Some of us are simply born talented: Allah (SWT) grants us a gift through which we excel and shine. For Katie, that talent has always been music. It was such a part of her identity, that she could never foresee a future without it. When she learned about Islam however, not only did the vision of her own future change, but so did her outlook on life.
(Hend) How important was music to your definition of yourself before you accepted Islam?
(Katie) Since I was seven years old, I had been playing clarinet and piano. I was really talented and I felt like that was what I wanted to do with my life. My clarinet was an appendage for so long. I played through high school and I got a full scholarship to study music.
When I got there, I was really excited but I wasn’t prepared for what being a music major is like. No one tells you that the lifestyle of art majors includes lots of drugs and alcohol; students and teachers alike use narcotics to get inspired. I was only 17, and I had nothing to guide me, so I lost my way. I became very sick and needed both a tonsillectomy and an adenoidectomy. My grades were of a failing standard, so I withdrew after the second semester.
When I came home, I put the clarinet away because I had nowhere to play it. I started going to community college and turned away from art. I decided to study biology because what is more removed from a life of creativity than one of science? At the community college I got the grades to go to a science and technology school. And, subhan Allah, it was at the science and technology school that I was first exposed to Islam and started researching it. I read about it online, through books, interviewed Muslim students, I even attended gatherings and halaqas. After about six months, I was assigned a Muslim roommate. I got to see how hijab affected her daily life and how she was in public as opposed to in private. The books I read by Karen Armstrong had a significant influence on me; I thought that if this non-Muslim was writing with such a respectful manner about Islam, it could only increase my respect for it. Fasting was another influential factor; I took my shahadah after the first day I fasted. Altogether, I had been researching Islam for about one year.
(Hend) How did you discover that playing music is essentially against our deen? Tell us about your struggle to remove it from your life.
(Katie) When you first convert everyone wants to tell you everything and you get conflicting opinions about everything. There were lots of things that I gave up.
It took a lot of time for me to stop playing. I felt like I needed a creative outlet, so I turned to writing. It satisfied my need for creativity because I got the appreciation from an audience. It was a problem to give up music until I found a substitute for that attention. But I don’t think you ever fully get over a passion like that. When I go home to visit, I might sing to myself or play the clarinet for a bit. I just have to be patient with myself and try not to go crazy about it. I know some people who are very strict about not listening to music at all, even to the point of telling someone beside them to turn down the music they’re listening to on headphones. It’s hard to rectify that music is evil and people can debate that all day. The only thing I feel I was guilty of was the amount of time I devoted to it; that was the problem with it. I couldn’t really be productive if I was spending hours playing clarinet. I know that what I was doing was wrong because it was taking up so much time. I feel it’s the same as, say, Facebook: it’s not inherently evil, but it if it sucks up so much of your time, that’s not good.
Music remains a fond memory…like the memory of a best friend with whom you’ve parted ways. It had been a huge part of me but it doesn’t have a place in my life like it used to. Before Islam, I thought that life was about enjoying yourself and getting what you want, but when you realise that YOUR pleasure is just that and not always something you should act on, it puts things into perspective. My goals before Islam were different, so music doesn’t fulfill the same goal that it did before. For me it’s not a super clear fiqh issue but rather trying to steer my life to a direction that is more beneficial.
(Hend) What advice would you give to someone who loves music but finds that it is such a piece of herself that she feels unable to surrender?
(Katie) I would tell her to examine why she plays music because sometimes it fulfills a need for something that we’re not aware of. For me, music fulfilled my desires for creativity, validation and attention – but you can find those in other things. If you do something, you should know why you’re doing it, what it does for you, and examine whether it should be a part of your life. I wouldn’t tell her ‘you need to stop;’ if you keep telling a person to stay clear from something, it might push her away. Being an ear for that person will encourage them to remain open with you and accept your advice. I might suggest a ‘fast’ from it and go from there. Finding a substitute or limiting the wasting of time may also help. Once people think of it logically and consider what would happen if they died tomorrow, surrendering it becomes much easier.
(Hend) How would you advise new parents to raise their children, with respect to playing music?
(Katie) If people are sheltered from music throughout their lives, that may set them up for binging or rebellion. I think it’s best to make sure that children are aware of music, and empower them to make their own decisions. It might take them longer to make the right choice, but once they do, it will actually stick. I do hope that, insha Allah, my future children will inherit my knowledge of pitch because that will benefit them in reciting Qur’an!
Subhan Allah. Perhaps Allah (SWT) blessed Katie with the talent of music to help perfect her own recitation of Qur’an, or to pass that gift to her children one day. She is a clear example of an optimist with the spirit of a mu’minah. May Allah I multiply her hasanat for every sacrifice she has endured for the sake of Allah, and may He always make it easy for us to extract the benefits from even negative situations.
Hend Hegazi is an Egyptian American freelance writer and editor with a degree in biology from Smith College. Her first novel, Normal Calm, was published in January 2014 by FB Publishing. Her second novel, Behind Picket Fences, was released in July 2016. Hend currently resides in Alexandria, Egypt with her husband and four children. To check out her books, keep updated with her writing, or contact her, please visit her website, www.hendhegazi.com.