Inshad dini

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Inshad Dini = Islamic religious hymnody

Traditional Arabic inshad

The words "musiqa" or "ghina'" are avoided for religious material. The performer of inshad or nashid (nasheed) is called a munshid. Performance centers on a religious poem, performed using local musical resources, but not recognized as music. Often musical instruments are avoided also. Inshad draws upon languages and dialects around the world; it is meaning (rather than text) which is crucial (unlike Qur'an or adhan). Yet Arabic always retains its special sacred status (and sometimes Arabic terminology comes to acquire a religious meaning outside the Arab world, e.g. the word "qasida" (Ar. poem) which comes to mean "religious poem" in SE Asia.

The most common poetic themes are:

  • ibtihalat or du`a': supplications to God
  • tasbih or tamjid or takbir: glorification of God
  • madih or na`t: devotional praise to the Prophet Muhammad
  • wa`z: exhortations directed to the listener
  • qisas: narratives, usually sira nabawiyya (stories of the Prophet's life, recited especially for his birthday, mawlid)
  • `ilm, fiqh, shari`a: doctrinal statements (in mnemonic form)


Examples, mostly from Egypt:

  • Ibtihalat. Performed by Shaykh Taha al-Fashni, probably the most famous mubtahil of the 20th c. Here

ibtihalat is based entirely on poetry. The recording is different from the dawn-prayer style heard above. From Sono Cairo 67028/601.

  • Tawashih diniyya. Performed by Shaykh Muhammad al-Fayyumi and his bitana (chorus). Tawashih

involve alternation between solo and chorus; the former improvisatory, the latter more precomposed and quasi-metric. From Sono Cairo 75113/461.

The mawlid is a celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth, including devotional singing; it is frequently recited in the mystical orders of Islam, the turuq Sufiyya - in this case the Hamidiyya Shadhiliyya order of Egypt.

Here is an example from Jedda, in Saudi Arabia.

Here's another, from Montreal

For more information on inshad dini in Egypt, see the following:

Musical inshad and aghani diniyya

Whereas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, singers and munshidin were often indistinguishable, the two streams "singing" and "hymnody" drifted apart by mid-century due to media and capitalist pressures. Nevertheless crossover does happen--even in the present (with popular music more commercial than ever, while religious trends are more literalist than ever) pop singers may release "religious" songs from time to time.

orchestra. Here is an example of transformation of the older ibtihalat and tawashih traditions. Shaykh Naqshabandi became famous through media appearances. Formerly he performed in the traditional vocal style, which was later augmented with orchestra and fixed arrangements. Note the focus on nay (reed flute), whose sound is a symbol of Islamic mysticism and contemplation, as well as the duff (frame drum), which is specially sanctioned by Prophetic traditions in Islamic music.

  • Aghani diniyya (religious songs performed by ordinary singers=mutribin). Performed by ‘Abd al-Halim Hafez

Hafez. ‘Abd al-Halim was Egypt’s Elvis, an extremely popular singer of romantic songs; he did not train in the religious tradition and has no status as “shaykh”. However during religious holidays he might sing religious material; this tape is an example. It cannot be considered pure inshad dini, since the context, style, and performer do not certify the performance as a true devotional act. The nay is used to mark the performance as religious, and the mood is subdued, with little meter; but vocal style is similar to ‘Abd al- Halim’s standard popular fare.

  • More recently Egyptian popular singer Hisham Abbas released this version of the 99 most beautiful names of God. Compare this to his more usual "video clips" such as this one, performed with an Indian singer, or this, performed with a Turkish singer.

New mediated inshad

With the rise of mass music media—beginning with early 20th c phonograms—new modes of commodified production and consumption were enabled, transforming the sound and meaning of Islamic music. Mass media tend both to replace traditional performance, and to standardize it, according to high-value models. While cassettes (1970s) greatly expanded mediazation, until recently most distribution was regional.

Since the 1990s, a studio-produced style called nashid or anashid, has been globally disseminated via satellite TV and Internet, in the ethos of Islamic reformism. While traditional themes of praise and supplication remain, new ones—political or social—are also taken up, in keeping with reformism’s more socially engaged worldview.

Conservative performers avoid instruments, though often admitting percussion as a matter of principle. Such inshad is restrained, with little improvisation or elaborate melisma, yet modernized through digital processing, harmonization, and music videos. One of the most media-savvy voices is that of the Kuwaiti [Shaykh Mashari Rashid al-`Afasy (b. 1976), who also recites Qur’an and ad`iyya, serves as imam of Kuwait’s Grand Mosque, and even owns his own religious TV station (al-`Afasy TV).

The work of others is closer to popular music, often incorporating melodic instruments, and featuring contemporary arrangements, inflected by local pop style. Such performers include the British-Azeri Sami Yusuf. In one album (My Umma) he scrupulously avoided use of musical instruments, but later made use of them as in this clip, though not without invoking criticism. Here he deliberately makes use of several languages, emphasizing unity in the Muslim Ummah. Other performers of this type include Zain Bhikha from South Africa, Mesut Kurtis from Macedonia, the Indonesian Haddad Alwi and the phenomenal Malaysian boy band, Raihan. Note use of traditional gongs in some southeast Asian nasheed.

Islamic versions of Western popular music genres, usually created by Muslims living in the West, maintain musical style, while inserting Islamic texts and intentions. Examples include Islamic hip-hop (Amir Sulayman), Islamic punk rock (Taqwacore) (e.g. the Kominas, Islamic folk-rock (Dawud Wharnsby Ali, and of course Yusuf Islam, aka Cat Stevens), even Islamic country (Karim Salama) (Buysse, 2007, Swedenburg, 2002, Miyakawa, 2005, Abdul Khabeer, 2007). These musics tend to engage social issues afflicting diasporic Muslim communities, e.g. racism and drug use, addressing non-Muslims as well.