Rashid and Ahmed
Life TV”s “Daring Question,” hosted by Rashid and Ahmed, recently ran a show dedicated to examining “Islam and the Arts.” Rashid initiated the program by asking a simple and straightforward question: Would there ever have been a Bach or Beethoven or Mozart if they were born Muslim and raised in Muslim countries?
As typical with the show, Rashid asked the Arabic viewers the central question: “Is Islam against the Arts?” Viewers interested in responding call in and press one digit for yes, another for no. (Rashid went on to say that those interested in learning more about Christianity or simply looking for counseling can press digit X. He then added, somewhat whimsically, that those interested in calling to tell us to “burn in hell” can press digit, “May God forgive you!”)
The show began by depicting various video clips of prominent sheikhs and ulema, including Muhammad Hassan, Muhammad Zughbi and Hussein Ya”qub all condemning music and song from an Islamic paradigm. Ya”qub concluded his diatribe against song by saying “If the whole world approves of something, but Islam condemns it, that settles it. Are music and song forbidden? Yes they are””according to both the book [Koran] and Sunna. The matter is settled.”
Rashid’s colleague Ahmed next provided some of the Islamic texts that forbid music. He quoted from Ibn Taymiyya, who, in his Fatwas, asserts that all four madhhabs (schools of jurisprudence) forbid song and music””except during weddings and in the jihad (an odd dichotomy to say the least, and one recently alluded to by Hamas). He further quoted a hadith of the caliph Omar reportedly plugging his ears with his fingers whenever he heard a pipe being played, saying that that’s what Muhammad used to do, and thus eschewing music is “sunna.”
As a former Muslim, Ahmed discussed how he used to buy music tapes in the past, only to grow pious and throw them away, and then “as the dog returns to his vomit,” go buy more tapes. He explained how difficult it was for him as a Muslim, since he was naturally drawn to music, but simultaneously felt that he was sinning.
The hosts further stressed that the reprobate status of music within Islam has nothing to do with whether the music and lyrics are “good” (peaceful, glorifying of God) or not. They are evil in principle. Rashid quoted Bach saying that one of the most sublime aspects of music is to worship God: “So why does Allah forbid it?”
They went on to indicate that the Bible””both Old and New Testaments””is supportive of song and music. They offered anecdotes such as David singing and dancing for “joy in the Lord,” and offered textual evidence such as Psalms 33 and 150.
Ahmed indicated that when he converted to Christianity and began visiting various churches, his instincts were appalled at the free use of music in churches””drums and guitars even! He was very uncomfortable, and even sternly asked his Christian friends how they can worship in such a setting. During these early church visits, all that came to his mind were certain hadiths of Muhammad condemning musical pipes, saying they are instruments of Satan, as well as a Sahih Bukhari hadith asserting that Allah’s angels cannot come near those who have dogs or bells around them.
Here, Rashid freely, and somewhat sheepishly, admitted that during his life as a Muslim, he was very much fixated on this question of angels and bells: whenever he wanted to sin, he used to wonder if he could just ring a bell, thereby dispersing the angels who would not see and record his transgressions. He used to wonder if he could perpetually defy the Angel of Death by wearing a bell around his neck. Later in life, with the ubiquity of the cell phone, he began wondering if angels were fleeing in panic all over the globe; it was then that his doubts about Islam became severe.
Ahmed added an interesting reminder: for all the condemnation bells receive in Islamic tradition, Muhammad himself used to say that Gabriel’s “visitations” to him were preceded by the sounds of loud bells. If angels fear bells, and Gabriel was supposed to be an angel, how is it that his visitations were announced by, of all things, bells””Satan’s instruments?
Next Ahmed and Rashid briefly moved to the concept of pictorial art, which even most non-Muslims are aware is forbidden. Again, they depicted several videos of prominent ulema discussing pictures. Muhammad Hassan said that hanging a simple portrait of anything live, say, a beloved family member, is tantamount to shirk (polytheism, idolatry), and is seen in Islam as a form of worship, according to both Bukhari and Muslim (al-Sahihin, the “two authentic”). Hassan said angels cannot enter homes containing pictures. The sheikh then added quite dryly, “And don’t tell me how we are living in the modern era, that it shouldn’t matter, etc.””repent and istaslam (resign yourself).
Here Rashid expressed his sympathy for angels: “I pity them, truly; anything makes them flee.” He then asked the (predominantly Muslim) viewers: “If the two angels that accompany us to record our deeds are always fleeing, does my entering a concert hall full of portraits mean that I can sin with impunity?”
Thus all pictures””minus mandatory ones, such as licenses, passports””are forbidden, even simple vacationing pictures. The hosts said that other ulema allow certain pictures, provided these are intentionally situated ignobly, such as on the floor (perhaps Saddam’s famous portrait of Bush on the floor was meant to be both offensive but also in keeping with Islam?).
Near the close of the show, viewers called in; some tried to protest. The hosts, however, kept asking them to explain the jurists” decrees regarding Islam and the arts, as well as the hadiths mentioned throughout the program. They were unable to respond, opting instead to make much noise, accusing Rashid and Ahmed of “distorting,” to which Rashid burst out with, “Due to the inherent problems of Islam, every Muslim today wants to tailor-make their own Islam, prohibiting and permitting only those things they agree to!”
At the close of the show, the polls of the original question”””Is Islam against the Arts?–”were revealed: 84% said yes, 16% no.