Across time and space, Islamic ritual practices maintain certain fixed features while adapting to local environments, thereby developing a branching or ramified structure—though political, economic, ideological, or technological factors may cause certain local forms to globalize as well. Such ramification offers a means of interpreting the past as well as a window into religious meaning and the ritual process itself. How does such adaptation take place, what drives it, what is its social-spiritual meaning and impact, what can such a ramified variety across history and place tell us, and where does the essence of such ritual lie? In this paper I argue that just as Islam centers on language, Islamic ritual practice centers on “language performance”, whose variegated forms and meanings are intertextually linked via common roots in sacred originary texts. Islamic language performance should not be conceived as lying on a continuum from “speech” to “song”—a distinction which obscures rather than illuminates—but rather as an integral category embracing an enormous range (from sermons to chants) of forms, whose critical internal distinction is rather linguistic/paralinguistic, or reference/expression. Within this domain, it is primarily paralinguistic features that adapt, shaped through feedback processes. By contrast, the scope of linguistic ramification is constrained. This paper proceeds to explore the significance of language performance in Islam, both in theory and in practice—through the presentation of contrastive examples in three primary domains of language performance: the call to prayer (adhan), Qur’anic recitation (tilawa), and congregational supplication (du`a’). These examples shed light on the distribution and meaning of diverse Islamic ritual practices, on their interconnections, and on the processes by which they emerge.

Author Biography

Michael Frishkopf, Professor of Music at the University of Alberta, is an ethnomusicologist, performer, and composer. A graduate of Yale College (BS Mathematics, 1984), Tufts University (MA Ethnomusicology, 1989), and the University of California, Los Angeles (Ph.D. Music, 1999), Dr. Frishkopf’s ethnomusicological research interests include music of the Arab world; Sufi music; sound in Islamic ritual performance; music and religion; comparative music theory; the sociology of musical taste; social network analysis; (virtual [world) music]; digital music repositories; deep learning for sound recognition and music information retrieval; music in West Africa; participatory action research; psychoacoustics and music cognition; music and global health; indigenous medicine and music as medicine for integrative health; and music for global human development and social change.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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