Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: What role does music play in the Hindu and Muslim faiths?
Pleasing and decent
Syed E. Hasan, Ph.D., Midland Islamic Council, Olathe, Kan.: Music is the use of voice or instruments to produce sound effects that are melodious, pleasing and harmonious. Using this definition, the answer to the question is: Music has a place in Islam.
There is nothing in the Quran that prohibits music – this is interpreted by many scholars as being permissible, while others hold the view that it is not. Majority opinion favors music that is pleasing, decent and appealing to the senses and intellect. Some forms of musical expression, both vocal and instrumental, that cross the bounds of decency and include inappropriate language or convey the wrong message and are loud and jarring, are not permitted.
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Verse 143 of Chapter 2 asks Muslims to be “… a moderate nation so that you could be an example for all people and the Prophet an example for you,” which requires Muslims to always follow the middle path, avoiding the extremes in everything. That would include music as well.
It is worth noting that poetry was the highest form of literary art among the Arabs before and during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). They composed beautiful literary pieces embracing a variety of subject matter – some were inspirational, other abusive and offensive.
Islam prohibited the latter but did not disapprove motivational and devotional compositions. One form of which – the Qawwali – is widely practiced in many Muslim countries even today, where it has been perfected to a high level of musical expression.
The devotional music performed by the famous Darwesh (dervish) group from Turkey is still considered a fine expression of voice and movements.
It is wrong to say Islam prohibits music; anyone who has listened to the oral recitation of the Quran by a Hafiz (one who has received special training in voice modulation, intonation and memorization of the Quranic verses) cannot but marvel at the overall musical quality.
In addition, Adhan, the call for daily and Friday prayers, which has been around since the establishment of the first Muslim community in Medina about 14 centuries ago, is powerful vocal music that attracts the listener to its beautiful melody, drawing the believers to worship Allah.
A.M. Bhattacharyya, Hindu faith adviser of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council: Music plays a very important role in the religious life of a Hindu. In a typical Hindu worship service, chanting mantras and singing devotional songs, called bhajans, are the norm.
The devotees sit in front of their chosen deity and through the chanting and singing of bhajans, they pour out their devotion and feeling of gratitude to the deity and to the supreme Lord.
Generally, the priest takes the lead in chanting and singing while performing various rituals during the service. During arti ritual, that is, waving lamps in front of a deity, it is a common practice that the worshipers sing in chorus a bhajan starting with, “Oh Lord, thou art the preserver of the world; victory to you!”
Many of the chantings are Vedic hymns which were composed many thousands of years ago. The ancient Vedic seers composed these hymns in a meditative state when they were in communion with the divine. Throughout the long history of Hinduism numerous bhajans were composed by many saintly persons, both men and women.
These are sources of spiritual inspiration, sung by worshipers as a means of building a relationship with God.
Hindu deity Saraswati, who is worshiped as goddess of learning and knowledge, is portrayed holding a stringed musical instrument, called a veena. This shows Hinduism’s deep regard for music and other fine arts, such as dance, as expressions of spirituality.