Hassan: Muslims have nothing to fear from music class


NEW YORK - MARCH 27: SVP Specialist Head of Musical Instruments, Kerry K. Keane displays the rarest and most coveted 1930 OM-45 Deluxe Guitar by C.F. Martin and Co. owned and played by Roy Rogers at Christie's on March 27, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Photograph by: Neilson Barnard, Getty Images

Only the most retrogressive forces among Muslims shun music. Still, Manitoba is scrambling to find a solution to yet another faith accommodation sought by reactionary Islamists. They wish to deprive their children of some of their most beneficial educational opportunities by barring them from attending music class.

Years ago, I met a young boy who refused to go to music class because he considered the activity haram, or prohibited. That was an isolated incident. Now, we are witnessing a brigade of no fewer than 12 Muslim families seeking exemption for their children from compulsory music and physical education classes. Not only do they practise an ultraconservative brand of Islam; they also wish to indoctrinate the next generation of Muslims into rejecting all that is ­vibrant and wholesome about Canadian culture.

As a Muslim who has taught music to Canadian children, I am naturally curious to examine the accuracy of these ultraconservative opinions on music from a strictly Islamic perspective. What exactly do the Qur'an and Hadith say about music?

Not surprisingly, the Qur'an is silent on the ­issue. Therefore, individuals prohibiting music rely mostly on Hadith, a body of literature that suffers from countless internal contradictions. Some Hadith appear to proscribe music, while others clearly allow its use. The question then is: Should Muslims rely on literature that is replete with inconsistencies, anomalies and ambiguities?

Even Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, the well-known Egyptian Islamist, considers music permissible when he states, "Islam permits singing under the condition that it is not in any way harmful to Islamic morals. There is no harm in its being accompanied by music which is not exciting."

Those who wish to establish a general prohibition against music, on the other hand, consider Qaradawi's opinions lacking in "meticulous critical research." The consensus among moderate Muslims, however, is that Islam proscribes music only in instances where there is a chance of exploitation. This explains why the Prophet of Islam cautioned against the misuse of music. Women and young girls in the Arabia of his time were often sold into prostitution and then made to sing and dance provocatively in public. Is that a scenario to be feared in the elementary schools of Manitoba?

The dozen or so newly arrived Muslim families fear the influence of music on their elementary schoolchildren, and seem unaware of the benefits of teaching music to young children. What damage could music education possibly have on the psyche of young children?

Why then must Canada accommodate these ­obscurantist and reactionary forces among Muslims? Are we becoming a society that constantly capitulates to the bullying tactics of religious fundamentalists in the name of multiculturalism? Does the inclusiveness of multiculturalism mean that we should tolerate the most intolerant?

These families have contacted the Manitoba school division and have even involved the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to accommodate their wishes.

But before Manitoba scurries to grant these families their wish, it must consider the repercussions of such a move. Regrettably, such accommodations set precedents that are often used to demand faith accommodations that are even more outrageous. In this case specifically, the trend is likely to spread in society, depriving other Muslim children of the benefits of learning music.

Canadian society and ­Canadian schools must now set limits to multiculturalism. Realistic faith accommodations should be provided, but the move to bar children from learning music is unrealistic and illogical.

There is much that Canada has to offer to immigrants and their children. Music is one small but valuable aspect of that. Let Muslim children benefit from an opportunity to tap their creativity and musical imagination.

Farzana Hassan is the author of Islam, Women and the Challenges of Today, and former president of the Muslim Canadian Congress.

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