So blessed are the strangers
Being moved by Gregorian Chant does not mean endorsing the actions of the Catholic Church. But exploring the sacred music of Islam quite wrongly carries the stigma of 'going native' and, as a result, a rich repertoire remains virtually unknown. In a thoughtful booklet essay for the nasheed group Shaam's 'Mawlid at Abbey Road' CD Timothy Winter ( Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad) suggests there are parallels between the sacred music of Islam known as nasheed and Gregorian Chant, and laments how the music and rich culture of Islam continue for many in the West to be veiled by the actions of an extremist fringe.
A particularly poignant relevancy is provided by the provenance of the band. Shaam is the Arabic word for the region of Syria around Damascus where the four young musicians studied, and their music is rooted in the Levant. All the group's members live in the Midlands of England, and in 2002 Shaam's first album 'Mercy Like Rain' became a viral hit with young Muslims after receiving extensive airplay on the UK network of Radio Ramadan. The concert video below was recorded in the Albert Hall on one of the few nights when a Mahler symphony was not being played. This 'brains in gear' music challenges established cultural comfort zones and will sound strange at first hearing to Western ears. But as the hadith Sahih Muslim 1/130 explains:
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Islam begins something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers"
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