Abstract: The creation of a specific liturgy, composed of prayer, litanies, singing, music and sometimes dance, known as Samā’, integrating music into the practice of meditation, is an important aspect of the contemplative life in Muslim Sufism. The essay explores the basic theological and mystical concepts of Samā’ Part 1 discusses audition in Islamic theology, where three schools of scholars existed: advocates, adversaries and moderates. The views of the advocates ? the Sufis ? are discussed, and in particular, key works on Samā’ by the Persians Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Tusi and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. Part 2 explores the idea of the Sacred and analyses Tusi and Ghazali's understanding of the three conditions ('right time, place and company') of Samā’. Part 3 examines the relation of music to poetry in Muslim mysticism. Part 4 explores the relation of Qur'anic cantillation to singing, poetry and  Samā’. Part 5 discusses the contemplative fruits of audition, the relationship of ecstasy (wajd) to trance experiences, and the attitude of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad to dance, often considered an integral part of Samā’.

Know that hearts and consciences are treasuries of secrets and mines of jewels. Wrapped within them lie their jewels just as fire is enveloped in iron and stone, and hidden like water is concealed under dust and loam. There is no way of extracting such hidden things save by the flint and steel of audition to poetry and music (Sama), and there is no entrance to the heart save by the ante chamber of the ears. So musical tones, measured and pleasing, bring forth what is in it and make evident its beauties and defects.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (n.d.: 23, also cf. Macdonald 1901-2a: 199)

Author

Dr. Leonard Lewisohn

A respected author, translator and lecturer in the area of Islamic studies and a specialist in Persian language and Sufi literature, the late Dr Lewisohn (1953 - 2018) was a Research Associate at the London Middle East Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and Associate Member of the Centre for Iranian Studies also at SOAS . Dr Lewisohn's works include Beyond Faith and Fidelity: the Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari (London, 1993), a critical edition of Divan-i Muhammad Shirin

 

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