In the course of the last decades, sonic forms of Islam—including sound, music, and the spoken word—have diversified and become publicly present through an increasingly wide range of new technologies. These include, for instance, the call to prayer (adhān) disseminated through loudspeakers, radio, and television; the circulation of Quranic recitations, sermons, and anasheed (Islamic hymns or chants) through audio-and video-cassettes, and more recently the Internet; as well as new, more often contested, musical genres, such as Islamic pop, country, rock, and rap music. The audiences for such musical sounds have also pluralized as Islamic performers today appear at multicultural festivals and religiously-mixed cultural events, in addition to targeting dedicated Muslim listeners. And mediated Islamic sounds more generally circulate widely today, sometimes on a global scale, far beyond the control of producers and performers.1 These sounds not only reach the ears of their intended publics, but also those of Muslims and non-Muslims that they do not target.2
In this special collection, we discuss the effects of the public presence of audible Islam by focusing on how Islamic sounds are produced, circulated, and listened to with different levels of intentionality by a wide variety of audiences in local settings where state and non-state actors manage religion in different ways. The individual contributions to this [End Page 977] special collection all combine theoretical reflection on sonic Islam with substantial ethnographic fieldwork in Muslim-majority settings as well as in locations where Muslims constitute a religious minority.3 In her contribution, Jeanette Jouili focuses on the Islamically inspired artistic scene in France. She shows how ambitions to create a faith-sustaining artistic environment at times become entangled with civic projects that both aim to educate the largely working-class Muslim community to appreciate the arts, but also often seek to achieve a broader reach for their artistic projects. Focusing on rappers’ “stage talk” at live festivals in Morocco, Kendra Salois analyzes how hip hop performers and audiences collectively co-constitute a counterpublic that seeks to shape responsible modern citizens rather than pious Muslims, without, however, being indifferent to Islamic ethics. Isaac Weiner, examining a 2004 dispute about the amplified Islamic call to prayer from a mosque in Hamtramck, Michigan, shows how attempts to keep the public sphere free from religion paradoxically highlight the public presence of religion, while those in favor of multiculturalism and public religion tend to mute the specific religious character of a ritual, in this context the adhān. Brian Larkin, who explores the use of loudspeakers by religious actors in the city of Jos, Nigeria, points out how they are central to religious contests between Sufi and Salafi-inspired movements as well as between Muslims and Pentecostal churches. Rather than a tool to communicate a religious message, loudspeakers function as a mode of presence-making and a means to silence others.
Before returning to these individual contributions and how they relate to each other, we briefly elaborate on two trends that have engendered a new interest in auditory Islam. First, we discuss the transformation and proliferation of Islamic soundscapes in the public sphere, and how this relates to the emergence and transformation of the Islamic revival movement and to the dynamics of the (secular) governance of Islam. Next, we turn to new theoretical perspectives that have stimulated scholars to engage with this greater auditory presence of Islam, in particular the renewed interest in anthropology of the senses and sensorial perception, and the turn in Islamic studies from a textual approach to focusing on the multiple ways in which Muslims live Islam. [End Page 978]
The Aurality of Islam: Contested Traditions and Recent Developments
There is a long tradition of scholars arguing for the centrality of the sonic or auditory in Islam (al-Faruqi 1985, During 1997). The first Quranic verse revealed started with the word “Iqra,” that is, “Recite!” Throughout Islamic history, the art of the proper recitation of the Quran (tajwīd) has been highly valued, as has the correct performance of the Islamic call to prayer, even if the media through which these are amplified (loudspeakers) or broadcasted (radio) have, at times...