The oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument commonly used in North African (Chaabi, Egyptian music, Andalusian...) and Middle Eastern music. The modern oud and the European lute both descend from a common ancestor via diverging paths. The oud is readily distinguished by its lack of frets and smaller neck.
The oldest pictorial record of a lute dates back to the Uruk period in Southern Mesopotamia (modern Nasiriyah city), over 5000 years ago on a cylinder seal acquired by Dr. Dominique Collon and currently housed at the British Museum. The image depicts a female crouching with her instruments upon a boat, playing right-handed. This instrument appears many times throughout Mesopotamian history and again in ancient Egypt from the 18th dynasty onwards in long and short-neck varieties. One may see such examples at the Metropolitan Museums of New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and the British Museum on clay tablets and papyrus paper. This instrument and its close relatives have been a part of the music of each of the ancient civilizations that have existed in the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions, including the Sumerians, Akkadians, Persians, Kurds, Babylonians, Assyrians, Armenians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans.
The ancient Turkic peoples had a similar instrument called the kopuz. This instrument was thought to have magical powers and was brought to wars and used in military bands. This is noted in the Göktürk monument inscriptions, the military band was later used by other Turkic state's armies and later by Europeans. According to musicologist Çinuçen Tanrikorur today's oud was derived from the kopuz by Turks near Central Asia and additional strings were added by them.
The oud has a particularly long tradition in Iraq, where a saying goes that in its music lies the country’s soul. A ninth-century Baghdad jurist praised the healing powers of the instrument, and the 19th century writer Muhammad Shihab al-Din related that it "places the temperament in equilibrium" and "calms and revives hearts." Following the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the secular Hussein regime in 2003, however, the increasing fervor of Islamic militants who consider secular music to be haraam (forbidden) forced many Oud players or teachers into hiding or exile.