FaithWorld

from India Insight:

Finding harmony in music and Islam

The grand mufti whose words against music ended the short career of an all-girl teenage pop band in Kashmir last month made me wonder: is music really un-Islamic? He said that if women indulge in indecent, immoral acts such as singing, it would be a step toward their destruction. Is it really that simple in Islam? Of course it isn't.

On one hand, you find words in the Qur'an such as "Zoor" – an Arabic word used for "falsehood" and musical expressions; "Laghv" – vain words and actions, useless entertainment;  "Ghina" – prolonged sonic vibration, with pitch changes to such an extent that it might as well be "singing", and of course, it's sinful. According to another interpretation, singing, reciting poetry and playing instruments is allowed on occasions such as weddings and other festivals. Then there is debate going on all the while.

Music is also said to affect the body in a negative way – increasing blood pressure, impeding digestion, releasing adrenaline. All this could excite men's lust and desire, and destroy their brotherhood and make them angry. If women do it, they should do it only around other women. And then there are videos like this, which clearly demonstrate another point of view.

While the Qur’an is read in a lyrical way, interpretations of how good or bad music is tend to depend on pitch, content, musical instruments, gender, situation and occasion. Some Muslim scholars say classical music is OK, or any music that is not meant for entertainment. For some, it invites divine wrath. In Sahih Bukhari, one of the six major hadiths of Sunni Qur’an, a musical instrument belongs to Satan.

From interviews I conducted with a variety of people, there seems to be little support for the idea that Islam and music can't exist together.

from Photographers' Blog:

Signs of hope through music in Iran

For some people, here is the end of the world, but for some who live here, it is paradise.

The Kahrizak Charity Foundation in southern Tehran, is home to hundreds of mentally and physically impaired people who range in age from young and old. In this place, you can feel life and death, joy and woe, and people who love each other. For these people music is the only positive thing.

The first time I went to Kahrizak, I expected to meet people who didn’t know what they wanted in their life and were just waiting for the angel of death to arrive but it was not as I had presumed.

Music therapists shake off Islamic clerics’ taboo to heal disabled Iranians

(Two disabled students sing a song during a music therapy session at the Kahrizak nursing home, in southern Tehran June 25, 2011/Morteza Nikoubazl)

As Sadeq Jafari switched on his electric piano, his students shunted their wheelchairs enthusiastically around him to rehearse new songs. Music therapy, a common practice in large parts of the world, is extremely rare in Iran, where conservative clerics outlawed pop music after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. Jafari, 33, is one of a handful of therapists in the Islamic state who use music to help severely disabled people find their voices, risking the ire of his conservative family and censure from religious authorities.

Kahrizak Charity Foundation, in a leafy campus on the outskirts of the capital Tehran, is home to hundreds of physically handicapped people, young and old, who lack financial support. Each Monday, dozens wait impatiently for Jafari to walk through the door.

Morocco resists Islamist calls to ban Elton John from music festival

elton john

Elton John at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 13, 2010/Lucas Jackson

Elton John will headline Morocco’s biggest music festival this week despite calls by religious conservatives for the gay singer to be turned away. Allowing the British singer and songwriter to perform at the Mawazine World Rhythms festival in the capital Rabat would tarnish the image of the north African kingdom, say powerful opposition Islamists.

“Elton John is one of the best artists in the world. He is great and extraordinary when he appears on stage. That’s why we invite him and welcome him to the Mawazine festival,” festival director Aziz Daki told Reuters. “The private life of a singer is not our business. We do not invite singers and artists after assessing their private lives.”

The festival, backed by Morocco’s King Mohammed, brings together musicians from 50 countries and has drawn criticism from Islamists who say such events encourage promiscuity and alcohol consumption, corrupting Islamic values.

Japanese monk gets down with the beat for Buddhism

gold buddha

A gold statue of Buddha in Tokyo, 26 Nov 2009/Yuriko Nakao

He raps. He chants. And this month, Japan’s famed hip-hop loving monk, better known as MC Happiness, will tap dance on stage, in the name of Buddhism.

Kansho Tagai heads the 400-year-old Kyoouji Temple in central Tokyo, offering softly chanted prayers throughout the day amid traditional bell chimes and wafts of incense.

But once in a while, he raises the volume, and the tempo, of these prayers, going before an audience to rap Buddhist sutra, or teachings, to hip hop beats and in modern Japanese.

Did Jesus headline Glastonbury before Springsteen?

glastonburyJesus Christ may have visited an English town now renowned for a raucous modern-day music festival to meet ancient druids, a new film argues.  “And Did Those Feet” explores the theory that Jesus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea on a visit to the area around the southern English town of Glastonbury. (Photo: At the end of Glastonbury Festival 2009, 29 June 2009/Luke MacGregor)

The Glastonbury Festival held on a farm near the town draws some of the 21st century’s biggest music stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Neil Young and U2 to the world’s largest open air music and arts festival.

Church of Scotland Minister and researcher for the film Gordon Strachan argues that Jesus may have come to Britain to further his education because the area was a stronghold of the ancient druids, then associated with ancient wisdom.

Vatican daily proclaims Michael Jackson immortal – for his fans

or-1It’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper suggests that a man accused of paedophilia and said to have converted to Islam might be immortal. But that’s what L’Osservatore Romano did today. In a tribute to Michael Jackson — itself another sign of the “new look” that editor-in-chief Giovanni Maria Vian has given it — the paper included him in a pop music heaven at an unusually earthly location:

“But will he really be dead? It wouldn’t be surprising if, in a few years, he was spotted in a gas station in Memphis, perhaps with his former father-in-law Elvis Presley, another of those myths – like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or John Lennon – that never die in the imagination of their fans. And Michael Jackson, who died yesterday at the age of fifty, is definitely a pop music legend.”

The tribute reviews Jackson’s career, from the time “when he was still black” through his “humanly difficult … crossover” to “new genres not entirely attributable to any specific area, where one cannot distinguish between black and white.” It praises his mega-album Thriller “which is known also to those who do not frequent these musical worlds” and calls him a “great dancer” (grande ballerino).

The scientist who leaves room for spirituality

bde-11 (Photos: Bernard d’Espagnat, 13 March 2009/Charles Platiau)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote that he “had to deny knowledge to make room for faith.” The French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat hasn’t denied knowledge in his long career developing the philosophy that won him this year’s $1.42 million Templeton Prize. He was pursuing knowledge to better understand what we can know about the ultimate reality of the world. But just like his philosophy echoes that of Kant’s with its conviction that there are limits on knowing reality, his work leaves some room — he would say for spirituality — by saying that human intuitions like art, music and spirituality can help us go further when science searching to understand the world reaches the end of its tether.

D’Espagnat’s prize was announced at UNESCO in Paris on Monday. The quantum physics at the core of his work presents baffling insights about reality, but his philosophical conclusions from them sound like common sense. Science is an amazing discipline that opens vast areas of knowledge but cannot go all the way to explaining ultimate reality. There’s a mystery at the core of our existence that we can get a little closer to through the untestable but undeniable intuitions we have. That “little closer” still leaves a large black hole in our knowledge, but it is more than we have if we only rely on empirical science.

As often happens in cases like this, d’Espagnat was available for embargoed interviews several days before the prize was announced. I had the pleasure of meeting him on Friday at the Lutetia, a five-star hotel only a short bike ride from my more modest digs in Paris. Now 87 years old, d’Espagnat can look back on a long and illustrious career as a senior physicist at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, professor at the University of Paris (at its science hub in the suburb of Orsay) and guest lecturer at universities and conferences abroad. His latest book in English, On Physics and Philosophy, came out in the United States in 2006.

Militants killing laughter and music in Pakistan region

It’s hard to write about the Taliban on a religion blog without giving the impression that this militant movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is basically religious. It’s certainly Islamist, i.e. it uses Islam for political ends. But it’s hard to find much religion in what they’re doing, while there’s a lot of power politics, Pashtun nationalism and insurrection against the Kabul and Islamabad governments there. (Photo: Pakistani pro-Taliban militants in Swat Valley, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)

It’s often difficult to separate religion and politics in groups like this, but President Barack Obama gave a basic rule of thumb in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week:

“Far too often, we have seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another – as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance. Wars have been waged. Innocents have been slaughtered. For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted, all in the name of perceived righteousness…

Canadians fill YouTube with “Amazing Grace” videos

If “Amazing Grace” is not already the most widely sung hymn in Christianity — and cyberlists, for what they’re worth, say it is — it should be by the time the Amazing Grace Project is finished. The Anglican Church of Canada invited all its congregations to sing John Newton‘s iconic hymn last Sunday and upload a video of their efforts to the church’s national office. The plan is to edit them into “one big, amazing “Amazing Grace” video and put it up on the web for all to enjoy by Christmas,” as the project website explains.

The uploads are piling up on YouTube (here’s the playlist) and it seems some congregations in U.S. states close to the Canadian border have joined in. There are a few entries from South Africa and a clip of bishops at the Lambeth Conference (see video above) enjoying the opportunity to sing from the same songsheet. If you want to be part of the final product, upload your video here by Dec. 1.

I first realised how widely known “Amazing Grace” was in 1999, at the end of the Yugoslav wars, when I was reporting from the Kosovo town of Prizren. The Serbian army had just left the town and NATO forces controlled the province. My Muslim interpreter and I happened to pass a Catholic Church one day and we went in for a look. To my surprise, a Mass was being said and the congregation was belting out a familiar tune. When I finally realised it was “Amazing Grace” in Albanian translation, I sang along softly in English. On leaving, the interpreter asked me “How do you know an Albanian hymn?”