Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A consideration of Islamic prayer as unaccompanied music:

October 20th 2011

If you live near a Mosque, hearing the sound of Arabic verses of prayer being broadcasted by loudspeaker is probably all too familiar, as this is traditionally done five times a day for local Muslims to observe. One of the things I love about living in Rogers Park is that it is very similar to my home neighborhood in Brooklyn. Back home, the nearest Mosque is around the corner from me. Here, all I have to do is walk down to Howard Street.

Having taken two classes at my school relating to Islamic history and theology, I have become fairly acquainted with the Quran. This exposure has left me mystified by the poetic nature of the text of the Quran, and sympathetic to Muslims and their culture. Every so often I go back to the Quran, and enjoy hearing it recited, whether its while I’m walking down the street, or listening to it on the Internet.

The word Quran is most often translated as “the recitation” – which points to how important it is for one to hear the words, whether you are listening to someone else or reading aloud to yourself. There is no set structure within, but rather each surah, or chapter, has its own flow, its own message, and therefore its own feeling. Individuals who recite the Quran for others have gone through a great deal of training and practice. And not all reciters do each verse in quite the same way. A certain amount of creative license is allowed on top of the acquired knowledge. The musical quality and creation of melody that reciting the Quran requires makes Islamic prayer very much a part of a cappella music, especially when considering it along with other religious forms of unaccompanied music.

This goes back to my previous entry on Piyyuts in Judaism, and how both recitation of the Torah and recitation of the Quran can change from person to person. Reading the words of these texts with a more melodic sensibility is very engrained in the culture and traditions of these religions. To me this highlights a desire to pay more respect to these books than any others one might come across in a lifetime.

My favorite surah is 101, entitled Al Qaria. Many surahs are similarly poetic, but I cannot ignore the persistent flow that this surah is composed with. To hear it recited is a similar experience for me to when I attended the concert at Pilgrim Congregational Church. I often use www.quranexplorer.com to listen to it, which is a great resource. In their recording of this particular surah, the reciter holds the notes at the end of verses, and pauses are very noticeable. This, combined with his tone, makes the surah seem stern, and lamenting – almost like a concerned father figure. Though there is great passion in the reciters voice, it is noticeably different from the excitement expressed in other surahs.

Surah 101 Al-Qaria

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The Calamity! (1) What is the Calamity? (2) Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Calamity is! (3) A day wherein mankind will be as thickly-scattered moths (4) And the mountains will become as carded wool. (5) Then, as for him whose scales are heavy (with good works), (6) He will live a pleasant life. (7) But as for him whose scales are light, (8) The bereft and Hungry One will be his mother, (9) Ah, what will convey unto thee what she is! - (10) Raging Fire. (11)

Here is a video on YouTube of this surah being recited, but if you can, go to the Quran explorer website listed below and listen to their version of it.


Not familiar with the sounds of Islamic prayer? Check out this website for verses, recitations, and translations:


Another interesting place to check out on the web would be out of body travel. On top of surah verses, they have interesting videos on topics like Islamic mysticism.


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