March 10, 2006
Pop-Inshaad: The Rise of Islamic Singers
As contemplating Irshad Manji and the DPW caving have taken their toll upon my will to live I thought Aqoul would turn to issues of pop-culture. A recently emerging trend has received plenty of media attention since the rise of the Azerbaijani born British Islamic singer Sami Yousif. Islamic 'inshaad' or religious singing has become a massive market in the Gulf and the Middle East and it is not simply a matter of Wahabi defintions of what is religiously compliant catching on, although that is partly the case. Islamic singers have produced anything from totally instrument free multi-harmony based songs (spearheaded mainly by Ahmed Bukhatir, actually quite good if slightly melancholy in my view) to full orcherstra backed-albums such as those released by Yousif, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and a piano virtuouso.
The fatwas range from making allowances for duff ( all variations of drums) only, to instruments sans duff (i.e. a beat) to no musical influence whatsoever other than the human (and exclusively male voice). The only commonality between all these productions is the subject matter. Although some are reminscent of those played in the background in Al-Qaeda videos as tanks are blown up in Iraq, the most popular are ones praising the Prophet (pbuh) and lamenting the desperate state of Muslims today. Some, not dissimlar to Christian hymns, are merely monologues seeking forgiveness and closeness to Allah in self-flagellating piety.
The rather interesting fact is that almost all of these singers are young and rather easy on the eye. They present themselves in a media friendly music video parcel that, transmitted via varied Arabic channels (by no means all religiously oriented) such as Dream TV, Al-Majd and even lately Al -Jazeera has earned them quite a Beatles like following. Rotted cynicism aside, the popularity of Sami and others is another manifestation of that anatomical sounding pious middle. The young females of this mid-section do not desire to marry Westernised youths divorced from their faith nor do they particularly fancy a religious husband out of touch with modernity, more liberal lifestyle choices etc. Thus young Sami and others provide a good insight into the aspirations of an outward looking section of moderate Arabia trying to find that elusive middle ground between enjoying a vibrant non-imported pop-culture without resorting to mutating entirely into Western ostensibly irreligious alien mimicry.
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» Singing with Muhammad and Jesus from AlienSphere
Although religiously inspired songs are very common in the US, (recently Carrie Underwood has been topping charts by calling on Jesus to take the wheel) the fairly new phenomena of Islamic pop, headed by the British Muslim singer Sami Yusuf is receivi... [Read More]
Tracked on March 13, 2006 08:25 PM
While I was jetlagged in Egypt, I watched a lot of latenight MelodyHits (don't roll your eyes). Aside from the usual gyrating Christina Aguilera knockoffs, I do recall a very catchy English-Arabic song about the Prophet. Perhaps the equivalent to "Christian Rock", because it had a pop flavour, but the lyrics were purely religious. Made me wonder about the popularity of religion-themed music when compared to the Nancy-Haifa stuff.
Posted by: eerie at March 10, 2006 01:47 PM
Most of these pop songs are quite good and catchy. I have enjoyed Sami Yousif and Bukhatir without particularly being drawn into the lyrics and that is definitely a first for Inshaad. Something that even an apostate can listen to and enjoy, in the same way a Muslim would enjoy Satanic rock.
Posted by: Bint at March 10, 2006 05:23 PM
Hey, I just realized Sami Yousif sang that catchy song I was talking about!
Good god is he ever...um, nice looking.
Posted by: eerie at March 11, 2006 01:47 AM
Married at the age of 22 to a German convert to the distress of many an Arab maiden who obviously thought she was more worthy. A bona fide pop star hearthrob he must be if women are already hating on his wife!
Posted by: Meph at March 11, 2006 04:34 PM
I liked the song about the Prophet, it was kind of pretty, but I find Sami Yousef to be irritating, probably just because I don't like really in your face religiosity and don't like people who make lots of money from being pious on camera. And I am not a big fan of his latest song encouraging women/girls to wear the scarf. I wear the scarf but I am a grownup. Yesterday I had a conversation with an 8 year old who has had the scarf imposed on her by her elder brother. Thanks Sami Yusef and Amr Khaled for making this such a litmus test for women, girls and female babies in Muslim countries.
Posted by: Anna in Cairo at March 12, 2006 03:37 AM
so ... even the religious singers go for the blonde chicks, and preferably the european ones? stereotypes are so much fun when they're re-enforced ...
personally, i'm with anna on this one. transporting a very rigid moralistic message via "eye candy" is vile.
Posted by: raf* at March 12, 2006 04:34 AM
I find Sami Yousef to be irritating, probably just because I don't like really in your face religiosity and don't like people who make lots of money from being pious on camera
Ah I was wondering when someone would get to that. I personally find Sami Yousef (and Amr, but that's another matter) supremely irritiating. However, do you and raf* reckon they both would have got their big breaks had they been bearded one-eyed hook-handed middle-aged men?
Posted by: Meph at March 12, 2006 06:45 AM
Well, Yusef Qaradawi is doing OK, though he's not singing. (Thank God for small favors.) As for one-eyed and hook-handed, just wait, I will come up with someone! :)
Posted by: Anna in Cairo at March 12, 2006 06:57 AM
Seriously though, I am not sure there is anything sinister or calculated about Yousef's promotion of religosity. However one may feel personally about the impact of his works, I do not see why piety and financial gain have to be mutually exclusive, what I do find contradictory is making Islamic lifestyle choices due to media influence.
In a recent Dream TV interview with Egyptian preacher Khaled Abdallah, Khaled expressed annoyance over the fact that females were donning hijab and youths praying for Amr Khaled and not for religious reasons upon which the interviewer retorted, "Didn't they wear hijab 'u khalaas?' Aren't they praying 'u khalaas'?"
Posted by: Meph at March 12, 2006 09:16 AM
Yeah, it's not that he's sinister (meaning Sami Y., not Amr K.). He just is icky to me with all that staring at the camera and filming himself while singing about religion. It seems to me though the words are about something religious the song is about him.
In fact even the regular Arab pop songs tend to have a "here I am wearing a red dress, and here I am wearing jeans, and here I am wearing a white filmy thing" quality to them and they irritate me too, though not as much as Sami Y. does. The song could have lyrics about anything but the point seems to be the singer posing in a bunch of different outfits.
Maybe it's partly the idea that the real anasheed I love are those that don't show the damned singer all the time, only a bit, but show calligraphy, film of religious scenes like Mecca or people in mosques, or nature scenes (like the old and new versions of the 99 names song, and the Muhamad Munir "Madad" song, e.g.)
Posted by: Anna in Cairo at March 12, 2006 09:26 AM
Are you absolutely positively 100% sure that Sami Yusuf is married?
Posted by: M at September 1, 2006 08:05 AM