‘Salawat’ – a musical tradition in Islam

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

There is a great musical tradition in Islam, one that the West knows little of. One that spans a multitude of styles, genres and ages. From the deep rhythm of African drums to the mournful haunting melodies of Central Asia to the lyrically joyful sounds of the Indonesian percussion to the complex soothing majesty of the middle eastern Oud, Santoor and Violin, there has been a wealth of musicality in the Muslim world. Most of these classical traditions revolve around ‘salawat’ (=sending prayers upon the prophet, peace be upon him), and many are the lengthy poems and odes sung in every part of the world in praise of Muhammed, the beloved messenger (peace be upon him, his family and his followers). I will hope to collect a few of these genres together soon to give you a glimpse into this rich tradition.

There is a difference of opinion among Muslims as to the permissibility of Muslic in Islam. Islam is more commonly understood as a way of life among its adherents rather than a religion (see this post where I detail this better) and therefore everything in life has a law attached to it. The default state of everything is that it is permissible and only exceptions are forbidden. This is the classical scholarly understanding. The burden of proof always falls on rendering something invalid rather than the other way around. However I am sure all my Muslim readers would have come across the so called ‘haram police’ at least once in their life. These are the self-righteous self-appointed ‘scholars’ who would have you think that everything was forbidden and the burden of proof was on rendering validity (yet another symptom of the disease of lack of sound knowledge of Islam among Muslims nowadays). These people suck the joy out of life, and that is rather strange that they claim it is Islamic, when we know that the prophet (peace be upon him) was one of the most positive cheerful kind gentle accommodating of people, always smiling and always benevolent.

For myself, I have never found in my practice of Islam, anything except for joy, and that ever present sense of deep peace, which especially is strengthening during those difficult times that this life is bound to be peppered with.

So as to the permissibility of Music – the strictest opinion is that only using the human voice is allowed, the next lenient one is that the voice and percussion (some specify exactly which type of drum) is allowed, the next lenient one is that any instrument is allowed. However for all of the above, there is a consensus that the lyrics/message of the music must be ‘sound/wholesome/good/halal’. In other words ludity, lyrics that encourage impermissible actions, disturb the heart (e.g., violence, ugliness) etc. are to be absent in order for it to be allowable to partaken in.

About this difference in opinion – what is important to note is that scholarly difference of opinion is always respected and one may choose the opinion that suits one. One may disagree with another Muslim’s stance but one is not allowed to impose one’s way on the other. The latter point should be underlined, such is the sad state of lack of Islamic knowledge among Muslims these days that many do not know this principle, and a lot of unnecessary argumentation and much worse ensues. There are a vast number of issues upon which opinions differ in the Muslim’s life, and this is not a problem or should not be.

Music affects different people in different ways.  I have always found it healing and spiritually very uplifting. Someone once told me that ‘music is mathematics in motion’. This makes perfect sense to me. I have always adored mathematics…it is as they say ‘the language to understand the divine’ – of course mathematics will only lead us to a glimpse of divine truths, as a complete understanding of the divine is not possible in this lifetime given the limitations of our brain, and only God knows if it will ever be possible!

After all, while we all know that there is a concept called ‘infinite’ do we really *know* what that means? So can we really ever comprehend an infinite being? In mathematics it is proven that any number divided by infinity equals zero, and thus we say that anything or anyone compared to God, who is infinite, equals nothing! Hence the deeply spiritual person’s moving to a state of being devoid of  ‘ego’ (a good way to recognize a true teacher from a false one). This is why we also emphasize the oneness of God.. Mathematically, one (as in the absolute ‘one’..here I am talking about the concept of singularity) is the only number that cannot be divided…were it to be divided, it would not be one, and were it capable of being divided, then it would by definition have a limit, and what is limited is not infinite and hence cannot be God. These are some brief points to note on why mathematics has always been a cherished science in the Muslim world, and why Muslim scholars of old have recognized the power of music, being that ‘mathematics in motion’.

In the Islamic Golden age (when Algebra was invented) Muslim art always used geometrical patterns for that same reason – using pattern work to symbolize eternity and using the mathematical ratios of sides to symbolize the oneness of God. So that one who looks upon this pattern work is transported ‘out of the body, freeing the mind so as to catch a glimpse’…thereby making art a means to ‘know’ God, so to Islamic music has sought to transcend or elevate the limits of human consciousness.

That long preamble done, I wanted to share with you a piece from the ‘Firdous ensemble’. A very unique group of musicians who are blending different musical genres to produce what to me is a marvelous rendition of classical Islamic musical works. They are based in modern day Spain and strive to bring back to life the spirit of old Andalusia. A spirit some have argued this fractured world of the so called ‘clash of civilizations’ is much in need of rekindling. A place and time when people of different faiths, cultures and ideas lived and worked side by side, in what some historians have called was ‘the closest thing to paradise created on earth’.

So here is the Firdous ensemble. They are singing in praise of the prophet (peace be upon him)

They combine traditional and modern elements, even incorporating some celtic fiddle work in certain pieces! It’s best enjoyed with headphones. You can youtube more of their work, here are two clips I particularly like-

1. Salawat Dimashqiyya –

salawat = sending prayers upon the prophet (peace be upon him) and Dimashqiyya = from Damascus. It must be an ancient piece, or perhaps it is their name for it. I will translate what I can for your enjoyment and better appreciation below;

Begins with recitation from Quran, Surah 49, ayat 13 and Surah 33, ayat 56

49:13
(Quran 49:13) Sahih International Interpretation

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.

33:56
(Quran 33:56) Sahih International Interpretation

Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [ Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [ Allah to grant him] peace.

@min 2:24 various salawat in Arabic…

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

@min 5.56 – singing in turkish (?)

@min 6.14 chorus –

“hasbi rabbi jallalah, maafi qalbi ghairullah = sufficient is my Lord, the majestic, for me, there is none in my heart except God/

“nur Muhammed sallallah, la ilaaha illallah” = The light of Muhamed (peace and blessing be upon him), there is no God but God.

refrain – “la ilaaha illallaah” = there is no God but God

end – “Muhammed rasullullah” = Muhammed is the messenger of God.

A recitation of the opening chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha = ‘the opening’ is given at the end as is often customary.

2. Madha Morisco – Morisco was the name give to Muslims who lived in Spain after the Reconqista. The video has subtitles and and an explanation. This one I find rather poignant, as there is some reason to believe I may have partially descended from the Moriscoes. Perhaps this geneticist should sequence her genome to find out! Enjoy :)

How the Quran heals (me) -1

Assalamu alaikum (=peace be with you) dear readers,

I pray this finds you well and peacefully greeting this new year of 2015. Alhamdulillah (=praise and thanks to God) I am returned safely after some extensive travel. It was extensive in terms of distance, time and also in terms of heart openings and incidents.

Incidents during this journey and remembering where I was at this time last year refresh in the mind a strong memory. Something I have been wanting to post on for sometime but had not yet gotten to that ‘place’ from where I could. Now it may be time to start. Hence the number in the title above – inshaallah (=God willing) I will post more segments during this new year.

To begin with the first, let me keep it short. Approximately a year and a half ago (the date will never leave my memory I think) I had an answer to a very deep prayer manifested in the most unexpected of ways – by a near or perhaps a complete breakdown that left me helpless and sinking into a deep depression. The incidents that prompted this state were several, however they culminated in a very scary episode while I was driving. Without going into details let me say, that I was at one point on the verge of collapse while pulled over on the side of the road (by God’s grace, how I avoided an accident to pull over only God knows), very far from home and very unable to reach out to anyone to help.

I was sinking into a very bad place…hard to describe…when my phone beeped – a childhood friend whom I had not spoken to in years texted to ask how I was. It may have been a question out of the blue, or have been prompted by some news traveling through the grapevine that I was not well, I do not yet know. I had no energy to reply that message but the sound of that little beep pulled me out of wherever I was going and I summoned enough will of mind to get myself out of that place.

It was survivor instinct that told me I had to get home somehow. Somehow start up my car from its stalled state, get over a fear to drive again, and make the long drive home. I had been listening to a lot of Quran the months preceding this time…and a particular recitation I liked on youtube came to mind. I had enough data and charge left on my smartphone to find the recitation on youtube. By Allah, I swear it was the playing of it that got me home that day.

It is a recitation of Surah (=chapter) Maryam (=Mary), chapter 19 of the Quran. One of the most beautiful and profound chapters. One that has always been a deep favourite. In it, God relates the story of Mary and the miraculous birth of Jesus or Isa (peace be upon them both). A profound story for all Muslims. Something about the dignity, strength, resolve and purity of the beloved Maryam (peace be upon her) giving me immense inspiration as I am sure it does all Muslim women who ponder these verses and indeed Muslim men too. Not many of my non-Muslim readers may know how greatly Maryam (alaiha salam) is celebrated in the Muslim world. Maryam remains a favourite name for Muslims girls (I can’t count the number of Maryams I personally know!)

In terms of the rules of recitation, or ‘singing’ as one of my dearest friends put it (and she is well versed in Western musicology, so I shall trust her descriptor to be more apt!), it is one of the most beautiful passages in the Quran. Quranic recitation follows very strict rules that have not changed (not one beat of it) since the time the beloved messenger of God, Muhammed (peace and blessing of God be upon him) first recited the revelation. Someday I will blog about this science. I am now training in this exacting art and adore it. There is something about the reverberation of the sound waves that I am convinced alters the electro-magnetic state of the brain, thus preventing depression.

The anti-depressive effects of the recitation of certain chapters of the Quran are well known in the Muslim world. For example Surah Baqara, the second chapter in the Quran, is often recited to protect from negative thinking/dark thoughts. And it is recognized that music has profound impacts on psychological states. So it is an obvious connection. Though I know of no literature in English that links the two, I am sure such studies must have existed or do exist in the Arabic speaking world.

Suffice to say, this recitation saved my life that day. And since that day, the recitation of Surah Baqara saw me through some very dark times sans medication. I wanted to share this publicly, where there is benefit let as many benefit as possible!

I will post the recitation here so you may enjoy it. The particular version I listened to that day is still on youtube, it’s by a Qari (=reciter) of the Quran that is not very well known. [Qaris in the Muslim world are famous – almost like famous musicians in the western world. Many can move entire audiences to tears]. His name is Ahmed Al-Omrany. Unfortuantely that version doesn’t have the translation. So I will post another Qari’s qira’a (=recitation) below, that of Sh. Moatesem Al-Hameedi, which does contain the translation in the video.

God’s peace and blessing be upon you all and His protection

Wassalaam (=and/with peace)

Truly it is a beautiful call

Assalamu alaikum dear readers, peace be with you,

The moon is full tonight and it is a ‘supermoon’. Beautiful to behold, quietly radiant, softly white. And it marks the half of the month of Shawwal already passing. Time passes so quickly and how little control we have over time. Which reminds me of the hadith qudsi (narrations from the prophet peace be upon him, where the words are from the prophet though the message is from God, the exalted, the high. This is in difference to the Quran, where the words are from God, the exalted and the messenger peace be upon him, only transmits or utters them. And it is also different to the hadith literature – which are sayings of the blessed messenger himself and not the word of God, the exalted) that goes like this;

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Allah said:

‘Sons of Adam inveigh against [the vicissitudes of] Time, and I am Time, in My hand is the night and the day.’” (1)


(1) Note from commentator – As the Almighty is the Ordainer of all things, to inveigh against misfortunes that are part of Time is tantamount to inveighing against Him.

It was related by al-Bukhari (also by Muslim).

 

And that milky bright moon, whose face beheld that of the blessed messenger…feasting my eyes upon its glorious super-moon splendour tonight, I thank God for the gift of eyesight and for the wondrous creation that is the moon and the sun’s light that it reflects. Isn’t it amazing that a great concentration of earth can become such a shining mirror! Subhahanalllah (=exalted is God)! Truly the methodology of the fashioning of the universe exudes the name of God – Al-Kareem (The Generous). And no generosity is akin to the generosity of the limitless divine. How little we understand of our Maker and how little we are able to in our created state. Subhahanallah.

To continue, feasting my eyes on the beauteous face of this bright pure moon, I echo the prayer our beloved messenger taught us to make, each time he saw the moon. He (peace be upon him) would say ” O moon, as you do worship God, so do I ” (I could not find the source for this narration, and it is my habit to usually give the source-text. However there is scholarly consensus that in certain matters – such as this quote, which is only meant to engender faith in the heart and can do no harm, it is okay to use even if the source is weak. Therefore I am not so worried about not finding the source for this one. Truly I can’t recall where I learnt it, I only remember reading it years ago and perhaps due to its simple joyous expression of faith – it was engraved in my memory). And I recall the numerous hadith from the companions of the blessed prophet (Gods’ pleasure be on them all) who all likened the beauty of Muhammed to that of the moon. I will give one here, and others are nicely compiled in this post

Jaber bin Sumrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “I saw Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) on a full-moon night.  His face was radiating with light, I looked at him and looked at the moon repeatedly.  His face was brighter than the moon”

(this hadith is in Imam Tirmidhi’s Shama’il)

Now it is strange, I titled this post on the call to prayer – the Azan. For I have come across a most beautiful azan that I want to share, and yet I am writing about the moon. But perhaps not so strange, for as the moon calls the waters of the oceans in tide-swell, so this azan calls the heart of all who listen to a heart-swell of peace. I pray you feel this peace, and so share this with you.

God bless you all

 

Silent Words – benefit song for Syria

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you all. This song, just released as a free download by Sami Yusuf, I wanted to share. It carries a prayer for the children of Syria. And a hope by the artist that we will give more to help the children of Syria. Indeed for the children affected by any war anywhere. Listening to this type music, itself is a prayer. So please listen. There is a beautiful du’a (supplication) at the end. We all need to spend more time in prayer these days. World events point us to the need to pray more, cleanse more, redeem ourselves more. What a mess mankind has made of this earth. Allah forgive us all.

Little brother Harris, the winner of the recent global Awakening talent contest

Assalamu alaikum my dear readers.  Awakening media recently concluded their global talent contest, and mashaAllah the winner was this little brother, Harris, from the UK. I feel very proud knowing our Ummah (nation) has young blood in it like this. His rendition of one of my favourite nasheed (Muslim religious music/songs) ‘What did I do today’ first sung by an all time favourite munshid (one who sings nasheed!), brother Dawud Wharnsby, is amazing. Enjoy :)

As we enter the last ten most precious and blessed days of Ramadan, may we all be able to meet laylatul-Qadr (the night of power, when the Quran was first revealed. It’s exact date is veiled from us, but we know it is one of the last ten nights of Ramadan).

‘Wherever You Are’ -arabic version

This song is very special to me. I thought I should share it with you, my dear readers. With beautiful graphics and very deep lyrics it speaks of a timeless truth. From one of my favourite artists, Sami Yusuf. It’s on his latest ‘salam’ album (available on iTunes and his website).

Enjoy, and God bless and protect you all.

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

 

Forgotten Promises

This is a beautiful song, it melted my heart and made me remember what foolish things I worry about. It is the more impactful for it features the World Food Program, an organization I used to work for and video footage from Sri Lanka. The days I worked in the UN, with the poor of my country are brought back. Those days, I knew myself better. I was closer to my soul. So I make this prayer and may my Lord grant it, and forgive my sins, ‘O Lord, don’t let me forget the poor. This rich western life has made me forget what it feels like to be hungry. Has made me forget humility. O Lord, protect me from too much wealth’

Please do listen, share and buy this track. As usual Sami Yusuf, Allah bless and fill with light his beautiful soul, has done this for charity. What a inspiration to live liek that. Using your God given talent, to serve God.

Beauty

Watching a beautiful and soothing dance piece, one of the 12 tranditional ‘ballet’s or ‘vannam’ in Sri Lankan classical dance here is a little piece of poetry…it is rather a ‘kaviya’ or a poem that is sung according to a slow melody, where often the last syllable is dragged/elongated. Actually I was just humming this to the tune in the video below and thought I’d share it.

O my Lord, I do glorify you
Whatever beauty I see in myself,
That is from you
Protect me from the harm
that I do to myself
and protects others from it too.

I find it amazing that in so many ancient cultures, nature is revered and celebrated, honored and protected. In Sri Lankan classical dance, the 12 vannams are each a celebration of some form of beauty in nature. For example, this dance celebrates the peacock. Others celebrate the elephant, the swan, the eagle etc. I particularly appreciate that there is no complex emotional story or saga like in Western ballet, but a simple veneration of natural beauty. Indeed it is such a humble approach. Watching these dancers I also got to thinking of the discipline and devotion they give their art. The lead dancer for example is a maestro, who has been training since a child. I got to thinking we are all the vicegerants of God, here on this earth to perfect our dance of devotion and master our weaknesses. So the five time ritual prayer, the rules with food, speech, how we should live every day, or simply, the way of life of our great guide and exemplar, the prophet (peace be upon him) taught us is about training and discipline. How beautiful it must be to see our ‘performance’, that of the true devotee of God therefore. What a beautiful person it is who walks the earth in this way. Perhaps this is why the prophets and great sages are so beloved and revered to this day. No wonder Allah azza wa’jal loves those who remember Him! Men and women who lived and walked this earth in that humility, borne out of discipline and training – they were beautiful to behold! Whether Jesus (peace be upon him) or the Gautama Buddha or Moses or Abraham or Mary or our own beloved Muhammed (peace be upon them all). Allah protect us and help us continue upon this way. It gladdens my heart to know we will have the best teacher in this path. And remember, Allah loves you more than you can ever love yourself for your Creator knows you better than you know yourself and is the one true nurturer.
So I am posting this video in the hopes you too will marvel at the discipline and beauty of these dancers and be soothed by the gentle music. I do not see anything but modesty in it and hope you will too. Sometimes we need to see with the heart.

Peace be with you all

Make me strong

This song has always helped me. I just came across this youtube video of it with these beautiful images of the ocean. I wanted to share it here… MashaAllah so healing. Allah bless Sami richly for the courage he has shown in expressing his feelings and just being himself, regardless of what any one says about his music. He is true to his heart and Allah gives success to the one true to his heart.

Here it is