The Qur’an and Music
It is hard for the people to digest that this life does not end here, that there is an afterlife, and that, to qualify for a goodly life there, they need to prove themselves worthy here. Today’s Muslims inherit their beliefs just as Christians inherit belief in Trinity, the Jews in their being the chosen race, and others about their idols. Therefore, the power and depth of conviction of the Muslims, is of the same quality as that of others, that is, superficial.
To give an example, everybody believes that taking bribe is deplorable, and that it is demeaning to oneself to accept them. But, give them the chance, and the great majority will gladly pocket it if the likelihood of discovery is remote. Yet, by the same evening that the bribe was taken, men can sit together and discuss how demeaning it is to be taking bribes. The conviction then about bribery that they inherit from the society is as thin as the autumn wind.
The same is true of religious beliefs, and Muslims are no different in this regard. Conviction is missing. It is also true of the nature of their beliefs. That is, Muslims can be as irrational in their beliefs as others. In religious matters they do not allow logic to set its foot in. So that, when they are told that you have been driven out of Paradise because of a single error, and that you will not re-enter with a load of errors on your head, and that this life is a test to determine whether you belong to the Company on High, or the wretched in the flames, then, it does not strike them as something reasonable. Where is Allah’s mercy? They ask. They do not ask themselves where Allah’s mercy was when Adam was sent out of Paradise! How little do they understand the Divine rules!
Similarly, the logic, that what their Lord has forbidden does not require any other justification for shunning it – does not appeal to some Muslims. They ask persistently, “Why this has been forbidden, why that has been forbidden?” .. and so on.
Music is one such example. It is normally thought that since its love is embedded in human nature, it is good for the humans. But how many things are not there that people love to do but which human intellect, moral sense, and societal mores do not allow? This is another question that does not occur to them. How many foods are not there that they would like to devour morning and evening but which their doctors declare forbidden? But they do not wish to extend this logic to prohibitions like music, pork, interest, etc.
Western culture is not designed and brought to existence for the comfort of the humans. It is a work-culture wheeled by “do it or die out” code of ethics. The few at the top do not think of the commoners at the bottom as any more than slaves to toil for them. It is reported that three-fourth of the population under the Roman Empire was slaves. It is as true of its modern version, the Western States; except that the slaves of this empire are allowed a little bit of more freedom than in the former empire, but slaves of the State they do remain. They are free to do what they are told. Also, the modern masters are cleverer than their ancient counterparts that were destroyed by Islam. (The modern counterparts are as much afraid that their mastery over their slaves could also be destroyed by Islam). Therefore, the modern masters take care of the health, (some) education, and such living conditions as necessity to make the slaves available for the hard work. The scheme also demands that the slaves be made to relax after a day’s work, in order to be made ready for next day’s toil. This is where music comes in the system.
Whether music really allows relaxation or not, is not a matter for serious discussion. In the universities where doctorates can be obtained for thesis on why leaking taps spurt out water every now and then, in measurable frequency, there is no attempt to find out whether music does really help in making people relax. But perhaps, the lack of interest in the topic is because the masters know quite well that it does not. It is in fact realized that music works as a drug and helps to divert attention so that the realities of life (hard work for the masters) are forgotten and the miseries are taken for granted. A slight complication is that music does afford a shadow of relaxation to the mind (and not the soul), but only a shadow of it. Nevertheless, it is used as enough argument to prove that it affords true and complete relaxation of the mind, (since they assure their subjects that they have no souls). This helps them make the donkey go round the mill until it drops dead.
This Ummah is a lucky nation. It was forbidden what causes distress to the soul, and has been provided in replacement what brings tranquility to it: the Qur’an. The rhythmic tuning of the Qur’an allows for the embedded love of music to obtain its satisfaction through its recitation. It is the only Book on the planet which can be recited in a variety of tones, with each tone differing from the other, but, in its own way, each one sweet to the ear. No poem can be sung in several ways, leave alone any prose text. But we are talking of a poetically styled whole book of prose text.
That is the Qur’an, a wonder of wonders.
Amazingly, the qualities of the Qur’anic effects are felt by non-Muslims too. In an experiment in a British hospital, in-patients were made to experience several types of soothing materials: music, Bible hymns, mantras, Qur’anic recitation, etc. The electrodes attached to the brains gave clear indications of tranquility when the Qur’an was played. The patients, who did not know what was what, confessed the soothing effect. There are many cases of non-Arab non-Muslims being deeply affected by Qur’anic recitation.
On the other hand, if one knows the language of the Qur’an, then it is light upon light. The effects of Qur’anic recitation are indescribable. Even sworn enemies of Islam, the Orientalists, have admitted the unmatchable qualities of the Qur’an. John Alden Williams wrote:
“…the Arabic of the Qur’an is by turns striking, soaring, vivid, terrible, tender, and breathtaking … It is meaningless to apply adjectives such as `beautiful’ or `persuasive’ to the Qur’an; its flashing images and inexorable measures go directly to the brain and intoxicate it.
“It is not surprising, then, that a skilled reciter of the Qur’an can reduce an Arabic‑speaking audience to helpless tears.” (Islam: p.2, Washington Square Press, ’69).
Another Arabist, A.J. Arberry, wrote in the introduction to his own translation of the Qur’an:
“… to produce something which might be accepted as echoing however faintly the sublime rhetoric of the Arabic Koran, I have been at pains to study the intricate and richly varied rhythms which ‑ apart from the message itself ‑ constitute the Koran’s undeniable claim to rank amongst the greatest literary masterpieces of mankind.” (The Koran Interpreted, Intr. p.x, Oxford Univ. Press, ’64).
What music is there, of the East or the West, modern or ancient, that can bestow the most infinitesimal part of what the Qur’an can? How unlucky a nation that bequeathed the Qur’an but neglected it? It is said that somewhere in Europe a woman found a piece of paper with a strange script. After much inquiry she learnt that it was a torn piece of the Qur’an. She obtained the Book to which the script belonged, studied it, and embraced Islam. How wretched those who received the Qur’an but threw it behind their backs?! Their end is predictable. For he who brought it said, “Whoever neglected the Qur’an out of scorn, will be destroyed.” Should it surprise us that he also said, “He is not of us who does not sing out the Qur’an.” Another statement says, “Beautify the Qur’an with your voices.”
But of course, there are rules. They are known as “Tajweed rules.” So long as one binds himself to these rules, he is free to recite the Qur’an in a rhythm of his own invention. If he did, he would be one of the thousands who do it around the globe. They are not singers. They are reciters. We are not speaking of the professional reciters, the Qurraa; but rather of thousands who recite wholeheartedly everyday to discover in time their own tone and tune.
Many who witness hymns sung in places of worship, are familiar with those tunes and rhythms – perhaps more than familiar. That is because they have been hearing them from childhood. The rhythm doesn’t change – hasn’t changed over the years. Those texts do not allow for more than one tune. But not the Qur’an. Let anyone who follows Tajweed rules, recite it for a period of time in a somewhat raised voice, and he would have discovered a rhythm of his own and developed a tone of his own.
This is an amazing characteristic of the Qur’an and only those miss it who imagine that the Qur’an is a constitutional work, a book of Law – like the Jewish Torah. When people of such beliefs recite, they recite the Qur’an as if they are reading the Constitution of the country. Yet others do the recitation infrequently. Even after the earth has gone around the sun several times, they remain reading the Qur’an on its surface without the joy, the soothing effect and the tranquility of the soul.
Music on the other hand, the Devil’s own instrument for the lower self, can in no way match with the effects produced by the Qur’an. Music stirs the baser inner self and releases energy of the body. While listening to music, the limbs must vibrate, jog, tap, jig, jump and twist to find a way out for the released energy. After the spell is over, the body is tired and the mind fatigued. The victim feels weak. And, unable to bear its own load, the body must slump on the chair for a while.
In case of soft music, it is the mind that bears the burden. It stops thinking while playing or listening. As a result it goes blank for some time, not in a dream world, but in an empty world. It stays in that blank state for full few moments even after the music is over. When it recovers, it wants more of it, and louder of it; not because it relaxes the mind, but because it diverts it, allows escape from hard thinking. This is the reason why scientists, thinkers and intellectual men cannot stand music. It is the same sensation as a drunkard has, though at the somber level. And, just like drugs, the mind gets more and more used to it, until a point arrives when music has no effect upon it. What should a mind do, when music should stop having any effect upon it? How should it get back its free moments, blank time, escape from the present? Hard drugs is the answer. That explains the relationship between music and drugs. It is reported that the best Egyptian musicians, like those who worked with Umm Kulthum, Feroze or others, were under the influence of drugs when they produced those masterpieces. This explains also that musicians have never left a record of any other achievement such as, for example, poetic, not to mention beneficial disciplines such as sciences.
The Qur’anic effect is altogether of a different nature, touching a different realm. It sooths the soul, conserves the energy of the body and cools down the cells to give vigor and strength to the limbs. After the Qur’anic recitation, the body is ready for work and the energy is ready to flow out. Even regenerative power has been experienced as enhanced after prolonged recitations. The mind does not lose itself, and hence does not demand the body to dance and whirl. (The dancing Sufis have to use litany other than the Qur’an to whirl about in excitement). But the Qur’an has entirely sober effects, touching not merely the mind, but also the soul. This explains why Qur’anic scholars have normally accomplished other achievements. Their minds were more productive than of those who were scholars but did not allow the Qur’an its place in their scheme of study and practice. This explains why in earlier times, children were made to memorize the Qur’an first before any kind of study began, whether religious or secular. This explains the great scientific and philosophical output of the past and – in contrast – the utter failure of the Qur’an-less modern-educated Muslim class.