Thursday, December 4, 2008

Guest Post: The Singing Mullahs

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

24 comments:

Abdul Sami said...

its a great topic... i hav often wondered about it and felt like writin about it !!!

Saadia said...

The most irritating of all: Owais Qadri. I'm sorry, but I like to take names!

EYE said...

can't imagine islam without poetry and music. Omar Khayyam, i wonder if he broke any islamic codes, is a name that comes to my mind when it comes to poetry from the muslim world.

Id it is said...

Thank you Saadia for introducing me to the Nat! I am familiar with a few forms coming out of the region like the gazal, bhajan, doha, nuzm, and shayari, but Nat was an unknown! Does it connect with the Sufi tradition in some way?

Anonymous said...

Ha! Rather reminds me of the strict Baptist view that music is a sin because it could lead to *dancing*.

Saadia said...

You're welcome, Id, though I am not the author (Razi is). :-) The naat does not connect to the Sufi tradition; rather, it is a poetic expression of love towards the Prophet. If sung delicately, it can be most beautiful and inspiring. You could call it an Islamic nazm (poem) that focuses solely on praising the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Eye, poetry and music are universal languages, don't you think? Poetry is special not only to Islam, but the sub-continent, in general as well. It has traditionally been the driving force behind political movements, activism, revivals and reformations, in this part of the world.

Anonymous, these absurdities (for lack of appreciation, on my part) are so entertaining. Perhaps, you'll also enjoy reading this: Should a Pious Muslim practice Yoga.

How do we know said...

This is nice!! I had no idea abt the Naat.

zubair khan said...

NAAT is a beutiful thing if the poet keeps it to its meaning . I am sorry but if you really listen to the naats these days most of them are not even a naat. Some sort of worshipping of the Prophet (p.b.u.h), they have started treating the prophet (p.b.u.h)as the shia's has been treating hazrat ali (r.a)for centuries. What the hell is going on.I happen to like naats and use to recite them as a kid. One night on the 26th of ramadan a neighbor had a naat party at his house in karachi .I WAS SHOCKED AT SOME OF THE STUFF I SAWW. Who could have thought that after all the knowlege we have and the QURAN, if ever any one reads it with its meaning, Would say or belive such things. After describing the Prophet(p.b.u.h) as not human , made of noor,a piece of ALLAH , e.t.c the Imam sahib told every one to turn the lights off and stay still because now the prophet (p.b.u.h)would come among us and bless us all.........Now after reading the QURAN with translation a couple times and thanks to ALLAH i kept my EEmaan clean from doing some sort of SHIRK. We are in dire need of education of all sorts.

Mohammad Sharik said...

When the perception is governed by the unjustifiable resentment, it paves way too easily for the ill ideology to commingle into the process, and then the reasoning is pre-dominantly supervised by the corrupt conscientiousness. It exactly seems to me what you concluded was the plain consequence of the aforementioned idea.

Too many goats are to be slaughtered on the day of Eid, before a billion eyes. I proudly opine that we could never have tolerated this if the religion had not sanctified it. So, when the God has allowed us, there must be a just judgement respecting it. Standpoint: we should not apperceive things by how we find them, but by what is dearer to the God.

You may find it a bit displeasing, but you've lost the standards of morality by saying such harsh things about the Naat. Praising the Prophet Mohammad(Peace Be Upon Him), praising someone who's the most lost in the fondness of the Divinity, is the dearest to the God, you may agree with me on that, too. So why do you fingerpoint this adorable practice? You are being satanic, yourself. I, concur with you, you said Naat shan't sound like Indian songs, it takes our mind elsewhere; however, interlacing Azaan with the praising of Prophet Mohammad(Peace Be Upon Him) which takes us heavenwards, in your description, in a way that the conflict shall incur, that's wholly intolerable by the Almighty and obviously satanic. Only a non-believer or Lucifer would want that to happen.

Fragile Emptiness said...

Naat, a banner of Barelviyya sect from which they gather on the pulpits to make takfir of "Al-Wahhabiyya." Since, everything that comes from South Asia is corrupted, I should take the Barelviyyah with a pinch of salt.

Of course, music, as saadia put it, is universal in the sense that almost everyone's ears are attracted to it. But, being a universal attractant does not make it halal.

Correction of the original poster: Singing, without musical instruments, is not considered "haram" by the most traditional and orthodox school, As-Salafiyyah.

Razi Allah said...

Fragile Emptiness, your statement that everything that comes from South Asia is corrupted is as audacious as it is arrogant. I could easily say that anything that comes from the Middle East today is corrupted or anything that comes from the West is corrupted. Being a little humble, rational and thoughtful doesn't hurt.

As for As-Salafiyyah not considering singing prohibited, i would appreciate if you give reference of an old authority to substantiate your claim.

Razi Allah said...

Muhammad Sharik, unfortunately, you couldn't get the drift of my post and hence went on an infanitle rant. I never said any "harsh things" about the Naat as a genre. On the contrary, I praised it at the end of my post, but since we love to be unreasonable, emotional and puerile in our knee-jerk reactions to others, it's difficult to reason with a modicum of common sense. What I have tried to hit at in my post is something you might decipher with a little more exercice of the mind.

Saadia said...

Sharik, the author was talking about the extra-ordinary and unimpressive ways in which the Naat is conducted here by quite a few. You just need to lend an ear to figure that out.

Also, Fragile Emptiness, you would do good by not inciting sectarianism. If you wish to continue in the same vein, then I'd request you to keep this blog off your radar.

We think there is nothing wrong with musical instruments. They are neither prohibited in Islam nor are they averse to the common sense. If you think there is something wrong, the onus of proof is on you!

Saadia said...

I'm sorry but this mullah-mentality is getting to me now. No wonder people are so harsh in their criticism of Muslims.

Fragile Emptiness said...

Saadia: In terms of religion, everything is haram except that is allowed by God. So the burden of proof is upon you to show that music is halal and not haram.

@ Razi Allah: Hmm, so you are humble by making fun of "mullahs?" I dont need such fake masks of humility. My sincere arrogance is better than your ostentatious humility. The oldest authority of the As-Salafiyyah are the companions of Prophets. You can search about the ahadeeth that they have narrated.

Saadia said...

I don't believe in making things difficult for myself. There are just a few things declared prohibited in the Qur'an, and I prefer to stick to those, rather than building up an inflated list of do-nots and start living a forced life. My God created me, created my nature, and lays some boundaries for me. Beyond those restrictions, everything has been concocted by sadists.

Also, give us our religion from the Qur'an, after which you are welcome to corroborate with the ahadith, because the latter, in isolation, are merely accounts by mortal beings.

Razi Allah said...

Fragile Emptiness, the phrase "sincere arrogance" is a brilliant innovation for which you can expect a Nobel prize. Since "sincere arrogance" is a corrupt concept, i am sure you are from South Asia. By the way, there is a difference between sarcasm and arrogance. The opposite of humility is arrogance but not necessarily sarcasm.

As for the companions of the Prophet, here's what is reported from one of the most famous companions: Ibn Mas`ud (may Allah be pleased with him) used to swear by Allah that the ayah "And of mankind is he who purchases idle talk to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah . . .” (Luqman: 6) referred to singing.

As for your comment to Saadia, I think you have inverted the logic. I think that in terms of religion, everything is halal except what is prohibited by God. For some prohibitions, our Fitrah comes to aid us.

Fragile Emptiness said...

Razi Allah: talk about innovation. Everything is halal except what is prohibited by God. Nice. By any chance, are you a mutazilite? If you are right then why dont you adopt new methods to pray to God rather than sticking to the modeled Salah of Prophet?

No, my parents are from South Asia. I was born and raised in Hijaz and hence a Hijazi. Sure, if not for scientific discoveries, I would like to get the Nobel Prize for using the term "sincere arrogance."

Of course, sarcasm and humility cannot exist together. Sarcasm is only initiated when the initiator is "proud" of his self. And pride is the reflection of arrogance. Anyways.

@ Saadia: Many orientalists have put forth the argument that Prophet Muhammad was a sadistic because of his experiences as an orphan child. Hence he wanted to "rebel" against the established customs of Arabia and thence came into being his political agenda called "Islam." What makes you think that I should reject their classification of Muhammad as a sadist and accept your definition that "everything has been concocted by sadists." Since you believe that God created you and your nature, why did He put restrictions for you? Seems to me your God is sadistic because He gives you those desires to commit sins and then punishes you for following your desires.

Saadia said...

I rest my case! :-)

Mohammad Sharik said...

Razi Allah, you did not inscribe anything specifically harsh about the Naat; let it not be limited to what you write in the end, the overall perceptible unification of the conviction encased in your article doesn't content the least desiderata of the moral veneration.

This is not about the emotionality, the fertility of reverence for the God's dearest Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him) devoutly burgeons out fence itself to protect any rash unauthorized thoughts being shed upon the offering for 'the Praiseworthy(Peace Be Upon Him)'. I don't opt to make my grown-upness exorbitant enough to cross the normality and respectability of what's apt; thus, I am satiated with being noticed as infantile approacher. Because the issue is pregnant with the sensitivity, you should've been carefully corroborative concerning the manners or unimpressive ways(as the lady mentioned) of the offering, owing to bringing such religious matters to light does not require one's elaborative eloquence mixed with the well-trimmed satire justifiably engrossed in one's own cast of mind save that the seriousness alongwith the substantiation supporting the viewpoint. Associating the word 'farcical' in any sort with Naat is puritanically inadequate, if you are so bold enough to extract from your calculation the misrepresentation of Naat, or if you have so much reason to believe that its dimensions are being based on absurdity then you need to come up with the authenticated proof and explanatory relevant position about the said doings of the group which is upto such that as you sarcastically and patronizingly claim.

The ricasso upon the uncovering of the swordlike article was visibly signified as 'anti-juristic wrangling' but the following was indeed as objectionably sharp as the debole which instinctively stir one to fend off by means of juristic wrangling and regrettably, you felt no botheration on your part in failing to swirl your double-edged ideology recklessly throughout around that one group in our part of the world.

Saadia said...

I think, Sharik, your criticism is un-called for. Our mullahs do sing religious sonnets and naats to the tune of popular songs, and their crime is not just distastefulness but plagiarism too.

There is nothing inherently wrong with movies, but when we come across porn, we criticize. Razi too has not criticized naats per se but the way in which they are conducted. Your sensitivities were not compromised. In fact, I know that he does not subscribe to the Barelvi paradigm, but when the same was ridiculed by one of our readers here, he condemned that condescending behaviour.

In the art of critique, satire is a very useful and effective tool.

I am closing the comments on this post. Everybody has said what they wanted to say and we can't keep going around in circles.

Afaque said...

in our part of the world, the Poets of Naat sometimes are so prolific that they even forget the difference between Hazrat Muhammad SAW and Allah... [God Forbid]... n that is a real chaos...
its very important to be careful in that... rather its better to keep once voice to your own instead of letting others to hear to...
God will definitely know the love and truth inside once heart...

Razi Allah said...

Fragile Emptiness, if you don't understand the difference between satire, a literary genre, and arrogance and if you are intent on equating pride with satire, then that's your problem about which I can't do much. I am sure you will equate any kind of criticism with pride and arrogance and as a religious obligation, you must desist from criticizing anyone.

So you are a Saudi. Small wonder then that you are so arrogant; even the rest of the Arabs have similar feelings about you people. By any chance, are you a Wahabbi? You have asked a question whose response is to be found in the question itself. I stick to that method because it is the modeled method of the Prophet (sws) and the one which is prescribed in our religion. Now let me ask you, do you believe that Hyena is Halal? If not, why not? Do you believe that using the internet for propogating Islam is Halal? If yes, where has God made it Halal?

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