'Music and Sound Arts in the World of Islam' - Live Dialogue

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Yusuf Progler

Jumada' al-Ula' 07, 1423 2002-07-17

by Yusuf Progler

Session Details

Guest Name

Dr. Yusuf Progler

Profession

Professor

Subject

Music and Sound Arts in the World of Islam.

Date

Wednesday,Jul 17 ,2002

Time

Makkah
From... 18:30...To... 20:00
GMT
From... 15:30...To...17:00

Name

Host. -

Profession

Question

Thank you for your participation.

Answer

.

Name

saadiqah -

Profession

Question

is listening to instrumental music considered haram in islam?

Answer

Salam, and thank you for the question. It seems to me that you are looking for a fatwa, and I am not a mufti. I believe there are sections of this website for a fatwa. However, let me make a few general observations. First, the term "haram" has a legal sense and it has a cultural sense. The cultural sense is closer to shameful. The legal sense requires that something is explicitly forbidden in Qur'an and hadith, and for which punishments have been decreed in shari'ah. As far as I know, this does not apply to discussions relating to music. With this distinction in mind, it seems more fruitful to place music in an ethical context rather than a legal one. But if you are really into the legal side of things, you can read a useful article in English by the late Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, "The Shariah on Music and Musicians," published by IIIT in 1982. You may also wish to consult an imam or shaykh schooled in the particular madhhab to which you ascribe for a ruling in your community.

Name

Haleem -

Profession

Question

Despite the historic debate over the legitmacy of music among muslim Ulma, music in Islamic history continued to flourish in different eras. What role did this debate play in influencing the type of music that was developed in Islamic societies considering the role of music in these muslim cultures before the advant of Islam.

Answer

Yes, we need to consider the impact of the debate among scholars on the shape and form of music and other arts. Scholars, well intentioned most of the time, have the best interests of the Muslim community at heart and in a controversial issue like music, they worked very hard to try and delineate some parameters. This has been going on for centuries, and in part accounts for the framework within in which the sound arts developed. In other words, because it was controversial, maybe in recognition of the beauty/danger thing I outline above, people took extra care to find ways of expressing themselves in sound. I think it is wrong to say that the debates have somehow constricted music and the arts; that is the secular and missionary position. Rather, like with almost anything else in life, people need guidelines, and so I think it is more true to the tradition to see the debates not as creating strictures, but as delineating a flexible framework within which to create, a path that once can follow, not narrow and rigid, but a path nonetheless, and Muslim artists, eager to express themselves according to their religion, paid attention to the best of these frameworks and pathways. These frameworks and pathways were guided by the supreme sound art, Quranic recitation, which has provided many of the aesthetic parameters for the other sound arts. So, the debates, in my view, have been positive and generative, and when they stop, when things solidify, that is when we get stuck in looking for easy answers, halal/haram dichotomies, which in the case of music and other cultural practices, is less generative than ongoing discussion.

Name

Ahmed -

Profession

Question

I like european classical music and in particular choral and vocal music by Bach, Mozart and Schubert with female voices. Is possible for a muslim listen to this music?

Answer

Please see the answer for Saadiqah above.

Name

nisthar - Maldives

Profession

student

Question

is play video games permmited? (regarding its sound effects and music)

Answer

Please see the answer for Saadiqah above.

Name

nisthar -

Profession

student

Question

is electric guiter permissable to play?

Answer

Please see the answer for Saadiqah above.

Name

Mohammed G. -

Profession

Question

How should we teach our children Islam in the West?. Is one or two hours a week enough?

Answer

This forum is for questions about Sound Arts in Islam. Please submit your question in future sessions concerning Islamic education in the West.

Name

Nabiya -

Profession

Question

what chances are there for the survival of the sounf arts of Islam(aside from quranic rcitation) given the onslaught of western pop music all over the world. One of the results of this onslaught is, as it seems to me, that there is a decline in interest in the Aesthetic arts of Islaimic culture, how can we revive an interest in them.

Answer

Great question, Nabiya, thanks for asking. First of all, we do have to recognize that, as you say, there is a cultural onslaught of industrialized music (and other entertainments) unprecedented in human history. At the same time, the virtual uniformity of this particular kind of entertainment, largely emanating from the Western pop music factories in Europe and America, that some how seems to appeal, ironically to a broad cross section of youth. I would put it in the same category as the various junk food industries. Part of the solution to this problem is in education, not the narrow sort one gets in school, but in what we could call cultural education. Too much education these days comes from the conduits of the mass pop music industry, the TV and the Internet. Why young people like to sit transfixed in front of these devices rather than in other kinds of activities is perhaps a question for the psychologists. But education on the community level is important, and this may entail loosening up the ordinarily strict and narrow interpretation of music in some quarters. In other words, we may have catalyzed the problem by twofold blunder: 1) making Islam and its cultural functions seem ossified and strict for the youth, labeling everything haram and bid'ah, 2) while simultaneously neglecting the living traditions in our own lives. TV and the Net are easy, they are perfect for consumers. But what Islamic societies need is producers, those who can understand and produce the various sorts of arts and integrate them into community activities with broad appeal. It is the same story everywhere, cultural gray out with the coming of globalization. The answer lies in rejuvenating local traditions.

Name

Riza - Pakistan

Profession

Question

Art and music are parts of cultures and we can see a special kind of them in Islamic culture, yet the Western music and art seem to be more popular among young muslims. How muslim societies can spread their culture through their own arts and music?

Answer

Another good question, thanks. The Western culture seems to have a certain allure these days. In fact, since Napoleon rolled into Egypt in 1798, Muslims have been enthralled with all aspects of the West, beginning at the time with science and technology but now continuing right on up to the cultural sphere. So, in one sense, the problem is part of a broader trend, and we should not entirely blame the youth for listening to Western music when we are wearing Western clothes, studying in Western universities, and living practically all aspects of life the Western way. It seems unfair to blame only the youth, and what seems necessary is a broad effort at cultural rejuvenation that includes dress, food, work, education, and many other areas. Having said that, we still need to look at the specific issue of music and the Western arts. One thing to study is to look at what options the youth have when it comes to cultural and artistic endeavors. Have we not, as adults, in a sense failed them by not carrying on our own traditions? The Western way is present oriented, it exists only in the here and now, like a fad. For living traditions to compete with essentially dead fads, they have to be kept alive by people. We have to find ways to practice our own culture, and in the area of music, if we get out of the rigidity of some schools of thought, there is a tremendous richness of musical arts in the Muslim world, and they are incredibly diverse across cultures. If we outlaw that music, things like qawwali and jaliya, we are in a sense outlawing our own culture, paving the way for youth to fill the gap with what is available, in this case readily provided by the culture industries. So, begin at the local level, the community level, and learn how to produce music, to make it, to create it. The answer to the problem of being only consumers, which is what we are most of the time, is to strive hard to become producers of culture.

Name

Abdel haqq - United Kingdom

Profession

Question

can you give some distinctive qualities to music in the world of Islam and how it differs from other musical traditions.

Answer

I'm glad you asked this, it is a key issue. What makes a particular sound art "Islamic." I have to say that any comments I make on this are indebted to the late scholar of music, Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, who really helped to define an Islamic epistemology of music. Rather than using Western categories of analysis, she developed categories that were descriptive of the sound arts based on Islamic principles and proceeding from the Quran. I would say for a detailed exposition of this, you should consult her articles, most of which were published in the 1980s. But let me make a few general comments. One key feature of Islamic sound arts, and other arts in general, is its abstract quality. This stems from the principle of Tawhid, that Allah is utterly separate from the creation and that he cannot be represented in any way, figure or form. While music is less prone to figural representation than the visual arts, the abstract qualities of Islamic arts are evident in music in the lack of interest Muslims have shown toward music that is descriptive of people, places, things, and how Muslim music tends to be improvisatory and informal. Linked to this abstract quality is the technique of infinite patterning that Muslim sound arts tend to work with short patterns that are repeated over and over, but with slight variations. With respect to form, one could find commonalities in many Muslim musics in that the form tends to be modular, that the idea of a composition in the Western sense is alien, and that pieces of music are assembled from distinctly separable units or modules. These modules are combined and recombined, repeated and varied in myriad ways, which leads to another feature of Muslim musics, the centrality of improvisation. Quranic recitation is improvised, not the words of course, but the way the reciter weaves the words with different melodic phrases. This is never pre-planned, does not really follow a set theory (except in the case of some Western trained reciters), will differ for each recitation of the same Surah. Islamic music, owning to these features, tends to have a never-ending quality to it, and one does not find the linear build up to a climax that one finds in Western music. It ends when it ends, and there is no dynamic build up and psychological manipulation. Muslim musics tend to be monophonic, which means that they follow one melody line, the model being the lone voice reciting the Quran, but the musical cognate would have instruments and voices all following basically the same line, in contradistinction to Western music, which is polyphonic and in which different instruments play different parts that fit together like a puzzle. Vocal music is primary in Islamic culture, from things like Inshad and Madih to devotional songs, but even instrumental music, at its best, takes on qualities of vocal music. These features create what one could say is the unity of Islamic musics, and they proceed from in form from the supreme sound art, Quranic recitation. There are also what one could term regional variations, where the sound arts of cultures prior to Islam are slowly modified and integrated into the Islamic culture. This would create diversity in things like the internals and preferences for melodic fragments, the rhythms and the instruments used, not to mention languages and themes for songs. There is more to say on this, but the above provides a sketch of what could be seen as some distinctive features of Islamic sound arts.

Name

Yusef - Iran

Profession

Question

Salam Dr. Progler, do sound arts and musics have special features to be used for a distinction between haram and halal? Imam Khomeini's fatwa is that one should decide which music is haram for her/him by the way it affects him/her. Can we talk of special features in music and sound arts to affect people in different ways?

Answer

Good question, very subtle. You are thinking deeply about this. Yes, according to some scholars, music effects people "where they are at." This is a sort of Sufi or Irfani way of seeing it. In other words, if your consciousness is at the level of base desires, then music will work on those desires, but if you have a higher consciousness, the same music will have a different impact. This perspective makes it difficult, then, to make a blanket statement for or against music, since, like context, it also depends on the listener. So, for example, Imam Khomeini replied on a question about using musical instruments by saying that it depends on how they are used and by whom. This echoes Imam Ghazali, who made distinctions when talking about music according to three criteria: the place of listening, the time of listening, and companions of listening. This view, given the vagueness of the fiqhi positions on music I noted above, seems to be me to be more amenable to generating culture, to producing culture, to creating culture, which, as we have said earlier, is necessary to counter the incursion of industrialized musics coming from TV and other commodified sources. This is not to say that it is a free for all, that each person makes their own rules. Rather, it is recognition that we are on different stages, and that some people are more spiritually aware and others more base. We can all work on our spirituality, but there seems to be a point at which the tables turn, which things like music pulling downward or pulling upward. This can also help us put music in the same category as things of beauty in general. Music, like the arts, is about beauty. The world is full of beauty, Allah made many beauties for us. Allah made women beautiful to creating a bond between men and women. But beauty is sometimes dangerous, which is why it needs to be treated with respect, why women cover their beauty except in certain circumstances, why overindulgence in other forms of beauty can lead to a dulling of the senses. So, in this context, music needs caution and the listener needs to evaluate their own relationship to things of beauty. I have noticed, by the way, that the more rigid one's interpretation of Islam, the less beautiful the resulting culture becomes, and, in such cultures, women are often treated poorly. So we need to get a handle on this thing called beauty, this gift, and learn to appreciate it in small doses, not repress it, not make it ugly, but appreciate it, respect it, treat it as the gift of our Creator. I like this approach, too, since it is not an easy yes/no or haram/halal kind of thing, but that it requires that one thinks, each and every one of us needs to think, and that, to me, is a good thing. Thanks for a beautiful question!

Name

ibrahim - Albania

Profession

Question

What are the reasons beyond the fact that during long history, muslims didn't develop instrumental music at any direction.

Thank you

Answer

I am not sure if I get this question. Certainly, Muslims have historically developed a rich tradition of instrumental musics. This includes various string instruments and wind instruments, like the lute and the flute. Some of the most beautiful and heart rending sounds one can imagine have been teased out of these simple instruments, and there are still today many accomplished performers, though they are less and have become stars. Perhaps that is part of the problem, it is the death of any living music tradition, instrumental or otherwise, when we turn its performance over to an elite of experts who develop such high standards of performance that others are intimidated from even trying to play. I think that Muslim scholars have frowned upon professional musicians, and there are even some rulings that say their testimony cannot be taken in court. Again, we should reflect on the reasons for this. From a cultural viewpoint, things are more vibrant and likely to survive if more people produce rather than consume. What has happened over the years, is that people have become consumers of music, first music played by experts but now music commodified via electronics. I think a beautiful sung Madih, or pensive melody on a nay, or a thoughtful turn of a tune on an Oud can be timeless in their beauty, and so the issue is not development, but rather maintenance of the beautiful existing traditions.

Name

Sadiq - India

Profession

Question

Salam, I saw in your answers you introduced an article about music in shariah, I wonder if it is in English or some other language, and if there is any English version of it on the net.

Answer

It is in English, but I don't know if it is on the net, but here is the full reference:

Lois Lamya al-Faruqi, "The Shariah on Music and Musicians," published in Islamic Thought and Culture: Papers Presented to the Islamic Studies Group of the American Academic of Religion, edited by Ismail R. al-Faruqi (Herndon, Virginia: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982).

She has other articles, too. Check the journal Ethnomusicology in the late 1980s, I think they published a complete bibliography of her work after her tragic and untimely death. She also has a good chapter on the sound arts in Islam in the book The Cultural Atlas of Islam, co-authored with her husband Ismail al-Faruqi and published by Macmillan in 1986. Hope this helps.

Name

Fatima - United Arab Emirates

Profession

Question

Mostly muslims see music haram, I wonder if there are proves against this belief in the Sirah.

Answer

As I said in an earlier answer, there is no consensus on this question among Muslim scholars. For something to be haram in the legal sense, it has to be clearly forbidden in Qur'an or sunnah. The Qur'an says nothing about music, and the fuqaha usually use analogy to extrapolate from other, broader areas. For instance, the term lahw is often cited in edicts against music, but this is a broad term them means 'diversions' or 'entertainment.' Similarly, one finds laghw used in some cases, but this is broad as well, meaning 'vain talk' or 'false talk.' Certainly some music can be seen as mindless diversion or vain talk, but not all. Add to that the variety of opinions in different schools of thought (the Shiah, for instance, do not rely on analogy as much) and one has what amounts to an unresolved question. The hadith literature is not definitive on this either, and people on both sides of the debate can muster narrations to suite their positions. So the Muslims that are saying music is haram, as a blanket statement, are not looking at all the issues and they are ascribing to a narrow view of Islam. When trying to evaluate this issue, one has to take into consideration the sources one uses, the associations between music and other activities, and the terminology itself. Many of the rulings that say music is haram do so by association, but they are not pertaining music as such, only to music in certain contexts. Similarly, the terminology is not consistent. Music in the Muslim sense is actually a very narrow concept, and the word did not enter the Islamic literature until quite late. If we take music to mean secular sound arts, that leaves a whole array of musical activities that are not secular, things that would be much better termed "sound arts." The supreme sound art of Islam, of course, is recitation of the Qur'an, which can be rendered in quite artistic ways, though never with the trappings of music. Similarly, there are other sounds arts, like the call to prayer, eulogies, recited poetry that stylistically proceed from Quranic recitation. Then one has weddings songs, children's lullabies, military songs, and work songs. After that, if we envision a continuum, we could get to instrumental music, and then finally purely secular songs and singing. So a quick survey like this reveals a myriad of sound arts in the Islamic world, not all of which could be clearly written off as haram. In fact, as I said earlier, the question is more ethical than legal. But if you want a legal ruling, there is a famous one that is often cited in the literature on music, by Mahmoud Shaltoot, who was at the time head scholar of al-Azhar. He ruled that music is permissible on four grounds: 1) Allah created the human being with a tendency toward appreciating the beautiful things in life, one of which is music, and we should learn to appreciate this gift but not abuse it; 2) Islam seeks the golden mean, and in an issue like music, with extremes of for and against, there can be a thoughtful middle ground; 3) Music is permissible in certain contexts, like weddings, and so any condemnation has to take into consideration the context, not just the sound itself; 4) He warned that Muslims should avoid the reckless forbidding of things that Allah did not clearly forbid. You can find a further discussion of this ruling in his collection of fatwas.

Courtesy: www.islamonline.net

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