Muslim music instruments

Written by donny quinn
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Muslim music instruments
There is much debate about the use of instruments in Islamic music. (islam image by Alhazm Salemi from

Islam, like all human civilisations and religions, has a long and intricate musical history. Despite this, there is modern controversy about what instruments are used in proper Islamic music. Two groups have formed: one that believes only song should be allowed, with no instruments; the other believes that certain traditional instruments should be allowed in Islamic music.

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Vocal Music

Like most major religions, vocal music plays a large role in the Islamic faith. For Muslims, these hymnal verses are called Anasheed. Anasheed, or Nasheed, reference the Islamic faith and the history of the faith, current events and stories from the Koran. Some Muslim scholars believe that instruments shouldn't be allowed at all in Islamic music--for them, voice is the only acceptable instrument. These scholars use the Koran or the Sahih al-Bukhari of Sunni Islam, where Mohammad was believed to have said that the use of musical instruments was unlawful, to support their claim. Other modern Islamic groups believe that musical instruments should be allowed, if only in moderation.

Daf and Tonbak

Two popular types of drums in modern Islamic music are the daf and the tonback. The daf is a flat drum that is held in one hand much like a tamborine. The musician, with her other hand, beats on the goatskin surface of the drum to sound it. Some dafs are decorated with tiny cymbals. A tonbak is a small cylindrical drum that is held in the lap while beating, and consists of a goatskin top. The skin can be adjusted before a performance in order to lower or raise the pitch of the drum.

The daf, though larger than a tambourine, is held in the hand.
The daf, though larger than a tambourine, is held in the hand. (tambourin 1 image by Nathalie P from


The rebab is an Islamic instrument from the string family. The body of both types is similar to a sphere that has been cut in half, with the strings located on the flat side, much like a banjo. Above that small half sphere is a long neck that rises high enough for the player to comfortably hold it while seated. With one, two or three strings, the rebab is played by plucking or drawing a bow across the strings. The bowed version will usually have a spike in the end to raise the body of the instrument off the ground. Although the rebab is enjoyed for its vocal-like sound, it generally does not possess more than an octave range.


The Ney is a traditional Islamic woodwind, with five holes in the front of the instrument, and one thumb hole in the back. The holes are used like a flute to lengthen or shorten the amount of air that is allowed to pass through the instrument. These changes in air length create different notes---up to two and a half octaves.

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