Unbeknown to many people, some powerful conservative Somali clerics are strong-arming famous musicians into ending and disowning their own musical careers, on spurious claims that the music is prohibited in Islam. Music is very important in Somali culture and in Islamic traditions. Extremists must not be allowed to go on with this senseless eradication of heritage.
‘Whoever says that all music is prohibited let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited.’ - Imam Abu Hamid Al Ghazali
While Daesh was burning the Jordanian pilot alive, Boko Haram creating killing fields in the villages and towns of Nigeria and neighbouring countries, and Al Shabab executing Somali women by firing squads for committing no other crime than being the weakest and most defenseless members of society, a group of Somali Mullahs itched to do something equally dramatic but fortunately less earthshaking; due to circumstances, however, they could find no better cause than waging a jihad against Somali music in North America and Europe.
It seems these Mullahs, most of whom live in the West and enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to them by the secular laws of their adopted countries, could not see the barbaric and heinous crimes committed in the name of Islam by the terrorist groups as repulsive actions that deserve their wrath and condemnation, but instead found their noble duty in strangulating Somali music. In what seems to be a well-defined division of labor, they assumed the role of the fifth column of Al Shabab by carrying out covert operations of spiritual purification while the terrorist militias were doing the physical slaughtering. Their aim is to obliterate the collective memory of the Somali people and the most treasured common heritage of all Somalis and indeed humanity at large: their voice.
The sinister campaign of these Mullahs came to light when the legendary singer Hibo Mohamed Nuura announced in an interview with the BBC Somali Service that she had decided to quit music as she was convinced by Somali Ulema that music was haram (prohibited) in Islam. She declared that she disowned her musical heritage and career that had spanned nearly 50 years, during which she had become one of the most respected and most admired female singers of the Somali people. She also made an appeal to her fans not to listen to her music; seemingly oblivious to the fact that her music is a national heritage; is the collective product of song writers, musicians, public resources and the audience who engage with it and endow it with its real value and longevity.
Shocked by this incident of tragic proportions, I started my own investigation to find out how this could have happened. I came to learn that a group of Somali Mullahs from around the world but mostly living in North America meet periodically in a teleconference to launch a war on Somali music through a concerted and well-coordinated effort aimed at locating and targeting Somali artists and inviting them to their clandestine sessions. The Mullahs, who mostly use pseudonyms during the call to hide their identities from authorities, select their victims with precision by starting with the celebrated singers, musicians and artists who are in the twilight days of their careers. Once these unsuspecting victims come into their orbit, the Mullahs grip them with their fangs and bombard these mostly unlettered poor souls with horror stories about the hellfire waiting to roast their bodies and souls if they do not repent and disown their past and their indulgence with music. Overwhelmed by the severity of the attack and being elderly individuals with one foot in the grave, these vulnerable victims quickly succumb to the deadly venom of the Mullahs.
This is what happened recently when a group of Mullahs, many of them well-known religious figures including a celebrated Sheikh from my hometown Borama, which was paradoxically the birthplace of Somali music over 70 years ago, met in their scheduled global teleconference to grill several icons of Somali music, arts and broadcasters. They included Hibo, Cabdi Cali ‘Bacalwaan’,Faadumo Haldhaa, Cadar Kaahin and Luul Cali Xasan.
Under controlled conditions and being put on the spot, the artists found themselves in a state of inquisition; they had no other option but to relent and fulfill the wishes of the Mullahs who they thought were genuine scholars of Islam, not aware that these clerics where only pushing their own narrow interpretation of Islam down their throats. The artists were too intimidated to ask questions such as if music was haram, why such a ban was not applied to all of the 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world; why Al Azhar Sheikhs had to listen to and even praise Umm Al Kalthoum; why the music of Muslims from Sudan, Mali, Senegal and other West African countries is one of the most popular in the world; why countries ruled by regimes bearing the Islamic banner such as Wahhabist Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan did not prohibit music. Without even going into the fruitless debate over the different interpretations of what Islam says about music, which usually ends up in ‘my Islam against yours’, the Mullahs could have seen that out of 1.6 billion people they were definitely not the only learned men who had the absolute truth in their hands.
Whereas these Mullahs usually like to quote Wahhabi and Salafist Sheikhs with narrow interpretations, one can also quote hundreds of eminent Islamic scholars such as Imam Al Ghazali, Ibn Hazm Al Andalusi, and contemporary scholars such as Sheikh Khalid Al Jundi, Sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkani and many others who could not find any Islamic text prohibiting music. One would have thought these Mullahs would have learned enough to heed the words of the Prophet (PUH) who said:
‘Indeed this religion is strong so delve deeper into it but gently. And do not make Allah’s worship to be repulsive to his worshippers. For the one who portrays it [religion"> harshly will be like a traveler who did not spare any effort but reached nowhere.’
But obviously taking this soft approach would have deprived them of the personal power they have in using religion as a cover for controlling people’s lives. Remember, those who burned the Jordanian pilot alive were quoting religious sources; Al Shabab and Boko Haram also regurgitate Quranic verses and Islamic traditions to justify their heinous crimes. So anyone can use the holy text according to their wishes, which makes the Quran the most abused holy book in modern times. This was prophetically seen by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph of Islam, when he advised Ibn Abbas, a member of his negotiating team with Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan, not to debate with the enemy on Quranic verses, underlining that the Quran was liable to different interpretations (حمّال أوجه ).
The fact that the Prophet (PUH) said ‘Deeds will be judged according to intentions, and everyone will get what he intended’, has also been conveniently ignored by the Mullahs because for them people’s intentions don’t count; what counts for them is what they tell you to do.
What made their action even more painful was the timing. They timed their action to coincide with a period when most of the cultured Somali people were mourning the death of two cultural and music icons, Mohamed Ahmed Kulluc, a veteran and renowned singer whose songs have inflamed Somali nationalistic feelings during the struggle for independence, and Hussein Sheikh Ahmed Kadare, a cultural scholar, dramatist, poet and a man remembered for his pivotal role in the writing of the Somali script and Somalization of scientific and cultural foreign words.
It seems as if these Mullahs are telling us that these cultural giants have died in vain and that they were obliged to warn those still alive against falling into the fires of hell. They insinuate that if you do not live the way they tell you to, you are doomed in the afterworld. But they also know that long after they are gone from this world, the names of the singers and artists will still be remembered and celebrated. They are deadly sure that Somali people will be enchanted by the music and words of our playwrights, singers and musicians for generations to come. They know that the names of such giants as Ali Sugule, Hussein Aw Farah, Xasan Sh. Muumin, Maxamuud Cabdillaahi Sangub, Xasan Ganay, Saxardiid Maxamed Cilmi (Jabiye), Xasan Cilmi, Cabdillahi Qarshi, Cumar Dhuule, Magool, Maandeeq, Dalays, Baxsan, Maryan Mursal, Farxiya Cali, Maxamad Suleyman, Axmad Cali Cigaal, Sahra Axmad, Amina Feer, Saado Cali, Amina Cabdillaahi, Fadumo Qasim, Khadiija Qalanjo, Khadra Dahir, Ahmed Naji, Nimco Jaamac, Cabdinuur Allaale, Maxamed Mooge, Xasan Adan Samatar and many others will ring with precious memories for the Somali people. And people who are remembered with cherished memories by their fellow human beings will definitely be handsomely rewarded in the hereafter.
I think the Muslim world has more than its share of ugliness if the Mullahs want to put their efforts to good use. I have never seen them condemning the barbarity committed in the name of Islam by terrorist groups like Daesh, Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al Qaeda and their ilk. But on the contrary, they seem to be in cahoots with them by carrying out such cultural cleansing campaigns.
It might help to remind these Mullahs that a number of eminent Egyptian Islamic scholars had enjoyed the songs and music of Umm Kalthoum, the most celebrated Arab woman singer of all time. These clerics included Sheikh Mohamed Al Ghazali, Sheikh Ali Tantawi, and Sheikh Mustapha Abdirazik, who sheltered her and protected her from the onslaught of ignorant clerics. There are also famous Quranic reciters such as Sheikh Mohammad Sdeq Al Menshawy who described her voice as having ‘soft power and the sweetness of music’, Sheikh Abd AlBasit Abd AlSamad who used to call her ‘the star of the east and the west’, and others.
This is how the enlightened scholars value singing and music as a God-given talent that has to be nurtured, enjoyed and admired. But it seems that the Somali Mullahs are trapped in a time capsule of their own to the extent that they never heard the words of the great theologian and eminent Sufi, Al Rumi, who said ‘There are many ways to reach God; I have chosen dance and music as my path’. And this is exactly what Professor Ahmed Ismail Samatar, an eminent scholar who I call the Singing Professor, demonstrates every time he lectures in a Somali public forum. Knowing the sublimity and power of music, he never misses the opportunity to perform a song or two and never without the presence of the Oud (lute) at the end of the gathering. Just like Rumi, Professor Samatar must have realized that the beauty of music is the best way to be closer to the heavens. Why did Allah give Prophet Dawood the beauty of singing and music as his miracle and command the mountains and birds to sing with him? And was it not the Prophet of Islam who after being delighted by Abu Musa Al Ashari’s recitation of the Quran said about him ‘…You are in fact endowed with a sweet voice like that of [the Noble Prophet of Allah"> Dawood himself’.
Music is one of the first things that babies learn through the mother’s lullabies. It is also how nature communicates with us. You cannot miss hearing music wherever you turn. The sound of rain, of waterfalls and waves; the singing of birds, the howl of wind, the rustle of leaves and the rhythmic movements of the planets, are all parts of the universe’s gigantic musical orchestra. No wonder Imam Al Ghazali said ‘Whoever says that all music is prohibited let him also claim that the songs of birds are prohibited’.
Music is also used for a therpeuaitc purposes and academic degrees are offered in music therapy. I would love to see if any of these Mullahs could refuse such treatment if their life depended on it.
But despite this concerted onslaught on music, it is heartwarming to see the herculean efforts carried out by some individuals like Dr Jama Musa Jama and Ayan Ashour for their distinguished service to Somali music through many initiatives such as London Somali Cultural Week and the Hargeysa Cultural Center. The recently opened Hiddo Dhow Center in Hargeisa, pioneered by the famous singer Sahra Halgan, is another shining initiative that warms the heart of Somali culture and music lovers. One cannot but also praise the dedication of some of our iconic cultural custodians such as Said Salah Ahmed, Boobe Yusuf Du’ale, Ahmed Farah Cali (Idaajaa), Dr Mohamed Dahir Afrah, Saeed Jama Hussein and others who are veteran warriors for the preservation and handing over of Somali culture and music to future generations.
Definitely, we should also applaud all the public and private Somali television stations and websites that constantly celebrate and delight us with Somali music despite the pressure exerted on them by the Wahhabi Mullahs. I must give special salute to Caasha-Luul’s program ‘Erayga Abwaanka iyo Odhaahda Fanaanka’ on Somaliland National Television and Nicmo Samriye’s ‘Tartanka iyo Fanaaniinta’ of Horn Cable TV, which reminds us of the successful 1970s production ‘Heesaha Hirgalay’, held at the National Theatre, which produced a number of today’s famous singers such Hassan Adan Samatar. These two courageous women are doing commendable service for Somali music and culture. History will also not forget the enormous attention and resources given by Djibouti’s Government and the government of the Somali region of Ethiopia in filling the void vacated by the Somali government in promoting and spreading Somali music, poetry and folklore.
It is a matter of great regret, however, that Somali businesses, which are mostly dominated by religious people, do not extend any support to music or cultural activities. I know some Somali television stations owned by such businesses that have succumbed to the blackmailing of the religious establishment and made it a policy not to play music. I am not sure how they would avoid playing the Somali National Anthem when covering national events.
Finally, I cannot find better words to conclude this piece than to echo the words of Imam Al Ghazali, a man known as Mujadid, reviver of Islamic scholarship, and the author of some of Islam’s canonical books such as the Ihya' Ulum al-Din or Ihya'u Ulumiddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences). Commenting on music, he said:
‘He who is not moved by the spring and its flowers; the Lute (Oud) and its tunes, has a sick mood that cannot be cured.’ And now let me leave you with Raaxeeye and the legendary voice of Maxamad Axmad Kuluc and let the Mullahs plug their ears: (Raaxeeye )
* Bashir Goth blogs at www.hanua.blogspot.com
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