|The First Aden Singing Festival stirs controversy in Yemen. A new fatwa (religious edict) bans music concerts in the country, and the famous Syrian singer Assala Nasry has been threatened that she will be killed if she enters the festival’s stage as scheduled on 14 February 2008.
“We warn Asalla that if she does not change her mind about this concert, she will suffer the same [fate] as Benezir Bhutto,” said a message which was allegedly sent from a Yemeni al-Qaida cell to several media houses in Yemen.
“We will not allow the corruption of our society. This is how we will save our youth from these depravations, which are contrary to Islam. We ask all Yemenis to oppose the concert and we confirm that al-Qaida will not allow it [the concert] to go through,” the message read.
The statement referred only to the 38-year-old Syrian singer Assala Nasry, and not to her singing partner, the Egyptian star Isam Karika who is slated to sing with her on stage.
Yemeni Islamists have defaced billboards promoting Assala Nasry’s concert, and an Islamist lawmaker has dubbed her planned concert as an “invitation for vice”. However, the parliamentary authorities in Yemen have officially condemned the threats against the festival and the singer, and security sources have questioned the seriousness of these threats.
Assala Nasry has stated that she will ignore the threats. On her official website she explains that in the past she held a performance in Algeria and the conditions there were just as dangerous and complicated, and as such, said the singer, she has “strong faith in God and is not afraid of anything or anyone.”
It is to be held in the 22 May Stadium, and more than 400 prizes will be given to the audience. In addition to 400 cell phones and one million Yemeni riyals divided amongst twenty winners, a grand prize of a Hyundai car will be given away.
The Aden festival is sponsored by several Yemini banks, tele-companies and media houses, as well as the governorate of Aden, and VIP tickets cost 100 US dollars each. A third of the concert proceeds are donated to the aid of the Palestinian people in Gaza and to cancer health care in Yemen.
Public disagreement over festival
“We have to play a significant role to stop the concert Asala will hold in Aden because it is a violation of sharia (Islamic law). Holding this concert ranks as an invitation for vice,” Dahaba was quoted by the news agency Reuters to have been saying in a statement circulated through mobile telephone messages.
According to Reuters’ reporter, Dahaba’s call was echoed by several prayer leaders in their Friday sermons who also criticised other art forms and activities they see as sacrilegious.
“What do we need in Yemen? Do we only lack art and singing, or do we lack for the simplest requirements of living?” asked Dahaba. He added that the basic necessities of life have become impossible to obtain. “Education and health are miserable and dying while we have been spending our money on useless things that do not suit us as Muslims or as Yemenis,” said the Islah Party member according to several international news agencies.
Support of the festival
Poet Ali al-Mugri (or ‘al-Maqari’) has been quoted as saying that he sees the proposal to ban the festival as a clear sign of the miserable situation of the theology that the Islamic states and Muslims have fallen to, where some Sheikhs are trying to prohibit singing, music and art.
Ali al-Mugri, who performs songs inspired by Islamic ideas, said that Yemenis welcomed Asala, and added that Islam was key to the evolution of several art forms in the region – a view shared by many Muslims.
Ban on music concerts
Sheikh Yahya al-Najar from the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, however, criticised these attempts to issue fatwas and said there is no article in the Yemeni constitution that prohibits festivals. He added that Islam never prohibits singing unless it includes pornographic material, adding that the Prophet Mohammed himself had attended singing with the daff drum.
The ministry secretary stressed that issuing fatwas is the charge of the Fatwa House only and should not to be issued by those who like to trigger conflicts. He further mentioned that such campaigns are aimed at stalling the development process and damaging tourism and other activities that build the economy.
“They have been trying their utmost to hinder the activities of improving the economy either through issuing fatwas, inciting the public or through shedding doubts,” said Sheikh Yahya al-Najar.
He further mentioned that this concert with Assala Nasry and Isam Karika is among several proposed festivals for singers from different Arab states, as well as the fact that Yemen is launching four new satellite channels.
“Music is an international language. We know how the ancient Arab tribes used to celebrate their poets because they used to believe that their poets would promote the tribe. The success of a poet is the success of the whole tribe,” said Kudada. He added that Ukadh used to be the forum for all Arab poets from different Arab regions.
About Aden and Yemen
Islamic militants have long been present, and visible, in Yemen. Al-Qaida conducted its first known terrorist attack in Aden on 29 December 1992, bombing a hotel where US servicemen were known to have stayed. Two Austrian tourists were killed. On 12 October 2000, the bombing of the US warship Cole occurred in Aden.
Yemen is ruled by a secular US-allied government that joined the American “war on terror” after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
About Assala Nasry
She is married to the Palestinian-American film director Tarek al-Eryan. She was granted a Bahraini citizenship in 2006 by Bahrain’s King Hamad Bin Issa Al Khalifa, following a concert in celebration of Bahrain’s independence day.
Listen to Assala Nasry’s song, ‘Sawaha Qalbi’
aafaq.org, Reuters, and the articles below.