Twelve Qur’anic visions 2007
12 mvt | 48 min
Arabic
SSMMAATTRRBB
a cappella

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About this Piece

After 11 September 2001, I realized that I knew very little about Islam. In the various debates that followed that dreadful day, I felt that the fallout was becoming increasingly anti-Muslim, and that many non-Muslims were misquoting scripture from the Qur’an for political reasons. Since I had previously studied Arabic in graduate school, I wanted to find a way to use my knowledge of Arabic to create a musical composition that could bring more understanding to this misunderstood faith.

Between 2001 and 2005, I read the Qur’an at least four times, in both Arabic and English. The profound mystery of this sacred poetry inspired me to create a work that would provide a foray for Westerners to hear some of the basic tenets of Islam intoned in its original language: Arabic. I embarked on this project with one specific intention: to create a musical narrative that could be understood by an audience who has had no or very little previous knowledge of the Qur’an.

Before I started composing, I consulted with my Muslim friends across the country. Earlier, in 2005, I also had the good fortune to travel in north India and Java, where I discussed this project with several of my Muslim acquaintances. As I developed a ‘libretto’ for this piece, I strove to include each of the verses (or surat) that I felt would make an impression upon non-Muslims: whether for their poetic beauty, their universal truth, or their contrasting message from the Judeo-Christian canon. I wanted these verses to inspire and teach my audience through their own words.

Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad received the Qur’an through a series of divine visions. I wanted to translate aspects of this profound spiritual experience into some sort of choral effect. To achieve this, I chose to conceal the musical endpoints that would demarcate separate movements, so that the music would blur together, like a series of images in a dream. Therefore, in this work, the twelve demarcations are not called movements, but are referred to as ‘visions.’

For this work, I compiled a translation after lengthy consultation of seven different translations of the Qur’an. Six of these renderings can be found at www.submission.org, and the seventh translation I used is by Ahmed Ali. Throughout the Qur’an, the subject of God (or Allah) occurs in three forms: as “I,” as “we,” and as “he.”  In this work, for the sake of coherence, I have always translated Allah into the third person: either as “God” or “he.” I have done this only to bring clarity to the overall narrative, and sincerely hope that I have not altered any theological contexts.

In this work, I did not compose a single melody. All of this piece’s melodic material, some of which has been slowed down, comes directly from the chanting of the Qur’an. When I began to work on this piece, I was very fortunate to come across streaming audio of Qur’anic chant, verse-by-verse, at the site www.islamicity.com. In this work, I based all of the choral melodies on chants by Sheikh Muhammad Sadiq Al-Minshawi, and each of the more florid, soloists melodies on chants by Sheikh Abdul Basit Abdus Samad. Of the many different performances of Qur’anic chant that I heard, I found that the singing of these two men provided me with the most suitable contrasts for this work. I am completely inspired by these men, their gifts, and their dedication, and am deeply indebted to this website for allowing me such easy access to this profound spiritual beauty.

Although I am not a Muslim myself, I have composed this work out of deep respect for Islam. I dedicate this work to all people who desire more understanding between faiths, and to all who have dared to consider ideas beyond their own systems of belief: to people of all faiths, to people of no faith, to those still in harm’s way, and to those who live in peace.

Text Credit

from The holy Qur'an

Sample Text

In their footsteps he sent Jesus, son of Mary,
Who confirmed all that came before in the Torah.
Through him, he sent the Gospel, full of guidance and light;
This confirmed all that came before in the Torah. (5.46)
If God had wanted to do so, he could have made you a single people of faith;
Instead, he has given you this test,
So that you will strive for all virtue. (5.48)
Today, God has perfected your religion, and finished his blessing upon you;
It is his wish that Islam (submission) will be your religion. (5.3)