By Sruthi Gottipati and Malavika Vyawahare
February 5, 2013
A teenage girl band in Kashmir split up Monday after a senior cleric issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, against them. The rock band, a trio of schoolgirls calling themselves Praagaash, meaning “darkness into light,” faced threats following a public performance in December.
Grand Mufti Bashiruddin Ahmad, the cleric who issued the fatwa, said girls should “stay behind the veil and not perform.” He also said he issued the fatwa because otherwise there would be “no difference between our women and film actresses.”
Around the world, Muslim musicians and music lovers are facing censure from conservative scholars and from militants. In Mali, for example, listening to music was forbidden for months under militant Islamic rule. In Afghanistan, a charity-run shelter for girls was forced to discontinue its music program.
India Ink interviewed Akhtarul Wasey, a professor and director of the Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia University, in New Delhi, about the topic on Tuesday.
Q. What is your reaction to the fatwa issued against the all-girl Kashmiri rock band Praagaash?
A. We should look at things in a proper perspective. If the girls are engaged in learning and getting and training in a musical instrument, there is no harm. But if you ask from a religious perspective, from any religious leader of Islam, they will never approve. The mufti’s opinion is exclusively based on religious perspective and principle.
Q. Why will no religious leader approve of learning or playing music?
A. This debate about validity of listening and learning music has been going on for centuries in Islamic society. Religious leaders are of the view that this is lust, which turns you away from social and religious responsibilities.
Q. What exactly is considered un-Islamic by scholars? Is it learning an instrument? Performing in public?
A. For a religious leader, whether it’s listening to or learning music, it’s not permissible inside or outside your house. The overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars are against music.
A fact that we shouldn’t forget is that the best singers and musicians were produced by the Muslim community in this country. In the Muslim world, there are many countries where music is still prevalent.
Q. Can you quote a passage from the Quran that says it’s un-Islamic to listen to or play music?
A. I don’t know if it’s explicitly mentioned. Whenever religious scholars are having their say, they’re asserting this position.
Q. Was the recent fatwa issued solely because the members of this rock band are girls, in your opinion?
A. Generally in Muslim and Islamic society it is not allowed or liked by the society that girls should perform in front of people who are strangers to them. To entertain strangers is not encouraged or approved by Muslim society in general.
In our societies and families, on many occasions like wedding ceremonies there are many programs like Sangeet, where women sing. But this is generally not encouraged in public from a religious perspective.
On the other hand, there have been many singers among Muslims, very bright female singers like Noor Jahan, Shamshad Begum. There are also famous Sufi singers today, like Abida Parveen, who are very popular even in Pakistan.
Q. Has this band drawn attention because it is based in Kashmir, a Muslim majority state?
A. No, no, the religious opinion would be the same across the country. In fact, across the globe, as far as the religious perspective is concerned.
Q. If they continued to perform, would that be a problem?
A. All these things should be left to the family of the girls, to make a decision. It is up to the conscience of the people concerned.
Q. Do such Fatwas discourage youngsters from taking up music?
A. Even today many people are learning and performing. This is an incident in isolation. But whenever you look for religious opinion, you would get the same opinion.
Q. This is also happening in Afghanistan as well as in Mali, where musicians fleeing. Do you see this as a growing movement against music?
A. I think we should not correlate these things. Religious leadership will always be of the same opinion.
Q. In Kashmir, the rock band has also faced threats.
A. I am against any such threats.