Friday, June 04, 2010

secret chords and qawalli

Over at Killing the Buddha, there is an interesting piece called A Cold and a Broken "Hallelujah" about the Leonard Cohen song 'Hallelujah' and how it has been appearing repeatedly in a sanitized form on American Idol and some of the other singing reality shows. To be honest, I'd only heard the song in passing before (primarily on a West Wing episode) and didn't really pay much attention to the lyrics until now but I have to say it really is a beautiful song.

The best version by far is Jeff Buckley's:

For me, the song raises a number of interesting questions about the sinlessness of prophets in Islam.

For those who aren't aware, both Sunni and Shia assert as a dogma that all the prophets were to some degree protected/prevented from sins. A common Sunni position is that prophets were free from comitting major sins but that prophets may commit certain minor sins or make errors in judgement. Shias, on the other hand, seem to go a little further and tend to assert that prophets are free from committing sins of any kind. In any case, Muslim polemics on the Bible tend to discount some of the more scandalous aspects of the Biblical accounts (Noah getting drunk, Lot getting drunk and committing incest, Solomon committing idolatry, David committing adultery, etc.)

At the same time, there are some Muslim scholars who have a looser perspective on this subject. For example, The Word of Islam edited by John Alden Williams quotes from a Maturidi creed which states: "Errors of the prophets are in the things they did before the revelation, such as the marriage of David to the wife of Uriah the Hittite". And apparently some of the early Muslim scholars accepted at least the broad outlines of the Biblical version of David and Bathsheba.

Another interesting perspective (which is arguably more in line with the paradoxical tension, implied by the Leonard Cohen song, between sinfulness and sanctity) comes from Abu Sulayman al-Darani who wrote: "David (saaws) did not perform an act more beneficial for him than a misdeed. He continued to flee from it toward his Lord until he reached Him. Hence, the misdeed was the cause of his fleeing toward Allah, away from himself and the world." I would suggest that this dynamic, a sinful minor fall followed by the major lift of repentance and forgiveness is precisely the "secret chord" which was so pleasing to the Lord.

This idea is also vividly expressed in hadith:

Muslim Book 37, Number 6620:
Abu Sirma reported that when the time of the death of Abu Ayyub Ansari drew near, he said: I used to conceal from you a thing which I heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and I heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Had you not committed sins, Allah would have brought into existence a creation that would have committed sin (and Allah) would have forgiven them.

The sexual aspect of the song Hallelujah (especially Buckley's version) got me thinking about Song of Solomon and Rumi and mystical love poetry generally. And surprisingly enough Buckley's own musical explorations led him to Qawalli and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Somehow it just makes a lot of sense that the person who sung "Hallelujah" would also say "Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is my Elvis."

from Grenada's past:
last man to enter paradise
kings (part one)


Jacques said...

A friend of mine, a Lutheran pastor, once said, "The opposite of sin is not virtue. The opposite of sin is faith."

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Thought-provoking... I'm not sure if I would say the same thing but I would say that lack of faith could cut you off from hope.