A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

Artfully Islam October 27, 2008

Filed under: Islam and Music,Islamic Arts,Music,Sami Yusuf — Safiyyah @ 10:05 am

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.

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14 Responses to “Artfully Islam”

  1. naeem Says:

    Fantastic post.THe same loudmouths screaming Boycott, haraam, biddah, etc – Where are they when bollywood comes to Za with their acts, song & dance?

  2. Awesome and absolutely great post! I admire your poise in getting your thoughts across :)Am listening to the embedded videos as I type this.If you want, I could email you two audio clips from the Sami Yusuf performance I went to here in CT. I can’t get enough of it!

  3. PS. Thanks for the link-love… I only noted now that you’ve linked my blog :)s

  4. Safiyyah Says:

    thanks naeem and nielfa! nielfa, please do send me the sami yusuf clips!!!!!

  5. imto Says:

    Sami Yusuf is a great singer but why does he have to use musical instruments. In authentic hadiths Nabi(S.A.W)has said music is haraam,just as pork, wine, interest etc. There is no middle ground when it comes halaal and haraam, its like saying you can drink a beverage that has 10% alcohol instead of sumthing that has 100% alcohol. We are first muslims then artist, doctors, lawyers etc therefore we should act like muslims.

  6. Fatima Says:

    thanks for this article- after the Sami Yusuf concert on Sat in JHB, South Africa i was left in doubt of where we are heading what our youth need. this has left some food for thought.

  7. Bilal Says:

    How ironic is this- Sami Yusuf is hosted on a national tour of South Africa by a ‘Shariah compliant’ investment fund. From what I hear his concerts were awesome- I like Sami Yusuf too- saw him at Wembley in London performing for a 10000 strong crowd. And the 1400 odd year old debate on whether music in permissible is now on almost every blog, Facebook group, dinner table and ask-a-mufti session! Reminds me of the sad story about the grandson of the Prophet of Islam- a person from the region where the terrible atrocity occurred, was discussing the Shariah ruling of the blood of a mosquito with a scholar, and was told something like: ‘You, who comes from the people who brutally tortured and murdered the beloved of the beloved of God, now while the blood of the Prophets grandson is still flowing in the streets, you are more concerned about the blood of a mosquito!’ Do you see the irony? South African Muslims, those that come from a middle class bourgeoisie background, in the wake of a global financial crisis, are busy with discussion on the music, while the show was hosted by an institution that belongs to the global economic system! South African Muslims, who some say are ‘the very same people that REPRESENT inequality and injustice’, are more concerned about the blood of a mosquito!! http://bilalsblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/irony-of-south-african-muslims.html

  8. Sofi Says:

    fantastic entry…i really enjoyed reading this post. its so well articulated and of course.. i concur with the message wholeheatedly!

  9. nk Says:

    What a beautiful and well-written post. The Almighty, is the greatest artist.I too missed the concert. im hoping to buy his CD’s..

  10. abu muhammad Says:

    My muslim brothers and sisters, this life is very serious and short as well.Ask yourself, would the sahaba and Nabi (SAW) attend these concerts? Our lives have to come on to lives of Sahaba if we want to be dwellers of Paradise. for a few moments of happiness and nafsaaniyat, i am prepared to throw my aakhirah away. Let me tell you when Dajjaal comes, all Sami Yusuf’s fans and all music lovers will follow him, for his (dajjaals) music is like no other heard before. Whoever follows Dajjaal will never ever be forgiven. So think before you make these statements, think about the doom you inviting for yourself and your fellow muslim friends. Nine out ten people who follow Sami Yusuf and similar are probably not punctual with their salaah with jamaat, nor keep a beard or cover their hair. Tell me if I’m lying or what? Please do not remove this comment if you really are open to debate?

  11. Safiyyah Says:

    thank brother abu muhammad for your comment, ofcourse I will not remove it, however I would like to dispel your generalization abt fans of Sami Yusuf, because 1. I pray 5 times a day and try to go to the masjid as much as possible 2.I am a staunch muhajibah and make no compromise on my covering.also I dont listen to Islamic music for my nafs, but for my ruh..I dont feel I am throwing my aakhira away, but building it.There is much difference of opinion abt the subject, and since no ijma’ has been reached, this implies that the different views should be tolarated, so lets not get ahead of ourselves and start calling each other the followers of dajaal shall we?

  12. KiLLa Says:

    Your insight on the topic is excellent and clearly you have done research on teh matter..My moment of shock however did come when it was depicted as a MASS ZIKR. My personal opinion (and i am entitled to one) is that it was by no means a ‘spiritually uplifted’ exoperience.. Fair enough the man has talent. Lots of it. It was a ‘concert’I think the marketing of it as something spiritual (esp here in jhb) was wrong. He is not at fault by what people depict in this country as lawful or not. Oasis needed to know this before enduring such a venture..And the lambasting of the Radio Station that drew loads of applause was pure garbage as well..i stick to my guns in saying that music and the words “allah” and “mohammed’ should not mix..

  13. Abu Muhammad Says:

    Forgive me for my long posts, I am not attacking or calling people names or things, I just have concern for my muslim brothers & sisters. Hadith says a time will come when people will wake up with imaan and sleep without it, and the same for sleeping with imaan and waking up without it. To miss salaah is a grave sin, but to deny salaah is kufr. To listen to music is a sin, but to consider it an ibadat/halaal thing, that is stepping into very dangerous territory. Hadith: Nabi SAW said I have been sent to destroy musical instruments. Another hadith: Music breeds hypocrisy. Once Nabi SAW heard bells or something ringing, put fingers in his ears and rushed away from the scene, you can confirm this with the ulema. And when people think music is permissable, they'll never make tauba. At least you'll make tauba for Enrique whoever's concert, but many wont make for these type of concerts. I make dua Allah must bring us all onto the straight path and save us from nafs and deception and from falling into the trap of shaitaan.

  14. Mr. Himed Says:

    I have thought about Music and the possibility it is haram. I just saw a clip of Amr Diab when he was singing El Alem Allah. I thought since at least he was remembering Allah, that it was permissible. But when I saw the video of women in short dresses who are dancing and jumping around, I knew there was a problem with it. Music has a message and if that message has sexual connotations or uses foul language like 90% of rap music does, then we have to consider that makruh or haram based on the Quranic principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. Music that is made by people such as Sami Yusuf or Cat Stevens have positive messages about life and about the religion, regardless of what instruments they use.


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