April 18, 2009

Islam and Music

Afropop magazine brings it again with an interesting interview about music and islam. Below is an excerpt:

B.E.: You also looked into the state of this debate about Islam and music in the contemporary American scene. Tell us about Sheikh Tamer Salim.

J.B.: I wanted to get a local perspective from the Muslim community on how teachings and ideas about music play out among Muslims here in the United States. So I went down to Bensonherst, here in Brooklyn, and visited with a young, up-and-coming cleric, Tamer Salim, 27 years old, three years in this country, fresh from Egypt where he was educated at the prestigious Al Azhar Islamic seminary. Tamer is a good-looking, broad smiling, very warm and engaging spiritual leader who has reached out to monotheistic faiths with a hand of friendship and really gotten himself on the map here in New York as a respected Muslim cleric.

When I asked him about ideas about music within his own congregation, he told me:

Tamer Salim: Actually I am being asked about this issue all the time, because you know it’s very hard to avoid listening to music in this country. So when I came here to the United States, I found the people differing about this issue as well. And I found a group of people who are being raised, or even being born in this country, even those people who received their education in this country, who are following directly the rulings of Saudi Arabia, those people who are extreme when it comes to music and musical instruments. For me personally, I would consider it a very extreme view if you tell people not to listen to music in this country. But at same time, I would adopt the view of those moderate people that not every kind of music is worth listening to. So when the Muslim community would come to me asking about this, I would tell them, “Me personally, I don’t see anything wrong with music as long as the content of the music doesn’t have anything contradicting to Islamic culture, or Islamic law.

J.B.: Sheikh Tamer took pains to distinguish himself from the Salafi position, which has that default restrictive attitude toward so many different types of music. He actually made the point that Islam encourages many forms of art, including music, starting with the recitation of the Koran itself:

Tamer Salim: Allah told us to beautify reading and reciting the Koran. If you listen to the Koran from a good reciter, you would find this kind of beauty. Islam is requiring of us that we never read the Koran without making it beautiful in the ears of the people. We try to sing it in a good way. We try to make it affect the hearts of the people who would listen to it. The same is true of the Azan, which is the call for prayer. And actually, at the time of the prophet, when people wanted to make Azan, the Prophet said, ‘Leave that to Bilal,’ one of the companions of the Prophet. Bilal used to have a very beautiful voice when it came to saying the Azan itself. The Prophet would not let just anybody make the call for prayer. He would choose those people who had beautiful voices in order to have an impact on the hearts and the minds of the people. So we are here encouraged in many ways to listen to the beautiful voices of the people, and Islam is encouraging that.


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