Jul 28, 2011

Posted by in Articles | 1,104 Comments


In the January issue of Stanmore Senior Citizens’ Forum, your heading “Music is Haraam”, leading to the citation of two hadiths against some musical instruments, namely, mazameer (wind), ma’azif (percussion) and awataar (strings), and identifying the strings as among the “kabaa’er” (major sins), is an attempt to sweep everything remotely connected to music under the proverbial rug of haraam.

Then there is a list of 18 kabaa’er attributed to Imam Sadiq (pbuh) and I see no reference to string musical instruments or music generally. Perhaps there is a bigger list of kabaa’er that has been kept in secret and its contents are meant to be released for public consumption as and when needed – you know what I mean, just to keep the Khoja populace under leash so that they do not stray away from “the right path”.

Somewhere and for some reason, there is a dysfunctional attitude about music in the Khoja community that is quite contrary to what prevails in the Muslim community at large. Music is alive and flourishing in the Muslim world. And I am not talking about the Sunni world alone. A few years ago some Canadian Khojas visitedIranand were astonished to report back that music was alive and well in the Islamic Republic of Iran as one heard it on the airwaves and everywhere.

The dysfunctional attitudes towards music bring about hypocrisy and let us examine how that is.

Music, one of the oldest arts, is basically sound arranged into pleasing or interesting patterns. Music is expressed vocally (by singing) or by instrumentation. Music plays an important part in all cultures, the ignorance of Khojas notwithstanding. People use music in ceremonies, in work and in personal and social activities. Music is also used successfully for curative purposes. Therefore, various instruments, whether listed under the category of kabaa’er or not, are merely a means to an end and not an end unto themselves.

Historian Albert Hourani in his book A History of the Arab People talks about evolution of music in the Arab (as well as Arab/Islamic) culture. He writes: ”Since music was handed on by direct transmission, there are virtually no records of what was played or sung until later centuries, but something can be learnt from the works of writers on musical theory. In accordance with the Greek thinkers, Muslim philosophers looked on music as one of the sciences: the ordering of sounds could be explained according to mathematical principles………because they thought of sounds as being echoes of the music of the spheres: of those celestial movements which gave rise to all movements in the world beneath the moon. In addition to their philosophical speculations, such works on music as those of Ibn Sina give details about styles of composition and performance and about instruments: stringed instruments both plucked and bowed, flutes, percussion…” Hourani adds: “All strata of society, in desert, countryside and city, had their music for important occasions: war and harvest, work and marriage. Each region had its own traditions, its songs sung unaccompanied or accompanied on drums, reed-pipes, or one-stringed fiddles; some occasions were celebrated too with dances, performed not by professional dancers but by men or women in lines or groups.”

Hourani looks at the music’s impact on observance of religiosity: “Court music was associated with the worldliness of court life, and the music of the people, too, might be an accompaniment of worldly celebrations. The men of religion disapproved of it, but they could not condemn music altogether, since it soon came to play a part in religious practice: the call to prayer had its own rhythm, the Qur’an was chanted in formal ways, and the dhikr, the solemn ritual of repetition of the name of God, was accompanied by music, and even by bodily movements, in some of the Sufi brotherhoods.”

Albert Hourani reflects, which reflections we Khojas must take to heed before we make our sweeping statement that “Music is Haraam”, as he concludes:” It was important for those writing within the legal tradition (that is, the religious element) to define the conditions on which performing and listening to music were permitted. In a famous section of the Ibya ‘ulum al-din’ Ghazali recognized the power of music over the human heart: ‘There is no entry into the heart except through the antechambers of the ears. Musical tones, measured and pleasing, bring forth what is in the heart and make evident its beauties and defects…. whenever the soul of the music and singing teaches the hearts, then there stirs in the heart the heart that which preponderates in it’. ”

Ghazali may not be scientifically right in his assertion, but he was correct in pronouncing the effect of musical tones in conveying the effect to our heart (emotions). During the first 10 days of this past Muharram, most of us experienced the feelings when we heard a beautiful and moving rendition of Marshia of Imam Hussayn’s plight in Kerbala.

We Khojas live in a culture of intellectual acquiescence. We never think for ourselves, particularly in matters that have even a slightest tint of religiosity. And in such climate of intellectual uncertainty, we let the doomsday sayers in, warning us about the wrath of God that would befall us if we do certain things. The whole community unquestionably acquiesces.

There is another culture that is rampant among the Khojas. It is the culture of Majalis. We love Majalis. It’s our best entertainment. We must have someone giving a speech, telling us how to lead our lives, what to do and what not to do. And if we don’t have some one capable of telling us what to do, we get a substitute to read to us from a book. Like a drug addict, we got to have our fix!

Even our celebratory events are not spared. Look at the boredoms of our weddings! There are speeches galore telling the groom and bride (who remains in physical abstentia) how to lead a proper married life. Can this not be done in privacy? Can the rest of us not be spared with such boredom? Then the Mullah must also weigh-in his two cents’ worth in the process and he must talk for at least a half-hour. In the modern day communication, we haven’t yet learnt to say things in 30 seconds.

Then the MC would relate to the guests the resume of the bride and groom, their qualifications, and so on, as if they are looking for a job or two. And finally, to add salt to the injury, someone is asked to narrate some Urdu Shairies. Are shairies part of our culture? Do we have shairies at home? When we meet among friends, do we entertain each other with the rendition of shairies? If not, why in heavens name do you have to have one at your family wedding? You know, a little bit of music would really liven up the proceedings and we won’t have to fill the time with things that are mundane.

So those of you who believe that music is haraam, I would like to urge you continue with your zeal, be puritanical and stop being a hypocrite. Here’s what further action you should be taking in ridding yourselves of this terrible “evil and sin”

  •  Stop recitation of Nahwas and Marshias in your mosque or private gatherings (singing is another expression of music);
  • Stop rendition of the Holy Qur’an in singing tones – make the recital dull and mono tonal;
  •  Stop Matam-e-Hussayn (dancing, singing and beating of the chest in a rhythmical fashion – remember, “percussion is a mortal sin”);
  • Stop the rendition of Call to Prayer (singing), utterance of Kalema in a singing mode (when we take our deceased to the graveyard);
  •  Stop all ceremonial rituals that are sung to evoke emotions: duas, ziarats, salaams, etc. The next time your cellular telephone rings in the midst of Namaz-e-Jamaat or during a Majalis, you are not only rude, inconsiderate and self-centred, but you also committed a major sin because the telephone ring is a series of musical tones;
  •  Change your door bell and many other aspects of your life which is inundated with music – in other words, stop living; And next time you send me an invitation to your children’s wedding, make sure you enclose 10 pounds (or C$25.00 for my Canadian Khojas) for wasting a few hours of my precious time (in my old age, time is a precious commodity) in utter boredom (our funerals are more interesting);
  •  And finally, when you are dead and should you hear the sound of a trumpet that is meant to wake you up from your deep sleep (Surah 36:51), don’t wake up because “Music is Haraam”.

And where do I stand personally on this issue? I hate to tell you, folks, but I love music. In my old age, I prefer to listen to Classical but occasionally I enjoy Jazz and even dive into Pop and Rock’n Roll. And if the beat is compelling, I stand up and dance, helping the aging muscles remain toned and let the circulation flow in my old veins and keep the ticker ticking. Remember, hypocrisy is one of the kabaa’er – the worst one!

  1. Salimbhai,

    Do you wish to be a martyr ?

    Best regards.


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