MofA Week 5: Music and the Metaphysical

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  • Ahlan wa Sahlan! Ahlan biik. Izzayyak? Kwayyis al-hamdu lillah!
  • Warm-up: maqam bayyati, darb sama`i thaqil. Sama`i Bayyati.
  • Compositions/improvisations?
  • El Mastaba video projects and metadata
  • This Thursday: meet here to work in your groups.
  • Next week's program: Folk Music presentations (Oct 7, 9). Everyone present one article you've annotated on Zotero. Each group show a video snippet you've begun to annotate (also a chance to get class feedback). Map Quiz and project descriptions {fieldwork, video, other - not graded!} (Oct 9).
  • Oct 21: SC#1 is due. The week before I'll give you a sheet listing the readings to be included. Generally, try to keep up with readings, and take notes on them. Remember, YOU DON'T HAVE TO READ EVERY WORD! What you need to do is to absorb or note the gist of each piece, and think about them (source -> reference).
  • Complete Turath unit, delay film Almaz and Abdu al-Hamuli to weeks 7/8 (film).

Music and the metaphysical

  • Musical discourse (theoretical or practical) concerning the interaction of music within a broader metaphysical domain (from the psyche to the universe, microcosm to macrocosm). All is framed within Islamicate civilization, so bears the imprint of Islam, but goes beyond Islamic theology and mysticism to include other religious sources, as well as general philosophy, connected to philosophical sources of the region (from ancient Sumerian and Egyptian to more recent Hellenistic and Gnostic Christian sources).
  • Specific types of discourse:
    • Science of music: sound, perception, tonal-temporal organization (we covered this already)
    • Socio-mythology of music: origins and association with mythical or sacred peoples and places
    • Ethics of music: moral judgments upon (etically) musical practices, many of which are condemned (and a few of which are upheld)
    • Macrocosmic relations: seasons, elements, zodiac, celestial spheres, numbers
    • Microcosmic effects: humors, emotions, music therapies, connection to spiritual states/stations of the Sufi
    • Specification of mystical-musical practices (sama`) and conditions
  • Musical practices bearing metaphysical interpretations
  • Note:
    • metaphysics of music is hard to disentangle from music theory - two discourses are intertwined
    • similarly, metaphysical musical practice is hard to disentangle from musical practices generally
    • Further, as in the case of theory, metaphysical discourse's relation to practice is often ambiguous (for instance, some Muslim scholars condemned music even as it flourished at the Caliph's court!)
    • Much hinges on terminological distinctions (centering on role of text, and differentiation of genre)
      • musiqa (musiqi)
      • ghina' (singing)
      • tilawa (Qur'anic recitation)
      • qira'a (reading)
      • adhan (calling-to-prayer)
      • inshad (chanting)
      • dhikr (chanting Names of God, sometimes with movement)
      • ibtihalat (supplications)
      • sama` (spiritual audition, sometimes with movement)
    • but issues of musicality are also important
      • al-qira'a bil-alhan (reciting with melodies) controversy
      • melodies reminiscent of court/art music (and associated activities: drinking, dancing...)
      • functional folk melodies - more acceptable

What is the metaphysical?

Defined in discourses, written and oral...especially:

  • Philosophy (falsafah): informed by Greek treatises from Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, etc.
  • Religion (din): centered on Qur'an and Hadith
    • Kalam (theology)
    • Law ( Shari`) as established by Fiqh (sources: interpretation of Qur'an and Hadith, plus ijma` and qiyas/ijtihad ). Multiple schools of law (madhahib) emerged, differentiating 5 categories:
      • Fard (obligatory)
      • Mustahabb (preferred)
      • Mubah (accepted)
      • Makruh (disliked)
      • Haram (forbidden)
  • Mysticism (tasawwuf)
    • Speculation (ma`rifa, theosophy)
    • Practice (adab, proper behavior)

Polemics on music: is music haram or halal?

Music in Arabic metaphysical discourse

  • Considerations
    • Metaphysics: beyond physics. However, note that Arabic writings do not always separate the science of musical sound (physics) from metaphysical speculation (as we have done in this course).
    • Such discourse stands in an ambiguous relation to musical practice and experience; it is a quasi-autonomous discourse.
    • Ethical/cosmological/therapeutic linkages via musical harmony (microcosm <-- music --> macrocosm).
    • Sources:
      • Ancient Babylonia, Egypt
      • Greek philosophy (Pythagoreans, Plato, Aristotle): Everything is Number (arithmetic) as foundation of all harmony: connected to the physical, spiritual, musical.Doctrine of ethos. Cosmology: elements of the body (four humors: blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile), elements of nature (earth, fire, air, water), seasons, astrological constellations.
      • Hellenistic trends (Gnostics, neo-Platonists): Harmony of the Spheres.
  • Philosophers
    • Ya`qub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi (d. 870), "philosopher of the Arabs" (he was of Arabian origin).
      • Wrote 13 treatises on music, of which six survive.
      • Music is one of the four mathematical sciences (geometry, astronomy, arithmetic, music).
      • Kindi's philosophy displays ethical, cosmological, therapeutic approaches to music.
      • Generalized theory of harmony: Music is linked to the universe through harmony, governing its macro- and microcosmic effects.
      • Networks of correspondences: four strings of the oud (instrument of the philosophers), modes, rhythms, emotions, 4 elements, 4 humors, 4 colors, 4 seasons. Cosmic correspondences according to al-Kindi (see chart in Farmer, p. 98).
      • 7 notes of the scale are related to planets. 12 devices of the oud (strings, frets, pegs) are related to 12 signs of the zodiac. Instruments create harmony between soul and universe.
    • The Ikhwan al-Safa (Basra, Iraq, 10th century) Early Ismaili group of thinkers.
      • Provide a philosophical-scientific treatment of music (Fifth Epistle) within a comprehensive encyclopedia work.
      • Note the prominent position of music in their division of scientific knowledge[1]
      • Music reflects harmony of the universe, as sounded in the harmony of the spheres (with integer ratios corresponding to Pythagorean musical intervals), and is related to astrology.
      • Music also helps man to achieve spiritual equilibrium, creating inner harmony and fostering healing by balancing the four humors. Cosmic correspondences according to the Ikhwan al-Safa See chart Farmer, p. 105.
      • Music can be used for healing, and for instilling morality.
    • al-Farabi (d. 950). Aristotelian; less concerned with cosmic correspondences. Doctrines of healing and ethos continue however. Music influences body and soul.
    • Ibn Sina (d. 1037). Rejected cosmological and astrological theories, but embraced medical-musical ones. Rhythm indicates health or illness. Musical cures via 8 rhythmic modes. Melodic modes are associated with times of day, to increase influence.
  • Theosophers (Sufi philosophers) offer several kinds of work: (a) theories of music's influence; (b) practical manuals for proper use of music; (c) defenses against critics of musical ritual.
    • Basic insight: musical experience (sama`), sometimes performative (chant; dhikr), sometimes with movement, provides insights into Divine Reality, brings one into awareness of God, enhances remembrance (dhikr), and raises one's spiritual level.
    • Music reminds us of melodies heard in preeternity (Alam al-Azali) thereby stiring remembrance (dhikr)
    • Sufi interpretations of the nay, its micro- and macro-cosmic significances: 7 holes, 7 heavens, 7 planets; 9 holes, human body; the voice that cannot speak
    • Correspondence theory: mode (maqam) - mood - season - disease
    • Music is linked to the Sufi psychology of states and stations (ahwal and maqamat) leading towards reunion with God
    • Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 1111). al-Ghazzali was a theologian, Sufi, and Anti-philosopher (famous work: Tahafut al-Falasifa, the Incoherence of the Philosophers), famous for reconciling legalistic and mystical Islam, and is generally recognized as the greatest theologian up to this point. He links music to remembrance (dhikr), recognizing the role of musically-generated ecstasy in causing man to worship God. Music cannot be unconditionally supported; it is a neutral force, evoking what is already in the listener's soul. For some, music will stir greater longing and love for God. For others, music will only create a longing for the created world. Poetry has a special role in generating ecstasy (he provides an interesting argument that the Qur'an, though more sacred, is too well-known to stir ecstasy). Calls attention to danger of hypocrisy, importance of proper listening conditions -- ikhwan, makan, zaman (people, place, time) -- in legitimizing musical worship.
      Treated music in a length section within his monumental Ihya' `Ulum al-Din (Revivification of the Religious Sciences)(translation by D. Macdonald published in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland [2][3][4] -- read his theoretical introduction to the topic; there follows a long discourse outlining proper conditions for music in spirituality, and defending against critics); he summarized the music chapter in Persian in another work The Alchemy of Happiness, Chapter 5.
    • Ahmad al-Ghazzali (d. 1121), younger brother of Abu Hamid: mystical interpretation of music: “The tambourine is a reference to the cycle of existing things; the skin which is fitted on to it is a reference to the absolute existence, the striking on the tambourine is a reference to the descent of divine inspiration from the innermost arcana upon general existence to bring forth the things pertaining to the essence from the interior to the exterior...And the voice of the singer is a reference to the divine life which comes down... The flute is a reference to the human essence... and the breath which penetrates the flute is a reference to the light of Allah (Exalted is He!) penetrating the reed of man's essence... And the dancing is a reference to the circling of the spirit round the cycle of existing things on account of receiving the effects of the unveilings of the revelations; and this is the state of the gnostic...And his leaping up is a reference to his being drawn from the human station to the unitive station and to existing things acquiring from him spiritual effects and illuminative helps...Then when he is detached from what is other than Allah...he takes off his clothing...Then if he rises to a higher station and the singer is speaking in a lower station ... he takes someone else and circles with him that their states may be united and his bond may be loosed. Then when he becomes thirsty and ask for a drink of water, it indicates that he is overpowered.., and he has returned to the station of the body, since the station of the spirit is [that of] getting nourishment from the unseen”
    • al-Kalabadhi's "Doctrine of the Sufis" (10th century); section on music and audition.
    • al-Hujwiri's Kashf al-Mahjub (Revelation of the unseen), with a section on music (written in Persian; 11th century)
    • Muhiy al-Din Ibn Arabi (12th-13th centuries): Greatest of the theosophists. Soundless sama` vs. sounded (divine, spiritual, natural); listeners hearing with the (lower) soul vs. listeners hearing with the (higher) mind.
    • Sufi writers tend towards Islamic-spiritual interpretations of music, linking it to Islamic cosmology (as opposed to the Greek-influenced philosophers)
    • Practical, ritual aspect: Musical ecstasy (tarab) is applied for spiritual purposes, relabeled as "wajd" (finding) or "nashwa ruhiyya" (spiritual refreshment)

Music in spiritual Muslim poetry

  • Poetry is the vehicle par excellence for religious expression in Islam, but especially in tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism, or Sufism)
  • Poetry is used in performance, as song text, and is foundational for sama`
  • But poetry also represents music directly, as in these examples, where instruments and sounds serve as metaphors for higher spiritual values:
  • Besides music, the basic theme is spiritual love, with attendant metaphors of intoxication and dance - precisely what is forbidden by Law (shari`a) is reinterpreted by the Sufis as metaphors for the Divine

Music in metaphysical (religious) practice

  • Linked to occasions:
    • Life cycle occasions (birth, circumcision, marriage, death)
    • Annual occasions (Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Hajj, Eid al-Adha, Mawlid)
  • Music in Islamic practice in Arabic-speaking regions
    • Mainstream Islamic practice
    • Mystical (Sufi) practice
      • dhikr or hadra
      • mawalid
      • Sama`
      • Spiritual role of tarab: generating state of hal (spiritual trance) or nashwa ruhiyya (spiritual refreshment)
  • Music in Church practices in Arabic-speaking regions
  • Applying the word "music" (etic, not emic description)

Relation between religious and secular musics

  • Vocal training in Qur'anic recitation, adhan, Sufi ritual imparts certain qualities
  • Ambiguities: repertoire, texts, "shaykh" and "mutrib" (e.g. Shaykh Sayyid Darwish), tarab/emotional interactions
  • "Min al-Mashayikh" as criterion for asala (authenticity)
  • The 20th century bifurcation between religious and non-religious sonic types