What do Adele and the Quran have in common?

19 02 2012

Earlier this week, Adele swept the Grammys and won all six of the categories she was nominated for – including the prestigious Album of the Year. Her songs and performances have touched millions around the world. While there are several theories for her success such as her voice or lyrics, the Wall Street Journal explored a scientific reason for why “Someone like You” in particular makes so many people cry. The article contends that a musical device called an “appoggiatura” is used to elicit emotion in the listener.

An appoggiatura is a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound. “This generates tension in the listener,” said Martin Guhn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who co-wrote a 2007 study on the subject. “When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves…”Chills often descend on listeners at these moments of resolution. When several appoggiaturas occur next to each other in a melody, it generates a cycle of tension and release. This provokes an even stronger reaction, and that is when the tears start to flow.

This phenomena, although studied scientifically recently, has been around for a very long time. Appoggiaturas were used extensively in Renaissance and early Baroque music. However, the origins may be traced as far back as the 7th century during the time of the Prophet Muhammad when he received revelation from God. Unlike other scriptures, the Quran is unique in that it has preserved not only every single word and letter of God but even the intonations as it was verbally revealed to the Messenger through the Archangel. This method of recitation is known as the science of Tajweed which is a set of rules that govern many of the “parameters of sound production such as duration, segment quality, and single-breath phrase” (Yeou). As Lesley Hazleton correctly explained in her TED Talk, the Quran is not just meant to be read but recited. Today millions of Muslims around the world learn to read and memorize the Quran by heart.

While the recitation of the Quran is certainly not considered to be a form of music, reciters have the creative freedom to ornament certain elements (art of Tajweed). Mohamed Yeou, professor of linguistics at the Chouaib Doukkali University, has studied the acoustics of the recitation of the Quran. He analyzed the recitation of six professional reciters from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and discovered compelling data – including the use of appoggiaturas.

One example is from a powerful set of verses from Surah Maun (Chapter 107), which is an uncompromising, unapologetic depiction of social corruption of pagan society at the time. God is pointing out those who drive away the orphans and and does not encourage feeding the poor. Are we not going to be accountable for our deeds? The surah ends with an appoggiatura on the word that it is titled by – “maun”.  In Arabic, this means a small kindness – one that is not going to make a difference to the person that is giving. An example might be a neighbor stopping by to borrow some salt. Are you going to be one to refuse “maun”? What about the homeless asking for some change? From the Arab pagan of the time to the present day listener, the Creator and Master of the Heavens and the Earth breaks on his/her moral conscious with each successive verse until that final note – “maun” sends chills down the spine and the mindful listener cannot help but to shed tears. The transformational power of the Quran can be seen in numerous documented cases in which the original Islamophobes covered their ears when they heard the verses because they could not deny the Truth and accepted Islam. Listen carefully to the following recitation of this surah by AbdurRahman Sudais.

For a more extensive, linguistic explanation of this chapter, I would highly recommend listening to the commentary by Nouman Ali Khan of the Bayyinah Institute. This is intended for a Muslim audience so feel free to comment to ask if there is any terminology or concepts that you are not familiar with.

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Hijab and intellect

19 01 2012

Tawakul Karman, a human rights activist from Yemen, was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When asked about her hijab by journalists and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education, she replied:

“Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times”





Wedding verses

20 09 2011




Eid Mubarak!

2 09 2011





Agnostic Jew Explores the Quran

8 12 2010

Wow! This is one of the best presentations I have heard this year. In this short, but poignant 9 minute talk, Lesley Hazleton explores the Quran and finds that is quite different from what you might hear in the media. Every person with a “flexible mind” should watch this video and share it with others – ESPECIALLY given the ignorant Islamophobia that is prevalent in political America today. Among pearls of wisdom, she answers several questions such as:

  • Is the idea of  72 virgins mentioned in the Quran?
  • How is Paradise described?
  • What is the “hypnotic quality” of the Quran in Arabic?
  • How much of the Quran reprises stories of the Bible/Torah?
  • How is it different from the Bible/Torah?
  • What do so called Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim Islamophobes have in common?

Lesley Hazleton expresses sentiments that resonate with the rational mind. To be honest, I am dismayed at how someone with her depth of understanding could claim to be an agnostic Jew. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with every point she masterfully articulated. I love great talks like this with a strong attention getter, subtle humor, rock solid points, and a conclusion that circles back to the beginning. Five stars!!

From TED: A psychologist by training and Middle East reporter by experience, British-born Lesley Hazleton has spent the last ten years exploring the vast and often terrifying arena in which politics and religion, past and present, intersect. Her most recent book, After the Prophet: the Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split, was a finalist for the 2010 PEN-USA nonfiction award.

She lived and worked in Jerusalem for thirteen years — a city where politics and religion are at their most incendiary — then moved to New York. She came to Seattle to get her pilot’s license in 1992, saw the perfect houseboat, and stayed. By 1994, she’d flown away all of her savings, and has never regretted a single cent of it. Now her raft rides low in the water under the weight of research as she works on her next book, The First Muslim, a new look at the life of Muhammad.

TEDxRainier is an independently organized TED event held in Seattle Washington.

More on Lesley from Wikipedia:

Lesley Hazleton (born 1945) is an award-winning British-American writer whose work focuses on the intersection of politics, religion, and history, especially in the Middle East. She reported from Israel for Time, and has written on the Middle East for numerous publications including The New York TimesThe New York Review of BooksHarper’sThe Nation, andThe New Republic.

Hazleton was born in England, and became a United States citizen in 1994. She was based in Jerusalem from 1966 to 1979 and in New York City from 1979 to 1992, when she moved to her current home in Seattle WA, originally to get her pilot’s license. She has two degrees in psychology (B.A. Manchester University, M.A. Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

She has described herself as “a Jew who once seriously considered becoming a rabbi, a former convent schoolgirl who daydreamed about being a nun, an agnostic with a deep sense of religious mystery though no affinity for organized religion”. ”Everything is paradox,” she has said. “The danger is one-dimensional thinking”.





NASA building ties with Muslim world

19 11 2010

NASA Administrator Chief Charles Bolden (YouTube)

“When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering,” Bolden said in the interview.




Celebrating Eid with Lemon Cake

14 09 2010

Last month, I was inspired by Saqib’s post on welcoming Ramadan with a chocolate cake. I wanted to enjoy some of the benefits of dawah in this world and decided to bring in a cake for my coworkers after Eid. My wife baked and decorated a lemon cake which I placed in our “cookie cube” and sent out an email similar to the one that Saqib did. Not long after, while most people complemented the cake itself, I also started to get several inquiries about Islam and Muslims.

Associate #1: “So how long did you fast for?” Well, Ramadan is a blessed period of time for Muslims which only lasts about thirty days. “Wait how do you survive without eating or drinking for a month?” Fasting is from dawn to sunset each day. We still eat in the early morning and in the evening. “Oh…ok.”  It is also a time to improve our personal character by giving charity to the needy and helping our neighbors while getting rid of our bad habits by turning off the TV and spending less time in general on entertainment.

Associate #2: “So you’re celebrating because you can finally eat again?”. No this is an Islamic holiday that Muslims celebrate around the world. We set several personal goals for ourselves in the month and now we are collectively celebrating our achievements by the Grace of God. Muslims also strive to continue the good habits that we acquired for the rest of the year.

Associate #3 mentioned that she used to fast with her husband for three days regularly when they were younger. Intrigued, I asked what her reason was for doing this. She exclaimed that we “needed to get rid of all the toxins in our body from eating junk”.

Associate #4: “Do you support the building of the Ground Zero Mosque?”. First of all, that is a bit of a misnomer. It is not at Ground Zero, it’s in an area called Park 51, several blocks from Ground Zero. It is also not a mosque but a community center with basketball courts and stuff. And btw, that’s not really a lemon cake, it’s artificially flavored benzonate triglycoride. jk! 🙂

Associate #5: “Did you know that “eid” is “die” backwards?”  You never cease to amaze me….”Eid” is actually an Arabic word that has no relation with its transliteration in English. If you want, you can think of it as the day where all the bad habits will die after 30 days of training and practicing self-restraint. Did you know that Oprah films her shows in Chicago’s Harpo Studios? Ever wonder where she got that name from?

Associate #6: “I heard Obama is a Muslim”. Well, he has stated several times that he is not. Although, even if he was it shouldn’t matter.  Muslim Americans represent one of the most well-educated, affluent, and contributing members of society. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of incorrect information that many Americans believe.

Associate #7: An Indian consultant came up to me and said “Eid Mubarak! Cake was quite tasty and yummy!” He was probably exposed to the holiday through Muslim friends or neighbors back home.

At the end of the day, in addition to a chunk of lemon cake for my commute home, there was a lot of positive discussion with several misconceptions that were addressed. I would like to thank Saqib for inspiring me, and thanks to my wife for baking the “yummy” cake!

“Oh…ok.”