Asma Allah, Du’a jameelah, Imam Ghazali, and music in Islam

Dear Readers,

Assalamu alaikum! (peace be with you all)

Continuing on the musical tradition in Islam, a topic I posted before on here where the Quran is recited musically, and here introducing the genre called ‘salawat’, I want to talk today about another form of singing that is common. And that is the singing of du’a. Du’a (=supplication) is more akin to prayer as the word in understood in English. And Muslims often ‘recite’ or you could say ‘sing’ their prayers. Often invoking the Divine by what we call the Asma ul Husna, the names of beauty, while so doing.

Before I begin though, it may be a good idea to re-iterate something I mentioned before, WRT to the status of music in the Islamic tradition. Islam, as anyone who practices it will know, is a way of life rather than a religion per se. Yes, we have religious institutes and scholars etc., but they are not ‘instituted’ nor ‘ordained’ in anyway. Institutions grow out of a community coming together to formalize one, and scholars are born out of their learning and productivity. Both, gain and maintain credibility only as per their acceptance by the Muslim populace. Now, there certainly are state-sponsored scholars and institutions in the Muslim world, but traditionally these have not been held in as high an esteem as those out of government regulation. For there is  well known maxim in the Muslim world that goes;

“The best of rulers are those at the doorsteps of scholars, and the worst of scholars are those at the doorsteps of rulers.”

And indeed it is well known, that the majority of all the great scholars of the Islamic tradition underwent torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Sultan of their time. And you can guess why. Some interesting posts on the topic are from our brother Muhammed Ghilan a neuroscience PhD from Victoria University in Canada and budding intellectual in the Islamic tradition here, and another from an author I do not know, but beautifully titled ‘scholars of Al-Sultan (the traditional title for rulers in Muslim lands) or scholars of Al-Rahman (=The Beneficient, one of the names of God)‘.

I have digressed, so I will come back to my post. Suffice to say to wrap up the above that now you can surmise what ordinary Muslims think of scholars who are on a government payroll (!).

I wanted to re-iterate that there is a difference of opinion on the status of music in the Muslim life. I blogged it about in detail here. In a nutshell, a variety of opinions are present, from scholars who frown on any form of music except the human voice, to those who allow the use of any type of instrument. All, though, emphasize that the content of the music itself must be beautiful, i.e., engendering God consciousness. Needless to say, lewdity, vulgarity and narcissism etc are not considered allowable. One of the most common and well known sayings of the prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) is

God is beautiful and loves beauty 

[Sahih Muslim]

Divine beauty is a topic of extensive discourse in the Muslim tradition. See here for an informative series on it by Jinan Yousuf. From that blog, a saying from another very well known scholar of yore, Ibn Al-Qayyim (raheemahullah alai) who said,

“And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”

And indeed, all of creation is beautiful, including the wonder of sound. A miraculous method to know the Divine. Music is after all, mathematics in motion, and is not mathematics the language that can capture the concept of infinity, which is a window to understanding the Divine.

Imam Ghazali (raheemahullah alai = God have merciful love upon him), the only scholar in the Sunni Muslim tradition who is given the title ‘hujjathul Islam’ (=the proof of Islam), lived close to a thousand years ago and faced many of the same problems the Muslims of today are facing –  an overly puritanical view of Islam, focused on exoteric practice, on one end that threatens to suck out all the joy of life, and on the other an overly lax view, that focuses only on the esoteric and so may lead to a loss of all the practice that makes up the Islamic way of life. His life story is well worth getting to know and inshaAllah I will blog on that sometime.

Imam Ghazali was asked what his opinion was on music from the more conservative camp (yes, this question was asked even a thousand years ago!), and he replied that if music were a bad thing, God would not have created the beautiful bird song!

So all that said, I can continue to post on the myriad musical genres present in the Muslim world and variety of sound and style they capture. For this post, I want to end by posting a few videos of one of the most favourite recitations or ‘songs’ as it may be more suitably translated to a western audience, is that of singing the 99 ‘names’ of God. The Asma Allah (Names of God), also often called Asma Al-Husna (Names of Perfection/Beauty/Goodness)

God is not limited in any way and so also the names of God are unlimited, but we definitely know of 99 (some give different numbers..)  that have been revealed in the Quran or have been taught by the prophet (peace be upon him). They capture Muslim theology in totality, and are sung in various forms and recited and invoked during prayers as well. My beloved grandmother, would sing them to me as a baby to put me to sleep, using a form of their recitation that is very beautiful. It is called ‘du’a jameelah’ (the prayer of beauty)

I won’t go into theology here, but in brief according to the Muslim belief; God is one (indivisible), without partner (does not have any likeness – nothing is like him. We use ‘him’, but God is beyond any concept of gender and is not male and not female), is unlimited (therefore does not change, as change implies moving from one state to another and this implies limits as states have limits), without beginning and without end (i.e., beyond the concept of time). And there is more, but I am not a scholar so I will stop 🙂

These ideas are captured in the 99 names which when analyzed, roughly divide as half being feminine in their essence – these are termed the names of beauty, or ‘jamal’, and half being masculine in their essence – these are termed the names of majesty, or ‘jalal’. For example, Al-Lateef (= The Gentle, Subtle, Delicate) would be ‘jamali’ (=of beauty), and Al-Adl (=The Just) would be ‘jalali’ (=of majesty).

Many are the renditions of the Asma Allah. I will give some below.

Here is du’a jameelah. May Allah increase and bless my beloved grandmother for each and every breath she expended singing the du’a jameelah to me, and may God increase the times I get to sing it to her.

 

Here is a modern rendering of the Asma Allah, by Sami Yusuf, perhaps the modern Muslim world’s best known traditional artist. He has received numerous accolades for his brand of music that builds bridges among the east and west including an honorary doctorate, he has served as an ambassador for the World Food Program, and is a household name in the Muslim world. His version is a modification of the traditional Asma Allah du’a.

 

Here is a cover of the above, by a young lady who God has blessed with an amazing voice, and also placed her in city where she may benefit from all the resources needed to develop and train that voice. What makes her unique is that she is very much trained in the ‘western’ style of singing, so it is very sweet to hear her sing traditional pieces. Her name is Saida Muhamedjan, which has a beautiful meaning (Saida = happiness, Muhammedjan = the beloved of Muhammed, or one who loves Muhammed I think). She is Tatar, and lives in Kazan in Russia. The Tatars are predominantly Muslim, and part of the Turkic tribes of Central Asia. I think you will enjoy her rendition. There is a bit of interference on the audio, I hope it won’t distract. May God preserve, protect and elevate her. Her sweet voice has helped me through many a difficult moment in life, and inshaAllah (=God willing) I must blog more about her and Tartar culture sometime.

 

Here is a more tradition version, here the entire Asma Allah are recited, and as the video gives the meanings of the names in English, I thought you would find it enlightening. This is how we would usually recite it at gatherings. As usual for all du’a, we end with asking God to send his choicest blessings on the beloved, Muhammed (peace be upon him), though the translation is not quite accurate at that part.

 

And finally the same traditional version again, from a Ilma Plojovic, a very talented munshidah (= a lady who sings songs religious in nature), may God increase and protect her. I shall leave you with this.

Peace be with you all

Silent Words – benefit song for Syria

Assalamu alaikum, peace be with you all. This song, just released as a free download by Sami Yusuf, I wanted to share. It carries a prayer for the children of Syria. And a hope by the artist that we will give more to help the children of Syria. Indeed for the children affected by any war anywhere. Listening to this type music, itself is a prayer. So please listen. There is a beautiful du’a (supplication) at the end. We all need to spend more time in prayer these days. World events point us to the need to pray more, cleanse more, redeem ourselves more. What a mess mankind has made of this earth. Allah forgive us all.

‘Wherever You Are’ -arabic version

This song is very special to me. I thought I should share it with you, my dear readers. With beautiful graphics and very deep lyrics it speaks of a timeless truth. From one of my favourite artists, Sami Yusuf. It’s on his latest ‘salam’ album (available on iTunes and his website).

Enjoy, and God bless and protect you all.

Assalamu alaikum (peace be with you)

 

‘I am nothing….without you’

This song from Sami Yusuf’s latest album, which if you can I urge you to buy, not only to benefit a great artist, but because also music like that which he makes purifies the heart. This song touches me deeply. Brings a tear to my eye, melts away all the pain…

I have always believed and felt that music is a great way to know God. Somehow it breaks down barriers and seems to penetrate the heart. What a metaphor! like sound can travel through walls, so can music travel through whatever stubborn walls we put up around our hearts that prevents us seeing our Maker. Prevents us knowing our home, knowing our Lord.

It is called ‘Dryer Land’ sung by two great maestros of music, they may be father and son, I am not sure. You can purchase the album here

This is the official youtube. The lyrics to the part in Farsi is especially transcendent.

God bless you and on you all be peace. Assalamu alaikum

 

Forgotten Promises

This is a beautiful song, it melted my heart and made me remember what foolish things I worry about. It is the more impactful for it features the World Food Program, an organization I used to work for and video footage from Sri Lanka. The days I worked in the UN, with the poor of my country are brought back. Those days, I knew myself better. I was closer to my soul. So I make this prayer and may my Lord grant it, and forgive my sins, ‘O Lord, don’t let me forget the poor. This rich western life has made me forget what it feels like to be hungry. Has made me forget humility. O Lord, protect me from too much wealth’

Please do listen, share and buy this track. As usual Sami Yusuf, Allah bless and fill with light his beautiful soul, has done this for charity. What a inspiration to live liek that. Using your God given talent, to serve God.

Make me strong

This song has always helped me. I just came across this youtube video of it with these beautiful images of the ocean. I wanted to share it here… MashaAllah so healing. Allah bless Sami richly for the courage he has shown in expressing his feelings and just being himself, regardless of what any one says about his music. He is true to his heart and Allah gives success to the one true to his heart.

Here it is

‘He is there’…. the video is out

Peace to all. I’ve always loved this song ever since Sami released it as part of his ‘Without You’ album. Sami Yusuf is a great artist, very talented, he’s built so many bridges and crossed so many boundaries. More than anything else it is his beautiful heart that is so apparent in his music. I’ve found over the years, every time some natural disaster or important political event took place in the world, a lovingly crafted track would arrive in my inbox (I’m subscribed to his website) with the words ‘free download’, usually with all proceeds going to the cause. No wonder Allah blesses him with so much success. God protect this beautiful soul.

I just had to share this track. The official video is now out and Alhamdulillah you cannot but be moved by it. Provides a link to donate at the bottom of the screen and the video is in HD here too. I can’t upload that URL but will have the youtube of it below. May God teach us all to be more of what He wants us to be, to give more, joy more and love more.

Listening to it always reminds me of a beloved hadith of the hadith Qudsi. A ‘hadith’ is a narration from the prophet (peace be upon him) and these coupled with the ‘sunnah’, i.e., the prophetic example (there is a vast body of literature documenting his actions in every aspect, and a rigorous science on which of these narrations are authentic) are the second source of sacred knowledge for the Muslim. The other being the Quran of course, God’s own spoken word to man. The hadith Qudsi, are special types of hadith where it is God’s message, but in the words of the prophet (peace be upon him). This is different to the Quran which is God’s message in God’s own words (and since not a syllable of it has changed of the revealed word in the Arabic language, and for many other reasons as well, no doubt exists as to its authenticity). More information about the hadith Qudsi can be found here, a beautifully laid out website called SacredHadith. The particular hadith this song reminds me of is below, it is found in ‘Muslim’ the name of a book (not meaning a Muslim!) that is considered to contain the most rigorously authentic narrations of the prophet (peace be upon him).

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection:

O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink whin You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.

It was related by Muslim.

And here is the song. Enjoy. Peace be with all. Assalaamu alaikum