Islam and popular culture: an Inside Islam recap

All-American Muslim, a reality TV show we covered in 2011. Photo: TLC

It’s fitting to end Inside Islam where we started. When we first began the project, we focused heavily on Islam in popular culture and media. Our first shows and posts focused on Muslim youth and new media, videobloggers, and even fashion.

Our focus on cultural topics was deliberate. In our efforts to break down stereotypes about Islam, our strategy was to humanize Muslims by showing them engaged in activities non-Muslims could relate to. Popular culture has always cut across cultural and geographic borders, so we focused heavily on the medium. Continue reading

Lady Gaga Denied Concert Permit by Indonesian Authorities

Lady Gaga Photo: Real Hollywood

International pop star Lady Gaga was recently denied a concert permit for her upcoming Jakarta concert due to pressure from a few conservative Indonesian-based Muslim groups. The majority of Indonesians are likely offended by some of Gaga’s music and her concert performances, as her art is viewed as immodest and out of line with Islamic principles. However, the overwhelming majority of Indonesians have also taken little interest in actively preventing Gaga from taking to the stage on June 3. Interestingly, however, Indonesian authorities, supposedly following secular laws, have had a poor track record on cultural and religious tolerance, and since 2008, socially conservative Islamic organizations have successfully campaigned against a variety of western artists from performing in Indonesia: Mötley Crüe, N*E*R*D, Rihanna, Akon, 50 Cent, and Avenged Sevenfold have all cancelled their shows due to similar types of pressure.

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The Debate Over Music

Duff/Daff (Source: chandrakantha.com)

One of the controversial topics that Muslim scholars have debated throughout Islam’s history is whether music and singing are halal (permissible) or haraam (forbidden). As I mentioned in an earlier post on the singer and songwriter Maher Zain, Muslims vary in their opinions on music. Since this topic has been extensively discussed and most of the opinions either way can be very lengthy, in this post I will just summarize some of the key points on the contention over the issue of music and singing. Continue reading

Maher Zain: A Muslim Musician

Muslims around the world are using multiple media to express their identities. For many Muslim artists, music has become an important space to talk about their faith and the struggles they face. The music ranges from the overtly political to the spiritual. The focus of this post is Maher Zain, a Swedish Muslim of Lebanese descent who rose to fame in 2009 and just released his most recent album Forgive Me this past April. Zain’s music is influenced by his faith and has strong religious overtones. Continue reading

The PashTones

A few months ago I wrote about the musical contributions of Pakistanis, both past and present. From rock and pop to traditional Qawali folk, Pakistani musicians have received acclaim at home and abroad. But music from throughout South Asia has also influenced those without cultural roots in the subcontinent.

Ted Watters and Brian Tilley of the American-based group The PashTones were inspired by the language, poetry, and culture of the Pashtun people of South Asia, creating a distinctive blend of traditional American folk and Pashtun music for their first album, The PashTones.

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What’s in a Name?

Artistic rendition of then Mos Def. Source: Lisafordblog.com

This past fall, Brooklyn-based international hip hop star Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith) announced that he is changing his name in 2012 to Yasiin Bey. Bey reverted to Islam in 1992 at the age of 19, just before his career as a hip hop artist took off. Famous for his collaboration with Talib Kweli in the duo Black Star and subsequent solo work, Bey will move forward with his music and acting careers under his new name. This Friday, Bey will officially perform under his new identity for the first time and rap in front of hometown fans at New York City’s Highline Ballroom.

The decision to change his name highlights an issue faced by many Muslims. Since approximately one fourth of all practicing Muslims in the US identify as reverts or converts, it’s a common topic for many that taps into a range of emotions related to personal identity.

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Pakistani Musicians Making Their Mark

Arooj Aftab Photo: Natasha Jahangir

Significant parts of Pakistan’s governance and security structure may be crumbling before our very eyes, but the country’s musical arts are anything but dead. Those lucky enough to have been exposed to the creative energy of Pakistani musicians know of the contributions from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Farida Khanum, and others. Now, even those outside of South Asia and the world music scene are being exposed to the sounds of the region. Often combined with western influences, and deriving from Sufi traditions, musicians and music from Pakistan are growing in popularity inside and outside South Asia. Continue reading

Muslim World Music Day

Yesterday, the ARCive of Contemporary Music organized Muslim World Music Day. The project coordinated live concerts and archived a variety of musical traditions, creating a database of knowledge and resources on music related to Muslims and Islam from dozens of countries. Scholars, artists, and music collectors from around the globe contributed to what is truly an amazing catalog of information on music composed by Muslims and non-Muslims over hundreds of years. There’s even a section of photos of album covers from various decades of the 20th century, showcasing a diverse set of music.

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Soundtrack of the Revolution

The forces behind the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts were widespread, coming from the religious and secular spheres, the intellectuals, and the working, middle, and upper classes. Millions called for justice and regime change and were victorious in achieving significant steps toward more democratic societies.

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Peaceful Coexistence or Heretical Practice?

Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, India

Manhattan’s Lincoln Center recently housed The Manganiyar Seduction, a musical  performance with multiple interfaith elements. Last week, 36 Sufi Muslim Musicians from the Indian state of Rajistan offered New York the traditional sounds of their Manganiyar culture. A formerly nomadic group that lives in both India and Pakistan, the Manganiyar’s folk music praises God. Performances often begin with the seeking of a blessing from the Hindu God Krishna. Many Manganiyar also celebrate aspects of Holi, a Hindu holiday observed by a number of faith traditions in India, including other Muslim groups.

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