Sunday, January 11, 2009

Islamic Prohibition: notes to women and music

On Christmas day, David’s Palestinian friend Meliha gave me an Arabic children’s book, which she wrote. To thank her, I wrote out a short thank you note—in Arabic. Of course, as my grammar is not perfect, I asked Mustafa, one of my 5 language exchange partners, for help. He is a Mutadayyen, or devout Muslim with a big beard. The Arabic word Mutadayyen translates into “one who lives by religion.” When he read the short note, and noticed that it was addressed to a woman, he said, “I’m sorry. I cannot help you with this note.” I was a bit puzzled at first. He explained that he could not assist me in writing a note that would facilitate a relationship with a woman.

So, I asked him, “you mean, it’s too close to zina (sin)?”

“Yes! Exactly,” He replied, with a smile.

I looked at him for a moment in disbelief.

Then I asked him for the exact sura and aya, or chapter and verse in the Qur’an, which addresses such practices. Mustafa could not give me an exact reference, but explained that Islam frowns on such practices. These guidelines are intended to protect women—and men, for that matter.

“Are you angry or upset with me, Andy?” Mustafa inquired.

“No. I have 4 other Egyptians I can ask for help on this. If you were the only one, maybe I would be a little upset. I understand that the world is big and there are many different peoples with different cultures. Islamic culture is extremely different from Western culture, especially that of the USA. So, I can respect these differences and I want to respect your beliefs. If you don’t want to help me with this note, that’s fine.”

He seemed pleased with my diplomatic answer.

After our language exchange, I told him that I was off to the Opera to meet a friend. Although the Mohamed Mounir concert had been cancelled, I was going there for some coffee. Mustafa said matter-of-factly, “Mounir is not good.”

“You don’t like Mounir? How about Um Kalthoum?”

“Music is not good,” Mustafa replied.

“Some music, or ALL music is not good?” I pressed further.

“All music is not good.”

“What sura and aya?”
He went to his Qur’an and referenced Sura Luqman, aya 6. He asked me to show the sura to my friend at the Opera and he would explain.

Sura Luqman, aya 6 reads:
“And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing, etc.) to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah without knowledge, and takes it (the Path of Allah, or the Verses of the Qur’an) by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell-fire).”

My Egyptian friend Hatem explained that when Prophet Mhmd (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) arrived in Medina, he was greeted by his supporters with songs. Furthermore, this literalist reading of the Qur’an is most common among Mutashaddid, or “fundamentalists.” I now realize that Mustafa and I live in very different worlds.

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