Category Archives: research and writing

Today is Muslim World Music Day!

Muslim World Music Day is an online effort to identify and catalog all the recordings of Muslim music in the world. It will be a step towards making this culturally significant body of work readily available to people around the globe for study and enjoyment.”   Read More

I wanted to do more for this.  Things have been busy here, but really I have no excuse.    Anyways, try to participate in some way, at least by checking out their site linked above.  Here are some great videos to get you started!

Debu – Sarayda (Palace Troubadour)
Debu is a group of mostly Americans living in Indonesia (more about them a couple posts down).  In this video, they are singing in Turkish.  For some of the lyrics and translation, open this video in youtube and see the comments section.
Abida Parveen – Jab se tu ne mujhe diwana
Abida Parveen lives in Pakistan, and is a legendary singer of Kafi and ghazal.
Kareem Salama – Makes Me Crazy
The latest video from American Muslim country singer Kareem Salama
Shaykh Hassan Dyck and Muhabbat Caravan
Sorry it’s not too clear; they will be in Prague again next month.
Hor Rejjan – Ya Resulallah
Rejjan is a young choir from Sarajevo.

Review of Concert

On Sunday night, about 10,000 people braved the cold weather to attend “Gazu u mom srcu” (Gaza in my heart), a giant concert held to raise money for humanitarian relief in Gaza. It was such a large concert, in fact, that it was held in Zetra, the Olympic stadium. The event was scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm, but people began filling the stadium over an hour in advance, and by 6:30 the hall was nearly full. The audience consisted of viewers of all ages, ranging from children to the elderly. The stage was beautifully set up, with white hanging lights and arches to the side of the stage. In the center was a screen, on which a slide show consisting of images from Palestine would be displayed throughout the event. To either side of the screen were sets of high bleachers, which began to fill up just before 7:00.

Several choirs from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina and other parts of the Balkans were scheduled to participate in the event and they began to file onto the stage, taking their places on the bleachers to enthusiastic applause. The members of each choir were dressed alike, for example the women of Hor Kewser were dressed in shiny red and gold outfits. The instrumentalists took their places in front of the bleachers, and the soloists, narrators, and hafizi (those who had memorized the Qur’an, and would recite it during the event) sat in the middle, just under the screen. Shortly beforehand, I had seen the Reis ul-Ulema, Dr. Mustafa Cerić, and his wife arrive and take their seats in the front row.

The event started promptly with a recitation from the Qur’an. There are many hafizi (Arabic: Huffadh) in the Balkans who have been trained at the Gazi Husref-Bey madrasa. Some of them, such as Aziz Alili, Burhan Šaban, Senad Podojak, and Mensur Malkić, who all participated in the event, are also very popular singers of ilahije. After most of the recitations, a narrator read the Bosnian translation of the passages.

I was familiar with many of the singers there, but not all of them. Some of those less familiar to me were pop singers. A highlight of the event, in my opinion, was Hamza Raznatović’s (lead singer of pop band MacBeth) rendition of the well-known ilahije “Dosta mi je Allah moj” (My God is enough for me – see him singing this at a different event on Samaha’s blog). After hearing Burhan Šaban sing a song in Arabic at the beginning of the event, I hoped that he would later perform one of his own songs, and he did – “Dođi Najdraži” (Come, Most Beloved – see music video of this song here). I think he performed this song because it describes the Prophet’s return from the isra’ and mi’raj, part of which took place at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Slides of the structure were shown on the screen during the performance. Another highlight was Aziz Alili’s performance of “Šehidi” (Martyrs – see video of him performing this song here), a song that was popular in Bosnia during and after the war here. I could see that many of the older people in the audience were deeply moved by the song. Interestingly, while the permissibility of musical instruments and female singers are hotly debated in many parts of the Muslim world, they appear to be non-issues here. The event ended with a brief speech and a du’a by Reis ul-Ulema Dr. Mustafa Cerić, and people began piling out of the stadium.

It’s up!

Performing Identities: The Creation of a Popular Muslim Music-Culture in the United States can be found in the “Performing Identities” page at the top of this site.

Sorry there is no abstract yet (coming, I promise!); I have about a million things to do right now (more on that later), and it was all I could do to figure out how to merge the documents, convert the result into pdf, and upload it here.


Still Wondering…

…about the thesis thing.  Would it be irresponsible of me to make it available online knowing that some people will misuse the copyrights?  But then, with the internet, it’s not too hard to find out when people plagiarize (speaking from experience with my own students).  If I only make it available through email, however, how would anyone ever know if people were to “lift” material for their own projects?

And now that I think about it, how is my thesis different from any other article that’s available online (except that it’s over 100 pages long, of course)?  Many people have large amounts of information available on their websites.  I’ve used that material (with proper citations and acknowledgments) in my own research.  So really, is there any difference?

Thanks for the advice so far.  Any more?  I’m still debating.

Review of “Heavy Metal Islam” and a can of worms

LeVine, Mark. Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam. 2008. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Bio of author from back cover of book: “Mark LeVine is a musician who has recorded and toured with acclaimed performers, including Mick Jagger, Dr. John, Ozomatli and Hassan Hakmoun. He is also a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California-Irvine, and holds a doctorate in Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies. Visit him at”

Description from back cover of book: “An eighteen-year-old Moroccan who loves Black Sabbath. A twenty-two-year-old rapper from the Gaza Strip. A Lebanese singer who quotes Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” They are as representative of the world of Islam today as the conservatives and extremists we see every night on the news. Heavy metal, punk, hip-hop, and reggae are each the music of protest, and in many cases considered immoral in the Muslim world. This music may also turn out to be the soundtrack of a revolution unfolding across that world.

Why, despite governmental attempts to control and censor them, do these musicians and fans keep playing and listening? Partly, of course, for the joy of self-expression, but also because, in this region, everything is political. In Heavy Metal Islam, Mark LeVine explores the influence of Western music on the Middle East through interviews with musicians and fans, introducing us young Muslims struggling to reconcile their religion with a passion for music and a desire for change. The result is a revealing tour of contemporary Islamic culture through the evolving music scene in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Heavy Metal Islam is a surprising, wildly entertaining foray into a historically authoritarian region where music just might be the true democratizing force.”

My review: Overall, I enjoyed this book and was impressed by Dr. LeVine’s research, insight, and writing style. He has explored and related the rock and hip-hop communities in six different countries of the “Muslim world,” detailing their reasons for their choice and taste in music, the people who support and oppose them, and the varying levels of politicism in their music and lifestyles. LeVine also spoke with religious leaders and teachers in most of these countries, showing that their social goals and motivations for them are often very similar to those of the musicians, but that their different means of achieving these goals and communicating their messages often contribute to mistrust or even hostility between the two groups. I thought that it was a very creative and important gesture for the author to do this, and I appreciate the way he compared and contrasted the two very different communities, exploring ways that they may work together someday, if they can overcome their differences. LeVine, along with many others, believes that the communal sharing of music and other cultural expressions can bring change and eventually build peace in the troubled region, if it is done correctly, possibly following the example of Eastern Europe.

The only real issue I have with this book is its title. Yes, the book is about the performance and consumption of heavy metal (and a bit of hip-hop and other music) in countries with large Muslim, or Muslim-majority, populations, but the connection between heavy metal and Islam itself is tenuous at best. LeVine demonstrates how the heavy metal culture speaks to people living in turbulent and/or repressive social and political situations, but not really how it relates to Islam. In my opinion, it really doesn’t relate to Islam any more than it does to any other religion, race, or cultural group. That’s the main title, and as for the subtitle, the heavy metal musicians discussed by LeVine don’t seem to be involved in the “Struggle for the Soul of Islam” at all, but in the struggle for a more egalitarian and tolerant socio-political atmosphere in which they can be themselves. But then, an eye-catching title like Heavy Metal Islam, especially when emblazoned over a picture of a young woman in an Iron Maiden t-shirt and black headscarf, gets your book noticed, and marketed in places like Barnes and Noble (where I found it), while a title like Heavy Metal in the Middle East might just get you a call number at your university’s library (see a few posts down, hee hee!). In fact, not all of the musicians interviewed by LeVine are even Muslim (some are Christian, Jewish, or even atheist). Of the ones that are, only a few of them are what we would call “practicing” Muslims. I also wondered why LeVine did not address the fact that Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and using vulgar language and gestures, all three of which were done by many of the musicians he discussed (but not by the practicing Muslims mentioned above, I don’t think), and by their fans. One of them even said things that were borderline blasphemous. I had been hoping that he would have asked some of the musicians why they choose to do these things when they are not difficult to avoid. When discussing a statement by a religious metalhead, LeVine says that he spoke of religion and music “without a hint of the internal conflict over their identities that plague so many of their musical comrades.” (99) I didn’t see any discussion of this “internal conflict” in the book, and I would like to.

As stated before, LeVine also spoke with religious leaders, and maybe that’s the reason for the title – showing the dichotomy between the two camps. Although most metalheads are not politically involved, and many of them steer clear of political topics for fear of arrest or worse, most wish for greater social freedoms and less corrupt governments, as do many religious movements in the same countries. When discussing the wishes of the Egyptian metalheads and the Muslim Brotherhood, LeVine states, “it’s not just that bringing these two groups from the opposite ends of Egyptian society together would win the day, it’s that such a process would act like a net, helping to bring other marginalized yet opposing groups together in the common struggle for democracy and economic equality.” (101) Some religious leaders support the more political and less vulgar musicians, saying “You deliver a message we can’t.” (129)

For the most part, I was impressed by LeVine’s treatment of gender issues, especially compared to many other writers. Beginning with the cover picture, he bunks the stereotype that women who wear a headscarf are all the same (either dull, uneducated, servile, and brainwashed, or seductive sirens waiting to be released from their cloth cages). He also discusses the extra obstacles (phobia of “the female voice,” double standards, etc) many women face in becoming involved in the music scene, which are similar to but more serious than the ones I discussed in my own thesis on popular Muslim music in the United States.

I’m not sure I completely understood LeVine’s take on globalization. Sometimes he portrays it as positive (introduction of heavy metal into the Middle East), sometimes as negative (scantily-clad people on TV). It is subjective, of course, and he has his own opinions on which aspects fall into the positive and negative columns, but here it seems to be related to elements that promote activism and grassroots efforts, and elements that promote increased commercialism. He is fair by pointing out that the instruments of globalization in the Middle East often do not come from “the West,” but from corporations in the gulf countries (full post on LeVine’s exposé of Rotana coming soon; I’m sure you’re all wanting to know how the heck the likes of Tamer Hosny ever became famous!), who like to use their big bucks to control what their poorer Arab neighbors watch on TV. I also like his contrast between “project identity” and the much weaker “resistance identity.” (269)

I appreciate LeVine’s relaxed yet professional, colorful, sometimes humorous writing style, and I enjoy hearing his perspective as a musician. As a musician himself, he is able to connect with those he interviews in a way that I cannot, at least not yet. Overall, this was an interesting read and a well-researched and written ethnography.

Now, as for the can of worms. As I was reading and thinking, many research-related issues came to mind, about which I plan to post soon. As a disclaimer, most of these have nothing to do with Dr. LeVine or his book, they just happened to come to my mind as I was thinking about research.

Here’s a review of the book by Reza Aslan.

Translation Issues, Part 2

I wrote a long time ago about my geeky habit of translating the lyrics of songs I like in order to help me with the language.

Does anyone have ANY IDEA how hard it is to translate something from colloquial Arabic?!?  The dictionary is, of course, NO help at all.  Persian, I can manage, as we did learn some “Tehrani,” and anyways it’s not as far off the Modern Standard as Arabic, even Jordanian Arabic, is.  Plus, you don’t have to figure out the original root letters in Persian.  You just open up the dictionary (it’s in alphabetical order), and you might find something similar to what you’ve got on the page.  Here, I’m mentally translating from Ammiya (Shami and Egyptian) to FusHa, and then to English.

Anyways, does anyone know of any resources on colloquial Arabic online?  I know a bit, but I’m not familiar with all of the changes that go on.  I do have the Arabic texts of the songs, so I can tell whether something should actually be a glottal stop or if it’s supposed to be a “qaf” and all that.

The Last of Many Sighs of Relief

My thesis has been bound and safely delivered to the IU Graduate School.  Right on my deadline.  I’d been going completely nuts hoping and praying that it would be done on time.  I think the first sigh of relief came when my defense date was set, because it meant that my adviser probably liked my work and thought it was ready to defend.  The next came when I passed my defense and exam.  And then when my modifications were approved.  Unfortunately, this wasn’t done in time for me to receive my signature page and do my printing and binding in the US, so I made a quick decision to have the Grad Secretary send the page to Jordan, so I could have the remaining printing and binding done there.  BAD DECISION! 

First, it took awhile for the signature page to arrive (the next sigh of relief came when it did arrive) because of the Eid holidays, and all the office supply stores and binderies were closed for awhile.  When I was finally able to visit the office supply stores, I found that none of them had the kind of paper I needed, even the University bookstores and the largest office supply store in Amman!  So I mailed the signature page BACK to the US, to a Kinko’s in Indianapolis, who then copied it, printed the rest of the material I emailed to them, and delivered the whole lot (for free) to National Library Bindery Company (a bindery I HIGHLY recommend; their service was excellent), who made sure the pages were all in order and delivered them to the Folk/Ethno department, and the Graduate Secretary delivered two of the copies to the Graduate School just on time!

Thanks to God, my family for supporting me through the long process, the musicians who allowed me to interview and survey them, Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah also for letting me interview him, my department, Kinkos, the Bindery, the American and Jordanian mail services, and all of you for your comments and prayers!

Now, how does teaching English relate to my degree again?