MUSIC: ‘Spiritual Food of the Hearts and Souls’
In Islamic communities music had been condemned by the clergy because they considered it to be conducive to pleasure and leading man to lust. In Persia, during the early days of the Faith, musicians were denounced by religious leaders as agents of Satan. The stigma attached to music was so distasteful that musicians had to hide their instruments in public. At weddings, for instance, people had to observe some religious rites in the presence of the clergy. But it was well-known secret that the musicians were waiting in another room and when the Mulla’s performance was finished and he left, they came out to play their instruments and make merry.
The following story serves to illustrate the severity with which the clergy dealt with anyone who indulged in this art.
There was a man in the city of Yazd who was working in this capacity in such a shop, but he was a merry man at heart and loved music, so as he hit the board he cleverly used to produce a rhythm. Though not more than a mere thumping sound, it was attractive to the ear. This, combined with the rhythmic movement of his body, made a controversy over this man and his way of mincing the meat. Eventually, one of the mujtahids of Yazd decided to put and end to this sacrilegious act! The poor man was summoned and warned that he would be severely punished if he continued this practice.
Within such a society, Baha’u’llah declares in the Kitab-i-Aqdas that music is a means which the spirit of man my experience upliftment and joy. These are his words in that Book:
“We have made it lawful for you to listen to music and singing. Take heed, however, lest listening thereto should cause you to overstep the bounds of propriety and dignity. Let your joy be the joy born of My Most Great Name, a Name that bringeth rapture to the heart, and filleth with ecstasy the minds of all who have drawn nigh unto God. We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion. Truly, We are loath to see you numbered with the foolish.”
Abdu’l-Baha too has praised music and singing, in several Tablets. In one of these He writes:
“This wonderful age has rent asunder the veils of superstition and has condemned the prejudice of the people of the East.
Among some of us the nations of the Orient, music and harmony was not approved of, but the Manifested Light, Baha’u’llah, in this glorious period has revealed in Holy Tablets that singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls. In this dispensation, music is one of the exaltation of sad and desponding hearts.
Therefore … set to music the verses and the divine words so that they may be sung with soul-stirring melody in the Assemblies and gathering, and that the hearts of the listeners may become tumultuous and rise towards the Kingdom of Abha in supplication and prayer.”