What Is Muslim Music?

We realize that characterizing an artistic activity as a product of a religious belief is inherently problematic. Is the music of Muslim convert Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) “Islamic”? How do we define a classical Arabic music tradition influenced by Orthodox Christianity as well as Islam? Can erotic Persian verse set to music be seen as part of the same tradition as Sufi devotional songs? What should we make of death metal from Pakistan, or hip-hop by Latino Muslims from Spanish Harlem?

Muslim World Music Day is a cultural project. Centuries of music making in the established traditions of the Muslim world have produced shared musical vocabularies. Muslim musicians have also embraced other genres, from jazz to hiphop to hard rock, to express their faith. Today, Muslims from a range of theological perspectives continue to debate the place of music in Islam, while musicians around the world—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—draw inspiration from old traditions and invent new ones. The definition of “Muslim music” will always be changing.

We seek to provide an inclusive overview of this music from a variety of perspectives. We hope the very act of collecting, discussing, and listening to the music gives rise to new answers to the question, “what is Muslim music?”