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Politics | Society | Culture - Arts

Somali Islamists ban music; "intimidated" top artist agrees

Maryan Mursal:
«You should have let all of us return home first and then put us in prisons.»

© Awdalnews / afrol News
afrol News / Awdal News Network, 4 September
- Maryan Mursal, Somalia's top night club performer in the early 1970s and currently a patriotic voice admired by Somalis in the Diaspora, says that she is fully in support of the banning of music by the Somali Islamic Courts and urges all Somali artists to quit singing and performing drama. Her opinion causes shock among other Somali cultural personalities.

Talking to Bashir Goth, editor of 'Awdalnews Network', following her return from a short trip to Mogadishu, Ms Maryan said: "Our book [the Quran] forbids music. We used to beat a drum when chanting Quran but music was always forbidden. And now we shall just follow what the book orders us to do."

The former entertainer said that the Islamists in Mogadishu had banned songs and musical plays and that she was fully in support of such a decision. "The Islamist clerics are not fond of music. They have banned all kinds of music and women singing and dancing in theatre."

"But as artists we value the peace the clerics have brought," she added. "My house that has been looted 16 years ago has been returned to me. The court has handed it over to me. I think this is very important."

Answering a question on whether all kinds of art were banned, she said that only poetry and all kinds of verse without music were exempted. "Poetry is allowed and even children can perform plays. Children, ranging between 3 to 10 years, have performed a play for me," she explained.

Ms Maryan, who started her music career at the age of 16, said that she would continue to perform and work in music when she returned to London, as she had to fulfil her contractual obligations, but would quit when she returned to her homeland.

"I am in London because I have no homeland. I have to earn a living and the only thing I know is to sing. Therefore I am obliged to sing and earn a living. But when I return to my homeland I have to quit. I am nearly 60 years of age anyway and it is not proper for a woman of my age to sing and dance," she said.

Asked whether this was her belief, she said: "It is the way it is. It is said when we die and go to the other world, music is heard from hell. Those who follow the sound of music will go to hell. Therefore, I ask guidance and mercy from Allah. I have wasted my life in sin. But I had no other profession, if I had another profession I would never have taken music as a career."

On preaching this kind of discourse after spending 40 years in singing, she said that she always knew it was wrong and that was why she deserted singing love lyrics and resorted to patriotic songs only during her refugee years abroad, affirming that that patriotic music was still a music and has to be shunned.

Justifying her decision to continue signing when she returned to London, Ms Maryan said: "My nation has been completely destroyed and I carry their flag around the world. Without music, I cannot do it."

Catapulted into fame by the roles she played in memorable Somali plays, Ms Maryan admitted that she was being hypocritical in rejecting music and then continuing to perform it, saying: "I feel terrified when I am singing. And when I go back home I repent and ask Almighty Allah for forgiveness."

She said many of the artists may oppose here but she was also sure that many others would side with her. "We, artists, are all committing a sin. It is not good for a 60 year old woman to dance and sing in a theatre." She said she would advise the new generation of artists to quit music and turn to learning Quran and Prophet's traditions instead.

Answering a question on whether she thought banning all arts and music was a sound decision, Ms Maryan said: "Yes, I believe it is a good thing as long as our religion has prohibited it. Our country has been in ruins for 16 years, our people have become refugees all over the world, our women have married other women, some of our men have been married by other men, therefore, if religious men can bring all these people back and clean our mess, everything the clerics say deserves to be obeyed."

Asked whether she had given any advice to the clerics, she said she had told them that they started tackling small things while sidestepping great tasks. "I told them there are great tasks waiting for you. We were trying to bring our children from infidel lands. Even some of our adults need reconditioning after 16 years in infidel lands."

"But when you started your mission with trivial things such as banning films, sports and music, the children are hesitating to come," she had told the Islamist leaders. "You should have let all of us return home first and then put us in prisons and enacted any laws you wanted. I told them that many people in the Diaspora think that the clerics are nothing but turncoat warlords," she said.

These strong and surprising opinions by Ms Maryan caused disbelief among other prominent Somalis. 'Awdalnews' interviewed Ali Sugule on the issue - a playwright who has written some of the best-known masterpieces of Somali theatre including 'Kala Haab', in which Ms Maryan played her first role in 1966.

Scoffing at Ms Maryan's statements, Mr Sugule said: "Tell Maryan not to disown music or her past; because without music she would have been nothing. Tell her that music has given her living, cars, houses and above all fame and popularity that can hardly be enjoyed by presidents. Who knows today the Somali President while everyone knows Maryan."

To the Mogadishu Islamists, Mr Sugule made this statement: "No ideology including religion could be disseminated without the role of music and arts. It is through artists that the message of religion and any other mission can be conveyed. The clerics cannot reach the people’s hearts, the way music and arts can," he said.

Others insinuated that Ms Maryan must have been intimidated by the Islamists during her stay in the Somali capital. "This is what the Islamists did to your musicians. This woman is so frightened," one Somali editor told afrol News.

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