In Iraq, the clerics have conflicting opinions about music prohibition, writes Wisam Tahir from Nasiriya in Iraq in an article published in The Herald Scotland on courtesy of the Institute for War and Peace reporting
The article gives an excellent insight in the situation for musicians in Nasiriya, which is a town previously renowned for its musicians and a colourful cultural scene.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Shia militias advocating a stern form of Islam grew powerful in Nasiriya. Their clerics spoke scornfully of musicians who strayed from religious themes, and whose performances were associated with the consumption of alcohol. Stores selling records were burnt down and several singers were attacked and beaten.
Today, singers intimidated by hardline militias use a certain teashop as their meeting place. Threats from militiamen forced musicians to go underground. However, although public performances are out of the question, some singers occasionally perform at private homes where their hosts can guarantee their safety. Very occasionally, they may attend all-night singing soirees in remote locations outside town.
Confused by edicts One of the musicians who were interviewed for the article said that he is confused by edicts, issued by a variety of clerics, against the use of certain musical instruments. He said it is hard to gauge the severity of the ban because several supposedly proscribed instruments are used in religious recitals. “Did the religion change? Why is everything forbidden or potentially forbidden?”
The Shia clerics in Nasiriya have conflicting views of the musicians, reported Wisam Tahir.
Sheikh Hakim al-Salihi, an ally of the anti-American Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told him that singing “is the devil’s pipe and ruins the soul of prayer”. “Every sinner should be punished and every pious person rewarded,” the cleric said.
Tahsin al-Baqaa, a Shia cleric not affiliated to any of the major parties, said singing was regarded as haram, or sinful, by most scholars but “did not necessitate killing”.
“Those who harm singers are extremists that have abandoned the core message of Islam,” he says, adding that “persuasion and guidance” must be used to convert any singers who continued to defy religious doctrine.
Yet Ahmed al-Fartoissi, another cleric, maintains that there had not been any new fatwas, or edicts, against singing or musical instruments.
He says “ignorant extremists” had targeted singers to make a political point. “The clerics are not responsible for the persecution of singers and lyricists,” he says.
Victims of broader unrest The musicians want Nasiriya’s government to protect them so that they can perform in public. The local artists’ union, affiliated to the government, was disbanded several years ago. Its former head, Ali Abd Eid, says it could not have offered protection “from anonymous criminals who use a range of methods to threaten isolated artists”.
Khadum al-Obaidy, head of Nasiriya’s journalists’ syndicate, a government-backed body, says the singers were the victims of broader unrest.