Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie and author of Laughing All the Way to the Mosque.
A few weeks ago, I took my daughter to a concert featuring a boy band. The lead singer had the requisite uniform of ripped jeans, leather jacket, hair sculpted with enough hair gel to defy gravity. His manly warbles were accompanied to music blasting through speakers. It looked like any other concert, except it was MuslimFest – one of the largest gatherings of Muslims in Canada. I watched in astonishment while hijab-wearing Muslim girls screamed while jumping up and down, their parents swaying to the tunes while sitting on the AstroTurf. My own conservative, Shariah compliant, Muslim mother enjoyed herself while sitting in the section reserved for the elderly and mobility impaired. The next act was a woman reciting spoken-word poetry.
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Twenty years ago, this scene wouldn't have been possible. Practising Muslims were hard line on the issue of music and mixed-gender interactions. But music has become big business in Muslim circles similar to how important evangelical music has become to Christians. Muslims use music to reach a younger, Pokemon Go-obsessed generation who tune out to the sonorous dronings of elderly imams in the local mosque. The message of not having sex until you get married is way more appealing coming out of the mouth of a Zayn Malik clone than someone who looks like they haven't had sex in this century.
I remember a period of my life where I believed that listening to music, other than the drum, was forbidden. But during this ascetic phase, being told that so-called "synthetic music," which sounded identical to the real thing, was allowed because it didn't come from real instruments started making less and less sense. I finally decided that faith was less about rules and more about social justice and civic engagement. I was losing the big picture by becoming a slave to dogma. The wider Muslim community also started to loosen its strictures on music and started seeing the benefit it brought the community in terms of bringing different generations together in a family friendly environment.
A father recently wanted his children removed from a Toronto music class, citing religious reasons. There are Muslims who probably would not have approved of MuslimFest, and didn't attend. But that's their prerogative. Religion and music have always had a difficult relationship. Listening to music could lead to dancing and dancing can lead to sex. Remember the film Footloose?
The school did its best to accommodate the father's requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam's long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism.
If a parent feels this strongly about an issue, they have two options: find a religious private school or home school. But to ask a public institution to create an environment that is micro-managed to appeal to every minute religious request is unreasonable. If you take the anti-music logic to the extreme, how can that parent buy groceries in stores where music is playing, eat in a restaurant or even go up an elevator in which many non-Muslims could get behind a music ban for the sake of some peace and quiet?
Muslims believe that Islam takes the middle road when it comes to dealing with issues. We are to be neither extreme in overindulgence or rejection.
The school board offered reasonable solutions and a middle way, which was very Muslim of them, but they were rejected. So if you're going to be extreme in your response, then typically what happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules. The most infamous example of this is the community of Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., where a sect of Christians believe that polygamy and child marriage is part of its belief system. Because these practices contravene the Canadian Criminal Code, the community has opted to separate itself from the larger majority to minimize their dealings with law enforcement. Muslims have chosen to not live in separate enclaves.
We have chosen to integrate and be part of the majority culture where we contribute and enrich the communities we belong to.
We have Muslim women and men creating art in the form of song, poetry, dance and music. Faith and fun don't have to be mutually exclusive. You can have your cake and eat it while a Muslim screeches in a microphone near you.