Abu Rateb & Fayrouz: an Unlikely Duet for Palestine

Originally posted on Sunday, January 29, 2012

Shadi:

Teacher, Teacher, asked the bewildered child Shadi…
 Teacher Teacher, where is my country?
 I hear them speak…about my home…my absent country
 About our vineyards and olives…
 And birds the intruder expelled…
 Every one of my friends speaks of a country he loves…
 My absent country fills my heart…
 But meet it, I do not….”

Teacher:

Despair not…for the path is long…But we tire not…

And although today you find yourself distant…

By Haifa you will be tomorrow…

You will grow up one day, Shadi…

To embrace the land of Palestine…

And see the armies of justice…

Surrounding Al Aqsa, united.”

If “the role of songs has not been integrated into the political analysis of colonial or anticolonial nationalisms” as Joseph Massad puts it, then the role of the Islamic nasheed (Islamic acapella) has been relatively nonexistent in the study of nationalism especially when discussing the creation of popular conscience in the Arab-Muslim context surrounding Palestine.

In the nasheed lyrics above, Shadi is a symbol for every Palestinian child in the diaspora stripped of his homeland. This popular nasheed widely distributed in the late eighties early nineties would, more than a decade later become the inspiration for the popular Ummi Felesteen (My Mother, Palestine) nasheed by Kuwaiti munshed (performer) Humood Al Khudr written by popular Egyptian cleric Sheikh Yusuf Qaradhawi and it’s sequel Ummi Felesteen 2 which follows a conversation between another symbolic Palestinian child, Hani and his teacher.

Hani:

 “Uncle, I am a lifeless twig…

Torn, by treachery, from my roots and branches…

I have lost my soul, my mother, and my beloved father..

I have lost my family, my kinsfolk and my neighbors

Teacher

 “I wiped the tears of the weeping child and told him…

I have heard you…so take my thoughts and my being…

My son, your wound, in my heart, it bleeds…

Have mercy on your childhood…what plagues you…plagues me…

Despair not, if you live, after your family, a loner…

For we are all to you, that caring father…

And all our wives are a mother possessing fervor…

To sacrifice her soul…before her body…”

Hani exhales and declares…

 “Yes! I am in my land and with my family…
 Uncle, you have renewed my confidence and enthusiasm…
 Give me your right hand to kiss in thanks…
 Mother Palestine, fear not and give up not,
 We will sacrifice for you, the old and the young!”

Nasheeds have long been an outlet to express frustrations with and resistance to the occupation of Palestine, often reflecting, just as their musical counterparts do (Fayrouz, Marcel, Um Kalthoum, Sheikh Imam etc) a trajectory of historical events and reacting to them, from a strictly Muslim lens. What is interesting in the nasheed phenomenon is that it remains consistent in its stance on Palestine regardless of the moment in history or the political / religious inclinations of the Arab regimes.

Lament is, unlike in revolutionary music, always accompanied by a promise of return, by hook or by crook. The Shadi song is amongst an entire collection of nasheeds emerging in the eighties in conjunction with the emergence of US & Saudi backed Muslim Brotherhood jihad movement in Afghanistan against the USSR. Partaking in the Arab jihad movement in Afghanistan were Muslim Brotherhood members from across the Arab world (Saudi, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria etc) – key to this was none other than Palestinian MB leader, Abdulla Yusuf Azzam – an alleged founding member of Hamas. Azzam’s influence in the backing of the jihad movement across the Arab world would be paralleled by a wave of powerful “revolutionary” nasheed songs promising the reclamation of Palestine, Jerusalem, Al Aqsa distributed by the now widely-available audio cassette tape medium and played extensively across the Arab world. Key to this genre was Syrian munshed Mohammed Mustafa Masfaqa aka. Abu Rateb who performed songs like Ya Filisteen Aldarr (Palestine of Home), Haifa wa Al Quds (Haifa and Jerusalem), Arda Al Israa (Land of The Isra and Miraj referring to the Prophet Mohammed’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem) and Wallah ma Nseena (We Swear We Have not Forgotten) Performed at the The Intifada Nasheed Festival, Abu Rateb performed one of his most famous revolutionary nasheeds “Zionist, you are not

Zionist, you are not, stronger than Chosroes (Khosrou) or Caesar…

You are lower, you are smaller…you are made from the body parts of Khayber (referring to the Battle of Khaybar close to Medina)…

So go ahead, own what you shall in land…go! Hector and intimidate!

 For every span (of land) atop it you shall be slain…
 And borrow what you will of injustice…be arrogant and harass…
 The more you borrow, the more our love for the land shall grow..
 Oh sons of Zion, patience…we vow to avenge…
 For as long as you remain frivolous…
 The Lions of religion (Islam) shall roar…
 Oh mountains of Jerusalem…we promise…
 All my lands shall be purified…
 When God’s victory shall come…
 For it is a debt that shan’t be delayed..

The nasheeds of the late eighties and the early nineties popularized by the US-backed jihad movement in Afghanistan, ran in parallel to the revolutionary songs of Al Firqa Al Markaziya and AbdulWahhab, while standing in contrast to the Marxist influenced PLO equally told the story of another vision of “revolution”. The consistency of the promise of liberation in the nasheed not only stands the test of time and political control, but also language. This is evident in the contemporary English language nasheeds by performers like Outlandish and Zain Bikha in song his Freedom Will Come:

“I’ve been to the holy land,
A place cherished by children of Abraham
But this bloodshed and carnage, don’t understand
Son raise your head, find the star in the night sky
Freedom will come Palestine, we hear it worldwide”

 What does it mean that even after the ‘secularization’ of Gulf states in the 2000s that these same nasheeds continue to be created, written, produced and distributed on mainstream media which has a sizable share of Pan-Arab television market? On channels like Al Risala, 4Shabab, Al Afasi, Noor Dubai lamenting nasheeds declaring promises of liberation and return are performed by Arab Muslim munsheds like Kuwaiti Fahad Al Kubaisi with his Ahin Filisteen (Oh Palestine). What does it mean for them to continue to be used and juxtaposed with that very same footage of the Palestinian exodus, the intifadas and the Gaza war on YouTube the world over?

Perhaps a closer reading of Palestine-themed nasheeds would offer much needed insight, just as Massad’s trajectory of Liberating Songs and add yet another layer to a matter of already overwhelming complexity.

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