Islam and Music: Berber Singers Test Limits of Post-Revolution Arab States
- Berber Singers Test Limits of Post-Revolution Arab States
By Salma El Wardany and Caroline Alexander Mar 4, 2014 10:38 AM GMT
A month after Muammar Qaddafi’s regime collapsed, Dania Ben Sasi swept onto a makeshift stage in the west Libyan town of Zuwara and filled its streets with songs in a Berber dialect that had been banned for more than 40 years.
“I was shaking and had tears in my eyes,” said 25-year-old Ben Sasi. “The moment was bigger than all of us, it was like I was born again, it was the rebirth of me, my hometown and the whole Amazigh people of Libya.”
The indigenous people of North Africa, known as Berbers or Amazigh, have been oppressed by regimes viewing their language and culture as a threat to Arab-Islamic identity. The 2011 uprisings galvanized the campaign for equal rights, with musicians in the forefront. It’s another test for nations struggling to reconcile the forces, from political Islam to youth activism, unleashed by the Arab Spring.
“The Amazigh have managed to raise serious questions about the nature of the state and the community,” said Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, author of The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States. “These are fundamental issues that speak to the ability of these states to create viable societies that can function in the modern world.”
Arab tribes that swept through North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries tried to convert the Amazigh to Islam from an attachment to ancient polytheism, Christianity and Judaism. While meeting fierce resistance from the warrior Queen Dhyia, who burned fields and orchards to deny fertile lands to the invaders, the Arabs succeeded. The term Amazigh, meaning Free Men, survived as a rare reminder of their past.
Today, there are at least 25 million speakers of dialects of the Amazigh language, which is called Tamazight and until very recently was almost exclusively oral. They are estimated by Maddy-Weitzman and other researchers to represent about 40-45 percent of the population in Morocco, 20-25 percent in Algeria, 8–9 percent in Libya and 1 percent in Tunisia. There are communities as far west as the Canary Islands, and in sub-Saharan countries such as Burkino Faso.
Music is at the center of the culture and singers have become more active since 2011 with an explosion of festivals and concerts around the world, according to Jamal Bahmad, a researcher at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
“The growth of protest culture brought more attention to Amazigh singers and encouraged them to sing about the hopes and frustrations of their people,” he said.
Ben Sasi was born in Serbia. Her father left Libya in 1983 after being detained by Qaddafi, who referred to Tamazight as poison. Amazigh can now raise their flag and celebrate their new year but there’s much more to do, she said.
“We want our rights to be guaranteed by the Libyan constitution, and our identity and the language to be included in it,” she said.
“Language is the rallying force behind the whole movement, the core value on which the Amazigh hope to revive their legacy,” according to Mohammed Errihani, who writes about language policy in Morocco.
Morocco, where King Mohammed VI’s mother is Amazigh, is where the movement has scored its biggest gains. In 2011, Morocco became the first North African state to make Tamazight an official language, along with Arabic. It was the cumulation of changes spurred by decades of rallies and pressure from activists, who often faced jail for their efforts.
In Algeria, the heartland of Amazigh activism, its confrontation with the state has been bloodier. The assassination of singer Lounes Matoub in 1998 led to riots, and violent clashes between activists and security forces were common. Another musician, Idir, once said that singing in Berber was a militant act.
While the campaign did lead to the acknowledgment of Amazigh as a component of Algerian identity in 2001, “things are now stuck,” said Maddy-Weitzman.
In Tunisia, rappers Hamada and Abdel Haq Al Zarwi are helping give a voice to the local Amazigh community, who were ignored in the constitution negotiated between Islamists and secularists this year.
“We became strangers in our own country,” they say in their song Tegrawla Revolution.
“The Amazigh advocacy discourse is at different stages of development, depending which country you are talking about -- but it’s evolving and fast,” said Meryam Demnati, a member of Morocco’s Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture. The country to watch is Libya, she says, where efforts are under way to set up a panel to draft a constitution.
Libyan Amazigh, centered near oil installations in the west, say transitional institutions have already rejected them, though they have managed to organize the teaching of Tamazight in schools and set up newspapers.
“When we asked visiting Libyan Amazigh what would they do if the constitution doesn’t recognize the culture, they replied ‘We have weapons,’” Demnati said.
One of the songs Ben Sasi sang that night in Zuwara, Agrawli Itri Nnegh or The Rebel is Our Star, is a homage to Amazigh fighters who helped overthrow Qaddafi. Another, Numidia, is a reference to the ancient Amazigh homeland -- an abstract idea since few seek to redraw national borders despite increasing solidarity, according to Maddy-Weitzman.
“The Amazigh culture was deep inside of my heart, and the words were imprisoned inside me until the revolution,” Ben Sasi said. “We still have a long road to freedom.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Caroline Alexander in London at calexander1@...; Salma El Wardany in Cairo at selwardany@...
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@...
Justice is served: Katy Perry's Muslim-offending music video edited following worldwide petition
Published March 2nd, 2014 - 09:56 GMT via SyndiGate.info
The video for pop star Katy Perry’s new single Dark Horse has been edited after criticisms that it was offensive to Muslims.
The video, officially released on 20 February, has had over 47 million views on YouTube so far. The video deploys a cartoonish pharaonic theme which sees the popstar posing as an Egyptian queen.
In one scene, a suitor wearing a pendant with the Arabic word for God on it is struck by lightning and turned to sand.
The video has now been altered to obscure the word Allah from the pendant.
No official statement has been issued by Perry or by the production company Capitol Records regarding the editing of the video.
An online petition demanding the video’s removal had been gathering steam before the edits were made.
The organiser of the petition, Shazad Iqbal from the United Kingdom, accused the videomakers of blasphemy.
“Blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry (who appears to be representing an opposition of God) engulfs the believer and the word God in flames,” he said, adding that “using the name of God in an irrelevant and distasteful manner would be considered inappropriate by any religion.”
The petition has more than 65,000 signatures from around the world. Some of the petitioners point ironically to a past tweet in 2010 by Perry that reads “using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”
“All I was trying to do is just give a very beautiful performance about a place that I have so much love for,” Perry told GQ magazine about the video recently, “and that was exactly where I was coming from, with no other thought besides it.”
Some of the petitioners, however, insist that Perry’s intention was to offend. "[I am] absolutely disgusted at the music industry for allowing this to happen, music should be about spreading love not hate," commented Bilal Khan on the petition site.
Another supporter of the petition, Sadaqat Ali, comments: "This is highly insulting and is provocative and needs action."
Other online reactions have criticised the petitioners.
One commenter on the petition site, Nick Brooks, writes with apparent sarcasm: "This has definitely been done deliberately, there's no way this could be a simple oversight by the person doing the costumes for this video. It cannot possibly be the case that this person just picked out the necklace because it looked nice for the video. This person will of course be an expert on what the name of Allah looks like in Arabic - this is basic training for people who select jewellery for use in pop music videos."
This is not the first time Perry has come under fire for the way she uses symbols of other cultures in her work. Her Japanese-themed performance of her song Unconditionally at the American Music Awards in November, in which she dressed as a geisha, saw her criticised for misappropriating Japanese culture.
Discovering music in a 16th century Delhi shrine 0
GREG MIDDLETON, MERIDIAN WRITERS' GROUP
FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, MARCH 25, 2014 03:10 PM EDT
DELHI -- Hidden deep in one of the predominately Muslim suburbs of this city is a Sufi shrine famed for its music.
I started hearing about it back when I began coming to India in 1998. I never knew its name, though, and finally mentioned it to an Indian friend.
"But we've been there, twice," he said with disbelief. "It is my mosque, the mosque right near my house in Nizamuddin. But music only Thursday night. Come, you will like."
The place was mentioned in my guidebook as the shrine and mausoleum of Muslim Sufi saint Nizam-ud-din, who died in 1325 at age 92. It is also the gravesite of Princess Jahanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, and of the Urdu poet Amir Khusru. But in my book there had been no mention of either Sufis or music.
The marble shrine has undergone renovations several times since the 1300s, so what we see really only dates from 1562, but that is still pretty impressive. So is the maze of alleys leading to it, full of stalls selling religious kitsch and shopkeepers offering to take care of your shoes, which you must remove before entering the holy precinct.
(Only men may go into the red sandstone mosque, built in 1325, but anyone can view Nizam-ud-din's tomb, make an offering and listen to the Sufi music.)
The music is supposed to start a little after sunset, but rarely gets going before 8 p.m., when the man who organizes the seating has everyone crowded around on the floor, but not so they block the musicians' view of the tomb--for this is music to honour the saint.
The Sufis are an esoteric, mystical branch of Islam who believe in a personal experience with God through music and singing. Whirling dervishes are one branch of Sufism. They dance to experience religious ecstasy. Qawwali, as this type of devotional music is called, is likewise meant to bring its audience to a state of spiritual intoxication.
As the musicians began playing, the crowd of several hundred went quiet. A harmonium, a sort of accordion, introduced the melody. A man picked out the rhythm on a tabla, an Indian drum. Softly at first, one singer and then several others began what was clearly a prayer, then sounded more like praise and, as the tempo picked up, sheer joy.
As I had waited for the music to start, sitting cross-legged on a mat, my bum going numb, I wondered why I had come. I left several hours later thinking the tabla player was probably the happiest man in the world, followed closely by the singer. I felt pretty good myself. It was joyous music.
At one point, people had started passing money forward to the man who organized the seating. There were 10-, 20-, 50- and 100-rupee notes among the donations. They piled up as the evening went on. You may just sit and listen for free, but it's worth every penny you choose to donate.
Islam’s historic treasures on display in Sharjah
March 31, 2014 Updated: March 31, 2014 00:53:00
Sometimes through the most common objects, a greater story can be told.
Qabqab, a 19th century pair of bathhouse sandals, may be an example of the world’s tallest heels, at about 31cm high. Made of wood, mother of pearl and fabric, with silver wire and leather, their name, Qabqab, is onomatopoeic, named after the sound they make when the wearer is walking.
Although original museum records say the clogs were intended for young Turkish brides, they were commonly worn across the Ottoman Empire.
Attached to the feet with ribbons or leather strips, ladies would wear them mainly in the bathhouse, the hamam, where the high support made sure their feet stayed clean and dry and away from the slippery floors.
The sandals, part of a Vatican collection, are on display at Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. Also on display are an elaborate water pipe (known as a hookah or Nargileh), prayer beads, different shapes and sizes of amulets and Qurans, including Quran lockets, helmets, clothes and many other items.
The exhibition marks the first time in the collection’s 300-year history that the objects have been on display in the Muslim world.
The 70 objects have been selected, researched and curated jointly by Sharjah and Vatican curators, drawing from the Vatican Ethnological Museum’s vast collection of more than 100,000 artefacts.
The exhibition was developed under the patronage of Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah, in line with the emirate’s celebrations as Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014.
Titled So That you Might Know Each Other, named after a verse from the Al Hujarat Chapter in the Quran, it invites visitors to learn more about other religions and cultures.
Manal Attaya, director general of the Sharjah Museums Department (SMD), says it took a year for staff from his department and the Vatican museum to choose, research and restore the objects for the exhibition. None of them had previously been displayed in the Middle East.
“Most range from the late-13th and early-14th Islamic centuries AH, or late-19th and early-20th centuries AD in date, with some pieces even older,” Ms Attaya said.
“All the objects represent the diverse traditional lifestyles of Muslims, from North Africa to China, before the onset of modernity and globalisation.”
A fusion of the religions, east and west, is captured on a porcelain vase dating back to the Qing dynasty in China, that is decorated with Islamic inscriptions and Buddhist symbols. The cursive blue inscriptions are taken from the Quran, while the Buddhist symbols – a colourful pearl decorated with ribbons, the swastika and the ribboned hat – refer to longevity, justice and perfection.
“Each and every one of the pieces on display is important in its own right, because it tells a unique and fascinating story about the heritage and culture of traditional Muslim communities from around the world,” said Ms Attaya.
“When you see this collection, you will indeed say Subhan Allah, because diversity in unity and unity in diversity are the two underlying themes of this exhibition, evident in each and every artefact.
“For example, the intricate hand-embroidery on costumes and clothes tells us also about the women who made them, their preparations for their wedding dowries, their pride in their identity, their beliefs and hopes for a happy, prosperous life.
“Pieces of jewellery talk about the confluence of cultures and artistic aesthetics, with influences from Arabia, India, South East Asia and China locked up in a single item.
“Musical instruments evoke happy or reflective community occasions, family celebrations or religious festivals.”
A special delegation from the Vatican attended the opening of the exhibition this month.
Father Nicola Mapelli, director of the Vatican Ethnological Museum, curated and worked on the exhibition with Dr Ulrike Al Khamis, a senior strategic adviser at the SMD, who assembled the detailed catalogue, which includes articles on Islamic art and artefacts, and the various Vatican collections.
“We worked together to pick out what would best represent the Islamic world and their people, and show range and diversity of Islamic civilisation,” said Father Mapelli.
“Through this exhibition you get to see how the ordinary Muslim lived, and how beautiful and creative Islamic craft and art has been. Through the objects you see the similarities between all of us, and this helps strengthen the relationship between us, the Vatican, the Catholic world and the Muslim world.”
Many of the objects were sent as gifts to Pope Pius XI on the occasion of a major exhibition, the Universal Exposition, which was held at the Vatican in 1925. The Pope wanted to demonstrate the attention, respect and openness of the Catholicism towards the art, culture and religions of the people of the world.
More than 100,000 items from every corner of the world were donated to the Pope for the event and exhibited in 26 halls at the Vatican.
There were two further major donations of Islamic art, from Salvatore La Farina from Palermo, a collector, and Count Antonio Gauttieri.
“These 70 objects are just a sample of what the Vatican museum has,” said Father Mapelli. “It has a wealth of artefacts and art that are worth a visit for anyone seeking further knowledge.
“We have rare books and many rare manuscripts and items. People from different religions should sit and talk and get to know each other, and a museum is one of the best ways to start dialogue and share cultures and understanding.”
Accompanied by carefully drawn maps along the walls and a great wealth of additional information, visitors get to experience a journey through Islamic civilisation, laid out meticulously in the halls of the exhibition.
“Many of the objects revealed very unexpected stories,” said Dr Al Khamis, who is also an expert on Islamic and Middle Eastern art.
“For example, the exhibition includes a miniature Quran that was collected in Indonesia in the 1920s, but was originally printed in Glasgow, Scotland, at the other end of the world.
“Distributed to Muslim soldiers fighting for the Allies in WWI, the object subsequently somehow reached South-east Asia.
“From the beginning, Vatican and Sharjah colleagues approached the project in a spirit of friendship and trust, and throughout the process, the professional and personal ties between all strengthened to a degree that we are already looking at future possibilities to collaborate.”
Besides the exhibition, a series of related workshops have been organised, including the Al Majlis, on April 26, May 24 and June 7 (for ladies only) from 5.30pm. Over a serving of traditional Arabic coffee, attendees can discuss their impressions of the exhibition.
The exhibition is at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, on the Sharjah Corniche Road, until June 14. Entrance costs Dh5 for adults and is free for children.
Visit www.sharjahmuseums.ae for more information.
How Islam Influences Yuna in Fashion and Music
March 19, 2014 by rilek1corner
Yunalis Mat Zara’ai, Malaysian singer, songwriter and businesswoman known professionally as Yuna. She tweets @yunamusic
INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS WITH TALENTED MALAYSIAN SINGER YUNA.
Indian Music Composer Embraces Islam
Yuvan Shankar Raja is a leading Indian singer, song-writer, music composer and occasional lyricist from Chennai, India. He has been a noted music scorer for the Tamil film industry and was the youngest son of the reputed music composer Ilaiyaraaja. Beginning his musical career in 1996, at the age of 16 he has seen success through out his career. Within a span of 15 years, Yuvan Shankar Raja has worked over 100 movies and is one of the most sought after music directors in the South Indian Tamil Film Industry.
After the death of his mother, Yuvan was greatly affected as he was very close to her, and having his married life in chaos, he had been restless and looking for inner peace. It was during this time he started studying Islam which led to rumours that he is considering coverting to Islam and also marry a Muslim woman. The deceptive news was also tailed by the fact he was inspired to convert to Islam by the another popular Indian music director A.R Rahman.
With these hoaxes swirling the internet, Yuvan tweeted his fans in February 9th confirming that he has reverted to Islam while dismissing the rumours about him marrying for the third time.
“I’m not married for the third time. The news is false, and yes, I follow Islam and I’m proud of it,” read his tweet. Yuvan also tweeted: “My family supports my decision and there is no misunderstanding between me and my dad”.
Islam Chose Me
With a life involved in music and fame from a very young age, Yuvan also had the life of an ordinary boy where he was drawn towards love and married the love of his life in 2005, which his parents were also happy about. But his marriage love did not last long and he divorced her in 2007 and re-married in 2011. But nether of his married lives were happy ones and this left him depressed, but he continued to wins more hearts through his music.
The agony of his life was when his mother passed away last year, being someone attached to her very much, there was a great change in his personal life. He secluded himself from his family and friends and kept music as his solace. It was on opening up to his conscience and reading the Quran he has realised what can bring him his inner peace and solace.
Speaking to a daily newspaper Yuvan said “No one insisted/recommended me to Islam, in fact I didn’t choose Islam it was Islam that chose me”. Yuvan said “Intitally, I got some random dreams very often and I didn’t had any clue on it, later I found out that I’m experiencing spirituality. When I started reading Holy Quran I got answers for those dreams which I was experiencing, so I will say that it was Islam that chose me”
Though his father, Ilyaraja, a Hindu spiritualist first was shocked and did not agree with his decision, but later reconciled and accepted him. His family members, friends in the film industry support his decision.
Healing Through Sacred Sound and Music: Part 1
By Hwaa Irfan
Saturday, 11 January 2014 00:00
When the recitation of the Qur'an is purely inspired, it acts like a button awakening one from within. The art and science of tajwid recitation inspires, heals and educates, as do many - but not all - forms of music. Imam ibn Hazm referred to ahadith that forbade music as fabricated (Beliefnet p.2). Ulema (scholars) of early Islam accepted musical recitation in Islamic poetry - as it emphasized the expressive and artistic manner of rhythmic speech - e.g. chants, song, sacred music and rhetoric.
What Prophet Muhammad (saw) did not approve of was:
The clapping of hands in public performances of either a religious or secular nature; but he allowed artistic clapping.
Sensual singing and dancing by both male and females in public taverns (Tariqat, p.2).
Music or rhythmic chanting can have a healing affect on the body. The word 'music' from the Greek 'mousike' - by way of the Latin 'musica' - is formed from the Greek root 'mousa', the ancient Egyptian root 'muse' and Celtic suffix 'ike'.
The Ancient Egyptian word 'mas' or 'mous' signifies generation, production, and development outside a principle. It is composed of the root 'ash' which characterizes the universal, primordial principle, and the root 'ma', which expresses all that generates, or manifests itself, taking an exterior form.
Music is seen by many as a spiritual phenomenon that can help awaken the mind and body. Theosophist, linguist, doctor, musician and musical theorist Fabre d'Olivet paid homage to music by saying that, "There has never been a man on earth capable of inventing a science, and there never will be. No science is invented. It is a gift that the human spirit makes to humanity by means of its inspirational faculties" (Music Explained, p.85, 90).
Turkey's rock 'n' roll imam spurs controversy
Country's religious authority investigating whether Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer's music is 'un-Islamic', as band faces threats.
Gayatri Parameswaran and Felix Gaedtke Last updated: 03 Dec 2013 15:33
On a recent afternoon, Ahmet Muhsin Tuzer recites the Muslim call to prayer in the Turkish village of Pinarbasi - part of his regular religious duties.
Then the 42-year-old imam returns home to blast a few of his favourite heavy rock tunes: Iron Maiden's "Fear of the dark", Pink Floyd's "Hey you" and Metallica's "Wherever I may roam." He sways his head rhythmically.
"If God allows," Tuzer shouts above the thundering chords, "I would love to play music in front of hundreds of thousands of people like they did."
While Tuzer has had a small taste of that ambition – his own band, FiRock, performed this summer in front of 1,000 people in his hometown of Kas, a tourist city on Turkey's Mediterranean coast – the state does not appear impressed by his musical talent. Turkey's government-funded religious affairs directorate, Diyanet, which oversees more than 80,000 Turkish mosques, has set up an inquiry into the imam's actions.
The investigation will determine whether Tuzer's choice of music and musical instruments is "un-Islamic". Moreover, Tuzer, who is employed by the Turkish state, will have to justify the commercial nature of his activities.
"The problem is that he didn't seek any permission from any of our officials, and he went ahead and recorded some video and audio clips. That's why we are conducting an investigation," Abdul Kadir Ozkan from Diyanet's press office told Al Jazeera, adding he would not provide any further details until the probe concludes in the coming weeks.
FiRock's first single, " Mevlaya Gel (Come to God)", from the band's debut album, "Time of Change", has had more than 30,000 hits on YouTube. It has also fuelled a fierce debate on traditional and social media: How could a man with such important religious responsibilities indulge in rock music?
The clean-shaven, stylishly-dressed Tuzer, who sports a smartphone and is active on Twitter and Facebook , calls his music "a meeting of your soul with God".
"We are bringing people closer to God," Tuzer says, sipping Turkish tea in his garden. His father and grandfather were also imams in Kas, and Tuzer took up his own religious responsibilities at the age of 19. "The image of Islam in the world is suffering. We need to remember that one of the main tenets of Islam is tolerance; it is to accept every human being as he or she is."
If the state strips him of his right to play music, Tuzer says, he will fight on. "I will call my lawyer and we will take the case to court. I will prove there that what I am doing is right," he says.
Beyond the Diyanet investigation, Tuzer has faced additional opposition online, including, he says, threats from people in Mardin, a conservative region of southeastern Turkey. They have invited him to sing there, warning of dire consequences should he accept.
"They want to tell me that I won't survive if I did that," Tuzer says. "Of course, it scared me."
Andrew Finkel, an Istanbul-based analyst and author of the book "Turkey: what everyone needs to know", said Tuzer has sparked controversy because his rock music presents a challenge to religious orthodoxy from within Islam itself.
"What you have in Turkey, which makes this controversial, is a state-funded religious establishment, the department for religious affairs, which is essentially an element of political control over religion," Finkel said. "It's an attempt by the state to define what is legitimate and not legitimate, what is orthodox and what is heterodox."
Modern Turkish society is split between religious and secular forces, Finkel added – those who believe religion has a place in public life, and those who take the opposite stance.
For the past decade, Turkey has been governed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP (Justice and Development Party), a centre-right party that downplays its Islamist reputation and claims to be merely morally and socially conservative. But critics accuse Erdogan of imposing Muslim values on the population, describing his policies as a blow to the secular nation founded by Kemal Ataturk 90 years ago. Erdogan recently condemned the concept of unmarried male and female university students living together in private housing, prompting opposition parties to lash out, saying any such ban would amount to a constitutional violation.
In the current sociopolitical climate, Finkel said, the key issues for the future include whether Turkey will become a society that tolerates complexity and diversity, or one that attempts to impose conformity.
"My own optimistic feeling is that this is a big enough, diverse enough… unruly enough country [that it is] unlikely to abide by orthodoxy for very long," he added.
Back in Pinarbasi, Tuzer admits this is not the first controversy he had faced over the years. He whips out his mobile phone and plays a Turkish television news clip from 1999, the year he got married. The clip shows Tuzer and his wife, Oana Mara, on their wedding day, when he became the first imam under Diyanet to marry outside of his faith (his wife was a Christian from Romania).
Mara, now 37 and well-integrated into Turkish society, says it was not easy in the beginning.
"It's natural how people reacted. They expected us to marry within our own religions," she says. "It was hard to convince my parents. They had been to Turkey previously and had seen some women who were covered. They thought that being married to an imam would mean that I would have to cover myself up too." Yet Mara still does not wear a hijab, despite converting to Islam three years into their marriage of her own free will.
FiRock's lead guitarist, 53-year-old Dogan Sakin, who sports tattoos all over his hands, refers to Tuzer as "a true leader" and says he would never have undertaken the project with anyone else. On his rooftop terrace in the centre of Kas, Sakin puffs on a cigarette.
"We human beings are the most beautiful thing that God created," he muses, "and we should respect and love everyone alike… Other imams have a lot to learn from Ahmet."
Tamikrest: 'This music was founded on a very precise cause – the Tuareg's'
In the fight for Tuareg independence, Tamikrest use their mics and guitars as weapons. Andy Morgan reports
The Guardian, Monday 14 October 2013 20.00 BST
As a kid growing up in the deep Sahara, Ousmane ag Mossa decided he wanted to become a lawyer – or rather an "advocate" for his people, the semi-nomadic Tuareg of the southern Sahara, who have been marginalised and demonised for the best part of 50 years. But the Tuareg don't have lawyers, so he became a musician instead. In effect, it amounts to the same thing.
The success of Tamikrest – the band Ousmane founded with his mates in the war-weary town of Kidal, northern Mali, a decade ago – has given him a more potent platform than any lawyer could hope for. The singer, songwriter and guitarist can talk for hours, with furrowed brow, his voice just above a whisper. There isn't any aspect of northern Mali's recent season in hell Ousmane hasn't chewed over.
Tamikrest's third album is called Chatma, which means Sisters. Its jagged guitar hooklines and rolling desert grooves underpin themes that are almost universal in Tuareg guitar music: homesickness, loss, the beauty of nature, and – above all – the need for the Tuareg to wake up, unite and take control of their own future.
"If we'd been united, what happened in 2012 wouldn't have been possible," he says, referring to the hijacking of a Tuareg revolt against the Malian government by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim) and other armed militias, who imposed an alien and hardline creed of Islam on the local population. The Malian government has been trying to conflate the Tuareg struggle for autonomy with global jihad for at least a decade, even though the Tuareg cause predates the birth of al-Qaida by at least 30 years. "Politicians profited from that lack of unity. Some Tuareg took up causes – like imposing sharia law – that have nothing to do with what most of us have been fighting for all our lives."
His dream of independence for the Tuareg is uncompromising. Not for him the cooing mood music of national unity and fraternity that is currently being piped all over Mali, with its newly elected president. His people have suffered too much to go back to the status quo. Especially the women. "They are suffering in a way they've never known before," he says. "But they will always resist and claim their own freedom, until the day they have their own territory."
The difficulties faced by women include trying to subsist in overcrowded, disease-ridden refugee camps, which have sprung up in neighbouring countries as many of the people of northern Mali fled. But there are also the strictures imposed on women by the Aqim mujahideen. They can't dance, can't play music and must be covered from head to toe. Tuareg women have always enjoyed more power and freedom of speech than their counterparts in the Middle East. And yet, by dint of the obscure machinations of a handful of Tuareg leaders, the Tuareg cause has become confused with that of global jihad in the minds of many. Ousmane, like many other Tuareg, believes this was deliberate.
"I totally understand what happened in respect of al-Qaida and their allies," he says. "It was the role of the Islamists – well, not Islamists, because Islam is something else, but rather the terrorists – to treat people in such a severe way, so that all they wanted was peace. They wanted the population to feel the absence of a government and all the chaos that resulted from that. So all those people – men, women, children, old people – didn't want to hear about revolution any more, or their rights."
Ousmane's weapons, however, are a mic and a guitar. The whole idea of a Tuareg nation with a unique cultural identity was instilled into this vastly dispersed people by means of music. If Tamikrest don't sound a great deal different from their mentors Tinariwen to western ears, it's because their struggle is essentially the same. "This music was founded on a very precise cause, the Tuareg cause," Ousmane says. "In a great sense, we are the children of Ibrahim [ag Alhabib, founder of Tinariwen]. I'm very influenced by his music, and his touch on the guitar."
Back in their desert home, Tamikrest are possibly even more popular among the youth than Tinariwen. In many ways, Tamikrest carry the burden of "fronting" this young Saharan generation so buffeted and lashed by recent events. Their priorities are clear: unity, education, development and peace – but not at any cost.
Muslim Rapper Offers Virtuous Alternative to Mainstream Music
September 10, 2013
Hip hop artist Mo Sabri began a recent performance in Washington, DC, with “Heaven Is Where Her Heart Is,” a song about a virtuous girl who travels to Mecca for the holy Muslim pilgrimage. For the past year, Sabri has been singing about pious themes in a genre not exactly known for godly messages.
“There’s too many songs on the radio these days encouraging girls to do bad things,” he told the audience of Muslim families attending the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which included screaming girls who were obviously excited by the 22-year-old Muslim hearththrob.
The son of Pakistani immigrants, Sabri grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee. He's one of a growing cadre of young Muslim American musicians who write “anaasheed,” or songs with religious Islamic themes, that are beginning to appeal to a broader audience.
One of Sabri’s latest songs got more than one million views on YouTube. He says the song, "I believe in Jesus," was written to show the people of east Tennessee that Muslims revere him.
“I grew up in an area that did not really have any Muslims, and I was able to see that they were all more similar than different,” Sabri said. “For me, I was like, 'I want to reach out to my neighbors and show that Muslims and Christians as a whole can experience what I experienced.'”
In the song, Sabri points out that “In the West, they call him Jesus, in the East they call him Isa, Messiah, Christ,” and he asks, “Why does our religion always have to cause division?”
The Muslim rapper’s song about Jesus spiked in popularity recently as another video involving a Muslim and his view of Jesus went viral. In that video, a Fox News host suggests the author of a book about Jesus, religious studies scholar Resa Aslan, is biased because he is a Muslim.
The interview drew condemnation from liberal commentators who attacked the premise of the suggestion.
Sabri notes that while Muslims reject the Christian view that Jesus is the son of God, they do consider him a prophet.
“There’s so much misinformation about Muslims, to think that a Muslim can’t talk about Jesus, or can’t love Jesus, is just the wrong idea, and my goal is to dispel that idea,” he said.
Sabri turned to “anasheed” after the focus on sex and alcohol in many hip hop songs turned him off. He says one of the main inspirations for doing so was Hasidic artist Matisyahu, who gained a wide following rapping to reggae about Jewish spiritual themes such as the hope for the return of the Messiah.
“I just liked how he did not have to succumb to any of the pressures of writing music, and he was different," Sabri said. "He had uplifting songs that were spiritual.”
After his performance, Sabri was crowded by fans seeking autographs. By offering a virtuous alternative to pop culture he is following in the footsteps of Christian rock musicians who have done that for decades, and proving that it also works in Islam.
Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.