Music = vulgarity?

Published: June 4, 2011

A screenshot from Persopolis an Iranian film on freedom and living in fear

Conservative elements have always spoken against music. I remember the introduction of music classes at Punjab University stirred up a storm among the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT). The IJT also threatened to “physically resist” music classes on campus. It was heart wrenching to see them marching hand in hand to condemn art.

What would life be without music? It is a reminder of how things once were, an indication of how things are, and a view of where society is headed.

Music is being successfully taught at some colleges including Kinnaird College, where I am one of the students studying Indian Classical Music. I sometimes wonder how it spreads vulgarity. There is a thin line between freedom and being offensive, and if the equilibrium is maintained than why worry? Music not only gives me a sense of being complete but also teaches me to believe in myself. It’s the food of the soul indeed.

The level of ignorance shown by the conservative elements has always faltered the growth of performing arts in this part of the world. I remember being enthralled by a BBC Channel Four’s documentary, Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam.

During this fascinating program, William Dalrymple talked to a traditional Islamic religious leader about their attitude to music. He asked why music was so frowned upon when the Islamic world had produced some of the most talented musicians in the world. The man half-smiled sadly and said that they were wrongdoers and would be punished.

Perhaps the lasting power of Sufi music will drown out the less tolerant interpretations and visions of Islam. Some orientalist scholars believe that Sufism was essentially the result of Islam evolving in a more mystic direction. For example, Annemarie Schimmel proposes that Sufism in its early stages of development meant nothing but the internalisation of Islam. Louis Massignon states:

“It is from the Qur’an, constantly recited, meditated, and experienced, that Sufism proceeded, in its origin and its development.”

“Sufism’s dynamic and diverse musical traditions have made it accessible and meaningful to a wide audience within and beyond the Muslim world, as with mystical traditions in all religions, the pursuit of unification with the divine brings the rigorous demands of asceticism and contemplation, abandonment of materialism and of the self.”

I question the conservative claim that music spreads vulgarity. It’s high time to change these mindsets and think with reason. The walls of ignorance encircling us should be broken. Let the rays of enlightenment nourish the deprived souls.

Anam Gill

Anam Gill

The author is currently working as a columnist for Education for Sustainability, a project of a UK based organisation. As a freelance journalist she has written articles on various issues related to human rights and social justice. She tweets as @GillAnam

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