Music and Islam

SuttonThe complicated relationship between music and Islam has been something which has interested Inside Islam from the very beginning. Even though religious chanting is allowed–even encouraged–in Islam, there is an ongoing debate whether other music is permitted. Some Muslim communities ban non-chanting music all together, while others allow it as long as it doesn’t contain messages (e.g. sex, alcohol) that go against the teachings of Islam.

The Muslims in Indonesia adopt the latter attitude. As Prof. Anderson Sutton told Inside Islam, Islamic music is not only allowed but is also a huge part of the popular culture in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. You can listen to the whole interview  by clicking on the player below.

(11:20) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/andySutton.mp3]

A professor of ethnomusicology at UW-Madison, Prof. Sutton has been studying Indonesian music for more than three decades (2:20). His early research focused on gamelan, a large percussion ensemble on which some devout or orthodox Muslims look down, said Prof. Sutton, because “they think it’s too closely related to animist practices and Hinduism.”

During his frequent trips to Indonesia, Prof. Sutton has noticed the increasing influence of Islam on the musical and cultural life of Muslims there (0:50). During the 1970s, when asked about their religion, people answered “I’m Muslim” but usually with a qualifier like “statistically I’m a Muslim, but I really don’t go to the mosque, I really don’t pray 5 times a day.” Nowadays, people have become more open or orthodox in their practice. One sign is that the number of women who wear head scarves has increased significantly. Another sign is in popular music. “I found that there was quite a lot of music in Indonesia that was either overtly Islamic or had an Islamic tinge or nuance to it,” Prof. Sutton remarks. He gave the following three examples of Indonesian Muslim music.

  • The Way of Love, by Haddad Alwi from the album “The Way of Love” (2003)
    (0:30) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/wayOfLove.mp3]
  • Keadilan, by Abu Ali Haidar from “Nasida Ria: Keadilan, Qasidah Music from Java” (undated)
    (0:30) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/Keadilan.mp3]
  • Dzikir, by Takbir & Sholawant from the album “Sambasunda” (2000)
    (0:30) [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/Dzikir.mp3]

Even though there are some radical terrorist Muslims in Indonesia, Prof. Sutton says that “the majority of people I know who practice Islam actively are quite pacifist, tolerant, and open to other forms of belief” (5:00). Many Indonesians have expressed to him their sadness about 9/11 and their delight about the election of President Obama,  who lived in Indonesia for a few years in his childhood. At the end of the interview, Prof. Sutton uses three words to describe Islam in Indonesia (8:30). The third word is a bit surprising but understandable. Find out yourself.

How do you like the Indonesian Muslim music posted here? What does the relationship between music and Islam have to say about the religion? We welcome your comments.

2 thoughts on “Music and Islam

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