31 Oct 2011
I really must state that despite the ritual reference to those nasty Puritans, as if they were somehow equivalent to the music-hating sharia-pushers of Islam, or as if they were somehow typical of Christendom (they are not! - and the Reformation as such was far from being hostile to music, or we would not have Luther's hymns, Calvin's hymns, or the astonishing oeuvre of Johann Sebastian Bach) there is nothing at all 'biblical' - whether Hebrew/ Jewish or Christian - about classical quran-sira-hadith Islamic hatred and periodical violent suppression of music (instrumental or vocal, sacred or profane) and musicians.
I am stunned that Bernard Lewis, who was Jewish, seems to have seen the (very strong) anti-music tradition in Islam, as something borrowed from the Bible!!
Anyone who has read the book of Exodus, and the Song of Moses (which is, seemingly, in very archaic Hebrew, as also the Song of Deborah in the book of Judges), and the passage that describes the women of the newly-liberated Israelites on the shores of the Red Sea singing and dancing and playing their tamborines, knows that the Bible does not hate music.
What of the Book of Job, that speaks of the morning stars singing together for joy when God created the world? And there are, of course, the psalms - especially the 150th, which lists a variety of musical instruments, all of which are summoned into service - along with every living thing, human and nonhuman - to praise the Lord. Ancient Israel seems to have had a reputation for music - Psalm 137 - "there they that carried us away captive demanded a song from us, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion". The hadith of Islam specifically attack flutes and stringed instruments as sinful (they are to be broken, along with crosses); whereas King David of Israel played the harp.
Muhammad the real or semi-imagined founder of Islam hated music. In one story he is said to have stuffed his fingers in his ears and gone the other way, upon encountering a musician; in another hadith, he declared that anyone who listened to a songstress would have molten lead poured into his ears by allah.
Whereas Jesus the founder of the Christian faith - true to his identity as a practising Jew of the first century - sang. We are told as much, in one of the gospel accounts. After the Last Supper - that is, facing what he knew to be death - we are told that "After they [that is, our Lord and his disciples] had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives". The 'hymn' was probably the group of psalms known as 'the Great Hallel'. So I was told in a sermon, once. And when we look at the Last Words from the Cross, two of those great phrases - 'Father, into thine hands I commend my spirit" and 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani' - are phrases from the Psalms, Psalm 31 and Psalm 22 respectively, both of which were normally sung rather than spoken. Jesus' example here - in extremis, he falls back on the hymns of his childhood - has been followed by many a Christian ever since, in the face of death. His Mother sang, according to St Luke - and so we have the Magnificat, sung by generations of Christians ever since.
St Paul encourages the early Christians to sing 'Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs". The book of Revelation is full of references to music and singing - indeed, it is the source from which arises the stereotypical idea of the Christian heaven, as a place of white-robed folks singing and playing on golden harps.
And there, again, is the radical contrast between Christianity - firmly rooted in its Hebrew, biblical matrix - and Islam.
For the Christian Heaven is imagined as a place of music and song (and Dante the greatest poet of Christian Europe is wholly true to this; there is song running all through his representations of Purgatory and Paradise).
Whereas in all of the Quran, though there are many passages purporting to describe the delights of 'paradise', not one of those descriptions contains any reference to music or singing. Wine, it appears, of some celestial non-intoxicating kind, is permitted in the Islamic paradise, as - of course - is sex with allah's bevy of playboy bunnies; but ...there is no music in allah's heavenly brothel. (I believe there is one hadith about green birds in paradise; but there is nothing even remotely equivalent to the Biblical vision of choirs of men and angels, or of the whole of creation singing together for joy at the end as at the beginning of days).
John Roy Carlson, having spent months in the company of Muslim jihadists in 1948, concluded his explorations of the middle east by hitching a lift on the HaTikvah, headed from Cyprus to the newborn state of Israel, packed with Shoah survivors.
He writes, "They were an ill-clad, ill-fed lot of refugees. Many were survivors of Auschwitz who bore their death number tattooed on their wrists. Most were from southern Europe - Rumania, Hungary, and Bulgaria. I had expected to find them elated at their homecoming. but there was no elation. Pain, hunger and frustration had been their lot for a decade, and they were benumbed.
"Among the bedraggled children a half-dozen carried violin cases.
"I thought it significant that these harassed Jews thought of music as well as survival; at no time during my stay among the Arabs had I seen anybody with a violin, or with any musical instrument of any kind". (From 'Cairo to Damascus').
Yes, there is music in the lands of Islam. But it exists - it has survived and persisted - in despite of the cult, not because of it. And whenever Islam pur et dur is resurgent, music and musicians tend to be targeted with quite extraordinary violence.
Whereas among Jews and among Christians, just as amongst the vast majority of non-Islamic humankind, music is the natural concomitant of faith; music is the language of the soul; there are core texts in both the TaNaKh and the Christian scriptures that assume, and indeed affirm and encourage the place of music in the spiritual life as well as in the everyday.