This is not just longtime Iranian custom. It is based on Muhammad’s prohibition of musical instruments:
Hadith Qudsi 19:5: “The Prophet said that Allah commanded him to destroy all the musical instruments, idols, crosses and all the trappings of ignorance.” (The Hadith Qudsi, or holy Hadith, are those in which Muhammad transmits the words of Allah, although those words are not in the Qur’an.)
Muhammad also said:
(1) “Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.”
(2) “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.”
(3) “Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.”
(4) “This community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones.” Someone asked, “When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said, “When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.”
(5) “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful ….” — ‘Umdat al-Salik r40.0
“Iran state TV breaks decades-long taboo against showing instruments,” by Ramin Mostaghim and Alexandra Sandels for the Los Angeles Times, January 23:
TEHRAN — A technical blunder? Or the latest episode in the culture wars between Iran’s hard-liners and moderates?
Confusion is rife in the Iranian capital about a recent showing of musical instruments on Iranian state television that broke a three-decade taboo.
Last weekend, Iran’s Channel One aired a live concert by a group of musicians playing traditional instruments on a show called “Good Morning Iran.”
Some Shia Muslim clerics say that broadcasting music clashes with religious tenets. So in Iran, a country with a long history of both religious and secular music, the state broadcaster has come up with a somewhat convoluted solution.
When it airs performances of traditional Iranian music for a domestic audience, singers are allowed in front of the cameras, but musical instruments are absent from the screen. When musicians play, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) shows shots of the studio or pastoral scenes, such as waterfalls, birds and mountains.
So the episode in which instruments were shown caused a minor sensation in the Islamic Republic.
The move was welcomed by many social network users and liberal Iranian media outlets. The reformist daily Sharq newspaper splashed the news on its front page and declared that the “spell … was finally broken.” [Link in Farsi]
Shahram Nazeri, an acclaimed classical Iranian vocalist who plays a four-stringed lute called a setar, welcomed the move, according to local news reports.
But hopes of a relaxation of the ban on showing instruments were dashed when the producer of “Good Morning Iran” described what happened as an unintended mix-up.
“The footage of instruments which was aired has nothing to do with a change in the approach or practice of IRIB, and it was just an unintentional mistake by us,” Gholamreza Bakhtiari was quoted as saying by Iran’s hardline Fars news agency. [Link in Farsi.]
The band was shown with its instruments for about 10 seconds, Bakhtiari said.
Some, however, wondered if the incident was part of a power struggle between conservatives at IRIB and more moderate figures. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, has previously clashed with hard-liners about cultural restrictions….
The “moderate” reputation that Rouhani enjoys is wildly overstated. The Ayatollah Khamenei said in November that it was a “misunderstanding” to think that Iran was “stepping back from goals and values of the Islamic regime.” In reality, he said, Iran was simply engaged in “an artistic maneuver and the use of different tactics to reach different goals and ideals of the Islamic regime.”