Music has inspired Islamic artists to depict musicians and dancers in all media. Dancers are featured on the walls of the eight-century palace of Khirbat al-Mafjar in Jordan and on the sides of early Islamic silver bottles from Iran. Musicians adorn a tenth-century ivory perfume bottle from Islamic Spain as well as in an eleventh-century Fatimid ivory plaque. Whenever princes, kings, and other notables held gatherings, musicians played various instruments and sang at these events.
Musicians in the Islamic world played a variety of instruments including stringed instruments such as plucked and bowed lutes and harps as well as drums, tambourines, horns, and pipes. A tenth-century Arab treatise on music theory classifies the instruments according the highest status to those that most closely resemble the human voice. Both men and women played musical instruments, sang, and danced.
From the eighth to the eleventh century, authors gathered collections of popular songs, the best known being the Book of Songs (Kitab al-Aghani) of al-Isfahani (d. 967). The terminology of the treatises reveals a sophisticated understanding of distinctions in vocal and instrumental techniques.
Another form of music applies specifically to the Sufi mystics. This music, called sama, meaning ‘hearing’ or ‘that which is heard,’ implies the hearing of music which can produce an ecstatic state in the mystical listener. The sama expanded from singing of the ayats of the Qur’an, prayers, and poetry in praise of God and Prophet Muhammad to include dancing. The sama is often performed in context of dhikr – the repetition of words or phrases to induce concentration on God.
In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the “The Mevlevi Sama Ceremony” of Turkey as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Sheila R. Canby, Islamic Art in Detail, Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 2005
Research by Nimira Dewji
Get breaking news related to the Ismaili Imamat, the world wide Ismaili Muslim community and all their creativity, endeavors and successes.
Inspired? Share the story
Want to inspire? Send your stories to us at Ismailimail@gmail.com
Subscribe and join 20,000 + other individuals – Subscribe now!
Earlier & Related – Nimira Dewji at Ismailimail Archives:
- This month in history: Fatimid Caliph Imam Al-Mustansir bi’llah I passed away
- Today in history: Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah succeeded to the Imamat
- Countdown to Diamond Jubilee – Snapshots of Imamat – 1983 to 1987
- His Highness the Aga Khan: “…Central Asia, a thousand years ago, “led the world”…in cultural and intellectual development.”
- Legacy of Jubilees – Silver Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam: “…the issue of improving the living conditions of the poor has long been of the deepest concern to me.”
- Pluralism facilitated the development of unique styles of arabesque art
- His Highness the Aga Khan: “Syria has been at the crossroads of civilisations for over 2500 years – an ancient witness to the fruitful interaction of different peoples and cultures.”
- Legacy of Jubilees – Silver Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam: “We will not let bigotry, communalism or sectarianism make our lives inward-looking and increasingly meaningless…”
- Mawlana Hazar Imam: “…this Silver Jubilee is a symbolic affirmation of the ties between myself as Imam and the Ismaili community…”
- Edo Japan Brooks, Canada, operated by an Ismaili family from Afghanistan, receives 2016 New Business of the Year Award