Music and Islam


I’m a big fan of Tariq Ramadan who has done a commendable job of incorporating his very Western personality into his Islamic way of life and I have often quoted him here at Miscellany101.wordpress.com.   He wrote a piece indirectly about music, more directly about Yousuf Islam and there are several points he made that resonated with me which I wanted to share here.

For Muslim women and men around the world, his story embodies a powerful lesson. We hear of “Islamic chants” (anacheeds) that are supposedly “Islamic” because they express religious themes, or because they employ no instruments, or because they are based on traditional or Qur’anic texts. In this light, only such chants are permissible (halal) in Islam, the only form of creativity recognized. There are indeed scholars who hold such a position, but it is far from unanimous. In To Be a European Muslim (written in 1996) I dealt with these views and took a clear position on music in Islam. Not only is it permitted, but Muslim women and men must also reconcile themselves with art, with creativity, and with the imagination in all its dimensions. Guided by their ethical bearings, they must not allow themselves to be enchained by the adjective “Islamic” that ends up isolating them, suffocating them, and depriving them of their creative energy in the universe of art, of music, painting, sculpture and literature. Muslims are constantly justifying themselves; they feel obliged to describe everything as “Islamic” to satisfy and to conform to the norm. But our ethical concerns must not force upon us an obsession with the norms of “licit” and “illicit” (halal and haram).

Seen in this light, any song, any form of artistic expression that celebrates humanity, love, justice, the quest for meaning, and peace is, in fact, in full conformity with Muslim ethics and needs no further qualifiers. Meaning, hopes and human edification are to be felt and to be lived; they have no need of a normative framework that bridles and ultimately annihilates them. The expression of ultimate ethical causes in art transcends the narrow limitations of specific ways of belonging, and brings together the universal quality of all that is most precious to humans, who can feel themselves uplifted, broadened, vibrating, becoming more human, more peaceful; who can feel themselves being regenerated by a voice, a hand, a pen or a brush. Music can be a prayer, a painting a path, a song a story: as long as art speaks to mankind of its heart, its wounds, its hopes, tears, smiles and aspirations, it forms the universal language of humankind and can bring about by way of imagination, emotion and the heart what no dialogue of reason or of civilizations can hope to offer.

Advertisements

Celebrityhood and Michael Jackson


michaelIt’s said it takes a village to raise, educate, give meaning to a child; it also takes a village to do the same thing to raise, educate, give meaning to an idiot.  The village idiot was Michael Jackson.  I remember the young man when he was a part of the Jackson 5 and even went to see his act when it came to my local concert venue back in the late 60s.  It was good music at the time, but it was just that, music, without the Michael Jackson persona and I could take it or leave it.

Somewhere along the time continuum that changed so that it became all about Michael Jackson, “it” being entertainment and music, and he took on a god-like dimension he didn’t deserve, was not prepared for and which doomed him to this inevitable conclusion.  Along the way, from that late 60’s concert to 40 years later, the public imbued Jackson with powers and qualities he didn’t possess, so like most every one else who preceded him, he did  what was necessary to live up to the standards of an idolizing public, even if that sealed his doom.  Why we wanted him to come to this conclusion in order to satisfy our desire  for celebrity worship is beyond me, but it was our attitude that killed him just as much as the alleged pain killers he took to perform in order to meet our expectations.

It is the sign of the times that the public is much more interested in celebrity than in substance.  In the case of music, groups are destroyed by solo careers  where a stand out member of a famous group decides to leave it and go solo for reasons of personal gratification and  material enrichment.  The result is that person becomes the focal point of our idolatry and thrives or dies by it according to how well grounded they may be.  Michael wasn’t well grounded.  Weren’t the signs there very early on?  Changing his physical appearance so drastically, behavior that was suspect at best, predatory or criminal at worse?  Yet we still have people eulogizing him today as their soul mate and dearest companion.

A day or two before Jackson’s death, Farrah Fawcett died with the same adulation from a sycophantic nation and swooning press, suffering from a disease whose cause and treatment deserve far more attention than what Farrah got.  The public’s obsession with personality is what drives those personalities to superhuman acts of inhuman imperfection.  Jackson couldn’t look any better than he was created, but in his attempts to perfect himself he became hideous and subhuman.  Still we cheered.  Why?  The record moguls knew what was wrong with Jackson and yet he was promoted as a pop “icon” and still we cheered.  And now he’s dead.

Quite frankly the solution is this: when aberrant behavior is clearly demonstrated it should not be the cause for overwhelming adulation on the part of an informed public.  We should demand more from people who govern, entertain and inform us; if we don’t we get wars of aggression, disinformation or lies  and people who die a premature death because we both cheered and looked the other way.  They are our village idiots and we deserve one another.

Levi Stubbs-RIP


The Four Tops lead singer passed away Friday, 17 October.