Singing and musical instruments are categorically deemed prohibited by most, if not all, of the traditionalist Muslim scholars. Such vices could only be enjoyed by no less than drunken reprobates, and good Muslims, we are told, would do well to poke fingers in their ears on hearing the voice of the devil or the sound of the satanic inventions. I will not attempt a rebuttal of this position but my view is diametrically opposed to the traditional view. There is plenty of research to suggest otherwise. The concern of this post, however, is not juristic wrangling, not that I am qualified to set foot on such a terrain, but to point towards a menace that is as unsettling as it is contradictory in nature.
In most parts of the city of Lahore, and more so in less developed areas of Pakistan, one is frequently forced to hear the singing voices of mullahs emanating from mosque-speakers whose loudness and fidelity would even put Bose to shame. The content of their offerings varies from time to time but the common denominator is the beauty, sonority and musicality of their voices that can impel Ustad Bare Ghulam Ali Khan to sit up in his grave and take notice. The content with which our ears are treated includes some formulaic invocations before the Adhan (call to prayer). These invocations are used to bless the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and one school of thought in our part of the world has made them mandatory to recite before the Adhan. When Arabic words flow from the tongue of Punjabi, nay, thoroughbred Punjabi, mullahs, whose silky voices resonate with the piercing sounds of car-horns, the melody that emerges is nothing short of ethereal.
The repertoire of our pulpit-singers is not that miniscule though. Another genre that lends itself to perfect abuse is Naat (a devotional and usually rhymed poem in praise of the Prophet Muhammad). There is no specific time of the day that one can look forward to for a riveting experience of Naat recital, so if you happen to be in Lahore, you’ll have to count on your luck and most of the time, you won’t be disappointed. With a little help from destiny, you might even be amongst the “listening audience” of a Naat competition amongst children. Some of them have such an astounding vocal range that the Guinness record of six octaves would pale in front of their virtuosity. These Naat recitals assume farcical dimensions in the religious gatherings of a well-known Islamic group in Pakistan. In order to rein in the recalcitrant proclivities of its adherents, the group’s “experienced” members suggest that they adorn the Naat poetry with tunes of Bollywood songs, as if shorn of satanic content and bereft of musical accompaniments, these tunes will become “born-again” concoctions fit for consumption of the pious.
There are many who have lent their beautiful voices to the sublime words of Naat poetry and have left an indelible mark on this genre, but for taking the craft to its zenith, the credit goes to the singing mullahs!
Copyright (c) 2008 Razi Allah Lone