Today, within stereotyped characterizations of Islam, pleasure, debate and musical creativity find little place. Rather, mainstream discourse's strongest signifiers of Islam are violence, fundamentalism, repression and joylessness. Such simplifications are misleading. Across the world, diverse communities of Muslims live their collective identities in dialogic interaction with various social forces: the legacies of colonialism, the imperatives of globalization, the pressures of diaspora, the demands of modernity, the pull of the sacred, pan-Islamic radicalism, and the perceived injustices of the 'war on terror.' The criss-crossing axes of the global, the local and the transnational impel them to consolidate collective identities, confirm their historical legacies and look forward to the future. Like all human beings in all societies, they also engage in enjoyable and pleasurable expressive acts while doing so -- in particular, by making, listening to, and being emotionally sustained through music.
This network focusses on the performative aspect of contemporary Muslim life. It explores how, through the modes of performance, piety and protest, music has become a vehicle of debate within societies where Islam exerts a significant cultural influence. Paying attention to these intra-communal debates, alongside the differences between 'the Muslim world' and its perceived antagonists, can offer fresh insight into the relationship between Islamic, secularist and nationalist orthodoxies and social re-positioning within Muslim communities. Moreover, this approach can shed crucial light on how radicalization, fundamentalism and violence might themselves be countered. The network hopes to optimize the sharing of similar research interests of individual scholars. It will open up space for interdisciplinary, inter-regional perspectives, and encourage comparative understanding of how, within the wider context of 'Islam', musical practice enables disagreement as well as cross-cutting solidarities.
Important historical reasons make music a fruitful means of hearing such dissenting voices. Orthodox Islam's suspicion of music has long co-existed in dynamic tension with the chanting and rhythmic iteration characteristic of non-orthodox Islamic movements, often grouped together as 'Sufism', particularly in South Asia. As Islam spread across Asia and North Africa, non-orthodox cults cross-pollinated with regional and local music, dance and bodily practices, to create diverse musical traditions. Such cross-pollinations, further transformed in recent decades through technology, globalization and transnationalism, continue to convey alternative interpretations of piety and ethics to Islamic orthodoxy. At the same time, music has always stimulated communitas. The sense of oneness with others it creates fosters community identity, and under the right circumstances, has the power to bring disparate groups together.
Emphasising that music in Islam cannot be conceived monolithically or monoculturally, the project's contemporary relevance will be a catalyst and location for dialogue between research, practice and policy.