News Column

Hip-hop, poetry, singers, classical music to star in Muslim event

June 15, 2013

YellowBrix

June 15--Muslim hip-hop artists, poets, singers and classical musicians will perform today at the Crest Theatre in "An Islamic Expression of Traditional & Contemporary Art."

The event -- perhaps the first of its kind in the nation -- challenges the belief among some orthodox Muslims that music can lead to sinful behavior.

"It's kind of risky. It's something we have not done before," said Imam M.A. Azeez of Salam Islamic Center, which organized the evening at the Crest. "It represents a paradigm shift in the Muslim community. Kids are listening to this stuff, so why not be proactive and expose them to beautiful, inspiring music that promotes love of religion and country?"

The imams of Sacramento's two biggest mosques declared that music is not permissible according to the Prophet Muhammad, Allah's messenger.

"It's a chain reaction -- when people listen to music, they ask for alcohol, which will lead to adultery," said Imam Mahmoud Abdel of Masjid Annur Islamic Center. "One step leads to another in the majority of cases. It's well known that anybody who listens to music a lot will be distracted from his or her mission, which is worshipping God Almighty."

Imam Mumtaz Qasmi of Sacramento's Downtown Mosque said there's not a mosque in the world that allows music. "So how can we allow it outside the mosque?" he asked.

The only instrument the Prophet Muhammad allowed was a tabla, or drum, and not more than two at a time, Qasmi said.

The tabla -- which will be played at the Crest -- "can make you feel relaxed, but nowadays there are hundreds of instruments, and music actually makes you high, 100 percent," Qasmi said. "Music has magic, it gets in your blood and makes you want to get up and dance and forget your personality. Your butt is shaking and she's going to get up and her butt is going to shake -- where is the religion then?"

Azeez said there will be no dancing at the Crest performances. Ever since he was a boy in Egypt, he said, he has run into clerics who think "there's something wrong with music and people's natural desires and inclinations to enjoy music and poetry -- there's a belief that it is synonymous with sin."

He recalls his parents listening "to the greatest singer in the Muslim world, Oum Kolthoum, even though the imam at our mosque said it's not permissible."

Waterfalls, winds and birds all make music, Azeez said. "Why would God be angry with the beautiful sounds of nature? There's nothing conclusive in the Quran that states music is inherently wrong."

There are stories of how political leaders used singers to sway people from following the Quran, or settings where music was performed "and really bad things took place, like the inappropriate mingling of genders, drinking or fornication," Azeez said.

Songs that have profanity or objectify women and dances meant to highlight sexuality aren't acceptable, Azeez said. "Why not present an alternative? Instead of listening to rap music filled with filth, why not listen to clean rap?"

There's no Muslim-world consensus on music, said community leader Rashid Ahmed, a former president of the Downtown Mosque.

"Music certainly has the power to change your state of mind like drugs, and can motivate you to do things you might not normally do," Ahmed said.

But the prohibition against music is not nearly as strict as that against alcohol or pork, Ahmed said. "Even the Prophet Mohammed allowed children to sing for him, and permitted music at weddings or other special celebrations."

Many Muslim countries, from Egypt to Iraq, boast pop stars with glitzy stage shows and huge followings.

In the Sufi Muslim tradition still going strong in Pakistan, India and other countries, music plays a central role in prayer, Ahmed said.

Still, the event at the Crest featuring Islamic rap, or strong social commentary, represents a break from standard Muslim practices, Ahmed said.

Event organizer Rihana Ahmad said the goal is to bridge the generation gap and show the community that all kinds of music from punk to traditional can be found in Islam nowadays.

AT A GLANCE

What: An Islamic Expression of Traditional & Contemporary Art

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: Crest Theatre, 1013 K St., Sacramento.

Cost: Tickets cost $30.

Performers: Raef, singer-songwriter, computer science high school educator, and musician; Amir Sulaiman, spoken-word poet and hip-hop MC; Aswat (Voices), a multiracial Arabic music ensemble sponsored by Zawaya; Riad Abdel-Gawad, composer, violinist, and educator; Tyson Amir, emcee, poet, songwriter, and hip-hop artist; Salar Nader, tabla musician; and Manifest ONE (aka Ashar Shah), hip-hop artist and label owner. Local talent will recite the Quran along with poetry and music.

More information: www.eveningatthecrest.com

Videos of the performers:

--Raef -- "You Are Never Alone"

--Amir Sulaiman -- "Spitting Truth"

--Aswat

--Riad Abdel-Gawad

--Tyson Amir -- "There Is A Devil"

--Salar Nader, tabla player

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(c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com

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