I had the first lesson with a new group this morning. I will be with them twelve hours a week for the coming five week block, so the aim this morning was to get to know them, assess their level and establish a friendly working atmosphere.
After about three false starts because of people wandering in late, the session got underway. I was going from group to group jollying things along, and on the CD player Azam Ali was giving us ‘In the Garden of Souls’, a CD that had been very popular with my previous group. One student detained me as I was passing and, shaking his head, said ‘we can’t hear the music.’ Before I could offer to whack up the volume, he said ‘please turn it off.’
I get it: ‘we can’t hear the music’ means ‘on religious grounds, I do not allow myself to hear music’ - and therefore I will make an issue of this. Although I know other teachers have been requested by Muslim students to desist from using music in class, this is the first time it has been asked of me, and I felt a hot rush of resentment come from my real, non-teacherly self. I stabbed the eject button on the CD player and kept aloof from the busy class for a few minutes, seething. I loathe religious self-righteousness. I do not go out of my way to rattle people, but if they are offended on religious grounds, I do not give a fuck. 'Hurt' is another matter. The thing is, I don't believe people are offended, really. A friend of mine once decided she would upbraid a member of her staff for using 'Jesus Christ' as an expletive. I hope the member of staff told her where she could get off. How does a little music harm this student's soul? Is his faith so shaky that Azam Ali could bring it crashing? Was my friend offended on behalf of her Saviour? Was she buggery - I knew damn well she was not so devout, and presumably the Saviour is capable of fighting His own battles. She and my goodthinkful young Saudi were just indulging in a bit of control-freakery.
I should have taken time to pause, then found as polite a way as I could to point out to the lad that if his particular brand of religion enjoined on him the eschewal of all music, he might have thought twice before coming to study in the UK, where every café, shop and pedestrian precinct must appear to him quite lost to shame. Was he going to tell the female colleague with whom I share the class that she had better cover her head and shoulders – and today, in the muggy heat when there was a fair amount of her on show - arms, back and legs as well? Unfortunately, the anger I felt blocked any appeal to reason, and if I play any relaxing music from now on he will no doubt see it simply as provocation. It is not worth taking a vote, because this would be to make more of the issue than it warrants. Besides, every Muslim in the group will feel piety-bound to agree with him, whether they really care or not.
I did a spot of googling when I got home, and found this from Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim:
‘Music … is Satan's Qur'an and the barrier between one and Allah. It is the way to sodomy and adultery.’
Right. I was wondering what caused them. Anyway, there will be none of that sort of thing my classroom this term, mark me well. Likewise do I purpose henceforth to curb all such licentious and libidinous acts as are displeasing in the sight of Almighty God, as skittles, quoits and the dauncing of galliards. Let none but he that beareth a sad and serious brow come vnto me.
It’s gonna be a long five weeks.