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The Islamic Idol

June 4, 2009 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

Classical_Guitar Islamic music bands are popping up all over the world and most share a common mission, which is to spread the message of Islam through music. Islamic Nasheeds, or the raising of the voice without musical instrument accompaniment, is popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East and has been growing popularity amongst Muslims in Europe and North America for years.

The Islamic Nasheed sends a message, which is related to the Islamic lifestyle. However, they also often include references to social issues such as avoiding sin, staying in school or showing kindness to others. The Nasheed styling is based on vocal harmonies delivered by a sole singer.  Musical instruments are kept to a bare minimum so that the beauty of the human voice is the primary focal point. However, sometimes a drum or stringed instrument is also included.

The Middle East is no stranger to the popularity of the outrageously famous American television show ‘American Idol’ and copycats can be found in most countries. The most popular of which is known as ‘Star Academy’. However, in keeping with the Islamic faith, a new television/reality/talent channel has emerged in Egypt. It is being touted as the Islamic world’s ‘American Idol’. It is called ‘4shbab’ or ‘For the Youth’ in English. The channel was developed by an up and coming media mogul named Ahmed Abu Heiba who hopes that it will spread the message of Islam far and wide.

The show exclusively features male Nasheed singers who take the stage in a blaze of glory as flames shoot out from the edge of the stage and machine-generated fog swirls around the contestant’s feet. Some of the contestants even perform intense dance routines that would make even Michael Jackson stand up and take notice. Critics have blasted the show for mimicking the West and watering down the Islamic message that is trying to be conveyed with slickly choreographed dance moves. Women are not allowed to participate in the competition. However, they are allowed in the audience, which is segregated based on gender lines. 

The debate on whether or not music is acceptable in the Islamic faith has raged on for years with some saying that it is forbidden while others say that it is acceptable, within reason. Depending on which part of the globe the aspiring singer is from, singing can be a matter of life or death. In Iran, singers are often jailed for singing or even listening to music. In Pakistan, the Taliban routinely dole out punishments for anyone indulging in music. Some Muslim women, in particular, often bear the brunt of censorship regarding singing. Last year Lima Sahar made it to the final three on the Afghan version of American Idol called Afghan Star. She has received so many death threats since her appearance that she now lives in exile in her own country as she seeks asylum from any country that will welcome her. Another female singer, Aiman Udas, who was a Pakistani native was gunned down this past April by her own brothers who disliked her performing in music concerts.

Nasheeds are not the only ways in which some Muslims are seeking to express themselves through music. There are several rock and roll bands that are slowly making a name for themselves across the Middle East and Southeast Asia. However, the message in their songs is not always inclusive of the Islamic faith. In fact, the songs mirror American heavy metal, punk rock and pop music.

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