Contemporary Islam

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 211–228 | Cite as

Battling over the public sphere: Islamic reactions to the music of today

  • Jonas Otterbeck


This article analyses discussions about music in the new public sphere of the Arab world. First, it focuses on what states do to control musical expressions and what functions religious actors have in that control. Four cases are looked into: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. Then the article discusses theological arguments, in the public sphere, about music. The theologians are divided into three positions: moderates, hard-liners and liberals. It is argued that structural changes of the public sphere—especially with regards to new media and consumer culture—have caused a heated debate about music and morality. While hard-liners and moderates engage in a discussion about the legal and the forbidden in Islam, liberals stress the importance of allowing competing norms. Examples of extremist violence against musicians is discussed and contextualised.


Consumer culture Music Islam New media Censorship 


  1. Abu-Lughod, L. (1998). The marriage of feminism and islamism in egypt: Selective repudiation as a dynamic of postcolonial cultural politics. In L. Abu-Lughod (Ed.), Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East (pp. 243–269). Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abu Shadi, A. (2005). Presentation at the conference “Freedom of expression in music” in Beirut, arranged by Freemuse, October 2005.Google Scholar
  3. al-Albânî, M. N. (1994). Tahrîm âlâta t-tarab. Beirut: Ma’ussasat ar-rayyât.Google Scholar
  4. Al-Azmeh, A. (1993). Islams and modernities. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  5. Al Bawaba. (2007). No Title. Accessed 17 April 2007.
  6. al-Faruqi, L. L. (1989). The Shari’ah on music and musicians, al-‘ilm, 9 (Jan).Google Scholar
  7. Al-Homayed, T. (2002). Buraidah–a misunderstood Saudi City. Arab News, 2 December.Google Scholar
  8. al-Kanadi, A. B. M. (1986). The Islamic ruling on music and singing. Accessed 27 September 2005.
  9. Al-Mardini, I. R. (2001). at-tibyân fî ahkâm il-mûsîqî wa-l-alhân. Beirut: Dâr al nohmania.Google Scholar
  10. Al-Mardini, I. R. (2005). Speech at Freemuse’s conference on ‘freedom of expression in music’, Beirut, October, 2005.Google Scholar
  11. Al-Zubaidi, L. (2004). Walking a tightrope: News media & freedom of expression in the Arab. Middle East. Beirut: Heinrich Böll Foundation.Google Scholar
  12. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (2005). Accessed 3 November 2005.
  13. Armbrust, W. (1996). Mass culture and modernism in Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.Google Scholar
  14. Armbrust, W. (2005). What would Sayyid Qutb Say? Some Reflections on Video Clips, Transnational Broadcasting Studies, 14, Accessed 27 September 2005.
  15. Baily, J. (2001). ‘Can you stop the Birds singing’: The censorship of music in Afghanistan. Copenhagen: Fremuse.Google Scholar
  16. Bayat, A. (2002). Piety, privilege and Egyptian youth, ISIM Newsletter, 10/02.Google Scholar
  17. BBCnews (2004). Accessed 11 March 2004.
  18. BBCnews (2005). Available online at: Accessed 2 November 2005.
  19. Comer, B. (2005). Ruby: the Making of a Star, Transnational Broadcasting Studies, vol. 14. Accessed 17 April 2005.
  20. Committee to Protect Journalists (2007). Accessed 17 April 2007.
  21. Daily Star (2005-09–17) The day rap music came to the Gaza Strip. Accessed 20 October 2005.
  22. Danielson, V., Marcus, S. & Reynolds, D. (eds) (2002). The Middle East, the garland encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 6. New York & London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Doumato, E. A. (2000). Getting god’s ear: Women, Islam and healing in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Eickelman, D. F. (2003). Communication and control in the middle east: Publication and its discontents. In D. F. Eickelman, & J. W. Anderson (Eds.), New Media in the Muslim World: the emergence of public space (pp. 33–44). Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana university press.Google Scholar
  25. Eickelman, D. F. & Anderson, J. W. (eds) (2003). New media in the Muslim World: The emergence of public space. Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana university press.Google Scholar
  26. El-Din, G. E. (2006). One more Episode, Al-Ahram weekly on-line. Accessed 17 April 2007.
  27. Elmessiri, A.-W. M. (2005). Ruby and the chequered heart, Al-Ahram Weekly on line. Accessed 17 April 2007.
  28. Engel, R. (1997). Book Ban exposes Azhar Censorship, Middle East Times, 31 August. Accessed 01 November 2005.
  29. Fadlallah (2005).http://www.bayyanat etc. Accessed 30 September 2005.
  30. Farmer, H. G. (1929). A history of Arabian music. New Delhi: Goodword Books.Google Scholar
  31. Featherstone, M. (1991). Consumer culture & postmodernism. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Freemuse (2005a). Accessed 28 September 2005.
  33. Freemuse (2005b). Accessed 28 September 2005.
  34. Freemuse (2005c). Accessed 28 September 2005.
  35. Freemuse (2006). ‘All that is banned is desired’. conference on freedom of expression in music, Beirut, October, 2005. Copenhagen: Freemuse.Google Scholar
  36. Freemuse (2007a). Accessed 18 April 2007.
  37. Freemuse (2007b). Accessed 18 April 2007.
  38. Funch, J. (2000). ‘Vi saluterar Ahmad Yassin’–En diskussion kring ‘Hamasmusik’. Project work in Islamology, Lund University, 12 December 2000.Google Scholar
  39. Grove Music Online (2005a). Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of, I. Introduction. Accessed 27 October 2005.
  40. Grove Music Online (2005b). Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of, V. Women and music. Accessed 27 October 2005.
  41. Haddad, B. S. A. (1993). The assassination of Fuda. The Arab Studies Journal, 1(1), 16–19 Spring.Google Scholar
  42. Hamza, M. (2005). Speech held at Freemuse’s conference on ‘Freedom of Expression in Music’, Beirut, October, 2005.Google Scholar
  43. Hirschkind, C. (2006). The ethical soundscape: Cassette sermons and Islamic counterpublics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Human Rights Internet (2005). Accessed 2 November 2005.
  45. Human rights Watch (2004). Accessed 17 April 2004.
  46. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (2005). Accessed 12 October 2005.
  47. Islam Questions & Answers (2005). Accessed 2 November 2005.
  48. Kamali, M. H. (1997). Freedom of expression in Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge Text Society.Google Scholar
  49. Khairy, A. (2004). Two Entertainment Issues Preoccupy Egyptian Press in Ramadan. Transnational Broadcasting Studies, vol. 13. Accessed 27 September 2005.
  50. Khaled, A. (2005a). Accessed 27 September 2005.
  51. Khaled, A. (2005b). Culture: The Distinguishing Feature of a People. Transnational Broadcasting Studies, vol. 14. Accessed 27 September 2005.
  52. Khalife, M. (2003). Accessed 1 October 2003.
  53. Khalife, M. (2004). Defending freedom: Blasphemy trials and censorship in lebanon. In M. Korpe (Ed.), Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today (pp. 135–140). London: Zed books.Google Scholar
  54. Kubala, P. (2005). The other face of the video clip: Sami Yusuf and the Call for al-Fann al-Hadif. Transnational Broadcasting Studies, vol. 14. Accessed 27 September 2005.
  55. Lübben, I. (2004). Die Angst der Azhar vor der Moderne–Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Modernisierung des religiösen diskurses in Ägypten nach dem 11. September. In S. Faath (Ed.), Gesellschaftliche debatten in Nordafrika, Nah- und Mittelost–Inhalte, Träger, Perspektiven, vol. 72 (pp. 193–221). Hamburg: Mitteilungen, Deutsches Orient-Institut.Google Scholar
  56. Mostyn, T. (2002). Censorship in Islamic societies. London: Saqi.Google Scholar
  57. Nawaz, A. (2002). Fun da mental: radical music, political protest, ISIM Newsletter vol. 11.Google Scholar
  58. Oliver, A. M., & Steinberg, P. (2002). Popular music of the intifâda. In V. Danielson, S. Marcus, & D. Reynolds (Eds.), The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Volume 6: The Middle East (pp. 635–640). New York, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Otterbeck, J. (2004). Music as a useless activity: The logic behind conservative interpretations of music in Islam. In M. Korpe (Ed.), Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today (pp. 11–16). London: Zed books.Google Scholar
  60. Qaradawi, Y. (2005a). Accessed 29 September 2005.
  61. Qaradawi, Y. (2005b). The lawful and the prohibited. Accessed 30 September 2005.
  62. Qasim, B. (2005). Presentation at Freemuse’s conference on ‘Freedom of expression in music’, Beirut, October 2005.Google Scholar
  63. Reporters without borders (2005a). Accessed 2 November 2005.
  64. Reporters without borders (2005b). Accessed 2 November 2005.
  65. Schimmel, A. M. (2001). The role of music in islamic mysticism. In A. Hammarlund, T. Olsson, & E. Özdalga (Eds.), Sufism, Music and Society in Turkey and the Middle East (pp. 9–17). Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul.Google Scholar
  66. Shiloah, A. (1995). Music in the World of Islam. A socio-cultural study. Aldershot: Scolar Press.Google Scholar
  67. Submission (2003). Accessed 26 February 2003.
  68. Timesonline (2005).,,7374-1537512,00.html. Accessed 28 September 2005.
  69. Wise, L. (2004). Amr Khaled: broadcasting the Nahda. Transnational broadcasting studies, vol. 13. Accessed 27 September 2005.
  70. Yehia, R. (1999). Lyrical Liberties?, Al-Ahram Weekly, 14–20 October, issue no. 451.Google Scholar
  71. Youssefzadeh, A. (2004). Singing in a theocracy: Female musicians in Iran. In M. Korpe (Ed.), Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today (pp. 129–134). London: Zed books.Google Scholar
  72. Yusuf, S. (2005). Accessed 27 September 2005.
  73. Zaman, M. Q. (2004). The ‘ulama of contemporary Islam and their conceptions of the common good. In A. Salvatore (Ed.),Public Islam and the Common Good (pp. 129–155). Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Migration and Ethnic Relations (IMER)Malmö UniversityMalmöSweden

Personalised recommendations