I have also been following the debate around the “permissibility” or lack thereof of the concert and music in general in the Islamic context, particularly in South Africa, who had called on the public to boycott an Islamic musical event.
Let me start with the 2008 Mahabba Awards in Abu Dhabi, an event that aims to increase awareness about and love for the Prophet Muhammad (saw), through awarding Islamic music, literature and art, and honouring Muslim musicians, writers and artists, a completely respectable Islamic event, held in a huge auditorium. It was a really wonderful inspirational night of entertainment and dhikr, with no compromise on setting, sound and performance quality. The beautiful melodies (including SA’s own Zain Bhika) filled my heart with peace and tranquility. I left, with more love for my religion, my prophet and my Creator, than I had come with.
I am not overly concerned about which musical instruments are permitted, and which aren’t. Some say that only those played during the Prophets life are allowed. To me, it’s more about etiquette, and knowing our limits as Muslims. Of course there shouldn’t be dancing and frenzied behavior at such events, but that’s common sense, what’s more important is that these events should continue, because there is a very very large gaping hole, where healthy Islamic entertainment should be. We need an alternative to what’s spewed out at us from the television, we need holistic, fun, educational entertainment, be it concerts, stand up comedy, television series, talk shows and radio stations. There is quite a palatable fair on offer at the moment, with programmes like Little Mosque on the Prairie, which besides being witty and extremely relevant to Muslim minorities living in the West, is also aired on mainstream television in Canada, so a huge applaud for that!
There is also Moez Mas’ud, with his highly informative talk shows, and the Allah Made Me Funny crew, as well tons of talented musicians coming out of the States, England and of course, our very own, home grown South African – Zain Bhika. A personal favourite is Native Deen, their songs are so catchy and uplifting.
So, we deduce from the above, that Islamic entertainment does exist, albeit in a small way, but it’s there. Would you rather have you and your children watching programs filled with sexual nuances, listen to vulgar music and play violent video games, just because your sheikh/maulana/mufti said Sami Yusuf is haram? Have you bothered to do your own research, and question the logic of such statements? The internet, a powerful tool for education when used correctly, gives us no excuse not to cure the disease of blind following. I’m not asking anyone to go “fatwa shopping”, but to look at the issue at hand from all vantage points, to know that there are two sides to every coin, and whether you decide the issue is halal/haram, at least you will have an informed opinion. Also, let’s face it, art does not constitute a fundamental of faith, so whether you accept or deny it, let’s not judge the validity of others faith.
As for television, last month, during our trip to Turkey, I noticed that outside every masjid, there was a kiosk selling DVD’s. They had movies about every aspect of Islamic history – lives of the various Prophets (as), famous battles like Badr and Karbala, love stories, animation, and so much more, there was really something for everyone. They were all in the Turkish language, but we were so tempted to buy them anyways, knowing how rare such materials are. The Iranians too, have produced some interesting movies, on the life or Maryam (as), and other Muslim figures, which have been subtitled. The Message, the most popular and one of the few Islamic movie produced in English, is another gem, but sad isn’t it, that we have only one Seerah in screenplay?
Music is a part of culture, and Islam did not come to wipe away culture, but to enhance it. Every culture has its own unique form of music, and I believe, if we put all these sounds from across the world together into a symphony, we would have – the sound of Islam. Yes, because Islam is the universal religion, applicable to all humankind from all walks of life. I see the revival of Islamic arts as a key ingredient to the revival of the Muslim Ummah. Art is to life, what salt is to food, we can have every other seasoning, but if we don’t add salt, there will always be something missing, we will always taste that “blandness”. That said, art is like salt also in that, on its own it is bitter, inedible, it needs food to bring out its best, like music, which needs morality and human values to bring out its strength.
At this point, I hope you are feeling the need to read up more on Islamic arts, and if you are going to read anything, let it be these three articles: “Music: A question of faith or da’wah” by Yusuf Islam, “An Open Letter” by Sami Yusuf, and “If Music Be The Food of Love, Play On” by Shafiq Morton. I have pinponted these, beacuse the authors are people in the field and would be able to shed the most light on why they do the things they do. Also, if you understand Urdu, then you will appreciate the beauty and eloquence of this clip, taken from the movie “Khuda Ke Liye”, an amateur screenplay with an award-winning script. If you unfortunately don’t, then the highlight of this monologue is the part where the actor speaks about the Harp of Dawud (as), the Prophet of Allah. Music was a gift to Dawud (as), and one of his miracles.
Look back into the portals and history, and note that prominent Muslim scholars, were well schooled in the discipline of Music, in fact some of them dedicated their lives to it. Do the names Al Kindi, Al Farabi, Ibn Sina, Al Ghazali, Al Urwawi and Rumi sound familiar? These were all magnificently great scholars, who dedicated books and chapters of their books to music. They had a holistic approach to life, they studied math, astronomy, medicine and music in conjunction with religion, and through them, Islam flourished. For more detailed information see the articles on Music in Muslim Civilization and The Contributions of Muslims to the Development of Music.
Art is not our enemy, the wrong type of it is. As Muslims, art in the form of music, poetry and painting is part and parcel of our religious heritage; you need only listen to Adhaan, recite Surah Rahman, and visit just one historical masjid, to know that Islam is art, and art Islam.