Thursday, 11 November 2010

Singing Our Thanks To Saudi Women

After being invited to share an evening with a local family, my daughter and I ended up singing our thanks to  Saudi women.

Singing for your supper Kiwi? Why is that?

Because, I was very aware we had no way of repaying these wonderful Saudi women for their hospitality.  We can’t invite them back to our home - they aren’t permitted on expat compounds unless they uncover, and they aren't about to do that.  What to do Pounamu?

I decided to do what comes naturally for we native folk from New Zealand.  A waiata was in order.  After explaining to my friend what we wanted to do and why, who then got permission from the grandmothers present, we were given the floor and we sang a Maori song.  At the time it didn’t even occur to me that music and singing is religiously banned in Saudi Arabia.

In hindsight, and given recent articles and discussions on music in this country, I do wonder were we insulting these Muslim women by exercising our own traditional custom in this situation.

Music is part of my culture and who I am….I was doing what felt right. By stating categorically that music is banned, does Islam in Saudi Arabia not respect or have room for anyone or anything but their own?  Were we, by raising our voices in native song and singing our thanks for these Saudi women, little more than wicked infidels?

From the response we received, I have my doubts.  The grandmothers and aunties loved the waiata.  I’m guessing, they remember a time when life was a little less repressed in Saudi Arabia, which, I understand, wasn’t that long ago.  They dug out some traditional instruments, drums mainly, and started singing what I gathered were traditional Saudi songs.

They were encouraging the younger women to sing too.  Though I don’t understand Arabic I recognize a chorus when I hear one and the younger generation pitched in for a few of those refrains but, and you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out, it’s hard for your daughters and grand-daughters to learn songs in their totality if they rarely hear them because of an imposed religious ruling that bans music and, I’m presuming, the nervousness attached with being caught flouting that rule.

On this particular night though, the elder women were letting their hair down, just a bit, and they were having so much fun.  It pays to remember life in Saudi Arabia isn't all bad.

There is a glimmer of hope that constraints on expressing oneself through toe tapping tunes, soulful ballads or gentle lullabies may be lightened, as a former Saudi Imam did something unimaginable recently – he researched the basis for current ‘No Music’ rulings and came to the conclusion they were unfounded.  Follow this link if you’d like to read about him Changing his Tune.

Of course, as is the norm, he was blasted for his stance.  I wonder what upset the critics most - that he dared firstly, to undertake research or that he had the nerve to admit his previous stand may have been wrong based on that research or for going public with what he found.  Most normal people would consider such a man in a positive light, wouldn’t they?  A man of integrity, honesty and good moral character.

How’s this for a suggestion that would allow scholars to reassess and reverse the ‘No Music’ rule without losing face.  There is a stack of scientific evidence that music enhances intelligence and has other positive effects on human health.  Perhaps scholars could, after perusing this evidence and being happy with its validity, (because I’m sure no scholar goes public or supports anything without having fully researched it first) can say something along the lines of ‘Music’s ability to enhance intelligence and, therefore, the capacity for learning will assist a person’s [Muslims] potential for studying, understanding and applying the Quran.  For that reason music of moral high standards, (meaning it must not through its lyrics lead to sinful acts, an opinion espoused by some scholars already) is allowable.’

I see this as a win-win action. Why?

You would think any resource that assists youth to take on board the messages in the Quran must be welcomed with open arms by scholars and clergy (is that the right word for Saudi religious leaders?).  Academic success is highly valued amongst Saudi parents and if music is going to enhance their child's educational outcomes I'm sure they will be very keen to have it incorporated into the curriculum.  And I’m certain there are musical artists in Saudi Arabia (singers, songwriters and musicians) just itching for a chance to work on and present their craft.  Not to mention the employment generated for Saudization - someone has to run the recording studios.  Yes, a win-win situation all round.

How successful are scholars or religious types going to be in continuing to try and muzzle music?

Saudi’s,  particularly the young generation, watch music shows via satellite and the majority have iPods or similar audio devices (thank goodness for the all-covering abaya and head scarf to hide those bits and pieces). There’s even a not so underground group of Saudi musicians and bands that 'do their thing' at private parties and over the internet.  Stories abound of the latest musical hits reverberating through function centers while women dance in their expensive finery till the wee small hours at weddings and, being a country that loves weddings, there are plenty to go to.

Yes, the religious rule might be saying one thing, but the will of the new generation is practicing another.

I know, because a large part of the evening prior to singing our thanks to Saudi women was spent dancing to the latest Arabic music downloaded from the internet, and the young ladies knew all the words to those songs.


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