Big Business, "Muslim Rap"
Posted: 16 Safar 1424, 27 March 2005
When the pagan Makkan army was marching to Badr in 2 A.H., it included not only fighting men, weapons, camels, and horses, but also the means of inciting the fighters: singing-girls and musical instruments. At every rest stop along the way these cheerleaders plied their craft, spitting venom against the Muslims and promising their favors in the most enticing ways to those who would destroy them.
The army had been summoned to protect their trade caravan. When they learnt that the caravan had escaped and some of them wanted to turn back, Abu Jahl insisted on continuing: "No, I will not return to Makkah, until we have refreshed ourselves at Badr, and spent three days in feasting, drinking wine, and listening to the singing and playing of the singing-girls."
In the end, the unequal war in Badr did not turn out to be the picnic he had imagined. Abu Jahl was slain, as were many other prominent leaders of Makkah. The decisive victory at Badr by the ragtag Muslim army remains a constant source of inspiration and education. It changed the course of history, for if Muslims had been defeated, the magnificent Islamic civilization would not have seen the light of day and the jahilyah society would have continued uninterrupted.
At Badr Muslims drastically lacked the weapons of war. But it was the absence of a particular weapon of war that symbolizes the moral edge that gave them the victory. Unlike their adversaries the Muslim army did not include bands of singing-girls and musical instruments!
There is no doubt that such bands could and did stir up emotions. At Uhud, the chant of the singing girls was: "Move forward and we will embrace you. Turn back and we will abandon you." In countless pagan wars before and since, the promise has been the same. It works for the lowly beasts seeking the sensual pleasures of this world, fanning the fires of their basest emotions and bringing out the animal from within them. No wonder battlefields have historically showcased the worst of human behavior and character.
Islam came to rid the humanity of such decay. It produced soldiers who fought to establish justice and morality and sought nothing but the pleasure of Allah. Their weapons were piety, sincerity, fear of Allah, an unshakable commitment to right the wrong, and an unwavering willingness to sacrifice even their lives for it. Quite naturally it removed the filth of singing girls and musical instruments from its side of the war zone.
There were also other uses of music that Islam abolished in its revolutionary remaking of society.
While in other religions music and singing have been an integral part of worship, Islam's acts of worship do not require or permit music. What about the argument that "sacred music" can bring one to a state of ecstasy and union with God? Well, salat brings one closer to Allah. (There are historical accounts of earlier Muslims some of whom reached such a state of absorption that they could not feel even physical pain of surgery during salat.) It is very significant that this closeness is achieved without any "sacred" music.
Music has also been a means of indoctrination and glorification. Trumpets were blown to announce the arrival of His Majesty and to make people bow to his pomp and glory. If this had been a legitimate use, then the person most deserving of this honor would have been no one other than the Prophet . But to a world used to the courts of monarchs with musicians always ready to glorify them, he introduced a drastically different court. No pomp, no musicians, no music.
Historically music has also been associated with magic and superstitions. When faced with disasters or epidemics, pagan people resorted to dance and music to get rid of the evil spirits. The legend of the Pied Piper, popular in the West for centuries, attests to the belief in the magical powers of music. In Arabia singing girls called dajina (from dajana meaning cloudiness) sang to conjure rain when clouds gathered. Islam instead taught its followers to turn to Allah in salatul istasqa to pray for rain.
And of course music has also been used as a distraction and mindless entertainment. This is what Nadr ibn Harith did to keep people from paying attention to the Qur'an. He bought a singing girl and used her to "win the hearts and minds" of anyone who appeared to be leaning to Islam. He was condemned in Surah Luqman (31:6).Islam did permit some singing and use of a simple instrument like duf (a small one-sided drum) for weddings or Eid celebrations. It permitted rajaz singing for jihad. These were exceptions to the general rule. Thus if we draw a graph of music activity in the Muslim world against time, we will find it to be at its lowest during the time of the Prophet and the Khulafa Rashidoon. Its subsequent rise during the Umayyad and Abbasid Khilafah was a result of external influences: Sassanid in Baghdad and the Byzantine in Damascus. The graph went down after the fall of Baghdad and remained low for centuries. Its latest rise came under the influence of the imperial West and began with the conquest of Egypt by Napoleon where Khadieve Ismail (ruled 1863-1876), dedicated to Europeanizing Egypt, built the first opera house in Cairo. Throughout the Muslim world the colonial rulers used gramophone and then radio to spread music far and wide. Then came the television and a plethora of other gadgets, which have made it impossible to find a music-free space anywhere. Today music playing on cell phones even invades the sanctity of the most sacred of all places --- the house of Allah. What is more, many Muslims are convinced they are serving Allah as they try to spread Islam through music. I was struck the other day by stumbling on the following entry on BBC's website: "Muslim rap is big business with annual sales in excess of $1.8bn in America alone." [6 May 2004].
To gain an insight into the colonial project, we can turn to Henry G. Farmer (1882-1965), the author of many books on Arabian music and the dean of the music-in-Islam-crusade. Here is one bit of "wisdom" from him: Islamic censure of listening to music was manufactured by the theologians of the Abbasid era who were jealous of the inordinate attention paid to music and musicians!Those who are not convinced by this "scholarly" explanation need to do something to end the delusion and stop the profane noise.