Post #1: Basmala

March 20th, 2018

What a pleasure it has been to engage with all the materials of our course thus far! I am so excited to share that, for my first set of blog posts, I have produced a mini-album of original songs inspired by various aspects of the course material. The entire mini-album is called “love on moth’s wings” (for the record, I tend to avoid capital letters in my song titles and lyrics), and all four tracks can be found at this link:

https://oakwool.bandcamp.com/album/love-on-moths-wings

But, for ease of access, for each individual post, I’ll also include a link to the individual song about which I’m writing. The first song, and first post, is called “basmala,” and can be listened to here:

https://oakwool.bandcamp.com/track/basmala

“basmala” is an ambient folktronica song featuring a simple chord progression and one lyrical phrase, the Basmala (“bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm,” a phrase which I have learned has myriad translations. I chose to work with one I heard in class and saw on the course website, “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful), followed by an “Amen.” The Basmala reminds me of a prayer from my own tradition, the trinitarian formula (“in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”) because of its versatility. Just as the trinitarian formula is used in all kinds of prayer circumstances in Christianity, both private and corporate, so too does the Basmala have variable uses. As I have seen in my examination of the Suras, almost every one begins with the Basmala (in the Michael Sells translation which we have examined for class readings, the translation is slightly different: “In the name of God the Compassionate the Caring”). Beyond Qur’anic use, we have seen how the Basmala permeates Muslim cultures. It is repeated prominently in daily prayers, featured prominently in Islamic calligraphy, and even manifests in the constitutions of many countries where Islam is the official religion. Nasr’s book, Islamic Art and Spirituality, which we read for class, begins with the Basmala.

I appreciate how the Basmala is made manifest in manifold contexts. This reflects that, for many Muslims, God consciousness is not only to be maintained in scripture itself or in corporate prayer. All endeavors may happen in the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. This of course includes prayerful activities. As I recorded the other songs for my mini-album, I realized that I too was participating in an act of prayer, and so I wrote “basmala” to be the first track, to dedicate the whole album to the name of God and to reflect the prayerfulness of the art that I create. As Nasr writes, “Islamic art is the result of the manifestation of Unity upon the plane of multiplicity” (Nasr 7). Though I am not Muslim in the modern, ideological, categorical sense of the word, I do believe I am a lower-case “m” muslim in the Qur’anic sense of the word, in that I try my best to submit to the will of God (Asani, Infidel of Love, 28-29). Therefore, I hope that in some small way my art can contribute to the multiplicity of artistic manifestations of divine Unity, and so I begin it with the Basmala.

The last thing I’ll comment on is the structure and style of the song itself. It is supposed to evoke relaxed, peaceful feelings, setting a prayerful, reverent tone for the album (I wanted its sound to reflect the lyrical role this song plays, and so I went for an ethereal, heavenly, and mystical sonic quality, with soaring reverberations and ambient spaciousness). The listener will also notice that as the song continues, more instrumental layers build up and more voices are heard. This growing chorus of singers and instruments is intended to reflect how, while the song is an individual articulation of the Basmala, all things in Creation are ultimately expressions of Divinity–God communicates through Creation, and suffuses Creation with “divine signs” (Renard, Seven Doors to Islam, 2)–and so all things Created sing together: In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. Amen.

 

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