Just read this article/blog post and I thought it was quite beneficial seeing recent events:
Folks, prepare for an all-out assault on your senses over the next few weeks.
With the death of Michael Jackson – undoubtedly the most famous musician of our time – millions upon millions of people across the globe will be grieving and reminiscing over a person who shaped a generation, gave them happy times and fond memories and allowed people to share in the “magic” of celebrity. You’ll be hearing MJ’s tracks and seeing his moves not just on the normal places that we avoid, but on the news channels, in the supermarkets, on the streets and just about everywhere you can think of non-stop as people “remember the time”.
And no, the Muslims will not be immune from this either. I like to generally divide those “practising” brothers and sisters from my generation (the 30-somethings) into two groups: the first are those who were always basically good people and remained roughly on the straight and narrow right until this day. The second group are those who have been to the Dark Side, have been well past the edge, delved into hedonism and pretty much immersed themselves into everything the culture of kufr has to offer (and indeed even become leaders/players in that culture?) only to re-surface and enter back into the Light by the immense grace and mercy of Allah jalla wa ‘ala.
I’m definitely from the second group and to Allah I complain of my weakness. And if the discussions after Jumu‘ah today are anything to go by, the death of MJ has clearly shown that there are many more of us than we imagined. So this little piece is for you folks and for you alone.
It’s for those who are confused at this moment: you are hearing about the death of a person who quite simply defined your childhood, who gave you unforgettable moments when you waited on edge for the next video release, when you heard beats that shook the soul. It’s for those who used to love music and the effect it had on the heart, and indeed for those who still get affected the same way when they listen or hear it today. It’s also for those who don’t wish to hear music due to that effect and the memories it brings back, and the hold-up it creates in moving forward purely into the Deen of Allah and the memorisation of His Perfect Speech.
Yes, it’s about dealing with those musical skeletons in our closets. Either beat them and move on, or move to MJ’s “Beat It” and go backwards.
For us such people, music was nothing more than bliss for the soul, a shudder for the spine, bass to rumble the joints. It had the power and ability to take people and transport them instantly across huge divides and even time gaps back into history. Its effect is vastly under-estimated which is why many Muslims simply cannot understand why their fellow brothers and sisters are making such a big deal of an artist as talented and masterful as Michael Jackson. I read something from Puff Daddy (or whatever they call him these days) today that he said about MJ, “He was the first person to actually show me the beat.” For those who know their music, this is a perfect description of the magic MJ possessed.
I feel that Muslim scholars deal with the topic of music very poorly. Many of them simply (and rather fortunately!) cannot appreciate the hold music can have over the hearts of its victims. When one starts to practice Islam seriously, it becomes very easy to see how busy a person needs to be keeping their hearts pure, clean and memorising that which brings us closer to Allah jalla wa ‘ala. Remember what Imām al-Shāfi‘ī said when he asked his teacher Wakī‘:
I complained to Wakī‘ about my bad memory,
and he taught me that I should keep away from sin.
He said that knowledge of Allah is light,
and the light of Allah is not given to the sinner.
The more you remember the pointless, the less space is left for that which benefits. Trust me. I’ve just so been there.
The problem comes when those who know nothing about music simply to try to write it off as something disgusting, evil and satanic. Sure, much of music might be exactly that in its content, but Muslims don’t get rewarded from abstaining from music in their lives because it’s a meaningless past-time. Rather the reward is proportionate to the huge sacrifice it takes to stay away from something that the soul desires for so much, misses during the lonely times, yearns for during the party times, and weeps over when reminded of it in times such as these when the airwaves and every other wave in the public will be brimming of musical tributes to the greatest musician of his generation.
Yet here, the Muslims should count their blessings and be very grateful to the religion of Islam. Alhamdulillah, our Lord gave us something infinitely more perfect, beautiful, melodious and devastatingly impactive upon the soul: al-Qur’an’l-Karim.
For every MJ fan, there is a Minshawi. For every Presley fan, there is an Abdul Basit. For every Timberlake fan, there is a Ghamidi. For those who have no-one they cared about in the music industry, “…fallāhu Mawlāhu.”
Can you imagine life without the Qur’an? Can you imagine not being able to just pick it up and read a page and then experience that sensation where one struggles to breathe in amazement at what you’ve just read? Can you imagine having a heart in your chest that hasn’t physically quivered when a certain verse has been recited, even if by the poorest of reciters?
That’s why I feel so sad when I hear some music playing somewhere – excellent music at that – from back in the day. I think of all the people who are finding it as stunning as I am, but then having nothing else to turn to as an alternative. I fully understandable the almost ridiculous outpouring of grief that has been witnessed from fans upon the loss of their musical King – what else do they have left? What else will they move on to other than keep replaying the same old tunes and keep up the entertainment game, as Shaykh Hamza famously once said, an industry that has no other purpose but to keep it going and entertain you to death. Literally.
But I digress. This wasn’t meant to be about Muslims gloating that we have something better than what the world can produce.
This is about dealing with the guilt that we feel when we start to replay all the lyrics, relive all the memories, the tragedies and the good times that come rushing back upon those few lyrics that you hear. It’s about the benefit that we took at those times, and then how we protected ourselves then from music’s inherent harms, and how we can continue to protect ourselves today. What we must do is to be able to understand what we are enjoying and what we shouldn’t enjoy from what we hear; what we admire and what should be criticised.
We mustn’t become lazy and just paint the entire canvas black. Although understanding the methodology of those who are happy to throw the baby out with the bath water, I’d prefer to give some easier options to those who are still addicted to music or those who are struggling to come to terms with their inner demons when confronted by this musical assault on our hearts.
I feel sad when I read some of the lyrics of the more soulful songs that we used to listen to and recognise how some Muslims are missing out on important lessons. There are complete societies of Muslims that have never interacted with a culture of love, romance, heartbreak, absence and the general issues that affect relationships, and it is so obvious when we deal with their problems. There are large numbers of Muslims that due to their excellence and cautiousness, protect themselves from such issues and experiences due to the impermissible aspects found in music, and yet some of them don’t replace the good things and experiences via a deep study and appreciation of Ahmed Shawki, or Iqbal, or even Qadhi ‘Abdul Wahhab al-Maliki
If a type of Islam is promoted that has a complete block on art and emotion that (correctly) shields them from some of the corrupt aspects of popular Western culture today but yet at the same time doesn’t replace this with poetry or love stories which the Muslims have always had in huge abundance, then we get the kind of marital difficulties and breakdowns of relationships that we experience today from a people who have never heard the lyrics to “I just can’t stop loving you”. Can you imagine a wife never realising that her husband loved her more than the guy in the above song, but might have been able to save her marriage if both of them had the industry and guts to show their love for one another either through a song or a poem or the mutual sharing of a deep and personal moment in ways that Muslims are just so poor at dealing with?
I remember a senior scholar who once told me that whenever he goes through a difficult patch with his wife, he will just sit there and recite Arab poetry to here, describing her in terms better than Layla herself. That’s a quality that many Muslims are missing in their lives, and although I’m not advocating that due to our collective weakness in classical poetry we should all go back to listening to music, I still think that we are not as guilty as we might make ourselves out to be for reflecting upon lyrics, messages and emotional experiences that we felt or indeed feel when reminded of times gone by through the medium of music.
Let me do the obligatory thing and quote an MJ lyric. Let’s use the chorus of “Man in the Mirror”:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror,
I’m asking him to change his ways
No message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
‘Cause when you close your heart
You can’t close your… your mind!
I wrote this because the way I treat other peoples’ difficulty with music and other sinful issues is by remembering my own times and difficulties first and starting there. Changing others means changing yourself first, and changing your love for music is about the most difficult there is out there. But it can be done. The more serious and deep an interest you take in your religion, the more you’ll become closer to the Qur’an. The deeper and more seriously and sincerely you advance, the easier it shall become insha’Allah.
It’s never been easy to leave the beat, but alhamdulillah for the wonder, serenity, and perfection of Allah’s Word. Music, beat it.