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Music News: Muslim parents, have a little faith in music

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  • Zafar Khan
    Muslim parents, have a little faith in music Saudi and Salafi-influenced parents who withdraw children from music lessons should value the unifying power of a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2010
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      Muslim parents, have a little faith in music
      Saudi and Salafi-influenced parents who withdraw children from music lessons should value the unifying power of a good song

      Inayat Bunglawala
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 July 2010 10.00 BST


      I adored my first hand-held transistor radio. It was 1981 and the regular Radio 1 playlist at the time included, from memory, Tainted Love by Soft Cell, Happy Birthday by Altered Images (featuring the very lovely Clare Grogan) and, erm, Wired for Sound by Cliff Richard.

      On Tuesdays at lunchtime, together with some school friends, we would listen to the countdown by Dave Lee Travis of the week's new top five bestselling singles. Not long after that another friend clearly took pity on me and introduced me to the music of Pink Floyd and more crucially, the guitar-work of David Gilmour.

      I mention this because the main headline story with which BBC London News kicked off their programme yesterday was a report that in a south London primary school some Muslim parents had withdrawn their kids from music lessons because they believed that playing musical instruments was against the teachings of their faith.

      A headteacher was shown as saying that "18 or 22" children had been withdrawn from certain sessions, but admitted that at the moment there is only "one child who is withdrawn continually from the music curriculum".

      A look at other news reports, including this one from the London Evening Standard, provides the key additional detail that the 20 or so children from the very same school that BBC London had been referring to had actually been withdrawn from rehearsals for a Christmas musical. It was context which one would have thought was perhaps relevant to the BBC story, but which they appeared to have chosen to omit. So, just to recap: the editors of BBC London News decided that in our capital city, with its doubling of shooting incidents in the past year and multitudinous social issues, the single most important news story that day was that one child had been withdrawn from music lessons in a primary school on religious grounds.

      To be fair, BBC London clearly must have felt that this was a more widespread issue, and when they asked a spokesperson at the Muslim Council of Britain about it he provided a "guesstimate" that perhaps 10% of Muslim parents similarly viewed playing musical instruments, stringed instruments in particular, as being forbidden by their faith.

      The more vocal critics of the playing of stringed instruments tend to be Saudi or Salafi-influenced and associate those instruments (not always unreasonably, I should add, after having just read Slash's autobiography) with lewdness and bad behaviour. They also point to an alleged saying of the Prophet Muhammad where he warned against the playing of stringed instruments.

      After Cat Stevens converted to the religion in 1977 and adopted the name Yusuf Islam, he stopped playing his guitar. Over 20 years later, when he later went back to the recording studios, he faced criticism from some Muslims but explained his reasons for picking up the guitar again. In a six-page response to his critics, Yusuf Islam argued that:

      "The language of song is simply the best way to communicate. I feel gifted to have that ability still within me. I never wanted to get involved in politics because that essentially separates people, whereas music has the power to unify, and is so much easier for me than to give a lecture. You can argue with a philosopher, but you can't argue with a good song. And I think I've got a few good songs."

      I recall a few years ago watching Yusuf Islam play his guitar on stage at the ExCel centre in Docklands. The event was broadcast live on the Islam Channel. After Yusuf Islam came off stage, on came a big-bearded chap who proceeded to loudly berate the organisers for allowing the "un-Islamic" guitar to be played at their event. If only he knew what else many of the young Muslim kids in the audience had on their iPods ...

      The majority of Islamic scholars, however, have taken a more nuanced view and have recognised that, as with most things, music can be utilised for good as well as bad ends. And just in case you aren't convinced by that, do have a listen, if you haven't already done so, to David Gilmour's guitar playing on Comfortably Numb at Earls Court back in 1994 and tell me with a straight face that your spirit wasn't transported to the very heavens.

      Muslim pupils taken out of music lessons 'because Islam forbids playing an instrument'


      Hit Malaysian TV talent show stars Muslim scholars
      By M. Jegathesan (AFP) – 1 day ago


      KUALA LUMPUR — Like the stars of smash-hit television talent shows around the world, the eight young men in sharp black suits and matching skullcaps draw adoring fans and dreams of marriage.
      But instead of singing or dancing, they hit the prime-time stage to recite verses from Islam's Holy book, the Koran, wash corpses for Muslim burial and try to woo young Malaysians away from illicit sex and drugs.
      The prize for the winner of the Malaysian show "Young Imam" is not the chance of global fame and fortune but a trip to Mecca to perform the haj, a scholarship to the al-Madinah University in Saudi Arabia and a job at a mosque.
      All the contestants, however, win the attention of young women and prospective mothers-in-law.
      "For Muslims, the young imams are ideal sons-in-law because they are professionals and have good knowledge of Islam," said Izelan Basar, channel manager with cable network Astro Oasis which is broadcasting the programme.
      Following the formula made popular through shows such as "American Idol" in the US and "The X Factor" in Britain, a contestant is knocked off the show each week -- two of the original 10 have already gone.
      The contest also provides the same emotion when a contestant is booted off, with hugs and tears from the survivors.
      The 10-week series has sparked wide public reaction and has taken social networking giant Facebook by storm as fans post comments in support of the contestants and the programme.
      "Wow, it was great to see "Young Imam" participants being regarded as stars. Fans were taking photos of them. Mothers were not shy to offer their daughters," said a posting last week.
      Imams play a broad role in Muslim society, leading prayers at the mosque and counselling troubled individuals. The contestants include a cleric, a businessman, a student, a farmer and a banker.
      The show is a "landmark programme with a refreshing approach to Islam", said media commentator Azman Ujang.
      "An imam is usually linked with someone old. But here we have young personalities. It gives a vibrant look to Islam at a time when the community is facing so many social ills," he said.
      The programme comes against a backround of concern among Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities over rising "Islamisation" of the country and fear that tolerance towards Christians, Hindus and others is diminishing.
      A simmering row over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims saw attacks on 11 churches and the dumping of the severed heads of pigs at two mosques in January.
      In February, three women were caned for having sex out of wedlock, the first such punishment under Islamic law in Malaysia.
      A total of 1,134 candidates applied to join the show but only 10 were picked, based on their personality and Islamic knowledge. Each week they face written and practical tests on the religion.
      The young imams have bathed and buried an unclaimed body, followed religious enforcement officials to nab Muslims who indulge in illicit sex, and counselled illegal motocycle racers.
      The sole judge who wields the weekly axe is a former grand imam of the national mosque, Hasan Mahmood, who said the young imams have a duty to safeguard Islam and teach Muslims to live harmoniously with other faiths.
      "They are going to become good role models. We will use them to fight social and moral decadence affecting Muslims, like free sex and drugs," he said.
      "What is the use of us achieving rapid economic growth and having dazzling skyscrapers when the society is sick?"
      For the duration of the show, the contestants, who are aged between 18 and 27, are quarantined at a mosque dormitory and banned from using phones, the Internet and television so they focus on their religion.
      Ahmad Hazran, 26, a banker who quit his job to participate in the show, said he was thrilled to learn to handle dead bodies and engage with the young and illegal motorcycle racers.
      "I prefer to work with the young people. We cannot use force to change wrongdoers. We have to mix with them and guide them to the right path," he said.
      Khairul Azhar, a 20 year old graduate student said he was excited that women had expressed a desire to marry the contestants.
      "Yes I have heard about it. I think I can be a good husband and a responsible father," he said.
      "I oppose violence. Terrorism is not a character of Islam. I want to help create a peaceful Malaysia," he said.

      Hideously diverse Britain: in tune with the Rock'n'roll Jihadi
      Asian musician Salman Ahmad has an alternative to extremism: the power of rock'n'roll

      Hugh Muir
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 27 May 2010 23.00 BS


      I'm not a fan of Eminem, but I have always liked the video that shows Bin Laden surrendering in a riot of boisterous dancing. Makes me laugh. If only.

      Yet here I am with musician Salman Ahmad, the first Muslim rock star, and he's telling me that rock'n'roll could indeed be effectively deployed against Bin Laden. More accurately, he says the spirit of rock'n'roll could be deployed to counter the extremist mindset. We attribute quite a few social changes to rock. But this is a big ask.

      Ahmad's nickname, the Rock'n'roll Jihadi, is born of facets of his identity that appear to clash but, he says, fit together more than nicely. Yes, he is a devout Muslim. He knows the Qur'an forwards and backwards. What it says, and crucially, he insists, what it means. But yes, he is also a guitar hero, larger than life today in sharp-brimmed hat, grey topcoat and wraparound shades.

      His lyrics may be poetic, of love and devotion and Allah, but the sound? Think Led Zeppelin, think Van Halen. The conservative imams don't like it, but as he tells it, supported by album sales of 30m, young people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are partial to a bit of headbanging. It's a problem for the conservatives. For him, it's an opportunity. "Rock'n'roll is symbol of people coming together," he says. "It has a dark side. Look at Keith Moon, Janis Joplin. But there is also a positive side, of joy and unity. I realised that the first time I saw Led Zeppelin."

      Ahmad, aka the King of Pakistani Rock, has a book to plug (Rock & Roll Jihad: a Muslim Rock Star's Revolution) and he has been gigging here, sort of, chaperoned by the Quilliam Foundation, which works to address extremism. The stops have been mosques and universities, groupings of Muslim professionals, a briefing at Chatham House. It's been fascinating, he says. In the US, broadly speaking, Muslim communities are integrated and relatively successful. Here, there are troubling questions of identity. They are doing OK, he concludes; trying to live and thrive just like everyone else. But there are issues, no doubt, and a wise man is never complacent. "The thing is that a terrorist can become a rock star overnight," he says ruefully. "They don't even have to be successful."

      Salman Ahmad: Rock against extremism
      The 'Muslim Bono', is in the UK with a striking message: make music, not war

      By Jerome Taylor
      Monday, 24 May 2010


      There aren't many rock stars out there who have sold 30 million albums but can still walk the streets of London in obscurity. But then Salman Ahmad is no ordinary musician. Chances are most people in the West won't have heard of his group Junoon. Yet across the South Asian subcontinent, Ahmad's band is legendary.

      Over the past two decades Junoon have played to millions of adoring fans across Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in an area of the world where western music is often greeted with outright hostility among conservatives.

      Nowhere is this more true than in Pakistan where Junoon was formed. As legions of Saudi-trained scholars took over Pakistan's madrasas, teaching their students how all forms of art other than the recitation of the Qur'an is haram [forbidden], Junoon's popularity has stood out as one of many examples of how the Pakistani love affair with art continues unabated.

      Ahmad, the band's founder and guitarist, could have opted for the life of your average rock star, watching the royalties pile up. Instead he has become a vociferous critic of Muslim extremists who have little issue with assassinating Islamic scholars, let alone musicians.

      The 46-year-old is in Britain to try to hammer home an important message as part of a tour to promote his new biography, Rock'n'Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock star's Revolution. He wants Muslims and non-Muslims alike to stand up for the rights of artists in areas of the world where intolerant strands of religious dogma threaten to wipe away centuries of Islamic culture.

      Among British Muslims the same arguments abound over what is permissible. One of the reasons rap is popular among a section of young Muslim artists, for instance, is because hip-hop can get around those interpretations of Islam that condemn singing.

      But Ahmad wants to tell British Muslims that all forms of music are permitted as long as the message is pure. Last week he travelled to Oxford to speak to the university's union for Pakistani students. On graduation, many of them will eventually return to Pakistan and will have a sizeable say in the country's direction.

      Ahmad is holding meetings with a group of influential Muslim bankers as well as touring some London mosques. He is also scheduled to play music at a mosque in Stratford which is run by Minhaj ul Qur'an, a prominent Pakistani Sufi organisation whose leader, Sheikh Tahir ul-Qadri, recently released a fatwa condemning all terrorism and suicide bombings.

      "For the last 1,400 years there have been so many rich contributions towards culture from the Muslim community," said Ahmad who, with his ponytail, sunglasses and tunic looks like a Muslim version of Bono or Jimmy Page. "And yet I have always had to confront this minority view, from extremely conservative mullahs, who believe that music is haram."

      In a world where the so-called "war on terror" is all too often fought with air strikes, the suggestion that art could somehow help turn the tide against militancy might seem whimsical. But people like Ahmad, himself a practising Muslim, and the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank made up of former Islamist extremists, believe that these "soft" approaches to countering violent Islamism play as vital a role in confronting intolerance.

      "What extremists fear – and this is what arts have the power to do – is the opening up of people's minds," says Ahmad. "For people who want to control the social agenda, culture is a threat. When you look at Pakistan, 100 million of the 150 million people there are under the age of 18. The extremists know that and that's their target market. I remember once an imam told me ,'If thousands of kids started going to rock concerts, who would come to my khutbahs [sermons]?'"

      For those who might think that Junoon is simply a western secular rock product foisted on Pakistan, think again. Their music is a blend of Led Zeppelin-esque rock, South Asian drum beats and Sufi poetry. The sex and drugs elements of rock'n'roll don't get a look in with Junoon's lyrics, which are closely aligned to the Qawwali devotional songs sung by mystic Sufis – songs that revolve around Allah's love for all things.

      It was as a teen while living in New York that Ahmad first fell in love with rock'n'roll. After telling his parents that he wanted to become a rock star, the 18-year-old Ahmad was plucked out of high school and sent to study medicine back in Lahore. He arrived back in Pakistan in 1981 as the country's military dictator, General Zia ul-Haq, was overseeing its Islam- ification, turning the nation away from its tolerant Sufi roots and steering it towards a Saudi-inspired religious society of austerity, intolerance and militant zeal. It probably wasn't the best atmosphere in which start up a rock band but Ahmad and his university friends were determined. "We organised a secret talent contest in the basement of a hotel," he said. "Anyone could come along."

      Ahmad had been practising Eddie Van Halen's famously complex guitar solo "Eruption" and as he let rip on stage the screaming began. Youth members of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic party which was initially a favourite of the Zia regime, had found out about the meeting and stormed into the room. As the women were covered up, one of the cadres went to work on Ahmad's guitar. "They completely Pete Townsended it," he said.

      Ahmad went on to become Pakistan's most recognisable rock stars despite heavy resistance from militant clerics. "This extremist view decides, well if the West has it [music], we can't," Ahmad says. "They say that, because you wear jeans, or a ponytail, you must be westernised and therefore not a good Muslim. The way to counter that kind of debate is to to say, 'Hang on a minute; there were Muslims who had long hair 1,000 years ago, playing the oud [lute]. They were devout."

      Since 11 September the band has been courted by the international community as some sort of interfaith flag bearers. They are more likely to rock diplomats at the UN Security Council than hordes of screaming fans in Delhi's Nehru Stadium, but that is something Ahmad is willing to countenance if it means he can show the world a different side to Islam.

      "A terrorist is given centre stage on front page news every day," he says. "Those trying to do good in the Muslim world have a very limited voice."

      Last month the band were asked to play a gig in New York's Times Square for Earthday. A week later, Faisal Shazhad, a 30-year-old Pakistani-American, is said to have parked an SUV laden with explosives in Times Square in a failed bombing which the Pakistani Taliban have since claimed. "The extremist doesn't even have successfully to detonate a bomb and he's an overnight rock star. Morons are being treated like heroes, which really pisses me off," says Ahmad.

      What the world needs to do, he says, is be brave enough to confront extremism. "In a darkened room a piece of rope looks like a snake, doesn't it?" he asks. "But when you turn the lights on you see it's just a piece of rope. We need to turn the lights on."

      Staying cool — and Islamic — on 'Boiling Point'
      Web radio station based in Irvine takes on subjects that are usually taboo. Plans are in the works for a 'Muslim Loveline.'
      May 20, 2010|By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times


      As jazzy music played overhead, radio hosts Amir Mertaban and Mohamad Ahmad chatted casually with their guest, Isaac Yerushalmi, setting a relaxed mood.

      The show could have dissolved into a heated argument between two Muslims and a Jew, but in the inaugural run of "Boiling Point" on what's billed as the nation's first Muslim talk radio station, Mertaban was absorbed with more mundane matters.

      Still wearing his burgundy Fairplex shirt from his day job as a manager for the Los Angeles County Fair, Mertaban looked over the show's introduction. He glanced at Yerushalmi's biography and a few reminders he had jotted down.

      "OK, I can't use the word 'freakin,' " he said to no one in particular.

      In the control room, Nour Mattar, one of the founders of One Legacy Radio, clicked off some of the banned words. "I mean we're cool, but we still have Islamic character and morals, especially we have a lot of kids, 16, 17, listening in. We don't want them to think this is OK."

      The hosts of "Boiling Point" — a show that purports to take "taboo topics to the boiling point" — are allowed one "What the heck" a show, said Ahmad, a UCLA law school graduate.

      One Legacy Radio is an online broadcast that officially launched on http://www.onelegacyradio.com in November from a nondescript studio in an office park off the 5 Freeway in Irvine with four weekly shows. Its three founders — Muslims in their late 20s and early 30s who grew up in Britain and the United States — have slowly increased the station's programming while trying to strike a balance between religious sensibilities and a more edgy, youth-driven conversation.

      Although some of the programming is conventional, such as a show about converts and one devoted to parenting, "Boiling Point" and the religiously challenging "Face the Faith" are more provocative. The station owners are even working on a Muslim version of "Loveline," the often sexually charged syndicated, call-in show.

      It's an area the American Muslim media largely avoids and one the station owners' parents have shied away from or deemed un-Islamic.

      "One Legacy is the fingerprint of the young Muslim ummah (community), it basically personifies the kind of ummah that we have right now," said Yasmin Bhuj, 31, a founder and marketing director who is married to Mattar. "If the generation before us did a radio station, it would be unrecognizable to what One Legacy is."

      Reviving Afghan music


      It was illegal to listen to or compose music in Afghanistan just a decade ago.

      But a new generation is now being taught to embrace the art.

      The new National Institute of Music aims to revive long-neglected musical traditions and to perhaps one day create the country's first symphony orchestra.

      AL Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid reports from Kabul, the Afghan capital.
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