A recent incident in Grand Junction, Colorado has struck familiar chords. I briefly lived in Grand Junction as a young adult, but more important, I am a teacher and professional musician, specifically, a classically trained singer. The incident happens to be about music, religion, politics, liberty and education.
At Grand Junction High School, senior James Harper found himself in a vexing predicament. A member of the school’s choir, Harper is also a Christian, and when the choir director, Marcia Weiland, chose a piece—“Zikr”–by Indian composer A.R. Rahman, Harper was conflicted. The piece is quite clearly a Muslim song (something of an oxymoron, particularly for the more Islamist-leaning who frown–at best–on any music).
The lyrics (via Gateway Pundit, via the Examiner):
Those of you, who seek Allah’s attention, Come, as you are called by Allah. There is no better deed than ZIKR, said the Holy Prophet of Allah. And those who do ZIKR of Allah from core of their hearts, become successful. And Zikr cuts Nafs (a human being’s desire to do whatever he wants,good or bad but used mostly for the desire to do evil things) so Zikr is sword of Allah.
Zikr is peace, Zikr is victory, Zikr is remedy, and Zikr is prayer (I can’t give exact meaning of the second line but it means something like this) Only Allah is eternal and will be there when nothing else will bethere, as everything other than Allah will get destroyed one day.
Apart form Allah subhan ta alah’s greatness, Take anything other than Allah out of your heart And leave Light of Muhammad (May peace be upon him) The Truth of La ila ha il Allah (the Kalma of testimony or shahadath, the basic of Islam, where every Muslim declares that there is no one worship- worthy other than Allah)
In every flower, in every spirit, there is light of Allah In every heart, in every moment, there’s Zikr of Allah
Zikr is better than hatred; Zikr is better than not caring about life hereafter Zikr of Allah is much better compared to saying bad things about fellow human beings
(Now he recites the beautiful names of Allah.) Ya Qayum (Al-Qayum mean THE SELF-SUBSISTING i.e. HE WHO HOLDS THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE) Ya Awal (Al-Awal means THE FIRST i.e. HE WHO WAS THERE WHEN NOTHING ELSE WAS THERE) Ya Akhir (Al-Aakhir means THE LAST i.e. HE WHO WILL BE THERE WHENNOTHING ELSE WILL BE THERE) Ya Haleem (Al-Haleem means THE FOREBEARING ONE i.e. HE WHO ISCLEMENT) Ya Kareem (Al-Kareem means THE GENEROUS ONE) Ya Azeem (Al-Azeem means THE GREAT ONE) Ya Raheem (Al-Raheem means THE MERCIFUL, He who gives blessings andprosperity) Ya Rahman (Al-Rahman means THE BENEFICENT) Ya Subhan Ya Adnan Ya Manan Ya Zol jallal wal Ikaram (means THE LORD OF MAJESTY AND BOUNTY)
Harper not unreasonably found the text at odds with his Christian faith. He e-mailed his objections to the school district’s administrators, and when they fully supported the selection, he put his voice where his convictions are and quit the choir. In an interview with local KREX-TV, Harper said:
I don’t want to come across as a bigot or a racist, but I really don’t feel it is appropriate for students in a public high school to be singing an Islamic worship song. This is worshipping another God, and even worshipping another prophet … I think there would be a lot of outrage if we made a Muslim choir say Jesus Christ is the only truth.
Harper had no idea how right he was.
Mesa County School District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said:
Choral music is often devoted to religious themes. … This is not a case where the school is endorsing or promoting any particular religion or other non-educational agenda. The song was chosen because its rhythms and other qualities would provide an opportunity to exhibit the musical talent and skills of the group in competition, not because of its religious message or lyrics. [the choir] is a voluntary, after-school activity. Students are not required to participate, and receive no academic credit for doing so.
Apparently Wieland asked choir members to view an online performance of the work and to speak with their parents before deciding to perform the piece, and those who objected did not have to sing it.
However, in a development unsurprising to those familiar with many proponents of the “Religion of Peace,” Harper has withdrawn from school after receiving death threats.
My undergraduate minor is in choral music education, and I have been a singer, instrumentalist and director all of my life. Having been in Ms. Wieland’s position, I understand the difficulties inherent in the intersection of religion and music. In the Western canon, virtually all of what is commonly called “classical” music written prior to 1750 was religious in nature, and particularly, Christian. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was not only renowned as the greatest organist of his time, and later, one of history’s greatest composers, but was also a splendid theologian.
It is in composers like Bach and Handel that Western religious music achieved its most sublime heights. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach is, to this day, one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed and one of the most profound expressions of religious adoration. ‘Messiah” by Handel (the best know portion of which is the majestic “Hallelujah” chorus), the most performed Oratorio of all time, is likewise a masterwork with a Biblical text that can be admired and enjoyed not only by those devoted to Christianity, but by anyone who loves beauty and appreciates the highest achievements of man. Most Americans will recognize this music, even if they can’t specifically name it or its composers.
To study the canon necessary to understand the history and development of music, to develop the musicianship necessary to become a truly capable choral musician, one must sing the works of Bach, Handel, Palestrina, Verdi and a great many other masters, not only in English but in their original Latin, German, Italian and other European languages. And of necessity, such music will often be expressly religious–Christian–in nature.
Until the advent of political correctness, this was essentially unremarkable. The works of non-Western composers—religious or secular—were generally reserved to sub-specialties and advanced degrees. This is so in large part because much of non-Western music does not use the same 12-tone scale. In Western music the octave is divided into 12 essentially equal parts known as semi-tones or half-steps, each comprised of 100 “cents,” or increments of pitch (the average person can detect variations in pitch in the +-3 cent range). These half steps are easily recognized as the difference in pitch between the white and black keys on the piano, or by moving a single fret on a guitar fingerboard. Non-Western music divides an octave into a lesser or greater number of steps, giving it an odd, even exotic sound not easily mastered by a western ear familiar with the 12-tone scale. This is also true for religious music because America is predominantly a Christian nation and the Western musical tradition is predominantly Christian.
In addition, while some non-western music is interesting and even challenging in performance, it is in the Western tradition that truly virtuoso music resides. It is therefore unsurprising those taking college degrees in music, or those high school directors that take their roles as educators–rather than producers of entertainment– seriously, focus almost exclusively on the Western tradition, whose canon is vast and immensely deep.
Ms. Weiland obviously anticipated that the piece was inherently controversial and did try to be accommodating, however, there are political and religious issues inherent in this situation about which she—and the school district—are apparently blissfully unaware.
One can build a case for the inclusion of all manner of music in an educational setting, even the religious music of other cultures. A passing familiarity with different musical styles and traditions is certainly not, in isolation, a bad thing. It is indeed trendy in some circles, the very height of multicultural sensitivity and enlightenment to give particular emphasis to anything to do with Islamic culture.
Much of this impetus stems from cultural equivalence, the idea that all cultures are equally valuable and worthy of emulation. The most cursory examination of this way of thinking—or more accurately, of failing to think—reveals it to be nonsense. In 1899, Winston Churchill delivered a speech in which he said:
Individual Muslims may show splendid qualities, but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it.
While there are indeed millions of Muslims who want nothing more than to live their lives in peace and freedom and have no intention of trying to forcibly impose their beliefs on others, there are tens of millions of Muslims—entire nations—that wish exactly that. Another part of the tendency of some to praise Islam is that Progressivism tends to support and exalt the enemies of America while insulting or ignoring her friends. This is done as an expression of moral superiority, the unjustified and potentially deadly belief that the mere act of reaching out to those sworn to kill us will cause them to change their ways and to like us.
Today, we see in many Muslim nations and cultures the kinds of beliefs and practices that Progressives in Western nations claim to abhor. Women are treated no better, and in many cases worse, than livestock. Their genitals are mutilated, they are beaten, murdered for offenses to family honor, and routinely abused and denied basic human rights about which the Left so stridently professes to care. Gays fare no better. Religious freedom is nonexistent, and there is no separation of church and state; Islam is the state. Those who in any way “insult” Islam are threatened with death and often, killed.
For example, in its May 9, 2005 issue, Newsweek Magazine—which would only five years later be sold for a dollar—published a report claiming that US troops at Guantanamo Bay flushed a Koran down a toilet. The resulting Muslim riots around the world cost at least 15 lives—Muslim lives—and an unknown number of injured. Any rational person would know that flushing a book the size of the Koran down a toilet was impossible, but Newsweek ran the story and Muslims ran wild at the slightest perceived insult to their faith. Newsweek eventually, grudgingly retracted the false story, but that was of little solace to the dead and their survivors.
It’s chilling that the very people Progressives so often support and praise would, if they had their way, enslave or kill them. Progressives will call America under Republican leadership a violent, aggressive, blood thirsty nation of war mongers, yet ignore the daily brutalizing of women in Islamic countries, Iran’s determination to obtain nuclear weapons to obliterate Israel, its daily threats to annihilate Israel and America, its sponsorship of terrorism around the world, and its murder of thousands of Americans and countless Muslims over the last three decades.
Education in much of the Islamic world should also be a matter of concern. In many Muslim nations, girls are denied formal education. The education of boys consists only of memorizing the Koran in Arabic while receiving training in the techniques of war in preparation for enslaving and killing all infidels (all non-Muslims). However, Jihadists commonly do not hesitate to kill any Muslim that gets in their way or does not share their particularly directed blood lust.
In March of 2002, in Saudi Arabia, which does allow education for women, fifteen Saudi school girls were burned alive when a fire broke out in their school. Religious policemen stationed at the school refused to let the girls leave when a fire broke out because they were not wearing the Hijab—the traditional Muslim head covering–and were therefore not modestly covered. Not only did they force them to remain inside the burning building, they would not allow the girl’s parents or firefighters to rescue them. There is no record indicating that these men were punished. They were likely praised.
News stories about very politically correct and culturally sensitive citizens doing their best to rid the schools of any vestige of Christianity, including such radical songs as “Silent Night,” are common. And it is easy to advocate for such things, as Christianity does not mandate the death of those who refuse to embrace it, who do not follow its teachings, or who chose to leave it, nor are Christians prone to rage and violence. Islam does and millions upon millions of Muslims are. Americans are truly religiously tolerant and there is no risk—beyond polite disapproval—for those delivering the most vile and blasphemous insults against Christian belief or practice.
It is not currently known who made the death threats against James Harper. However, it would not be unreasonable to believe that it was Muslims following the dictates of their faith and culture, as such threats are very common indeed.
The case for teaching the Western canon in music is strong. It represents the highest achievements of human beings in music and is part of the foundation of and the inspiration for Western civilization. It is extraordinarily beautiful and it demands nothing–religiously speaking—of its performers. Yet those who wish can easily find sacred inspiration. I cannot perform the works of Bach or Handel without seeing the hand of God, yet I also appreciate it for its technical beauty and unparalleled excellence.
The case for including Muslim sacred music in any American school setting is musically weak, and the case for not including it, as exemplified by this situation, is very strong. We are, in fact, at war with Islamists who would delight in enslaving or murdering every non-Muslim, particularly citizens of the “Great Satan.” They number, world-wide, in the tens of millions.
By including such music in a public school curriculum, not only do music teachers risk provoking death threats against any who might object, they actually endanger themselves and their students. They even risk invoking the punishment of Muslim students who Islamist Muslims would deny music as idolatry. For the followers of a religion willing to kill fellow Muslims over the false report of the mistreatment of their holy text, harming those who in any other way seem to be failing to give their faith sufficient deference is a small step indeed.
While those who see multiculturalism as a great good in and of itself would be hard pressed to understand it, most Americans have little trouble realizing that celebrating the culture and beliefs of those sworn to kill them, or who are prone to homicidal rage at the merest slight, real or imagined–particularly when millions of such people see music as forbidden–is a fundamentally foolish and dangerous endeavor that should not be undertaken by any school.
No doubt the educators of Grand Junction High School are patting themselves on the back for striking a blow for educational and religious freedom. Unfortunately, the religion they champion in this case denies every freedom, save the freedom to do as it demands in every facet of life and to force those demands on the world.
Considering the current state of the world, performing such music in a public school setting is simply irresponsible and dangerous.
James Harper surely understands this. I wonder why the educators of Grand Junction High School do not?