Muslims are people of book. There scriptures were revealed to Mohammad who is also God’s messenger according to Islam. Mohammad received the scriptures and recited them as he was ordered by archangel jibra’il. Mohammad transmitted the good news to others through oral recitation. Every Muslim’s ultimate achievement is to recite the scriptures with the aid of its sounded form. Those who are successful with this are honored with the title of hafiz al-Quran.
Quran is anchored on five pillars. Shahada, is the first pillar which in English means creed. This means that ‘’there is one God and Mohammed is his prophet’’. This pillar shows the monotheistic nature of Islam. The second pillar is salat, which is the ritual prayer practiced five times a day. All Muslims are supposed to show their respect and submission to Allah by praying towards Mecca. They bow several times while standing and then kneeling and touching the ground or the prayer mat with their foreheads. Zakat, which means a tithe for charity, is another pillar. Muslims believe that they are supposed to share their wealth with the less fortunate in the community. The fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadhan, with exclusions made for the sick, aged and pregnant mothers. All able Muslims are supposed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and surrounding holy sites at least once in their lives. They visit Kaaba and walk around it seven times as a fulfillment of the fifth pillar, the hajj, which is the pilgrimage to Kaaba. It occurs every 12th month of the Islamic calendar.
The orthodox Islamic tradition regards secular music as spiritually suspect. To maintain the abiding inherent orality of the Quran, a select, rare and exquisite tuneful- rhythmic system has been developed. This is to show its uniqueness and difference from other music or words. Therefore, Islam’s position is in disapproval to all non-religious forms of musical sounds or vocals, including instrumentals. Thus, any Quran recitation is not considered as music even though it sounds musical. It is rather regarded as chant or cantillation, where features are added to religious texts and function. Chants are acceptable category in Islam, unlike other forms of music.
Quran has three recognizable concepts which explain the prominence of the recitation or chants, and its characteristics. One of these concepts is that Quran is meant to be heard. This means that people are supposed to hear and know what is in the Quran. Therefore, the best mode of transmission is oral, through recitations. Quran is of divine and inimitable beauty. This is a concept which show that the Quran is glorious, and thus listeners come to it with expectations of keen understanding. The last concept is that Quran is held to be the last of God’s revelations. The Quran should therefore be preserved and showed respect in accordance to Islam law.
Chants in public liturgy differ a lot with vernacular recitations. Chants in public liturgy are words that are recited by a trained and respected designated male in the traditional following. These recitations are sounded from the minarets of the mosque to call everyone for prayers and also sounded again before the start of the prayer. This is done throughout mosques in the whole to remind Muslims to remember God in five designated time of day. During the dawn, after midday, late afternoon, sunset and night. On the other hand, vernacular recitations are religious hymns which can be recited by anyone anywhere. Their main reason for performance is devotional gatherings aimed at spiritual achievements and principal religious figures of Islam.
Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. “Islam and music.” Studies in Comparative Religion 10.1 (1976): 37-45.
Harnish, David D., and Anne K. Rasmussen, eds. Divine Inspirations: Music and Islam in Indonesia. Oxford University Press, 2011.