Yusuf Islam and his return to music


by Fe'reeha
18th May, 2006 at 4:50 pm    

In my last post, I mourned at a complete lack of understanding of PR in the muslim community. As if to answer my woes Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, announced a return to making music after twenty-eight years. In a press release issued by his office, Yusuf says:

There were 100 reasons for leaving the music industry back in 1979, not least because I had found what I was looking for spiritually. Today there are perhaps 101 good reasons why I feel right making music and singing about life in this fragile world again. Much has changed but today I am in a unique position as a looking-glass through which Muslims can see the West and the West can see Islam. It is important for me to be able to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross.

This is such a huge step. I am not sure how the extremist part of the Islamic community will be reacting to it? At present, music and dance are not popular choices for most Muslim scholars.

Another high profile convert Yvonne Ridley’s recently condemned Muslim women for enjoying an Islamic concert by Yusuf Sami.

Yusuf Islam’s decision has major implications. I admire him for being foresighted to realise the tide of Muslim community is going completely the wrong way and someone needs changing it. But while the news is interesting, I am more intrigued why he gave it up when he became Muslim in 1977.

It has been noted that Muslim converts in Europe follow the strictest and most literary interpretation of Islam. A few days ago, at a private meeting, Yvonne related her experience with Grand Imam Of Al-Azhar University, Dr. Muhammad Sayid Tantawy. She said as she was saying goodbye to the Imam after her interview, the Imam raised his hand towards her for a handshake.

Yvonne refused saying: “I am a Muslim woman”.

Unimpressed, the Imam persisted that she shake his hand and Yvonne kept on refusing until he said: “This is the problem with Muslim converts of the west. You follow the extreme interpretation. Yvonne, you are just like my daughter, and there is nothing wrong in a hand-shake.”

The issue of music is yet again a serious issue in Islam. A large number of Muslims listen to music but they are made to believe they are committing a sin. Pakistan’s pop star Junnaid Jamshed of Vital Signs group, followed the same path after reading Quran with translation. He has now returned with a CD on Islamic songs. (How Islam is fast becoming a commodity is a debate for another day).

People who favour music quote from Islamic history when women played drums and sang as the prophet Muhammed entered the city of Medina for the first time. Somehow I feel Yusuf’s decision to return to the pop world originates from the time he was stopped by the US authorities to enter the country.

Or maybe he also realised, as he says in his press release, there needs to be a bridge. And the bridge cannot be made by sitting in separate compartments. You need to get out and mingle with the rest of the world if you want them to understand your religion. What better way than choose the universal language of music.

It is appropriate to say: “The well won’t come to Muhammed, Muhammed will have to go the well.”


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  1. Jay Singh — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:04 pm  

    The best thing would be for a pop star of Muslim descent to arise where religion isnt a matter in his music or image – like Jay Sean is Sikh and Raghav is Hindu. No offence to Mr Islam but he’s getting on a bit! Need something for the ‘youth’

  2. Jay Singh — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:06 pm  

    How can that Pakistani pop singer claim he isnt allowed to sing when Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang spiritual songs?

  3. raz — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:07 pm  

    There was a great Pakistani Shia singer named Nusrat Ali Khan who was very popular in the West as well.

  4. raz — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:07 pm  

    Beat me to it Jay.

  5. Natasha Ali — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:15 pm  

    Yes but poor Nusrat was constantly criticised by his fellow country-men.
    In particular when he did “afreen, afreen”, the fanatics could not tolerate that a voice which has sung “Allah hu” should utter anything else, in particular when the video had a not so Muslim looking beauty in it.

  6. raz — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:20 pm  

    The best thing about Nusrat Ali Khan was that he got people of all religions all over the world to sing ‘Mola Ali’ without knowing what it meant. Awesome!

  7. Natasha Ali — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:37 pm  

    Well, what’s so great about that.

    Didn’t we all did Macarina without knowing the meaning as well.

    I think the best part of Nusrat was that he was a great singer.

  8. raz — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:41 pm  

    “Didn’t we all did Macarina without knowing the meaning as well”

    You did the Macarina? How sad :)

    Anyway, I think this is the video you were referring to

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=gi12fxjlq5E&search=afreen

  9. Jay Singh — on 18th May, 2006 at 5:45 pm  

    That’s Lisa Ray in that video isnt it?

    There is a new singer called Kailash Kher who models himself on Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his voice is remarkably similar to his

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=rId1koBIpFM&search=kailash%20kher

  10. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 6:56 pm  

    Kailash Kher does indeed sound very similar to Nusrat saab.

    He has an excellent video currently doing the rounds on the B4U music channel, for a song called “Teri Dewaani.” Superb song — I absolutely love that kind of music.

    Nice poetic video too.

  11. Jay Singh — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:00 pm  

    I posted the link for that video above Jai

  12. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:01 pm  

    I would be grateful if someone knowledgeable on the subject could please explain to me why music is frowned upon in orthodox Islam.

    Is it because it’s regarded as “wasting time” (the explanation Junaid Jamshed gave during an interview of his I saw a few months ago) ?

    Or is it because orthodox Islam places a greater emphasis on intellectual analysis — especially regarding religious matters and human conduct — and music would be regarded as manipulating/interfering with Islam-compatible thought-processes ? For example, the notion that the emotional impact of music would cause people to base some aspects of their thinking and behaviour on the “heart”, rather than the “mind” ?

  13. Jai — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    Nice one, Jay (even though I misspelt “Teri Deewani”). Good man ;)

    This song is fantastic, everyone; check it out if you have a few minutes free.

    Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

  14. Nav — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:10 pm  

    It doesn’t bother you that he advocated the murder of Salman Rushdie?

  15. Bikhair — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:13 pm  

    Jai,

    Anasheed, or Islamic music is frowned upon because it is considered in innovation and a immitation of other religious traditions. On the other hand poerty is permissible. You even have poetic renditions of scholarly works which is kinda strange to me.

    Those Arabs have, a custom of what we would now regard as freestyle, usually performed at social gathers, like weddings, where men, perhaps women, would exchange jibes at each other.

    My husband once told me of one he heard where one man insulted another, in lyrical arabic style by saying that his lineage were of great warriors while the other man’s was that of blacksmiths. Stuff like that. I dont know the ruling on suchs things but it is still something the Arabs do.

    Also you have to consider that there is alot of art and variation in reciting the Quran. It is a science really, something you can study. I hear the Somalis are very good at it.

  16. Ismaeel — on 18th May, 2006 at 7:42 pm  

    I am not someone with deep knowledge of Islam, but actually the Ulema of Islam have always been divided on the subject.

    The eminent Sunni scholar and saint Imam Ghazalli regarded music which uplifted the soul as permissable and that which attracted it to evil as prohibited and this is recorded in his famous masterpiece: the Ihya Uloom id Din- the Revival of the Religious Sciences

    Imam Ali Hujweri another Sunni Imam and Saint more famously known by the people of Pakistan as Data Ganj Baksh gave a similar opinion in his famous book Kashful Majhub.

    The literalist scholar of Andalusia Ibn Hazm also said music was permissable.

    Other famous scholars and sufis such as Imam Junaid al Baghdadi, Imam Bahuddin Shah Naqshband and of course Allama Moiuddin Chisthi who spread Islam in India through the use of the Qawalli as did his successors including the famous Baba Farid Ganj Shakir and Nizamuddin Awliya.

    All of the above were orthodox Sunni ulema and are accepted as such by the majority of the Ulema.

    However many Sunnis and Wahabbis regard music as forbidden based on their readings of certain hadiths which indicate the Prophet (PBUH) broke musical instruments. However the above scholars gave the opinion that he broke those instruments which were used to entertain those people who were indulging in prostitution and drinking alcohol.

    The long and the short of it is this that music which reminds one’s heart of the remembrance of Allah (SWT) or the glory of his Messenger (SAWS) and his Awliya (RA) is good, that which encourages to immorality is bad. In fact various forms of Islamic music are listened to the Muslim masses in all countries. It is only very cautious Sunnis and all Wahabbis who will not listen.

    As for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he was a Sunni not a Shiah, this is a fact, the fact that he praised Imam Ali (RA) is of no suprise because he is venerated by Sunnis as well as Shiahs and especially by the Sufis.

    And Tantawi for all his titles is a government puppet who gives out useless fatwas such as the hijab ban is an internal french matter and of no concern to Muslims outside France. Since Al-Azhar was nationalised by Nasser, they have abandoned classical teaching and rendered all the books into modern arabic.

  17. Jay Singh — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:03 pm  

    Jai please dont get into another Race of Holiness now.

  18. Ismaeel — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:51 pm  

    Jai said:
    For example, the notion that the emotional impact of music would cause people to base some aspects of their thinking and behaviour on the “heart”, rather than the “mind” ?

    No in fact again the concept of supra-rational is upheld in traditional Islam, think for example the authority of the revelation: it being divinely based means although individual rationales may not be able to explicate it, does not mean that it is irrational, this was the cause of the many polemics between the rationalist Mutazalites (who rejected anything they couldn’t rationalise) and the Orthodox Sunnis (who upheld the entirety of the revelations’ literal teachings about things such as the punishment of the grave) throughout the medieval period. Also the Qur’aan talks about the knowledge and sight of the heart and the chest. There is a particularly good work by Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi on this these different types of knowledge in his treatise “The States of the Heart” part of an enlish collection called Three Treatises on Sufism. Imam Ghazzali deals with this very isse in his spiritual autobiography Munqidh-ad-dalal: Deliverance from Error which has also been published in english as Al-Ghazzali’s Path to Sufism
    Also Al-Ghazzali narrates in his Ihya that the founders of the Islamic juristic schools would seek the assistance of prayer and the opinions of saintly men when they couldn’t find a solution to a legal question through their intellectual stuggling.

  19. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:52 pm  

    A bit OT, kind of

    This is what the Muslim world needs more of right now :)

  20. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:53 pm  

    I wonder if he will re-release his hit single as “Peace Be Upon Him Train” ?

  21. Ismaeel — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:56 pm  

    Actually it’s what the Muslim world needs less of now, secularism has caused all the evils that the Muslim world is now facing, from tyrannical rulers to deviant and distorted forms of Islam emerging out of a reaction to the same tyranny. Ataturk was nothing more than a 3rd rate Hitler, he is only loved in the west because he ensured the end of the Caliphate which they had been in the shade of for 1300 years.

  22. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 8:59 pm  

    Yawn

  23. Kismet Hardy — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:21 pm  

    This isn’t the first time Cat Stevens has returned to music. He made an album of devotional music featuring Bosnian artists in 1997. I think it was called I have no cannons that roar or I no longer shoot my load, or something like that. I don’t think Ronan Keating will be covering them in a hurry.

    I interviewed him back then (only got the interview because they thought Eastern Eye – who I laboured for back then – was a Muslim rag) and he was most perturbed that I kept bringing up Cat Stevens.

    I kept probing him about his happy hippy days and every time, he’d look uncomfortable, but also a little bit misty eyed. I asked him if he began to meditate to forget the flashbacks and he told me off for likening doing the namaaz with meditation.

    At which point he said, ‘you have no idea what drugs do to a man’

    And I quipped ‘sure I do. I did some just last night’

    I didn’t get to the second ha of my ha ha before he looked at watch and started muttering. I swear man, I nearly cracked him and brought him back.

    I coulda saved the cat, man. I coulda bring him back

  24. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:28 pm  

    Something else to cheer you up Ismaael, another gay muslim on Big Brother ;)

  25. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:33 pm  

    LOL Kismet

  26. Ismaeel — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:34 pm  

    j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:28 pm
    Something else to cheer you up Ismaael, another gay muslim on Big Brother

    May he or she recieve Allahs (SWT) guidance and forgiveness.

  27. Kismet Hardy — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:35 pm  

    It’s your Peace Train pun that got me going. I’m going to dig out his greatest hits and smoke me some crack

  28. Kismet Hardy — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:36 pm  

    What’s SWT? A gay club?

  29. Kismet Hardy — on 18th May, 2006 at 9:37 pm  

    I’ve been to Heaven nightclub. Didn’t see God there though. Faithless lied. He’s not a DJ. So many lies about him…

  30. j0nz — on 18th May, 2006 at 10:06 pm  

    Very good ;) Will have to remember that one

  31. Don — on 18th May, 2006 at 10:12 pm  

    Ismaeel,

    So is that a definite ‘no’ to Bessie Smith?

  32. al — on 18th May, 2006 at 11:20 pm  

    Shahbaz. apart from the fact he’s a bit capm and says he’s a “huge fan of Kylie Minogue and knitting” – what ever gave you the idea he’s gay ? apart from being called “Shahbaz” – what ever gives you the idea he’s a muslim ?

    in anycase, he isn’t going to win. sounds too bloody annoying . if a transexual can win, there’s hope for shabs. I’m worst for Ismaeel, shabs could become some ga muslim poster boy and go on rallies with tatchell. god help us. even allah (pbuh). Maybe will hitch a bare back ride with Richard, who “loves freedom of speech”. brace yourselves, this could be worse than the time galloway was on bb.

  33. Jay Singh — on 19th May, 2006 at 1:33 am  

    Kismet Hardy

    That is a brilliant anecdote.

  34. Jay Singh — on 19th May, 2006 at 2:27 am  

    And the Devil will be playing Cat Stevens records as you burn.

  35. Kismet Hardy — on 19th May, 2006 at 5:23 am  

    Which track?

    King of trees
    (Oh Lord how its empty now
    With nothing save the breeze
    Now theyve come to burn the leaves
    don’t burn the leaves)

    or

    Better bring another bottle with you baby
    (I get the feeling that you want to take off and fly
    High, high, well if my ceiling isn’t high enough
    We’ll burn up the sky)

    Alas, I fear that with my luck, it’ll be his 1995 album, The life of the last prophet, played on loop…

  36. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 8:40 am  

    I dont know who Bessie Smith is, so i couldn’t possibly comment

  37. Sid — on 19th May, 2006 at 10:00 am  

    Ismaeel

    Since you’ve already explained that music is not universally proscribed in Islam (only amongst the utterly boring reductionists), then the question of ‘would you listen to Bessie Smith’, implying, is Bessie Smith unlawful in your interpretation of Islam?’, is redundant.

    The long and the short of it is this that music which reminds one’s heart of the remembrance of Allah (SWT) is good…

    And there certainly isn’t anything Bessie Smith sang that wasn’t. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of music that isn’t transcendental in some form or another. I’d go as far as to say that dancing to looped dance music can be a profoundly religious experience as dancing in a Sufi hadra.

  38. Don — on 19th May, 2006 at 10:52 am  

    Ismaeel,

    I was teasing slightly with the Bessie Smith question, but not, I assure you, maliciously. Bessie sang about human frailty and human fellowship, about hardship and oppression and how people find the strength to not only go on, but to take pleasure in life. In short, the blues.

    A little more accessible, and in my opinion wholly transcendant is Nina Simone. I would recommend ‘Nina Simone and her Piano’. Try it. No man was ever the worse for loving the blues.

  39. Roger — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:14 am  

    Pity. About the only thing I liked about islam was that it kept him quiet for that long. I used to write to other people suggesting they converted too if it kept them quiet.
    Mind you, anyone who thought “The first cut is the deepest” was so unobservant they could be safely disregarded on any topic.

  40. Kismet Hardy — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:16 am  

    Bessie Does Dallas

    (I’ll get me coat)

  41. Poor betrayed hurt Kismet — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:25 am  

    Why were all Kismet Hardy’s post taken off? I… I mean he demands answer. Why can’t he mock a person who belongs to the same religion that turned him into the freak he is today? I shall write a strong letter of complaint.

    This is it.

    Now i must bugger my cat. He’s called Stevens, incidentally

  42. Shuggy — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:30 am  

    Ah the zeal of the converted; there are few things more irritating. Still, at least there’s old Richard Thompson and outstanding musicians and converts to Islam who didn’t interpret their religion in this way, thank goodness.

  43. Shuggy — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:32 am  

    Oops, that should say “…and Danny Thompson” – no relation.

  44. Jai — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:33 am  

    My sincere thanks to Bikhair and Ismaeel for kindly taking the time out to write such detailed explanations in response to my earlier question — greatly appreciated. It’s interesting how one hears quite different answers on this matter, depending on who one is talking to.

    Jay Singh,

    =>”Jai please dont get into another Race of Holiness now.”

    Don’t worry buddy, I’m already way ahead of you ;) My own approach to these matters has always been driven by a friendly interest in learning about other people’s religions, rather than viewing it as some kind of “competition”, an opportunity for self-glorification or an avenue to debunk the other party’s beliefs. The latter is just insensitive and a nasty way to behave, along with obviously being counterproductive. Keeping things genuinely friendly and polite is the best way to handle the topic.

    Anyway, here’s another question: Why do male singers in Sufi music (or music inspired by Sufism) so often use the female form in reference to themselves during the songs ? Is it because the romantic nature of the songs is basically a metaphor for the devotee’s love for God, and God is therefore regarded as the “husband” in this sense ?

    Kailash Kher’s song above is an example of this, although there are also numerous other examples such as various songs by Nusrat saab, Gurdaas Maan etc.

    (Jay Singh — yes I know that the rationale I’ve just given applies to many Sikh hymns; I was just wondering if Sufi songs have the same basis for female gender-usage by the male singer).

  45. mirax — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:59 am  

    >>No man was ever the worse for loving the blues.

    Tsk, Don. Trying to corrupt poor innocent Ishmael with the devil’s music… you know, faustian johnsonian pact …delta of the damned etc… ;-)

  46. sonia — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:10 pm  

    “It has been noted that Muslim converts in Europe follow the strictest and most literary interpretation of Islam”

    very apt. but not surprising. and why is this? its not restricted to religious communities though – a social dynamic we can observe elsewhere if we look at it.

    if you’re new into a ‘community’ people seem to feel they’ve got a job to do in ‘upholding’ what they see as the community’s values ( whether they’ve correctly interpreted that is another matter) similarly they have the impression they’re an ‘outsider’ {and this may or may not be re-inforced by the ‘insiders’} and not feel comfortable in just being ‘themselves’.

    i’d say this britishness thing is quite similar – immigrants often feel they have to act ‘british’ or affirm their ‘british’ identity in visible ways – generally issues that non-immigrants may not feel quite so much pressure over/feel its important for themselves. but again – many ‘non-immigrants’ often people the ‘new folk’ aren’t being ‘british’ and this is viewed as a threat by some people. the thread re: sense of britishness was interestingly revealing in that way.

  47. Sid — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:12 pm  

    Its sad that Wahhabis feel they must deprive themselves of music, especially when there’s so much in the way of Ibadat (worship) in the music of these luminary converts to Islams: John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra.

    For those who like it more contemporary, you can always have a singalong just before jumma prayers:

    Say Allah!
    sung to the tune of Outkast’s Hey Ya!

    Shake it, shake, shake it, shake it (OHH OH)
    Shake it, shake it, shake, shake it, shake it, shake it (OHH OH)
    Shake it, shake it like a Polaroid Picture, shake it, shake it
    Shh you got to, shake it, shh shake it, shake it, got to shake it
    (Shake it Suga’) shake it like a Polaroid Picture

  48. sonia — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:14 pm  

    erm..”many ‘non-immigrants’ often people the ‘new folk’ aren’t being ‘british’”

    typo..meant ‘many non-immigrants often feel the new folk arent being ‘british’

  49. sonia — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:22 pm  

    nothing wrong with any creative expression is the bottom line. anyone who insists on constantly seeing ‘evil’ where they go are just a bunch of party-poopers.

    phoooey to them!

    incidentally, with relation to my above post on converts etc. id say as well – in the context of diasporic community dynamics – british muslims appear to be ( generally!) a bit more het up about their religion in a defensive kind of way. ( well that’s somewhat changing with the global war on terror – a lot of people are feeling defensive!) but back in the day when i was an undergrad and had just moved to britain i found it quite amusingly surprising the religiosity of a lot of young br. asian muslims. ( and i’d just left the middle east…)

    it became clear after a while a large part of it was the diasporic dynamic – “oh i must be true to my heritage”. boy it made me glad at the time i wasn’t an immigrant and had to deal with such a burden!

  50. Don — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:23 pm  

    Mirax,

    Shh, it might just work.

  51. Sid — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:37 pm  

    Jai

    Anyway, here’s another question: Why do male singers in Sufi music (or music inspired by Sufism) so often use the female form in reference to themselves during the songs ? Is it because the romantic nature of the songs is basically a metaphor for the devotee’s love for God, and God is therefore regarded as the “husband” in this sense ?

    I guess you’re right. The Beloved being a metaphor for God and therefore regarded in the masculine sense. Pretty similar to Hindu bhajans where they are sung in the voice of Radha for the love of the Krishna as the embodiment of God.

    Would the opposite be Dante’s esoteric songs of love to Beatrice, as a symbol for the feminine aspect of God – the Sophia? Or was he just composing high-class bawdy numbers? I dunno.

  52. mirax — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:38 pm  

    Don,

    You really think that our friend will warm to songs like “Gimme a pigfoot (and a bottle of beer)” ?

    Dream on ;-0

  53. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:47 pm  

    As for the blues which sings about the oppression of life I cannot see why that would be unacceptable to listen to. Q-News ran an obituary on a Muslim Mali blues man this month, i forget his name. Actually believe it or not my Christian mother once worked for the late Nina Simone and as a child i saw her in concert and was even hugged by her. Her songs are indeed truly powerful and often transcendent.

    Jai, the qawallis in large part are persian and urdu sufi poems written by Sufi Luminaries such as Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz etc. The songs of love for man or woman are always metaphorical songs of love for Allah (SWT). Actually in much sufi poetry it is the feminine Layla (of Layla and Majnun fame) who is the metaphor for Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) theologically speaking transcends male and female, and some theologians have spoken about the attributes of Allah (SWT) being divisible into male and female attributes. Myself, i wouldn’t go so far, but am able to appreciate the metaphors of the poetry.

    Converts wherever they may have converted are often far more committed to their religion and fearful of Allah (SWT) than their co-religionists who were born into the faith. This is for a mixture of factors, mainly to do with the fact that most converts spent a long time studying and researching the religion before they embraced it. However i also know of many converts who are decidedly bad Muslims by anyone’s judgement. Being committed doesn’t mean they are literalistic, the quoted story shows Tantawi’s modernistic interpretation which contradicts the consensus of the classical ulema who studied with the students of the Prophet’s (SAWS) companions (RA).

  54. mirax — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:47 pm  

    >>Pretty similar to Hindu bhajans where they are sung in the voice of Radha for the love of the Krishna as the embodiment of God.

    Yep. The medieval bhakti female saints Andal and Meerabhai were totally about ‘union’ with the beloved and the former actually ‘married’ her deity (reminds me of catholic nuns being the brides of christ).

  55. Sid — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:51 pm  

    it became clear after a while a large part of it was the diasporic dynamic – “oh i must be true to my heritage”. boy it made me glad at the time i wasn’t an immigrant and had to deal with such a burden!

    I know that feeling. Noticeable also is the phenomenon of the immigrant who goes back to the “motherland” and gets uptight about the laxadaisical unreligiosity of the people back home. The fact that they don’t feel they have anything to “prove” and therefore haven’t felt the need to strap themselves into a seige mentality hits home.

  56. Sid — on 19th May, 2006 at 12:57 pm  

    Ismaeel

    You were hugged by Nina Simone? Respect. :-)

  57. Kismet Hardy — on 19th May, 2006 at 1:42 pm  

    They let me back in! All my posts have been re-inserted! Allah be praised. Now to apologise to my cat, Stevens, for rogering him so furiously

  58. sonia — on 19th May, 2006 at 1:47 pm  

    sid – right on.
    “I know that feeling. Noticeable also is the phenomenon of the immigrant who goes back to the “motherland” and gets uptight about the laxadaisical unreligiosity of the people back home.”

    back to my uni days again ( sorry! such a wealth of empirical data :-) ) a lot of my british asian muslim friends couldn’t get why the rest of us non-british asian muslims were so ‘lax’. the attitude was always like shock horror! we only thought white people do this..and then they’d find out how things ‘really’ were ‘back home’. but most didnt really know about ‘back home’ cos they were always stuck with rellies and couldn’t get out onto the scene…

  59. Don — on 19th May, 2006 at 2:08 pm  

    Ismaeel,

    Common ground in music. Cool.

  60. Jai — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:02 pm  

    Ismaeel & Sid, thank you again for your explanations. It’s always interesting to learn more about these things.

    Sikh scriptures/hymns also use the same poetic licence in sometimes referring to God as “the husband”, as God is actually regarded as having no gender. Correspondingly, the emphasis is also much more on encouraging piety out of love for God, rather than fear of God.

    However, it is true that sometimes people who convert to another faith (or “re-discover” their own religion) sometimes go to extremes in their interpretation & practice of the faith, regardless of specifically which religion we’re talking about — it happens right across the board. Sunny and I also had a quick chat about this here on PP a few days ago as some of you may know.

  61. justforfun — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:29 pm  

    Can we all singalong to this

    The tune is – “That old time religion”

    Here are the first 9 verses – there are 83 in total…

    Let us worship Aphrodite,
    1) Though we hear she’s rather flighty
    1) Still she looks great in a nightie
    1) And that’s good enough for me.
    2)
    2) We will pray to Father Zeus
    2) In his temple we’ll hang loose
    2) Eating roast beef au jus,
    2) And that’s good enough for me.
    3)
    3) Let us worship like the Druids
    3) Drinking strange fermented fluids
    3) Running naked through the wo-ods,
    3) And that’s good enough for me.
    4)
    4) My roommate worships Buddha.
    4) There is no idol cuter.
    4) Comes in copper, bronze, and pewter,
    4) And that’s good enough for me.
    5)
    5) We will worship Sun Myung Moon
    5) Though we know he is a goon.
    5) All our money he’ll have soon.
    5) And that’s good enough for me.
    6)
    6) We will go down to the temple,
    6) Sit on mats woven of hemp(le),
    6) Try to set a good exemple {\Fit0 [sic]},
    6) And that’s good enough for me.
    7)
    7) We will finally pray to Jesus,
    7) From our sins we hope he frees us,
    7) Eternal life he guarantees us,
    7) And that’s good enough for me.
    8)
    8) Let us pray to Zarathustra
    8) Let us pray just like we useta
    8) I’m a Zarathustra boosta
    8) It’s good enough for me.
    9)
    9) Let us pray like the Egyptians
    9) Build pyramids to put our crypts in
    9) Fill our subways with inscriptions
    9) It’s good enough for me.
    10)
    10) If it’s good enough for Dagon
    10) That conservative old pagan
    10) Who still votes for Ronald Reagan
    10) It’s good enough for me
    11)
    11) We will have a mighty orgy,
    11) In the honor of Astarte
    11) It will be one helluva party
    11) And it’s good enough for me.
    12)
    12) We will sacrifice to Yuggoth
    12) Carve the signs of Azathoth
    12) Burn a candle for Yog-Sothoth
    12) And the Goat with a thousand young.
    13)
    13) We will all be saved by Mithras
    13) We will all be saved by Mithras
    13) Slay the bull and play the zithras
    13) On that resurrection day.

    ……………

    http://www.skepticfiles.org/religion/oldtymes.htm

    Justforfun

  62. justforfun — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:39 pm  

    Brilliant – Ahura Mazda – the main man, is in
    the code of HTML :-) 8)

    Justforfun

  63. Kismet Hardy — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:44 pm  

    Tea for the Taliban, anyone?

  64. Kismet Hardy — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:46 pm  

    Tea for thr Taliban, anyone?

  65. Kismet's monkey — on 19th May, 2006 at 3:48 pm  

    Tea for the Taliban, anyone?

    Or The first kurd is the deepest, perhaps?

    Matthew & sin!

    Anyhoo, back to rogering my cat, stevens.

  66. mirax — on 19th May, 2006 at 4:09 pm  

    Justforfun,

    Great contribution from the skepticfiles! As a cardcarrying member of a skeptic group, I am so proud that ‘we’ are doing our bit for inter-faith harmony…

  67. Nyrone — on 19th May, 2006 at 4:54 pm  

    Where in the Qur’an does it even state that music is haram? I seem don’t understand something so steeped in literalism, where an ‘interpretation’ is all that is needed to pronounce something true or false.

    Perfect example: I met a convert a few years ago who told me that listening to all music was completely out of the question, and that it was truly a devilish thing. I kept listening to her and 10 mins later she told me that she went to go and see ‘Shrek 2′ in Cinema and that it was great fun. My question? What about the music that is in Shrek? Rock music and classical? Is that ok? She told me she didn’t have ‘the knowledge’ and that she would have to ask a ‘scholar’.

  68. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 6:34 pm  

    It is not mentioned in the Qur’aan. It is mentioned in the hadiths and as i’ve explained the Ulema have differed on the understandings of those hadith.

    If the sister followed the opinion that all music was haraam, then i think Shrek 2 is pretty much out of the question.

  69. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 6:43 pm  

    Oh and on the literalism bit, not all verses in the Qur’aan are to be interpreted literally. Anyone who has studied the principles of Quraanic exegesis (tafseer) can tell you that. There are what we call verses which are muqamat (clear) which must be interpreted literally and only have one meaning and others with are mutashabihat (unclear) which could have several meanings but should be interpreted to concur with the meanings of the clear verses.

  70. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 6:47 pm  

    Jai

    Yes sometimes converts do go to extremes, in fact it is a well known phenomenon, it is a trick of the Devil who whispers to the ego(nafs-ul-ammara) saying “Well done, you have become a Muslim, how clever you are to have done so, you are really a great person etc” which inculates pride in the convert which can lead to self-righteousness, refusal to listen to religious authorities and other’s opinions. This is why in Islam there is an emphasis on having a Murshid/Pir- a spiritual guide who can treat the ego of it’s sicknesses.

  71. j0nz — on 19th May, 2006 at 6:55 pm  

    …This is why in Islam there is an emphasis on having a Murshid/Pir- a spiritual guide who can treat the ego of it’s sicknesses.

    Yvonne Ridley needs one of those little Murshid fellas.

  72. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 7:07 pm  

    Oh and before i forget drinking and visiting taverns are also used extensivley in sufi poetry and music as metaphors for being intoxicated by the love of Allah (SWT).

  73. justforfun — on 19th May, 2006 at 8:54 pm  

    Mirax – I think I have had a religious moment – very brief one but when I saw the Sun with shades on I realised it was Ahura Mazda having a little Bawa joke with me as he sits up there as the God of Wisdom and Truth, looking at us down here, his foot soldiers.

    Justforfun

  74. Jai — on 19th May, 2006 at 8:58 pm  

    I remember reading a few months ago that originally, the word “Shaitan” in Judaism actually meant “ego”, not a demon/evil spirit in the literal sense. Interestingly, this leads nicely to a similar concept within Sikhism, namely that the greatest “demon” a person should really be concerned with is his/her own ego. It’s regarded as the most dangerous of what Sikhism refers to as the “5 Thieves”.

    In any case, regardless of whether one regards the source in such matters as externally derived (ie. Satan in the conventional, literal sense) or internal — ie. our own vices and flaws — the basic principle is the same. One’s ego* can indeed be a major source of many of our own failings and negative behaviours, and the biggest issue within ourselves which we as humans need to handle and get control over. So, I think this is a good teaching that several of the religions mentioned on this thread appear to promote.

    *”Ego” in the sense of arrogance and excessive pride — not to be confused with “self-respect” or “self-confidence”. One can be self-assured without necessarily simultaneously being arrogant or overbearing.

    Anyway — to take this back to the main topic — I don’t think any good-natured person (of any religion) who listened to the qawaalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan would deny the inspiring nature of the music and the wonderful spirituality that one can sense within it. Beautiful music indeed.

  75. rockmother — on 19th May, 2006 at 10:53 pm  

    Surely music is just a side issue or possibly a vehicle here – Yusuf Islam has declared a very big thing – to bridge the ‘cultural gap’ between the Muslim community and the West. That’s a massive mission and undertaking to take on. I’m sure it is meant with great heart and I see what he is saying given that he was not raised or born a Muslim – but a very difficult thing to do politically – and singlehanded at that.

  76. John Browne — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:11 pm  

    Rock music was bought into Spain by the moors in the 10th century. Rock in the sense of “Guitar”.

    The moors were Muslim.

    Take your mind back to this time; a time when men dressed in full arab outfits sat on camels and strummed on their guitars as they gently rode through the desert during star-lit nights singing love songs to their arabettes.

    Whatever happend to these ancient arab pop stars? Do they still exist?

    John

  77. Sajn — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:52 pm  

    “There was a great Pakistani Shia singer named Nusrat Ali Khan who was very popular in the West as well.”

    Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was not a Shia.

  78. Sajn — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:54 pm  

    “Why do male singers in Sufi music (or music inspired by Sufism) so often use the female form in reference to themselves during the songs ? Is it because the romantic nature of the songs is basically a metaphor for the devotee’s love for God, and God is therefore regarded as the “husband” in this sense ?”

    I think it is more an acknowledgement that women have a greater capacity for love I think.

  79. Ismaeel — on 19th May, 2006 at 11:59 pm  

    Jai

    indeed the ego is the greatest Shaitan, after all what was it that caused Iblis (Shaitan) to fall from Allah (SWT)’s favour in the first place.

  80. jamal — on 20th May, 2006 at 5:04 am  

    Its a good return. He is in the position to do good with his music, as he has done already with his status.

  81. Roger — on 20th May, 2006 at 8:28 am  

    “not all verses in the Qur’aan are to be interpreted literally…. There are what we call verses which are muqamat (clear) which must be interpreted literally and only have one meaning and others with are mutashabihat (unclear) which could have several meanings but should be interpreted to concur with the meanings of the clear verses.”

    The problem is who decides what is clear and what they actually mean.

  82. Ismaeel — on 20th May, 2006 at 9:27 am  

    Roger,

    Who decides what is clear and what is not is dependant on transmission. Any true scholar of Islam recieved permission (ijazah) from his teacher to teach, in turn his teacher recieved it from his teacher etc, streatching back to the Prophet (SAWS). Therefore there is an understanding of the verses that can be connected back to the Prophet (SAWS). However that doesn’t mean they’re can’t be differences of opinion, because his own companions (RA) differed on their understanding of his instructions during his lifetime and he approved of this difference as he recognised human understandings would always differ. Therefore within traditional Islam there are many differences of opinion on issues of law and with some periphery matters of belief.
    The problem with the “reformists” is that they tend to have little to no appreciation of the deep erudition it requires to just master the skills it takes to give a legal opinion on a new subject. It can take years and years of training. An in depth understanding of the classical arabic (fusha) and it’s many complex rules is essential. Considering that there are 336 conjugations of the past tense alone, you can appreciate it is not the same as your average joe who may have learnt a simplified modern arabic interpreting the Qur’aan or even worse trying to do so on the basis of an english translation.

  83. John Browne — on 20th May, 2006 at 9:35 am  

    ….the problem is a clash of civilisations.
    On the one side there is the “Indo-European” civilisation . Tribes spread from central asia all over Europe and India. they bought the multi-god, VISUAL (sight) perspective to religion and philosophical discourse. What you SEE is all important. Thus the Norse Gods, The Greek Gods, The Roman Gods and Indian Gods are actually all identical – the names are even dervided from one another. There are huge visual representations of heaven, gods, hell, and other spiritual thus. all the cultures developed philosophy along with these gods.

    The semitic tribes are of a different culture altogether. They started in the middle east and they
    say what you HEAR is all important. To them there is only one god and visual (sight) is bad. “Oh HEAR oh Israel” or the Koran (meaning RECITATION).

    We talk to them philosophy (eg how can an eskimo eat koshure food) and say “look around you and smell the coffee, “….
    They respond “IT SAYS HERE and that is ALL I NEED To know.”.

    Christianity has a foot in both the Semitic camp and the Indo-European cultural camp and although it is a bridge for some Jews and Muslims to join with the rest of the worlds “I SEE” it is now getting too politically
    connected to the USA, we need to see a revival of Orthodox music and culture in the East.

    This singer came from Island Greece, he had Orthodox and MUSLIM relatives on the Island.

    Liberal Athiesm is another escape route but I think I hate it. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen were great Jewish singers who could also understand Christain VISUAL indo-european thinking. Freddie Mercury (Iranian) and Queen – the ultimate visual rock muscian.

    Perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody is the greatest rock song of all.

    “Gallileo, Gallileo,” (athiest anti-religion)
    “Bismillah! We will not let you go – let him go (never)” (Bismillah is the opening word of the Qu’ran)

    “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye
    So you think you can love me and leave me to die”
    “Nothing really matters
    Anyone can see”

    SEE – is the IndoEuropean mindset, then he goes to “Wind Blows” – the Holy Spirit.

    John

  84. sonia — on 20th May, 2006 at 12:34 pm  

    bohemian rhapsody certainly is the greatest song ever. and the clash of civilizations thesis is a self-fulfilling prophecy. think someone’s your enemy – designate them as such, and your ‘group’ will soon consider that a reality.

  85. John Browne — on 20th May, 2006 at 5:49 pm  

    sonia,
    Its you who introduced “enemy”; I just pointed out that there actually two competing (clashing) cultures. From my own history Cromwellian culure was semitic (they were pro-jew and anti-catholic) this does not mean that I am against all Cromwellian ideas or that all Cromwellian thought is the enemy of Catholism (Catholic nuns now sometimes use the prayers of Cromwell). One of the most famous quotes of Cromwell was:

    “Every man thinks God is on his side, I’ll warrent God must wonder who is on His” (An atheist can take God out of the quote and put ‘Truth’ in instead).

    Freddy Mercury named himself after the Latin God Mercury and not the Greek version – Hermes. Perhaps he felt Latin was for love and music and Greece was for hidden secrets and intellect. Nevertheless Hermetic ideas are in Freddy’s songs and especially Bohemian Rhapsody. Freddy knew that the Qu’ran call in the song was a totally different culture to “Mercury” and the secret messages of (the) God(s).

  86. David T — on 20th May, 2006 at 6:52 pm  

    I’m a massive fan of Cat Stevens. I shall certainly be downloading his new album illegally off t’internet.

    Not something I’d usually, do – but I’m slightly worried about what he might do with the rumoured $1m he has re-signed for.

    Shahbaz is rumoured to have had a thing with Morrissey, btw.

  87. Jai — on 20th May, 2006 at 7:27 pm  

    A couple of points regarding Freddy Mercury:

    1. He was Zoroastrian, not Muslim. His ancestors were indeed Persian but his family were from Zanzibar, having previously been in India for many generations.

    2. As far as I know, his stage name was chosen due to similarities to his “real” name, ie. Farookh Balsara. I may be mistaken but I think Balsara is similar to a word for Mercury, although I can’t remember if this is in Hindi, Urdu, or Farsi (Persian).

  88. David T — on 20th May, 2006 at 7:48 pm  

    I remember seeing his old indian mum interviewed after his death and suddenly going… fuck me! he’s asian! I’d never realised!

  89. John Browne — on 20th May, 2006 at 8:26 pm  

    Jai,
    I never said he was Muslim (although obviously some of his East African mates would have been).

    However I can tell from his lyrics that he was a well educated man and that he was quite interested in religion. Thus he would have know that Hermetic “secret god messages” would be linked to the surname “Mercury” espcially as he WROTE songs which are themed to give subtle religious subtext messages and moods.

    For sure Mercury might well have another meaning but he would almost certainly know the hermes link – I would be incredibly surprised if he didn’t!

    http://thanasis.com/hermes.htm

    John

  90. Jay Singh — on 20th May, 2006 at 9:08 pm  

    It was the moustache that made me suspect he might have some Indian in him, before I knew he was from Bombay originally.

    When you think about it his stage presence was very Bollywood flamboyant.

  91. Jai — on 21st May, 2006 at 11:08 am  

    I meant “Mercury” in the sense of the metal, not the planet.

    And yes Jay Singh, you’re right about his flamboyant stage persona — wouldn’t be out of place on a Karan Johar movie, eh ;)

  92. Ismaeel — on 21st May, 2006 at 11:34 am  

    John,

    interesting thesis you have on the division between indo-aryan and semetic cultures, but i’m afraid it is not quite as simple as you make it out to be.

    Firstly in Islm, the emphasis has not solely been on listening to the Qur’aan and it’s message but also in imitating those who embodied it’s message starting with the Prophet (SAWS) and continuing with his successors. For example the Prophet (PBUH) said “Pray as you see me praying”, “to look at Ali (RA) is an act of worship”, “to look at the ka’bah is an act of worship”, “to look at one’s parents with love is an act of worship”, and also there are numerous verses of the Qur’aan about observing natural phenomenon to prove the existance of the one Almighty Allah (SWT).

    Secondly the polytheistic religions of indo-aryan culture also existed in the middle east. The Old Testement is replete with stories of the struggle of the Prophets (PBUH)and the Baalist pagans. Similarly the Prophe Muhammad (PBUH) was born into a pagan polytheistic society which he stuggled against.

    To draw a distinction as one of two different civilisations based on hearing and seeing, i think is tenuous indeed. In fact the difference is between perceptions of the reality of the Divine. Is he one Almighty indivisable being who created everything and has power over everything or is the world governed by thousands upon thousands of divine beings in a heirachy?

    Finally as an aside there is a distinctly monotheistic set of teachings within Hindu civilisation and many Hindus have rejected all forms of idol-worship and worship of anything except the One God. Mohandas Gandhi known as the Mahatma is a good example of this form of Hinduism, but there are many others. From an Islamic perspective this accords with the teaching of the Qu’raan that asserts that all religions started with a Prophet (PBUT) from Allah (SWT) and which taught the same beliefs, but because of men’s desires these religions have been altered to become unrecognisable as Islam.

  93. John Browne — on 21st May, 2006 at 12:39 pm  

    Hi Ismaeel,
    I just want to state that I am not an expert on history.

    I was summerising A CHILDRENs story called: “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder.

    Its a story where a philosopher writes a series of letters to a 14 year old Norwegian girl explaining the history of philosophy. The back drop is that there is a battalion of Norwegian troops in the lebanon (1990 UN).

    Page 125 new Chapter: “Two Cultures”.
    Subheadings “The Indo-Europeans” and “Semites”.

    Of course we are all now mixed (even religiously) but we still tend one way or the other, that is her main point (and she is just relating general knowledge to children, its not new).

    Don’t shoot the messenger (book praised by Guardian, Times and Telegraph) – she’s also written Maya, ‘Through A Glass Darkly’, ‘The Ringmaster’s Daughter’,'The Solitaire Mystery’, ‘The Christmas Mystery’.

    John

  94. John Browne — on 21st May, 2006 at 1:44 pm  

    Ismaeel,
    I’ve thought about it a bit. There is more evidence for you that “Hear” and “One God” is distinctly middle east. Egypt and the Nile Valley is easily the biggest influence in the region.

    1300BC. This is from Wikipedia (HEAR o Isreal):

    In Year 9 Akhenaten strengthened the Atenist regime, declaring the Aten not merely the supreme god but actually the only god, a universal deity, and forbidding worship of all others, including the veneration of idols, even privately in people’s homes – an arena the Egyptian state had previously not touched in religious terms. Atenism, like Judaism, was then based on strict unitarian monotheism, the belief in one God. The prayer par excellence in terms of defining God is the Great Hymn to the Aten, “O Sole God beside whom there is none” (compare this to the Judaic Shema Yisrael, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one”).

    Akhenaten staged the ritual regicide of the old supreme god Amun, and ordered the defacing of Amun’s temples throughout Egypt, and of all the old gods. The word for `gods’ (plural) was proscribed, and inscriptions have been found in which even the hieroglyph of the word for “mother” has been excised and re-written in alphabetic signs, because it had the same sound in ancient Egyptian as the sound of name of the Theban goddess Mut. Aten’s name is also written differently after Year 9, to emphasise the radicalism of the new regime. No longer is the Aten written using the symbol of a rayed solar disc, but instead it is spelt phonetically.

    Come on, son, you have to agree, this historic event is distictly middle eastern (semitic), and not a general INDO-EUROPEAN thing.

  95. Ismaeel — on 21st May, 2006 at 2:04 pm  

    John,

    i’ve read Sophie’s World. Whether it was praised or not, doesn’t make it gospel truth (forgive the pun).

    I still think your thesis is weak, as there are evidence in many religions: Hinduism i’ve already mentioned but others, such as many African religions that indicate that there was at some point in the past a tussle between monotheistic and polytheistic/pantheistic conceptions.

  96. John Browne — on 21st May, 2006 at 2:18 pm  

    Ismaeel,
    At Star Carr in Yorkshire they have found the oldest worked timbers in the world (11000BC). At the same time we get the Jomon culture in Japan (the oldest pottery in the world – 12000BC – older then Jericho). Both these incredibly ancient cultures (japanese and ancient brit) have no evidence of “one god” stuff you talk about. If you make a point you should really back it up with some evidence (even if its slight)

    (Francis Pryor – “Britain BC” – he said he actually kept the wood in his sink for a while).

    John

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