Fjordman’s Comparison of Christian and Islamic Science: Gregorian Chant and Muslim music

As for music, Greek theory on the subject evolved from Pythagoras before 500 BC. The Church was the dominant institution in post-Roman Europe and drew on Greek philosophy and musical theory. Some elements of Christian observances may derive from Jewish tradition, too, chiefly the chanting of Scripture and the signing of psalms, poems of praise from the Book of Psalms. Christians integrated music into their liturgy. In the Western Church, Gregorian chant and the development of polyphonic music was valued as decoration, a concept central to medieval art and architecture. According to A History of Western Music, Seventh Edition, by Donald J. Grout, Peter J. Burkholder and Claude V. Palisca, “Polyphonic performance heightened the grandeur of chant and thus of the liturgy itself.” This gave rise to a musical tradition which led to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Nothing similar happened in the Islamic world, despite the fact that Muslims initially had access to much of the same material. I have described this in my essay Why Muslims Like Hitler, but Not Mozart.

Historian Bernard Lewis writes in The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years:

“Since Muslim worship, with the limited exception of some dervish orders, makes no use of music, musicians in the Islamic lands lacked the immense advantage enjoyed by Christian musicians through the patronage of the Church and of its high dignitaries. The patronage of the court and of the great houses, though no doubt useful, was intermittent and episodic, and dangerously subject to the whims of the mighty. Muslim musicians devised no standard system of notation, and their compositions are therefore known only by the fallible and variable medium of memory. There is no preserved corpus of classical Islamic music comparable with that of the European musical tradition. All that remains is a quite extensive theoretical literature on music, some descriptions and portrayals of musicians and musical occasions by writers and artists, a number of old instruments in various stages of preservation, and of course the living memory of long-past performances.”

There are those who are critical of Mr. Lewis as a scholar and consequently believe that he shouldn’t be quoted as an authority. You should always maintain a healthy criticism of any writer, but I know from other sources that the above mentioned quotes are largely correct.

Many forms of music are banned in Islam. The Reliance of the Traveller by Ahmad Ibn Lulu Ibn Al-Naqib and Noah Ha Mim Keller has been formally approved by al-Azhar in Egypt, the highest institution of religious learning among Sunni Muslims. It quotes a number of ahadith, authoritative sayings of Muhammad and his companions which form the core Islamic texts next to the Koran, among them one which says that “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful …” Another quote says that: “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.” The scholarly conclusion is that “All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical instruments of all types are unlawful.” Another legal ruling says that “It is unlawful to use musical instruments – such as those which drinkers are known for, like the mandolin, lute, cymbals, and flute – or to listen to them. It is permissible to play the tambourine at weddings, circumcisions, and other times, even if it has bells on its sides. Beating the kuba, a long drum with a narrow middle, is unlawful.”

Source: “Fjordman: To President Obama: Regarding Islam and Science” in Jihad Watch. (The full essay is a very good read, especially for those interested in astronomy, linguistics, and optics.)

About Quirino M. Sugon Jr
Theoretical Physicist in Manila Observatory

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