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Customs and Culture >
Why are some Muslims opposed to music?

Muslims sometimes oppose rock music because of the culture that generally tends to accompany it rather than the musical form in itself. Many young Muslims raised in the West listen to rock music because it is such a pervasive part of American youth culture.

Some Muslim parents, like many non-Muslims, object to much Western music, particularly rock music and hip-hop, because of the emphasis of the lyrics on sex, drugs, alcohol consumption, and violence. They are also concerned about allowing young people to attend rock concerts, because sex, drugs, and alcohol tend to be present.

Like the Christian rock movement, some Muslims have responded to these concerns by forming their own rock and even rap bands with lyrics that are religiously inspired. The songs of a Washington, D.C.-based group, Native Deen (deen is Arabic for “religion”), combine traditional Islamic messages—praying regularly, avoiding sex and violence, fasting during Ramadan, and generally struggling to be a good Muslim—with a hip-hop beat (see page 123, “What is Muslim hip-hop?). The folk singer Yusuf Islam (the former Cat Stevens), who after his conversion to Islam gave up his singing career for many years, now composes and sings “Muslim” pop music for both adults and children, such as his best-selling song “A Is for Allah.” He has also put his musical talents to use in ways reminiscent of the Farm Aid concerts and the Feed the World album of the 1980s by hosting fund-raising concerts for Muslim causes throughout the world, including earthquake relief in Turkey and assistance to the Muslims of Bosnia.

Some ultraconservative Muslims, such as the Taliban of Afghanistan, believe that music should not be a part of Muslim life at all because they consider music to be intoxicating. In medieval times, as now, strict scholars objected to the kind of lifestyle represented by professional singers and the places where people gathered to listen to popular music.

However, historically music has been an important art form throughout the Muslim world. The most important musical form in Islam is Quran recitation, an art form in which annual competitions are held. Recordings of Quran recitation are sold throughout the Muslim world, and some of Islam's most famous singers have been Quran reciters or singers who have imitated Quran recitation in their music, such as the Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. Likewise, the Muslim call to prayer (adhan) is sung or chanted, rather than strictly spoken. Music has also played an important role in religious festivals and life cycle events such as birth, marriage, and circumcision.

The Sufi orders typically use music as part of their devotions, both vocally, through repetition of words or phrases in chanting, and instrumentally. Music is a vehicle for spiritual transcendence and a means of attaining the experience of divine ecstasy.

Folk music has also been an important expression of culture throughout the Muslim world, often as a venue for heroic and love-related poetry, as well as moral and devotional themes. The music produced by the Muslims of Andalusia, like their poetry, had an enormous impact on the development of classical music in Europe. Some modern musicians, such as Cheb Mami, the “father” of Algerian rai music who sang “Desert Rose” with the British rock star Sting, have incorporated Western instruments, particularly electronics, and techniques into their folk traditions.

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