Middle East: Dossier on music, bans and censorship

16 May 2007
The Internet portal has produced a dossier entitled ‘Middle Eastern Musical Worlds – Between East and West’. It includes issues of music bans and censorship in the region

The dossier contains portraits of young Turkish and Arab pop stars and traditional musicians in Europe, and reports on current initiatives and band projects.

It contains a report about the music scene of Iran. Here Arian Fariborz describes how the group O-Hum was officially banned by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (Ershad). This happened after O-Hum singer Shahram Sharbaf had forced himself to venture into the hated ministry to sing in front of an assembled squad of Islamic watchdogs. Arian Fariborz wrote in his article in 2004:

    The Iranian journalist Shadi Vatanparast described the dilemma and the humiliating regulations currently faced by young musicians who want to release their work to the public. The Ershad Ministry is officially responsible for overseeing domestic music production. The Ministry’s Center for Music has to give its approval before any music can be distributed in record stores. There are three decision-making bodies. First, there is the music committee, which judges the musical quality of a work. It consists of one musician and two scholars.

Then, there is the text committee, made up of a number of well-known poets. The guidelines that this group follows are not known. Finally, up until recently, there was also a singing committee. A famous singer tested the vocal abilities of the candidates. The problem here was that only academic music was accepted and anything beyond conventional or classical music was viewed with suspicion.

Women musicians are particularly hard hit by these restrictions. Even today, women’s voices are only officially allowed within choirs. Solo performances are taboo. The Iranian authorities continue to strictly uphold religious precepts. Works featuring a woman’s solo voice are only sold under the table, if at all.

Many pop bands, however, have become quite inventive in dealing with the restrictions. Take the rock group Raz-e Shab, for example. Its pianist, Rahmin Behna, explained, “We have always tried to feature solo women voices in our music. Unfortunately, we don’t always know exactly where the limits of toleration lie.”

In an article about what role music plays for Muslim youth in Europe entitled ‘If George W. Bush Were Muslim’ the issue of religious music prohibition is addressed. “Music is not prohibited in the Koran,” states the article’s author, Martina Sabra. An excerpt from the article:

    The musical idol of many religious Muslims is Yusuf Islam alias Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam in 1977 and then for religious reasons took a break from his music career for many years. The assumption that Islam prohibits music, however, is disputed among Muslim experts and scholars alike.

“Some Islam scholars have always claimed this throughout history. But nowhere in the Koran is there a prohibition against music, neither explicitly nor implicitly,” says Anes Sabitovic, a Bosnian-born teacher of classical guitar and a music journalist for the Islamische Zeitung, an Islamic newspaper in Berlin.

Therefore, and most likely influenced by the rise of intolerance and violence worldwide in the name of Islam, Yusuf Islam acknowledged a few years ago in interviews and open letters to his fans that the prophet Muhammad definitely approved of poetry and uplifting music. But Yusuf Islam’s concerts and albums are still shaped and inspired by Islam. is the joint online portal of the Deutsche Welle, the Goethe Institute, the Institute for Foreign Relations and the Federal Agency for Civic Education. It appears in German, English and Arabic.


Source – 2007:
‘Dossier: Musical Worlds’



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