Islam & Music, Heavy Metal Islam

by Ibn Warraq & Raphael Ismail (Nov. 2008)

Part two of a series. Part one is here.



Bernard Lewis was viciously attacked by Edward Said when the former declared that Classical Western Music was a “part of the inner citadel of Western culture”, and that virtually no Arabs had penetrated it, in contrast to the Japanese, Korean and Chinese who have nurtured a whole host of world class performers, conductors, and even composers. Edward Said writing soon after 11 September, 2001, claimed that there were flourishing orchestras of Classical Music in various capitals in the Arab world; whatever the case there is certainly no Arab equivalent of Japanese pianists like Rieko Aizawa, and Akira Eguchi, or violinists like Mayuko Kamio and Tomoko Kato. Moreover, many Arab intellectuals seem to have complex feelings of guilt if they find themselves appreciating the music of the infidels, an attitude summed up by a Tunisian writer, “The treason of an Arab begins when he enjoys listening to Mozart or Beethoven”.[1] Oriana Fallaci reported this exchange with the Ayatollah Khomeini: “Music dulls the mind, because it involves pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs”, and Western music in particular, he thinks, “has not exalted the spirit”. When she mentioned Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, he replied, “I do not know their names”.[2]

The orthodox attitude in Islam to music in general is one of hostility. The Koran does not seem to mention music explicitly but many take Sura XXXI verse 5 which condemns “diverting talk” as a reference to music; but there seems to be a positive attitude to a beautiful voice in Sura XXXV.1.

The Hadith, or the Muslim Traditions are contradictory. There have been clear condemnation of music in early books such as Dham al-Malahi, The Book of the Censure of Instruments of Diversion. Many celebrated theologians are also against this form of diversion: Ibn Abi-‘l-Dunya (823-894 C.E.), and Ibn Djama’a (died 1388 C.E.) argued that music led one to error, and accordingly condemned it in violent terms. Ibn Taymiyya (died 1328 C.E.) wrote that anyone listening to music was to be considered an infidel and polytheist. Al-Ghazzali (died 1111 C.E.) allowed music if it evoked the love of God, but NOT if one listened to music for its own sake.[3] Totalitarian systems of thought hate any activities that are their own excuse.

Western music despite some kind of disapproval from the orthodox began to penetrate Islamic lands through military bands that were beginning to be an integral part of the fighting forces being re-organized in imitation of European models, particularly in Turkey. Bands were drilled by European composers and musicians, and slowly western music acquired prominence in public performances and education. Turkish musicians made their pilgrimages to Europaean capitals to learn the piano, and returned home to perform the European classics.[4] Thus Turkey seems to be the one exception in the Islamic world for its appreciation and performance of western Classical music.Western Music was introduced into the Ottoman Court in the first half of the Nineteenth century, and the first orchestra, Musika-i Humayun, was founded by Sultan Mahmud. Guiseppe Donizetti was invited to teach Western music in the palace, while the first music school in the Western sense, Darul-el-Han was inaugurated by Abdul Aziz, thereby allowing Western music to become a part of social life by the end of the Nineteenth Century. During the time of Kemal Ataturk Western music formed a part of the curriculum; conservatories and orchestras were founded; and young musicians were encouraged to study abroad on scholarships. In recent years, interest in Classical Music has waned in Turkey.




Mark LeVine’s Heavy Metal Islam, Rock Resistance and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, Three Rivers Press: New York, 2008 is a highly informative descriptive survey of rock music in parts of the Islamic world, with a useful bibliography and list of websites. You are unlikely to find a better introduction to the Heavy Metal scene in North Africa or the Middle East. However the author seems to have no analytical abilities whatsoever, and accordingly his political, sociological and anthropological analyses are worthless, reading at times like the manifesto of an immature adolescent rebel. Like many a liberal apologist for Islam, LeVine is given to astonishingly naïve assertions, so general as to be meaningless, or simply false, pronouncements such as his claim that Muslim and Western “cultures [sic] are more…alike than the peddlers of the clash of civilizations, the war on terror, and unending jihad would have us believe”[5]. Again , while he handles Islam with kid gloves, LeVine is ready to denigrate the West whenever possible. He makes large claims for Heavy Metal, asserting that it is “transforming Islam and the Muslim world”.[6] Despite the fact, for instance in Morocco, that the Islamic religious community was clearly against the Heavy Metalists, who acknowledged that they were fighting the Islamists as well as the government, LeVine makes the extraordinary claim that the Islamists and the Rockers had “a similar interest in building greater democracy and tolerance”.[7] The stupidity of this remark is only partially redeemed by LeVine’s accurate reporting that the Heavy Metalists throughout the region surveyed saw that they had nothing in common with the undemocratic forces of the Islamists, as when he tells us that Hamas supporters have often attacked rappers.[8] Or when we gather that “most Marockans feel, as Hoba Hoba Spirit’s Reda Allali explains it, that religious forces “are antidemocratic and don’t recognize our right to exist” ”.[9]Or when we learn that one of the lead singers of the Moroccan Heavy Metal band, Mystik Moods, Ritz, is aware of the undemocratic nature of the Islamists.[10] LeVine goes on to contradict himself, conceding that it was unlikely that “metalheads and Islamists will set aside their differences to work together toward common goals in the near future”.[11]

One country that LeVine omits in his survey is Iraq. However in recent years the most talked about Heavy Metal group has been Acrassicauda an Iraqi heavy metal band formed in 2000/2001, taking its name from a deadly black scorpion found in Iraqi deserts. The group became famous when they became the subject of a documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad by Canadians Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi. It premiered at the 2007 (September) Toronto International Film Festival.

The band members ended up in Turkey, via Syria when the latter country refused to renew their visas, as they fled the violence in Iraq. Before their exile, the band, which was formed in Baghdad in 2000, managed to perform in front of large and enthusiastic audiences during the violence and chaos that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein. Marwan Ryad, one of the band members, recounted how his cousin was killed in Baghdad, while a second member says he left because he received death threats.

In Istanbul they felt safe, but struggled financially since the price of food and accommodation was higher than in Syria. The four band members had to sell their instruments in Syria to help pay their way to Turkey. GenerousTurkish musicians lent them a fully-equipped studio, and the refugee rockers were able finally make music again. They now play in the local bars and clubs, and are a formidable presence in the Turkish metal scene. “I’m keeping my mind busy with the music so I don’t think about anything else, because it would drive you crazy,” admits Marwan. His music is bleaker and reflects the pain and suffering of his country and his people.”I’m just concentrating on playing good so I can make me and my family proud and bring them to a better place where they can be safe.”

The band’s one dream now is to wend their way to the United States where they feel they have enough talent to launch a vigorous new musical career.



The heavy metal group Taghut, an Arabic term is sometimes taken to mean “idolatry” and by association, impurity, released a CD in May, 2008, entitled “Ejaculate Upon the Holy Quran.” The group, heavily influenced by Slayer, Morbid Angel, old Beherit, Bathory, Dark Throne, Root, Mayhem, Possessed, Goatlord, Necrovore, Angel Corpse, Bestial Warlust, Corpse Molestation and old Sepultura, was first formed in 1999; it was then called “666” but changed its name when the band members discovered there were already heavy metal bands with that sobriquet in Hungary and elsewhere. The songs they wrote in the early years were already full of hatred of Christianity and Islam. The band is now considered the first explicitly anti-Islam Heavy Metal group, and a glimpse at the titles of the songs should be proof enough: Blaspheme Muhammad’s name; Burn the Holy Nations of Islam, and of course the title song, “Ejaculate Upon the Holy Quran.”

One website[12] quotes the band as saying that their other ‘ influences’ include “reading, dissecting, rejecting and then burning a Bible; studying, analyzing, denouncing and then shredding a Qur’an; followed by endless and repetitive reading of “Der Antikrist” by Friedrich Nietzsche”.

Their own official website[13] unequivocally spells out its crude fascist ideology of hatred. Under “Things We Hate”, the band offers us: “Christianity, Islam and Judaism”. On the main page, we are also told that Taghut is: “Anti-Christian, Anti-Muslim, and Anti-human”. A quick glance at the title and lyrics of their songs should dispel any idea that I am using the term “fascist” loosely; there are clear approving references to the Third Reich, and “The Arrogant Jews”, and further exhortations to their “fellow white countrymen” to wake up. I should warn believing Christians and above all Muslims that the lyrics on their website are very explicit and are not for the religiously squeamish.


[1] David Pryce-Jones. The Closed Circle. An Interpretation of the Arabs. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1989, p.381.

[2] Ibid.,p.381.

[3] Amnon Shiloah. Music in the World of Islam. A Socio-Cultural Study. Scolar Press, Hants. U.K. 1995, pp.30-44.

[4] Ibid.,p.105

[5] Mark LeVine, p.3

[6] Ibid.,p.5

[7] Ibid.,p.31

[8] Ibid.,p.44.

[9] Ibid.,.57

[10] Ibid.,p.48.

[11] Ibid.,p.55



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