Random Thoughts: Music

This last week Nigerian newspapers (I read it in the Daily Trust and in the Premium Times) reported that in Sokoto State the Hisbah intervened at the wedding of the daughter of that state's governor, Aminu Tawal, because the music that was played purportedly contravened Islamic law. Here's what the Premium Times reported (which conveniently quotes the Daily Trust).

Islamic police stormed the wedding of Governor Aminu Tambuwal’s daughter in Sokoto last week, and seized musical instruments used for the event, for allegedly violating the Sharia law, witnesses say. Witnesses at the high-octane wedding, which held on New Year eve, have been sharing unreported details from the classy shindig.

The religious police unit, known as the Hisbah, responsible for enforcing Sharia practiced in parts of northern Nigeria, stormed the pre-wedding dinner but could not arrest the DJ. The move was because the music played at the event allegedly violated the Islamic law. Daily Trust reports that the commandant of the Commission, Adamu Kasarawa, confirmed the development, and said the commission had wanted to arrest the DJ that performed at the dinner but that he escaped.Mr. Kasarawa was quoted as explaining that it was the commission’s responsibility to correct anything that works against Sharia law.He also added that the musical instruments alongside other devices seized across the state would be destroyed.

Music doesn't strictly speaking fall within the scope of this blog. Still, I think this is … let's say interesting. My personal feelings about music – one of life's little pleasures that I should indulge more because it keeps me sane, otherwise a matter of personal tastes – aside, there are some questions here that the articles do not answer: Did the Hisbah object to music being played at the wedding at all or to the kind of music that was being played? (What kind of music was being played anyway?)

I guess my sudden interest in discussing music here is due to timing. I was flicking through my notes on Hiskett's (1960) translation of Usman dan Fodio's Kitab al-Farq just the other day. At the time I took these notes (first year of the PhD) I was searching for clues about the Sheikh's and other historical positions vis-à-vis the visual arts and had come to notice that there was a much greater concern with all kinds of music and their place in a Muslim society in his writings. There's a sentence there in the Kitab al-Farq that criticises the dynasties that ruled the Hausa states prior to the jihad because

'… One of the ways of their government is their being occupied with doing vain things (continuously) by night and by day, without legal purpose, such as beating drums, and lutes, and kettledrums.'
(transl. Hiskett 1960: 569)

Veit Erlmann, a professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Texas, has written on the effects of Usman dan Fodio's jihad on musical practices in northern Nigeria (because the book's out of print Erlmann has kindly made it available for download on his website here). He argued that

'Time and time again, it becomes clear in the sources, that music-making and musical instruments as such were not the target of the reform, but rather the social behaviour to which they gave rise.'
(Erlmann 1986: 16)

Thus, he condemned the use of particular instruments because they were associated with practices of the (non-Islamic) possession cult of bori (Erlmann 1986: 15). Music and dance were condemned on occasion on which the sexes mixed because the reformer believed that they 'enhanced or occasioned undesirable sexual behaviour' (Erlmann 1986: 16).

I haven't actually read in detail any of the by-laws that were published by the various states in the course of the re-introduction of Shari'a penal code in the early 2000s. However, I have flicked through Philip Ostien's sourcebook on Shari'a Implementation in Northern Nigeria (downloadable pdf) and a by-law published by the Fika Local Government, Yobe State, in 2002 expresses a similar concern. The relevant section reads

'(1) It shall be an offence for a person or group of persons to encourage or engage in ajo, koroso and other forms of public entertainment in which men and women intermingle in an indecent and un-Islamic manner be it in the form of dancing, drumming, singing, music, beauty contest, fashion parade and the like.'
(Ostien 2007: Vol. 3, 231)

The other by-law that Ostien (Ostien 2007: Vol. 3, 229-30) quoted was published by Gumi Local Government, Zamfara State, in 2000. The relevant section reads

'All types of musical concerts during naming and wedding festivities as set out in the schedule are hereby prohibited throughout the Local Government.


“Musical concerts” means, drumming, praise singing and dancing in whatever form and howsoever called.'

Now you probably wonder why I am telling you all this. I honestly can't tell you that I have one or the other point that I want to make here, not yet anyway. As I wrote above, I found myself rather fascinated by the 'raid' (if that's the right word) of the Hisba in Sokoto State of that wedding and the concern with music as a purportedly un-Islamic vice that it betrays. This is just one of these moments that I stumble upon something that catches my attention and - even though I cannot (yet) quite tell why – I have found in the past that I will often come back to that piece of information or that idea because it fits into an argument I am trying to make somewhere else. So, here I go and drop that piece of information with you including the bits and pieces that occurred to me right away. Make of that what you want. I probably will do the same with it in the future. In Allah ya yarda.

P.S. Somebody must have written or currently be writing a thesis in ethnomusicology or a related subject that looks at the treatment of music in the Shari'a debates of the early 2000s, no? I'd love to read that.  


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