Music in Islam: Development of Music

By Nimira Dewji

Earlier: Is listening to music unlawful?

A Greek lyre - Music in Islam Series: Development of Music
A Greek lyre

In pre-Islamic times, poetry was recited orally and was the mark of artistic achievement. At the time, the common form of poetry was the qasida –  a long monorhyme (aa, ba, ca) in praise of someone although it was also used for preaching morals as well as to praise God and honour the Prophet and his family.

Bedouin culture was transmitted orally. The few pictorial art provide a glimpse into the music styles and includes scenes of dancers accompanied by lyres, drums, and double reed instruments. The high status enjoyed by musicians at that time brought about the increased importance of musical activity, which consequently started to develop its own means of expression. The earlier melodious recitation and chanting gradually evolved into more refined and sophisticated musical features. An important aspect was the growing awareness of the potential expressiveness of the human voice. The voice was considered a reflection of the human soul’s mysteries and feelings.

One of the earliest complete and extant works on music is the Book of Diversion and Musical Instruments by Abu’l-Qasim Ubayd Allah ibn Khurradadhbih (d.911) and Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems by al-Mas’udi (d.956). Both sources record a story describing the emergence of the first musical tunes. The oldest and simplest type of melodic rhythm, the huda, broke the silence of the desert, enchanting the lonely traveler. Other simple genres emerged, such as songs performed during the watering of animals, and other daily chores. Among the more musically developed forms were the variety of communal songs and dances at family celebrations, pilgrimages to holy shrines, and social evenings.

For the first three centuries after the emergence of Islam, the Hijaz, and specifically Medina, was considered the musical centre with the most talented male and female singers throughout the Arabian empire. Yunis al-Katib (d.765), a Persian singer, wrote several books on the music of the city. Although none of his books have survived, they have been quoted by others. The singers from the Hijaz remained influential for several generations until the onset of the Abbasid era (750-1258).

Amnon Shiloah. Music in the World of Islam. Wayne State University Press. Detroit.1995
Ahmet T. Karamustafa. Muslim Literature in Persian and Turkish. The Muslim Almanac edited by Azim A. Nanji
Habib Hassan Touma. The Music of the Arabs. Edited by Reinhard G. Pauly6. Amadeus Press, Portland Oregon. 1996.

Next: The Art of Music in Islam

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