While much ink has been spilled by musicologists on the legal standing of music in Islamic jurisprudential scholarship, few scholars have offered as comprehensive a view as Lois Ibsen Al-Faruqi. Thirty-five years after her major works on this issue, this article seeks to reassess her model of musical legitimacy within Muslim scholarship. Al-Faruqi places Qur’ānic recitation at the apex of a unidirectional continuum of sound art, with genres less similar to the recitation of the Qur’ān located progressively further away from it. Based on fieldwork in the Sultanate of Oman in 2015-17 and engaging with recent reinvigorations on the anthropological study of value, I present three connected claims. First, rather than criticizing or overturning Al-Faruqi’s thesis, I build on it by teasing out a latent Dumontian premise: while similarity to Qur’ānic recitation is the “cardinal value” of the Qur’ānic hierarchy, on other, conceptually “lower” levels, other contradictory logics of valuation may operate. Second, I argue that the latent value dimension of practicality, which is commonly articulated by Muslim scholars but little commented upon by musicologists, helps to explain why practices as diverse as occupational, life-cycle, and military music are Islamically licit while bearing no formal similarity to recitation. Finally, I closely examine a recent work of Ibāḍī legal scholarship that deals precisely with music in order to showcase how practicality and the necessities of warfare—particularly in the Omani case—have intersected with concerns over the legality of useful music. By breaking apart Al-Faruqi’s model and proposing my own relational-hierarchical model, I highlight divergent lower value dimensions that are ultimately encompassed by the value of the recited Qur’ān.

Author Biography

Bradford Garvey holds the Joseph E. and Grace W. Valentine Visiting Assistant Professorship in the Music Department of Amherst College. A graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center ethnomusicology program, his dissertation work, Poems to Open Palms, is a study of praise poetry, statecraft, and moral economies in the Sultanate of Oman. It tracks a praise/exchange cycle as a mode of political legitimation within an incredibly popular authoritarian regime and argues that praise singing has operated as a crucial node in a broader political economy of distribution. His work was funded through a Wenner-Gren Dissertation Fieldwork grant. He has ongoing interests in economic ethnomusicology, value studies, the Persian Gulf, dance, diagrams, and relational approaches to musical scholarship.

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