Islam and Music: From Prohibition to Science of Ecstasy

Zoomed in Map of Egypt
Zoomed in Map of Egypt

Egypt, one of the oldest living civilizations in the world, has amassed a great amount of rich history and culture throughout the centuries. Egypt has very unique geographical characteristics. Located in the northeast corner of Africa by the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt is around half the size of texas and dry throughout the entire country. The northward flowing Nile River contributes greatly to Egypt’s economy and standard of living, most of Egypt’s population lives along the Nile River. Placed between the two continents, Africa and the Middle East, Egypt has adopted extremely unique cultures and traditions from both sides. Some surrounding countries are Libya on the West, Sudan to the South, and Eritrea on the southeast of Egypt. Countries on the other side of the Red Sea that has had

Music is one of the most common form of communication between humans, and it has been for countless of centuries. In fact, using music as a way to communicate is probably older than using words that are written down as a way of communication. Music can contribute and tell us a lot about a certain place’s geography, be it physical geography or human geography. It has the power of doing so because music is composed and performed by humans, humans who live in that region, humans who knows the place the best. Through music, people can express their feelings towards a certain subject or situation, which can then help others learn more about each other or other places they are not familiar with. In Afropop Worldwide Hip Deep, lots of information about a country’s geography can be picked up through listening to their various radio podcasts. Egypt- Islam and Music: From Prohibition to the Science of Ecstasy tells us of the history of Islam, the importance of it to the citizens of not only Egypt, but every country with it as the predominant religion, and also how it has influenced their music. Afropop chooses songs with significant meanings that can each help us pick up different geographic informations such as the culture, the history, society, etc.

Egyptians performing traditional music
Egyptians performing traditional music

Much of the Egyptian music is heavily influenced by the predominant religion in Egypt; Islam. In the very beginning, Georges Collinet, the radio host, asks, “How is it, that the religion that has inspired some of the world’s most beautiful and exciting music is so often preoccupied with curtailing, and even forbidden music?” The religion that Collinet so enthusiastically refers to is the dominant religion in most of the Middle Eastern countries and many of the countries in Africa, Islam. He then goes on and tells us of the cultural controversy in the Islamic society. Under the Taliban, and in places like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, etcetera, all sorts of music have been banned (Collinet). One example is Haroon Bacha, a young Pashto singer driven into exile in New York after death threats from Taliban officials in Pakistan. The reason for the death threats? Because his songs were calling for peace and tolerance, which weren’t what the Taliban wanted their people to hear. Many cities also ban the use of certain instruments because according to Joseph Braude, author, Middle East specialist, and a musician himself, “the philosopher thinks about music in terms of healthfulness in some musical scales and the danger of others. He identified specific musical modes that are likely to insight a person to become violent or sexually deviant. Others, by contrast, that will make a person more peaceful and more balanced. The philosopher goes as far as to recommend that certain scales be banned and never to be heard” (Braude). The radio podcast tells us how even though the religion Islam is one of the most influential factors in Egyptian music today, many instruments that make Islamic music unique are banned within the Islam society due to the thought of it being ‘bad’ or capable of leading humans to sneakiness. Other than this, when we think of Islam, one of the most important things is it’s rich history. “Islam is a venture that started in the Arabian Peninsula and spread over centuries time to become one of the largest landed empires in the history of the world” (Braude). Then Collinet went on and played music and gave detailed lectures of the history of Islam and how it was strongly affected by the Byzantines Empires in the West and the Persian Sassanid Empire in the East. They also talk about how these Muslims believe in two major ancient Greek philosophies, Pythagoras and Aristotelian, and how these two philosophies have had major influences on their lives.

Islam expansion route
Islam expansion route

Egyptian music has many unique qualities and characteristics. Egyptian music, centered around Cairo, began to thrive around the 1910s, when Egyptians started encouraging their women and minorities to invest in their musical talents (Hermann). Some of the instruments Egyptians use are string instruments including the harp and the lupe,the piano of Arabic composition (Collinet). Percussion instruments like Sekhmet and Bes are also used commonly in Egyptian music, making them unique and delightful to the ears (Hermann). There are many other qualities found in Egyptian music, including the use of harmony by the singers. The sound of the voices harmonizing creates a very unique and pleasant sound that can be distinguished easily amongst a group of different music. Singers also clap their hands alongside the harmonizing.

Egyptian instruments
Egyptian instruments

Georges Collinet chose these songs to reflect the geography of Egypt because these music teaches us the importance of religion in their society and how their religion has made an effect on the society and who they are today. This is significant because religion plays a crucial role in the modern Egyptian society and has had an effect on many things, including the beautiful Egyptian music we hear today. All in all, music is critical to understanding different things, it may help you discover and understand things you’ve never known or thought of before, including the geography of a place.


Works Cited


“Afropop Worldwide.” Afropop Worldwide. Afropop. Web. 8 June 2015.



Collinet, Georges. Afropop. 1 Jan. 2010. Radio.


“Geography.” Infoplease. Infoplease. Web. 5 June 2015.



Hermann, Junker. “Egyptian Music Qualities – Google ·j´M.” Egyptian Music Qualities. 1

Oct. 2009. Web. 18 June 2015. <



Web. 18 June 2015. <



Web. 20 June 2015. <



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Web. 21 June 2015. <




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