This article is Part 3 of an ongoing series of articles under the project, ‘Addictions: Breaking Bad’
Ever walked into a mall or the train only to see almost everyone with earphones or headphones on? Humming along to lyrics or lightly tapping their feet to a beat? Is the first thing you do when getting into your car, to put your earphones on? If there’s one habit most of us have, it’s listening to music. In fact, according to Billboard, a Nielsen 360 study found that almost 90% of the U.S population consumes music! The world is listening to music. While some of us get our fix occasionally, or listen to it while it plays in the background, many of us simply cannot imagine life without it! What’s so addictive about these groovy sound waves and catchy choruses that has the world dancing?
Music makes the brain happy
When we listen to a song we like, our brains release the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the happy hormone that gives us all the smiles. Ever craved a juicy, cheesy burger? How did you feel after you took a bite? That’s dopamine being released right there. It is also the same chemical released after sexual satisfaction. This happy hormone is released during pleasurable situations and our brains encourage us to seek those pleasurable situations so that we feel that high of happiness.
Loving that High – The Science of Addiction:
Heard a song that gave you all the feels? Got goosebumps and felt a tingly chill down your spine? Did it make your heart beat a little faster or did it make you catch a breath? This is especially true when we listen to a song that resonates with our current situation. How many of us run to plug in our earphones and listen to some music after a bad day? Whenever you listen to your favorite song, your brain releases dopamine and as a result, your brain starts associating happiness with the activity that you are enjoying. So, what happens then? Every time you want to feel that happiness rush, you are encouraged to go and listen some more. Then, your body normalizes that high and you start needing something bigger and better to make you happy. Do you see how this can easily become an addiction?
Are you addicted to music? Take this quick test to find out.
Music: Harmful or Beneficial?
Music, like most things in life, carries two sides to the same coin – it can be beneficial just as it can be harmful. Some studies have proven that music can be beneficial to us, while others have highlighted its harms. But what is good for us today can be proved to be bad for us tomorrow, and vice versa.
As Muslims however, our moral compass comes from the One who made us, and not from Science. Who knows what is best for His creation better than the Creator Himself? Music, like alcohol, has both benefits and harms.
Allah tells us about alcohol and gambling in the Quran:
يَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْخَمْرِ وَالْمَيْسِرِ ۖ قُلْ فِيهِمَا إِثْمٌ كَبِيرٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَإِثْمُهُمَا أَكْبَرُ مِن نَّفْعِهِمَا
They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.
[Surah Al-Baqarah: 219]
Our Creator acknowledges that alcohol and gambling bring some benefit to us, but He tells us that the harms and the sins they lead us to, are far greater than any good they may bring. The same can be said about music. While music has the ability to lift our spirits or boost our health temporarily, it also has the ability to affect us negatively in different ways.
How does music affect us?
“The notion of control in music is important. Music is rarely the spontaneous outpouring of whatever sounds someone happens to be moved to make. It is highly patterned sound, chosen and shaped, consciously or not, in quite logical ways that often follow rigid rules.”
-Psychologist and Musician Rosenfeld
Yup, that means that musical notes are formulated patterns designed in a specific way to cause an effect on us. It is for this reason that music has such a tremendous impact on our minds, bodies, and souls.
Dr. Gohar Mushtaq also mentions in his book “The Music made me do it”, that music isn’t simply harmless entertainment but rather, it has a deep ability to affect our thoughts and behavior.
As Muslims, our Deen constantly asks us to take care of our mind, body, and soul. Is the music we are listening to detrimental to our mental, physical, and spiritual states? Let’s have a brief look at how music affects our brain, heart and emotions.
Music and Emotion
Why is it that when you hear an upbeat tune, you suddenly perk up and when you hear a sad, gloomy tune, you start feeling down in the dumps because suddenly a non-existent lover has left you? Have you noticed how it can make you feel things that you haven’t really experienced? A study summarized from “Thrills in Response to Music and Other Stimuli” showed that 96% of the 250 participants experienced chills after listening to music as compared to other activities like physical contact, exercise or sex. Since our emotions heavily influence our thoughts and actions, we need to be asking ourselves: how healthy is it to be consuming something that can switch us on and off in just seconds.
Music and Brain
Listening to music triggers the same part of the brain that alcohol, drugs, and sex hormones stimulate: the Limbic system. It’s responsible for control of emotions, emotional and sexual responses, mood, hormonal secretions, and long-term memory.
“When young adolescents listen to aggressive or sexual material from songs and the limbic system is stimulated, those messages become ingrained in one’s mind and become a part of one’s character.” – Dr. Mushtaq
I guess drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll are more connected to each other than we thought! Now we see how it pulls us towards following our desires. Our ultimate purpose in life is to worship Allah alone and become the best version of ourselves, as Allah tells us in the Quran:
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا
[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed.
[Surah Al-Mulk: 2]
Life is at the end of the day, a test. The test comes into play when we are faced with making a decision.
Are we going to choose the road of goodness and purity or the road of evil and temptation? Are we going to fight our urges and temptations to rise higher? Is the music we consume helping us on the path of goodness or is taking us far, far away? Is it calling us to peace, modesty, and uprightness or is it calling us to drugs, impermissible sex, and lewdness? Which road are we going to choose?
Music and the Heart
Our hearts are volatile vessels that are easily influenced.
Music distracts us from our purpose in life. Allah tells us in the Quran:
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ
And of the people is he who buys the idle talk to mislead [others] from the way of Allah without knowledge and who takes it in ridicule. Those will have a humiliating punishment.
[Surah Luqman: 6]
What are the top 5 songs of today about? Sex, money, and partying. These are all distractions that make it difficult for one to have a spiritually healthy heart, worship Allah well, and obey Him before death overtakes us. Whether the music has words or not, instrumentals or tunes themselves have the ability to sway our hearts. In fact, scholars have stated that music is the voice of Shaytan and one of his primary means to distract us from worshipping Allah.
The Prophet ﷺ warned us that at the end of times, female singers, sex, and alcohol will become more prevalent. There’s a reason he ﷺ bunched those three together. Music has the ability to ignite sexual arousal and for many Muslims, this can be problematic as it makes it difficult to remain chaste. It can cause a person to engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, encourage them to seek satisfaction through porn or masturbation, and may even lead them into another type of addiction – sexual addiction. Not only does this ruin a person’s heart and weakens his faith, he also falls into other sins that Allah doesn’t like for His slaves.
Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said: “Singing fosters hypocrisy in the heart.” As Ibn al-Qayyim explains, the Quran calls to modesty, truthfulness, humility, and all that is good while music and songs call to immorality, immodesty, arrogance, and other frivolous pursuits. They both contradict each other in what they call to. This is why people who are addicted to music sometimes experience a tightness in their chest when they hear the Quran being recited and find listening to it heavy and burdensome.
I’m addicted. How can I stop?
Always remember: Allah loves us and wants nothing more than for us to enter Jannah – a place of eternal happiness and enjoyment. When Allah prohibits something for us, it is only for our own good. As Muslims, we know that music is haram and by consuming it, not only are we incurring sin, our mind, body, and soul are being negatively impacted by it and as a result, it becomes difficult for faith and goodness to settle in our hearts. True happiness, peace, and contentment only comes from leaving any evil Allah has asked us to stay away from. Just ask anyone who has stopped listening to music about how they feel. I assure you that all of them will tell you that they feel so much closer to Allah, which in turn has made their hearts so much more at peace. We CAN break away from bad habits and we CAN break away from addictions if we put our hearts into it!
Action points to break the habit
- Accept the intensity of your addiction – realize that you need to put work into overcoming this addiction.
- Be sincere. Understanding that Allah has prohibited it for us out of His Supreme Wisdom and learning about the harms of music consumption on the soul and its effect on our relationship with Allah makes it so much easier to give up.
- Make Dua. Seek forgiveness, repent, and resolve to stay firm. Ask Allah to help you because He is your Ultimate Helper. Tell Him that you want to sincerely stop and watch how He helps you! A former DJ once told me: “If I can quit my whole lifestyle, why can’t you guys give up just listening to music?!”
- Get rid of all your music. That’s right. Delete all the songs – from your phone, from your car, and any place you usually access your fix from.
- Disconnect. Unfollow your favorite artists and all the celebrity gossip pages. Trim your feed and weed out all posts that involve music or your favorite artists. Avoid reading about them and what they’re upto or what they are releasing next. Disconnect from them completely. Do this for one week straight so your feed is completely clear of music.
- Observe your habits. When do you tend to listen to music the most? If you find yourself more prone to want to listen to music when you’re particularly emotional, channel that urge into praying to Allah about it, journaling your emotions, and talking to trusted family or friends. Practice this for another week.
- Set a plan to replace your music. What kind of music are you into? If you’re a heavy metal music fan, switch to a fast-paced recitation of the Quran (try to read up on the translation as you go as well) and if you are more into softer music, replace your music with a slow and soothing recitation of the Quran. This might be a little heavy on you at first, but the more you try to engage with the Quran, the more space your heart makes for its goodness to flow in! Don’t give up, your heart will eventually start feeling light!
- Switch up your tunes for more positive and spiritually uplifting options like podcasts, talks, lectures, and Islamically permissible poetry and nasheeds.
- Tell your friends that you’re trying to quit so that they don’t tell you about this song or that artist. They may make fun of you and they may still update you, stay vigilant and don’t let it sway you. If they’re bad company and are leading you in the wrong direction anyway, it may be time to get a better group of friends.
- Try to avoid parties or social gatherings where you know they will be playing music that you like.
- Finally, if you slip, don’t beat yourself up. Make istighfar and reset. Start fresh. Reset and reset and reset till Shaytan gives up on you!
So glad tidings to the strangers!
Allah, the Most Merciful and the All-Knowing, knows your struggle exactly. He knows that it’s difficult for you and that you may get tired. In this day and age, it is quite unheard of for someone to not listen to music. It’s easy to feel so left out and alone when almost everyone is doing it!
“Whoever leaves something for the sake of Allah, Allah replaces (what he gave up) with something better.” – Sheikh Albaani
Be prepared, my friend, to receive unimaginable rewards from Him for this. He will replace your struggle with nothing but relief, comfort, and peace. And in Jannah, oh in Jannah, what can I tell you about it? You shall be paid your wages in full. An eternity of happiness, entertainment, and bliss!
“Is the reward for good [anything] but good?” [Surah Ar-Rahmaan, 60]
While the world listens to music, you broke out of it, followed His commands, gave up bad habits, and worked for His Mercy. You are a stranger among them!
They didn’t understand you but the Prophet ﷺ knew of you when he said: “Islam began as something strange and will go back to being strange, so glad-tidings to the strangers.” [Sunan ibn Majah, 3986]
- Rosenfeld, “Music, the Beautiful Disturber”
- Dr. Gohar Mushtaq’s book “The Music Made me do it”, p.55 (Goldstein’s study: Thrills in Response to Music and Other Stimuli”
- Ibn al-Qayyim’s Tafseer of Surah al Israa’, Ayah 64
- Ighathaatul Lahfaan min Masaa’id as-Shaytaan, Ibn al-Qayyim
- How My Favourite Rapper Helped Me Quit Music
Note: This series of articles involves and is written in consultation with clinical psychologists and other industry professionals.
Missed Part 1? Read: Rooting It Out: Understanding Addiction & Its Origins
Missed Part 2? Read: Gaming: Game Over? Or Level Up?
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