someone who thinks music is not haram or is makruh that how alcohol and zina would be halal too but Prophet Sallahu Alayhi wa Sallam has not lied and he said the truth. It’s coming!

May Allah guide our affairs and lead us to the straight path. Ameen.


Resources used to compile this article:

Ruling on music singing and dancing: islamqa.info/en/5000
Harms that songs do: islamqa.info/en/122790
When is it permissible to beat the duff islamqa.info/en/20406

A Muslims Reflection on Hawking and the Likes…

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

As a student of Astrophysics, I have always found myself plunging into studying the cosmos. Lately I have also started reading about particle physics. In short I can describe my experience as breath-taking! I am stunned by the creation of Almighty.

At the same time, I always wonder, why the likes of smart people, highly intelligent, like Hawking (Theorotical Physicist – highly known for his work on Black Holes and Hawking Radiation, who died today), Ed Witten (proposer of M-theory) etc. did/do not receive guidance to believe in a Superme Creator..


(Hawking has produced some amazing research on Black Holes. Hawking Radiation describes the process on how a black hole slowly evaporates and loses its existence)

I found my answer in the Nobel Qur’an, where Allaah عز وجل says,

وَعَادًا وَثَمُودَ وَقَدْ تَبَيَّنَ لَكُمْ مِنْ مَسَاكِنِهِمْ ۖ وَزَيَّنَ لَهُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فَصَدَّهُمْ عَنِ السَّبِيلِ وَكَانُوا مُسْتَبْصِرِينَ

“And ‘Ad and Thamud (people)! And indeed (their destruction) is clearly apparent to you from their (ruined) dwellings. Shaitan (Satan) made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and turned them away from the (Right) Path, though they were intelligent.”

-Sura Al-Ankabut, Ayah 38

For anyone who knows the history of the people of ‘Ad and Thamud, it becomes apparent that they were highly intelligent, strongly built, carved homes in sand hills – a feat which requires planned engineering (refer Tasfir ibn Kathir). This becomes explicit in the ayah,

أَوَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَيَنْظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِهِمْ ۚ كَانُوا أَشَدَّ مِنْهُمْ قُوَّةً وَأَثَارُوا الْأَرْضَ وَعَمَرُوهَا أَكْثَرَ مِمَّا عَمَرُوهَا وَجَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُمْ بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ۖ فَمَا كَانَ اللَّهُ لِيَظْلِمَهُمْ وَلَٰكِنْ كَانُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ يَظْلِمُونَ

“Do they not travel in the land, and see what was the end of those before them? They were superior to them in strength, and they tilled the earth and populated it in greater numbers than these (pagans) have done, and there came to them their Messengers with clear proofs. Surely, Allah wronged them not, but they used to wrong themselves.”

-Sura Ar-Rum, Ayah 9

Going back the former ayah in Surah al-Ankabut, Allaah عز وجل uses the word مُسْتَبْصِرِينَ to describe the people of ‘Ad and Thamud – that means they were given baseerah – they were a people with deep insights. That’s why, Dr. Muhsin Khan and Taqi ud Deen al-Hilali (May Allaah have mercy upon both of them) interpreted the word مُسْتَبْصِرِينَ as ‘they (people of ‘Ad and Thamud) were intelligent’.

So it becomes explicit now, people with high intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be guided. Why aren’t they guided then?

Dr. Muhsin Khan and Taqi ud Deen al-Hilali mentioned the five reasons why people fall into major disbelief in the appendix of their interpretation of the Noble Qur’an,


(To understand what a true Muslim believes and what are the six articles of faith, please download the concise thirteen page book here – Belief of a Muslim)

So basically, it is one of the reasons above, the well known scientists today persist in their disbelief and hence lack guidance towards the ultimate truth.

I’d like to conclude this article by including another ayah from the Noble Qur’an and سبحان الله , this from Surah al-Ankabut again,

Allaah عز وجل says,

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

“As for those who strive hard in Us (Our Cause), We will surely guide them to Our Paths (i.e. Allah’s Religion – Islamic Monotheism). And verily, Allah is with the Muhsinun (good doers).”

-Sura Al-Ankabut, Ayah 69

May Allaah عز وجل guide all those who sincerely strive to seek the truth.

– Compiled by Sarfarāz ibn Shuja



First Ask Why

Professor Hefley sat on the empty table across John Doe and with a  cheerful smile on his face asked him, 
“So why did you come late to class John?”
John was caught completely by surprise and in a shy voice muttered the words,
“I missed the early bus”, 
hoping that the rest of the class wouldn’t hear. But of course, they did. Professor Hefley’s smile widened and then he asked John, 
“Why did you miss the bus?”
John quickly answered, 
“I couldn’t make it to the bus stop on time”.
“Why couldn’t you make it on time?”.
John took a moment to recall and then replied, 
“I was speaking to someone on the phone.”
Professor Hefley didn’t stop there, he asked, 
“Why were you speaking on the phone?” 
John was having fun at this point, and once again resorted to the mode of thinking. 
“There was this package that I was expecting from India that did not arrive on time. I needed to make an inquiry.”
The professor theatrically exclaimed, 
“Aha! That is the problem you see!”
The professor pointed out to John that the phone call wasn’t made on the right time and also that his package not arriving on schedule was a reason for John to come late to class.

This episode took place in a Project Management class where the subject of the day was Project Quality Management. Specifically, what do when there is a problem in quality. And this is how Clinical Professor Hefley would teach us, by giving us real-time, understandable examples of the subject matter he was presenting at hand, with a touch of humor. He would use the environment around him and spontaneously come up with remarkable examples to explain complex concepts. He once had to explain this concept of  object ‘encapsulation’ in software development during object oriented analysis in the problem domain, which was for information hiding that enforces protection of what goes on inside an object from the outside world  to ensure no one can change the way the software operates without permission and they just have to trust it works. To explain this jibberish, he grabbed a glass of water that just happened to be in front of him and took a big gulp. And then he asked the class while rubbing his tummy,
“Do you know whats going on inside?”
The class replied, “No!”
“But do you trust it?”, he asked with a grin.
And the class all nodded their head in approval of the point they had got.
And then there was this other instance where he had to explain the messaging that takes place between objects in an information system and that a return value is a reply that a message may invoke from the receiving object after an operation has been complete. To explain this, he just shouted “Marco!” and someone from the back of the class who knew the game shouted back “Polo!”. The concept was seared into the mind from that moment onwards.

This man was very talented as a teacher and I would always be at the edge of my seat in his class while he passionately delivered his genius on the subject until he would start to lose his breath. No wonder he has accomplished so much in his profession from being a Project Manager and System Developer in top class MNC’s; researcher and Ph.D holder in Computers, Organizations and Society; Professor, adviser and Program Director at Carnegie Mellon University and now a prestigious clinical professor at University of Texas at Dallas, the place where I happened to study under him.

Back to the John Doe incident in the Project Quality Management class. The professor was giving everyone a live example of a technique called the ‘5 Whys Technique’. This is a technique that is used when there’s a complaint for a quality problem in a project.This technique helps us to do two things:

  1. Trace complaints about quality problems back the responsible production operations, back to where the cause of problem might have erupted from.
  2. Take a corrective action to resolve the cause of the problem.

In simple words, the technique helps you to find the root cause of a problem and then solve it.

So John Doe’s case can be summarized as follows:

The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
The Cause:
Made an inquiry call about package delivery at the wrong time
Corrective action:
Adjust time for making calls

Let’s say after further questioning we discover that the cause to John Does problem is not the call that he made. After asking him ‘Why’ he called at a time like that, he tells us that he had planned to make that call earlier but because he got into the washroom late, he ended up delaying the call. In this case, we notice that the cause of the problem has changed. And so subsequently the corrective action needs to change!:

The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
The Cause:
Got into the bathroom late
Corrective action:
Adjust time for bathroom use

And another ‘Why?’ question reveals to us that he got into the bathroom late because his alarm clock didn’t go off, which would yet again change the corrective action to take against the cause:

The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
The Cause:
Got up late because Alarm didn’t go off
Corrective action:
Check Alarm clock batteries

And with these discoveries we can draw what’s called a ‘Cause-and-Effect’ diagram, or a ‘Fishbone’ or ‘Ishikawa Diagram’. The problem or effect is placed at the ‘fish head’. The causes of the effect are then laid out along the ‘bones’. This diagram helps us easily present the entire case to simplify the analysis.


This is a very basic example of the profound use this technique has to offer. We notice that the problem remains the same, but a proper approach to problem solving helps us discover so many corrective measures to take that would help us best solve the case, because here we have to understand one very important principle that Professor Hefley taught us:

We have to correct the Cause, not the Problem

We see that upon asking a simple ‘Why’ to the individual we learn more about the problem. We discover new pathways that could potentially help us to arrive at the root cause of the problem.
By spending some time analyzing the problem and by introducing the ‘Cause‘ variable to the scenario, we can take a more appropriate and closer to accurate stance of implementing the corrective action against the Cause, and not the Problem itself. Thereby making our problems practicably solvable for a long term because we plug the cause of the problem forever.  What if we hadn’t introduced the variable of the ‘Cause’ in our measures to solve the problem? We would probably have ended up with:

The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
Corrective action:
Warn John to catch the bus on time


The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
Corrective action:
Scold John


The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
Corrective action:
Tell John that he is lazy


The Problem:
John Doe came late to class
Corrective action:
Punish John by commanding him to go clean the class room white board

We see that none of the corrective actions discussed above have any guarantee of solving the problem. We don’t even know whether they address the thing that lead to the Problem. It’s like throwing the dart in the air without knowing where the center of the dartboard is. Or like giving a patient a remedy without knowing what the source of the disease is! You will only score the maximum points if you know the correct way of throwing (corrective action) and hit the dartboard (the Problem) at the bullseye (‘the Cause’). And you will only have a chance of curing a cancer patient if you kill the source of the cancer cells, the Cause of the cancer cells.

Such blind problem solving skills often result in the wrong outcome such as:

  • Not being able to solve the problem at all
  • Making the problem worse because of taking the wrong corrective action
  • Offending the doer of the mistake by alleging a charge against him that he did not commit.

Taking the corrective action to ‘Warn John to catch the bus on time’ (above) is almost an indirect allegation that he deliberately missed the bus, let alone the wrong corrective action.

The ‘5 Whys Technique’ was introduced by Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of the 12 billion dollar ‘Toyota Industries’ and father of Kiichiro Toyoda who found the gigantic 30 Trillion dollar company called the ‘Toyota Motor Corporation’. The technique was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies. Since then it has been fine-tuned within the Toyota Motor Corporation as a critical component of its problem-solving training.

Taiichi Ohno, the architect of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s, says in his book ‘Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-Scale Production’ that the ‘5 Whys Technique’ is “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach . . . by repeating why five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”[1]

The technique is now used in Six Sigma DMAIC [2], Lean Manufacturing [3] and Kaizen [4] project management methodologies.

But the technique of asking ‘Why’ in solving quality problems is not something new to the world. It existed centuries ago.

In his book ‘The Prophet’s Method for Correcting People’s Mistakes’ [5], Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid cites instances of how the Prophet Sallahu Alayhi wa Sallam solved social problems that could have otherwise resulted in viscous feuds just by first asking ‘Why’. Study the following case:

An-Nisaa`i (may Allaah have mercy on him) reported from Abbaad ibn Sharhabeel RadhiAllahuAnhu (may Allah be pleased with him) who said:
“I came with my (paternal) uncles to Madeenah, and we entered one of the gardens of the city. I rubbed some of the wheat, and the owner of the garden came and took my cloak and hit me. I came to the Messenger of Allah (Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam – peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) asking for his help. He sent for that man and they brought him to him. He (the Messenger Sallalalahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said to him,
‘What made you do that ?’ or ‘Why did you do that?’
He said, ‘O Messenger of Allaah, he went into my garden and took some of my wheat and rubbed it.’
The Messenger of Allah (Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said, 
‘You did not teach him if it was the matter of him not knowing, and you did not feed him if it was the matter of him being hungry.Give him back his cloak.’
And the Messenger of Allah (Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam) ordered that I should be given a wasq or half a wasq (a measure of wheat).”
[Al-Nisaa`i, al-MuLtabaa, Kitaab Aadaab al-Qudaat, Baab al-Isti’daa’; Saheeh Sunan al-Nisaa`i, no. 4999]

So here is the case from the garden owners point of view:

The Problem:
Abbaad rubbed the wheat of my garden
Corrective action:
Take his clock and hit him

What did that result in? Did it solve the problem? Following were the results of that corrective action:

  • Abbaad RadhiAllahu Anhu became upset.
  • He went and made a complaint to the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam which was enough to scare the daylights out of anyone.
  • Most importantly, the problem wasn’t solved.

And when the case was brought to The Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam, what did he do? He taught the owner of the garden to properly inquire about the ‘Cause’ of the Problem first before deciding on the Corrective Action to take. So by saying:

‘You did not teach him if it was the matter of him not knowing, and you did not feed him if it was the matter of him being hungry.’

the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam taught the owner how to deal with problem by looking at the case differently after finding out about the ‘Cause’ variable:

The Problem:
Abbaad rubbed the wheat of my garden
The Cause:
Abbad says he is hungry
Corrective action:
Give him some wheat

How else do you think the Cause of the Problem could have ever been discovered except by the owner taking the step to first ask Why?
Here is another incident that Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid cites in the same book where the outcome was much better because the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam intervened with his wisdom to first ask Why:
Anas ibn Maalik RadhiAllahu Anhu reported:

“Whilst we were in the mosque with the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), a Bedouin came and stood urinating in the mosque. The Companions of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said,
“Stop it! Stop it!”
But the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said,
“Do not interrupt him; leave him alone.” (In another report by Bukhari, he said to them: “You have been sent to make things easy for people, not to make things hard.”)
So they left him until he had finished urinating…..Saheeh Muslim, no. 285
The incident continues in the following report where the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam called the Bedouin to find out the Cause by asking him:
“What made you urinate in our mosque?” or “Why did you urinate in our mosque?”
He (the Bedouin) said,
“By the One Who sent you with the truth, I thought it was just like any other place so I urinated in it.” ….Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, no. 11552, vol. 11, p.220.
The Corrective action that the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam took is reported to have been to advice the Bedouin the following:
“In these mosques it is not right to do anything like urinating or defecating; they are only for remembering Allah, praying and reading Qur`aan, or words to that effect. Then he commanded a man who was there to bring a bucket of water and throw it over the urine, and he did so.” …….Saheeh Muslim, no. 285

So here is the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam, teaching the sahabah (the companions of the Prophet Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam) the importance of not jumping to correct the problem without proper evaluation. We can make the following analysis based on this case:

The Problem:
The Bedouin urinated in the mosque
The Cause:
The Bedouin thought the mosque is just like any other place where one may urinate
Corrective action:
Explain to the Bedouin what a mosque is used for

It is clear from this case that the Corrective action that the sahabah were about to use was to stop the Bedouin. But the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam had the foresightedness to solve the Problem for a long term using a different and more effective corrective action. So effective that when this incident was over, the character and wisdom of the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi wa Sallam had left such an impression on the Bedouin that he is reported to have said:

“He got up, may my mother and my father be sacrificed for him, he did not rebuke me or insult me. He just said, ‘We do not urinate in this mosque; it was only built for the remembrance of Allah and for prayer.’ Then he called for a bucket of water and poured it over the urine.” ….Sunan Ibn Maajah

Written by Jibran Asif Shareef


[1] https://open.buffer.com/5-whys-process/

[2] https://www.isixsigma.com/tools-templates/cause-effect/determine-root-cause-5-whys/

[3] https://hbr.org/2010/04/the-five-whys-for-startups

[4] http://www.toyota-global.com/company/toyota_traditions/quality/mar_apr_2006.html

[5] The Prophet’s Methods for Correcting People’s Mistakes