With the exception of two outlets, U.S. and U.K. based distributors all declined to distribute my CD. The reasons they gave was the full music instrumentation I used, and that for Islamic songs to be ‘halal’ (religiously approved or kosher), only percussion is accepted. “Just like Prophet Muhammad’s days. Plus, you as a woman are singing, this is definitely ‘haram’! We love your songs and we listen to them here in the office, Ani, but we will get into trouble if we distribute”. The upside of it - I realized I was the first female Muslim women singing Islamic pop in English in America.
It’s that religious switch again, folks. A man who happily listens to Britney Spears all of a sudden gets turned on by a Muslim woman singer in a straight jacket.
I discovered my female voice is sexually enticing! Male voices are apparently not. Sure.
For centuries there have always been female religious singers in many Muslim countries; from the Middle East, Persia, South Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus. There has never been a ban against women singers or music in the Quran. Period. The interpretation from which music is haram comes from hadith, a collection of sayings claimed to be that of Prophet Muhammad, and compiled over 100 years after his death. This hadith use to only be accepted by the fringe, the Saudis and the Talibans but it is now imposed and enforced by the religious right in moderate countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia as well as in Sunni Muslim communities in America.
I know some of you are thinking “what’s the big deal; it’s just a woman’s voice?” But it is. This obsession of women as sexual objects is now no longer about her body, her hair, her honor, it has encompassed her female voice, which has resulted in the prohibition of women from speaking publicly, to giving lectures and sermons at mosques, which then deprives them of any leadership role. This is not a hypothesis. This is the reality in most mosques.
This is the same religion where Prophet Muhammad himself was a feminist, whose first wife was a well to do trader, his other wives a warrior, a teacher, where women in their community spoke up, prayed with men in the same space. That’s the Islam I want.
I get emails from female Muslim performers in other countries with the same complaints. Women performers in the U.S. have been struggling with this ‘voice’ issue for at least 10 years. I am just sharing my story. No, this is not just about female Muslim singers, it is about the larger picture of the role of women, or lack thereof, of Muslim women in their own communities.
Curtailing freedom of artistic expression whether that of a man or woman is inherently un-Islamic. Listen to the Quran’s melodic recitation. It is poetry sung. The voice is a spiritual instrument and the mullahs are telling us it is haram?
Come my Ummah of humanity, wake up!By Ani Zonneveld, Aslan Media Columnist