In the Name of Allah, the extremely Merciful at this very moment, and the extremely Merciful at all times
If you ride the NY subway long enough, you’re going to see some “interesting” people. One night as I rode the 1 train from 191st in Manhattan towards my daily destination in the Bronx, my eyes couldn’t help but fall on a young “typical adolescent”- swagged out with the sideways fitted, baggy pants, oversized jacket, Converse sneakers, and “Beats by Dre” headphone- as he took the seat across from me.
He wasn’t Darth Vader, the guy singing to the next destination, or some other crazy guy trolling the subways, but he sparked a reflection in me that I write about today.
The music from his headphones was blasting loud enough that I could faintly make out the lyrics. As he bobbed his head back and forth and was repeating the lines along with the words, with the occasional hand gestures to and fro, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the young kids they show on CNN in the madrasah’s across the world- rocking back and forth repeating the lines of Qur’an they memorize.
And as strange as it sounds, the question that popped in my head was: Are the Qur’an and music the same?
Music is a universal art form of humanity. This is probably why many Muslims are averse to hearing it may be haram or not. But there is no doubt that there is beauty in listening to it, there would be no other reason for why so many cling to it.
Yet the Qur’an is also beautiful to listen to. One can only appreciate the superiority of the recitation of the Qur’an over music until they either 1.) never really gotten into music, or 2.) listened to both equally as much.
Music is memorized. Once you’ve listened to the same song a number of times- even if you have the worst memory- you have the capability of memorizing at least the chorus. Similarly, the Qur’an is memorized; so much so that it is estimated over 10 million Muslims- young and old- across the globe have done it.
For some people, music allows deep thought and reflection which helps them learn life lessons or cope with difficult times. Maybe it was a bad breakup or the night of your wedding, music speaks about human issues that we all can relate to. And yet for others, the Qur’an is their destination for deep thought and reflection, which leads them to leading lives of purpose and happiness, able to cope with any challenges that come their way.
Music allows some people to remember heroes and loved ones, icons like Michael Jackson or Tupac, or even their mother (see: Dear Mama). And yet for others, the Qur’an allows them to remember the heroes they look up to- icons like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad (may Allah’s peace be upon them all) and learn from their examples.
Even if their voices are not cut out for it, it’s no secret people love singing along to music, even if it is in a language they don’t speak. Yet Qur’an doesn’t have that same effect on us, we don’t get the sudden urge to just imitate Mishary Al Afasy or Sudais in the middle of our drives home. Yet there are some people who do: I remember a friend reciting Qur’an under his breath one night while we were in line at 7-11.
Yet perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the issue of creativity. Where music lends itself to be a creative art form- with new songs, hits, and remixes- the Qur’an is as it is: no room for addition, subtraction or remixes.
Even so, the Qur’an doesn’t need a remix to sound “different.” An avid listener may hear a hit song so many times that they get sick of it. Or it may “grow old” and just not have the same kick as when it first came out. Yet if you were to ask almost any hafidh of Qur’an, he would tell you that reading the same chapter for the last 20 years today would seem like he is reading it for the very first time. And with the 10 different recitation styles combined with different tones of recitation, there is a surprising variety to listen to for Qur’an that allows it never to feel “old” or “worn out.”
In other words, Surah Al-Fatiha never gets old no matter how many times you recite or listen to it. But that song from last year is….well…so “last year.”
And that is why one is the word of Allah, and the other is the words of men.
No, the Qur’an and music are not the same, but what our hearts yearn for is.
Our hearts yearn for happiness in a sad world, tranquility in a chaotic world, peace in war-torn lands, success in the face of challenge, ease in times of hardship, heroes to look up, families to love, and lives of purpose in what seems to be a purposeless existence.
In short, our hearts are looking for peace, rest, and satisfaction.
Some hearts soak in the lessons music and men have to offer, and find peace for a time. But when the effect wears off and that CD gets tossed into the pile, they again look for the next great song to fit their circumstance. Their hearts remain wandering and yearning.
Other hearts soak in the lessons from their Creator in the Qur’an, their hearts find peace and satisfaction, in this world and the next, as Allah says:
“Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (Ar-Ra’d 13: 28)
That night on the subway, as I got off on 231st, I could only think of how fortunate I was trying to memorize the Qur’an rather than some song. But here today as I reflect, I feel shy to question if my heart is as affected by the Qur’an as that young man’s heart is by the music he was memorizing.
And so the journey continues. The path to loving the book of Allah continues, and along the way, the path to finding the object of satisfaction for a restless heart.
What better time to continue than the month in which it was revealed- Ramadan- the month of Qur’an?
What better time to give the heart satisfaction, then now?