Take Down a Musical Instrument

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a computer electronic music program I have called FL Studio. Playing piano has been a hobby of mine since my father bought me an electronic keyboard when I was in 6th grade. A good friend of mine also owned a keyboard and he would always try to play melodies from movie soundtracks, so him and I would compete with one another on who could play a certain song first. Sometimes, we’d call each other over the phone and show off with what we figured out. The first tune I played was the “Mission: Impossible” theme, lol. This went on for a while and before I knew it, I could play “Jurassic Park,” “Star Wars,” “James Bond,” “Back to the Future,” and even classics like “Fur Elise.” I don’t remember exactly when I created my own song, but I know it was some time in high school. I guess I got bored of playing other people’s music, and also, I thought about creating music for my short films.

I never took any piano lessons, which still seems to surprise people when they see me play. I took a “Rudiments of Music” class in my Sophomore year of college and our final project was to write a composition. When I played my piece for my teacher (a song I called “Writing in the Dark”), he was impressed and said that I played like a professional. It was also cool to see him read my musical notes and play my song! It reminded me of the feeling I get when I see actors give life to the dialogue that I write in my screenplays. The more I practiced and played piano in front of guests and family members, the better feedback I received. My friends would tell me “compose your own music for your films,” and I just took it as a compliment and never thought about it seriously. I got my new keyboard when I graduated from high school in 2002, so yeah it’s pretty old, but still decent. Even though I wanted to form a musical band with my friends, it just remained talk and ideas, it was never as serious as our filmmaking.

So recently, I felt a desire to professionally record my music and when I learned that I could do this in my own house, I got excited and did research on what I needed to make this possible. It turned out that all I needed was a MIDI cable, which would enable me to hook my keyboard into my USB drive. FL Studio is an amazing program and I’m just amazed at how much people can do with it. I don’t mean to sound like a cheap advertising commercial, but the possibilities seem to be endless! I have a couple of plug-ins for orchestral and ethnic instruments — acoustic sounds that I would never get from my keyboard. I’m sure we all see the pros and cons of the technology age, but when it comes to creating music and filmmaking, computer programs such as FL Studio provide so many opportunities. Even with YouTube (where I plan to upload some of my short films, insha’Allah), one can share his/her work with so many people in the world.

I think it’s a beautiful thing for people to express themselves through artistic expression such as music. I know there are some Muslims who condemn music as being haram (forbidden), but I really mean no disrespect to their opinions and views on this matter. Prohibition of music is never even mentioned in the Qur’an; on the contrary, the Book of Zabur (Pslams) is mentioned and Muslims are taught that Prophet Dawood (David), peace be upon him, had a beautiful singing voice. I spoke with a contemporary Muslim poet in Philadelphia one year and we discussed the issue of music in Islam, and he told me that it’s a shame so many Muslims condemn it because music is very spiritual. The Qur’an itself, and the way it is recited, is actually very melodious, as is our daily prayers. Even in Islamic history, in the centuries following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, many Muslims theorized about music and even influenced Medieval European music. Give Medieval European music a listen some time, and you will notice how you can find similarities in Arabic music. This is because 11th century Italy used earlier Arabic musical notations from the 9th and 10th century. In his book, Historical Facts of the Arabian Musical Influence, H.G. farmer presents the following comparison of Italian and Arabic notations:

Arabic Alphabet:   Mi    Fa    Sad   La    Sin   Dal   Ra

Italian Notes:          Mi    Fa    Sol    La    Si     Do    Re

It is also interesting to note that the Spanish form of music known as “flamenco” was created by Spanish Muslims who faced expulsion, forced conversion, and even death from the Catholic reconquest of Granada. Many of these Spanish Muslims (or ‘Moors’ as the Europeans called them) joined gypsies on their way out of the country. “Flamenco” derives from the Arabic term “fellah mengu” which means “country vagabonds.” What’s even more fascinating is when one looks at the evolution of musical instruments. From the 8th and 9th centuries, music instruments from the Muslim world spread into Northern Christian Spain, France, and Italy via Muslim entertainers and minstrels. According to historians and authors Dr. Rabah Saoud and Michael H. Morgan: “The Muslim ‘oud will spawn the European lute and later the guitar and mandolin. The Arabic ghaita will evolve into the Scottish bagpipe and Spanish and Portuguese gaita. The Muslim qanum will give birth to the English harp and the German zither. The Persian kamancha and Arab rabab will morph into the fiddle. The Muslim zurna, a woodwind instrument, will lead to the oboe. The Persian santur, an early form of the hammered dulcimer, will give rise to European keyboard instruments.”

Pretty cool, huh? As we consider history and then observe the type of music being produced in the world today (including in the Muslim world) we see less art in the entertainment industry. I’m sure there were Muslim clerics who prohibited music in the past, but I believe it was tolerated overall. I believe we see Muslim clerics condemning music today because of the type of material there is. Mainstream Arabic music, for example, emulates Western pop music. It tries to be unique with its tabla drum rhythms and Arabic scales, but the songs are so formulaic that Arabic originality is lost completely. Even in mainstream Pakistan and Indian music, we see the emulation of mainstream western music, despite the usage of sitars, flutes, and tablas. The emphasis on sexuality especially is very strong and its no wonder why clerics call music “haram.” I understand how music with pornographic and violent lyrics are considered haram, but what about the true artists and musicians out there who are making music to inspire spirituality, social change, unity, and peace? We don’t see the true artists put into the spotlight anymore because maybe these artists aren’t as “attractive” or “pretty” as record companies would like them to be, or maybe their lyrics aren’t as controversial and provocative as they “should” be. I find that there are very few mainstream musicians out there who are creating music for the passion of it. It’s so money driven that I cannot even bring myself to ever listen to the radio. My choice of music is very selective, and many of the musicians I listen to are Muslim, Middle-Eastern, and South Asians who aren’t even well known in their own communities! Musicians like the Iranian female singer/composer Azam Ali, the Indian-American composer Karsh Kale, the Turkish mystical musician Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Iranian New Age artist Jamshied Sharifi, Moroccan spiritual singer Hassan Hakmoun, the late Nubian traditionalist Hamza Al-Din; or the countless ethno-electronica bands and artists like Samsara Sound System, Afro-Celt Sound System, Dhol Foundation, Al-Pha X, Cheb i Sabbah, Mercan Dede, etc. Let’s not forget the legends like Pakistan’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Egypt’s Umm Kalthoum. Non-Muslim musicians like Lisa Gerrard (you may have heard her hauntingly beautiful vocals if you’ve seen the film “Gladiator”) and Elizabeth Fraiser also fit in this category of true artists. There are also many Sufi-inspired bands like Stellamara and Lumin.

Azam Ali’s “Niyaz” album celebrates ancient Sufi poems, and the band describes their album as “folk music for the 21st century.” Azam Ali sings Urdu and Farsi poems that have been penned by divinely inspired poets hundreds of years ago. Should we deny the talent and say that these kind of songs that praise God, the Prophets, and spirituality, are haram? I think the big misunderstanding that people make is that they think music is meant to replace prayer. Music has a place in this world and its not meant to argue that prayer is not a worthy practice. I believe that people are born with beautiful Gifts and if they do not share that Gift, then the world will be missing out on it. We would be denying our purpose in this world. I’m not trying to win a Grammy or anything, but I still consider music to be a special hobby of mine. It has also been a little therapeutic for me. It helps me express myself with all that I’m going through these days. Anyway, I thought about sharing some of my latest recordings on my blog.

The first song is called “Incomplete”. It’s only about a minute and a half, it was just a trial run because I was just testing out the program. This is just a short version too, I have the longer version but I haven’t recorded it yet. Insha’Allah I will soon. Right click on the title below and click “save target as” if you want to save it. You can play it with Winamp or Windows Media Player.

Incomplete – Viola Section.

The second song is called “Ya Nabi.” It can be difficult to record this song because of the two layers of piano and strings. I like the new orchestral sound it has to it, but I still think it sounds much better when I play it live. Anyway, my friends say that this is my best song. I made it for Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. I can’t remember exactly when I came up with it, but I remember that it was after 9/11 when I was upset about Islamophobia and how our beloved Prophet was being vilified in the media (and still is). It has a very cinematic sound to it and sounds a little sad in the beginning, but it symbolizes my sadness at how someone so beautiful can be vilified.

Ya Nabi — Slow Strongs.

In advance, thank you so much for reading and taking the time to listen. The recordings are not the way I would like them to be, but I think they’re nice for a quick trial run. I find music is to be very spiritual and I think we need to encourage the Muslim youth to explore their creative sides more, rather than discourage them.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we Love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~ Jalaluddin Rumi,
13th Century Islamic mystic and poet

Abstraction

Outside, there is the sun
Green leaves grow, flowers bloom
Warm air, pleasant breeze
Yet for me, I am in the shade of gloom

A broken vow
And the clouds are weeping
I am their rainfall
Infertile soil, no garden to spring

What key is there to find
When they have all sunk in the ocean
And swallowed by the abyss of non-existence
Oh, how I have dreamt this sea to be one of passion

Those Love songs I penned with my heart
Floating in a realm of the past
Imprisoned in the sphere of memories
Forgotten tales of how we would never be apart

Another broken heart story
And the mirrors are shattering
I am the pieces, the cracks, the distortions
Nothing to reflect but the mask of tragedy

Reason and Revelation
Where I have gone wrong in these schools of thought
Who will resurrect Baghdad’s House of Wisdom
Who will provide the answers?

Talk of flying, romantic gardens
Mythical creatures, mystic paintings
My fingers dancing across piano keys
Was I just a mere abstraction?

A murdered dream
And the fairy tale is fading
I am chasing its happy endings, its light of hope
Running from the storm of this nightmare

I drive alone on this empty and silent road, friend
No light for days, no life for a thousand miles
Sooner or later, I think
The nightmare will end

Blow a kiss to the moon
Compose a verse, listen to the heart
Sooner or later, I hope
I will be home soon

Show me the Path, my King

~ BM ~

Supernova

I am alone by the shore
Listening to the soft echoes
Floating upon the sea of memories
What was lost, I ponder, where does time go?

Words became earthbound, joy became tragedy
Eternity faded into ephemere
Rose petals became blood stains
My world fell in ruins, can you not see?

A beauteous field burnt to ashes
Majestic Simorgh fallen on its neck, bleeding from the thorns
Lines on my hand turn to the sky
Where are You, O Healer?

Phantoms from the past reflect in my eyes
Is this what you call ‘True Love’?
Where Faith and Love cannot even save you?
Do you remember nothing from our flight?

Bulleh Shah says I cannot live and I cannot die
Shabistari says I am living an illusion
Rumi says I must bear the pain
Muhammad says I must die before I die

Beshno az ney – listen to the reed pipe – the mystics say
But the reed player’s robes are drenched in blood
Bring me an orchestra instead
Say not that I am lost or gone astray

Say not that I have fallen from the highest mountain
Say not that I have crashed into a valley of thorns
Say not that I have broken into a thousand pieces
Say not that my heart is torn

No, I have exploded into infinity
Infinite rhymes, sonnets, verses, and poems
Infinite feelings, joys, and sorrows
Infinite rays of light shooting into every direction

I am Supernova
And you are Stargazer
Watch the multi-colored flame
Of my being shine again

And as a being with no flag, no label, no emblem
I will emerge from nothing
Riding on the winged-horse of Jerusalem
Sailing with that one Breath that created this Universe

~ BM ~

Dixit Algorizmi (So Said Al-Khwarizmi)

Recently, I had to present a speech for one my classes on the achievements and contributions of Islamic civilization. I was so pleased with the response from my peers that I decided to share a portion of my presentation on my blog. I’ve decided this will be a continued discussion on my blog and I will focus on different aspects each time I write about it! Islamic history is one of my favorite subjects, and while it is amazing to note all the achievements that Muslims have contributed over the centuries, it is also disappointing that this is a history often untold, forgotten, and even rewritten. Unfortunately during a time when the U.S. is at war with Muslim nations, people tend to generalize, stereotype, and forget about how the “enemy’s” civilization has also played a significant role in shaping our world. Without acknowledging this lost history, many misconceptions about Islam are bound to persist. Islam and democracy, for example, is considered to be incompatible by harsh critics of Islam. However they neglect the Muslim Empire when it expanded across the Middle-East after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Tolerance and coexistence was widely practiced and many of the Muslim Caliphs and leaders knew that in order to have a successful and civilized society, free-thinking and freedom of expression was very essential.

The Latin words in the title of this entry are found in 12th century manuscripts and translations of Mohammad Al-Khwarizmi’s work. Al-Khwarizmi was an extraordinary 9th century mathematician who was among many of the great Muslim contributors during the Golden Age of Islamic civilization. His very name “Al-Khwarizmi” is where we get the word “algorithm” from. He also invented algebra (derived from the Arabic word “al-jabir” which means “to restore”) and discovered the Indian numeric system, which he later adopted and systemized into society. These are the same numerals (Indic-Arabic numerals) that we use today: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. I made a poster board for my presentation and displayed the evolution of these numerals which were used in different parts of the Muslim world – Spain, Baghdad, Cairo, etc. – and eventually in Europe. The Europeans used this numerical system since it was an easier way to compute numbers rather than using Roman Numerals! Could you imagine Roman Numerals on your cell phones or using them to make calculations at the store? This was an enormous achievement which is still evident today, but there are some extremely biased and anti-Islamic historians who say that the Muslims “stole” the brilliance of the numeric system from the Indians. It would be a faulty accusation to state that the Muslims arrogantly claimed that the numerals were an Islamic invention. Anyone who studies the actual history will learn that Al-Khwarizmi was thirsting for knowledge and learning. He was in a library in the great city of Baghdad where he came upon the texts of Indian mathematicians. Al-Khwarizmi ordered the Sanskrit texts to be translated into Arabic and once they were, he acknowledged the genius of the Indian mathematician. One of his works attributed the invention to Indians even in the title: Kitab al-Jam wal tafriq bi-hisab al-Hind – “The Book of Addition and Subtraction to the Hindu Calculation.” Another profound discovery Al-Khwarizmi made from the Hindu mathematicians was the number “zero”, which did not exist in Roman Numerals. The term “zero” started as “sunya” in Sanskrit which means “void” and “empty”. In Arabic it is “sifr”, and in Italian “zefiro”, and finally “zero” in French. Not only was this a huge breakthrough in mathematics, but also in the fields of engineering, technology, astronomy, philosophy, and even in theology. In respect to theology, the “zero” – nothingness – taught Al-Khwarizmi that reason and revelation ultimately leads us to the same source (i.e. God). Reason and revelation, or Intellect and Love, must coexist. This was also a fascinating topic all throughout the Islamic world (and eventually beyond) because it re-confirmed the Qur’anic declaration that God is in the numeral (see Qur’an 72:28 and footnotes below) as well as how God created us out of “nothing”:

“Did the human being forget that we created him already, and he was nothing.(Qur’an19:67)

God reveals Himself in numbers, the physical world, as much as He reveals Himself through the Unseen. This is the way of Islamic living, to use both the practical mind and the feeling heart. Where does Reason and Love spring from? Where is their Source? Certainly God is the Source and He blesses us with these capabilities. If one is simply Loving, then how will he know his boundaries, how will he know his limits? If one is simply Reasoning, then how will he know that to overcome his doubts, he would have to listen to his heart? How will he find Happiness? Certainly, the notion of living forever is not logical or rational; it comes from revelation, from Faith. This intercommunication of Reasoning and Love is the balance that Muslims strive to establish.

It is also worth mentioning the significance of algorithms. They are a set of numerical calculations and instructions that produce various kinds of results when carried out. Algorithms are critical to computers, programming, engineering, and software design. Without algorithms, typing this blog entry (or using a computer at that) would not be possible! As mentioned earlier, Algebra is probably the greatest of all of Al-Khwarizmi’s achievements because it is considered the first step into moving mathematics from the physical to the abstract. In other words, mathematics wasn’t just about counting how many items you purchased or calculating the cost anymore, it would extend far beyond physicality. As stated by Michael H. Morgan, author of “Lost History: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers, and Artists”, Al-Khwarizmi’s new ways of calculating will “enable the building of a 100 story towers and mile-long buildings, calculating the point at which a space probe will intersect with the orbits of one of Jupiter’s moons, the reactions of nuclear physics… intelligence of software, and the confidentiality of a mobile phone conversation.”

His other achievements included writings on astronomy and a treatise on the Jewish/Hebrew calender. A lot of Al-Khwarizmi’s contributions to the world as we know it has been forgotten. Many historians agree that the European Renaissance would not have shaped in the way it did if it were not for the accomplishments of great Muslim thinkers like Al-Khwarizmi. Nowadays, when we watch anything about the war, we tend to see a clash of civilizations, but we do not see the forgotten history; we do not see how both East and West have learned and developed from one another. Insha’Allah, if others have found this entry intriguing and enjoyable, I will continue to post more about the great Islamic contributions to the world.

It’s sad at how the Muslim world is crumbling these days because of war and disunity. The fact that Al-Khwarizmi was Persian and a Shia Muslim represents the level of tolerance and coexistence that was enjoyed during the reign of the Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad. This is the kind of unity that needs to be established in the current Muslim world. I believe the young Muslims, especially in the West, have serious potential to resurrect the spirit of our ancestors! Insha’Allah, may we all strive for that.

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