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:
- Navroz is a time for renewal and reflection
- Fatimid craftsmen were the earliest to make large-scale decorative lustreware items
- Did you know that Ibn Sina’s “Canon of Medicine” was used as a standard medical textbook in European universities for 700 years?
- Rock crystal has been used to represent the visible and the invisible since ancient times
- Did you know that Aga Khan Development Network provides electricity to 10 million people in developing countries?
- Did you know that Aga Khan Foundation assists artisans in marginalised communities in Mozambique?
- Did you know that the Memons, the Chishti Sufis, and Bohras worship in jamatkhanas?
- The paisley motif, a Persian symbol of life and eternity
- Did you know that the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby was the first Silver Jubilee project?
- Did you know that the Blue Qur’an is considered a wonder of Islamic calligraphy?