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John Coltrane and Bilal Philips: Two Converts’ Paths

He did so because he believed music to be incompatible with his commitment to Islam. Philips wrote this in his book Contemporary Issues: “A heart filled with music will not have room for God’s words.”

Philips said that Islam allowed for “folk songs with acceptable content sung by males or females under the age of puberty accompanied by a hand drum.” However, “wind and stringed instruments have been banned because of their captivating power. Their notes and chords evoke strong emotional attachments. For many, music becomes a source of solace and hope instead of God. When they are down, music brings them up temporarily, like a drug. The Koran, the words of God filled with guidance, should play that role.”

John Coltrane, who knew a great deal about the captivating power of wind instruments, had a very different vision of the relationship between God and music. Of his 1957 resolution to turn his life around, he wrote: “At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.”

Coltrane’s 1964 album-length suite A Love Supreme was part of his pursuance of this vision. He explained: “This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD’ through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor…May we never forget that in the sunshine of our lives, through the storm and after the rain—it is all with God—in all ways forever.”