Islamist insurgents have ordered Somali radio stations to stop playing music, a ban that went into effect last Tuesday. This order follows the Islamists’ ban on musical ringtones, movies, men without beards, football, women’s beauty salons, and bras. Those not adhering to the new ban risk a grave threat to their physical well-being, which includes getting assassinated or undergoing Sharia-based punishments. Such punishments include having your limbs amputated, your eyes gauged out, your tongue cut out, and your ears cut off.
A majority of radio stations in southern and central Somalia stopped playing music and jingles on Tuesday. In Mogadishu, the capital, only the government-controlled Radio Mogadishu, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers, and the UN-funded Radio Bar-Kulan, whose studio is in Nairobi, resisted the order.
In order to understand this phenomenon, it is critical to keep in mind that for the totalitarian radical, experiencing any kind of joy means succumbing to the false consciousness that, in the utopian mindset, must be purged from the earth. Earthly joy distracts from the constant vigilance that is necessary to engage in revolutionary battle.
This is why Lenin refused to listen to music, since, as he explained, “it makes you want to say stupid, nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty while living in this vile hell.” For Lenin, violent revolution was the priority — a priority endangered by the emotions music could induce.
Sayyid Qutb, one of Islamism’s godfathers, could relate to this vision all too well — and he serves as a perfect example of Islam’s rejection of the joyous celebration of this world and this life. In his work Milestones, Qutb demonizes the pursuit of individual interests and sensual pleasures — but above all sexual pleasure — and of personal happiness and fulfillment. The word “desire” reverberates through Milestones as a diabolical entity.
Thus, America was, understandably, the main target of Qutb’s fury. He lived in Colorado from 1948 to 1950, and he was enraged by Americans’ interest in having “a good time” and “fun.” He despised all the comforts of modern American life. He was particularly repulsed by a dance he witnessed after a church service. He writes with horror:
The dancing intensified. … The hall swarmed with legs. … Arms circled arms, lips met lips, chests met chests, and the atmosphere was full of love.
Qutb also reviled what the Somali Islamists despise: music. Like Lenin, he deemed music a distraction from the raging hatred necessary for destruction. He was stunned when, at the church dance he attended, the pastor himself dimmed the lights, creating “a romantic, dreamy effect,” and played a popular record of the time: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Qutb hated this song, just as he hated all American popular music. “Jazz is the favorite music,” he writes. “It is a type of music invented by Blacks to please their primitive tendencies and desire for noise.”
The rejection of this form of creative expression goes back to the beginning of Islam. Umdat al-Salik, the Islamic legal manual, quotes Muhammad:
Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.
On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress. Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.
This Community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones.
Someone asked, ‘When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?’ and he said, ‘When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.
‘There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful.’
As a result, throughout Muslim history, various branches of Islam have tried to eradicate music. The reforming Mughal emperor Muhyi al Din Aurangzeb (reigned 1658–1707) attempted to purify his land (which included most of the Indian subcontinent, plus part of Afghanistan) by banning music there.
In our own day, Laskar Jihad, the extremist Islamic group in Indonesia, considers music “a distraction from God.” In the Malaysian state of Kelantan, the government — controlled by Islamic fundamentalists — has banned singing, dancing, and even the ringing of church bells, since these things could lead to “immoral activities.”
The Taliban understood all of this very well, which is why they banned music in Afghanistan in the late 1990s. And that is precisely why Ayatollah Khomeini banned most music from Iranian radio and television. In Khomeini’s mind, music was “treason,” because, as he told Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, it involves “pleasure and ecstasy, similar to drugs.” Khomeini’s rejection of music — like Qutb’s and indeed the Prophet Muhammad’s — was directly connected to his revulsion at any form of cheer or joy in human life. He explained:
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.
A comedy club, to say the least, can never exist in this environment; even laughter is discouraged — and is actually forbidden for women, and especially young girls. The author Nawal El Saadaw remembers that, growing up in Egypt, “if I laughed, I was expected to keep my voice so low that people could hardly hear me, or better, confine myself to smiling timidly.” When Souad, the Palestinian survivor of an attempted honor killing, was flown to Switzerland, she was shocked to find females dressing as they wished, smiling and laughing without being punished, and having people actually say “Thank you” to her — which had not happened once her entire life.
The late American journalist Steven Vincent, a warrior for the rights of women under Islam, made a careful study of these phenomena during trips he made, at great peril to himself, to Iraq. In his Iraq memoir, he noted that, at one point, he was sitting by the swimming pool at the Al-Hamra Hotel in Baghdad, where Western journalists stay. He heard two American women laughing, and a “chill” shot right through him. Their laughter made him realize that he had not heard a woman laugh in Iraq, “not in a free and unguarded manner, at any rate.” That laughter, he says, was music to his ears, and at that moment, he reflects, “I became a feminist.”
The hatred of joy and laughter is also connected to the dearth of toys and games for children in the Muslim-Arab world. As British author David Pryce-Jones notes:
There appears never to have been any such thing as an Arab toy or games for children, in the sense that Western children have had a ball or a hoop, a shuttlecock or board games. To this day, toys and games and bicycles are Western imports or imitations. Similarly, there are old and often striking folktales that Arab children may enjoy, but no classic such as Robinson Crusoe or Black Beauty conceived specifically for the imaginative child.
The only game permitted to many Muslim-Arab children is “kill the Jew” — and the game becomes reality when they become suicide bombers. After the kidnappings and beheadings started in Iraq, the “take the hostage and behead him” game became very popular among Arab youngsters.
We begin to see why Islamist terrorists so often hit places of enjoyment in their deadly strikes: dance halls, nightclubs, beaches (e.g., Israeli discos, the Bali resort). All things connected to earthly pleasure must be extinguished.
In the end, therefore, as we examine this culture and religion that is rife with the rejection of earthly joy and pleasure, it becomes obvious why it produces environments saturated with feelings of humiliation, shame, impotence, emasculation, and rage. So it is no surprise at all why the Islamist insurgents just banned music — and why so many Muslim men choose death over life.