Controversy ripened in Saudi Arabia recently after the famous Saudi singer Mohamed Abdo recited a religious poem by Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni entitled ‘There is no god but Allah,’ [La illah illa Allah]. What’s strange about the controversy is that it emerged from two opposing sides; on one hand, one side believes singing is Haram, i.e. prohibited in Islam, and therefore believes that the recital by Mohamed Abdo of Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni’s poem was too much. On the other hand, the other side does not believe that singing is prohibited in Islam but says that the piece was weak. What further complicated matters was Sheikh Aaidh’s response to those who criticized his poem; he said that the critics do not understand poetry just like those who sell sunflower seeds on the street. Consequently, the controversy was no longer about singing or not singing, or about the poem itself, but about mocking sunflower seed sellers.
However, Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni settled the controversy by writing a beautiful poem in which he apologizes to sunflower seed sellers and followed it up with an explanation on this issue and the circumstances surrounding it. But it is clear that the core of the matter, in all this controversy, is Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni himself, not his poem or his response to those who criticized his poem.
If the issue was about the poem itself then there is already a great deal that is said about poetry and there are many poets who can’t even be described as half poets even if some of them are distinguished. Moreover, the poem ‘There is no god but Allah,’ was beautiful and enjoyable after completion, i.e. the piece, the melody and the voice, and most importantly it reached a large number of people of different ages and of varying educational levels and social classes and it touched them in different ways.
When I called Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni to congratulate him on his work and after we spoke about it for a while, the Sheikh said, “We’re suffering from divisions that have split our society unjustifiably; we are all Muslims.” This is what distinguishes the recital, but if the intention from the current debate is to talk about the Sheikh’s comments on sunflower seed vendors then, as we have mentioned before, the Sheikh apologized sincerely. If he was acting as if he had support and did not care then he would not have apologized, especially as others have said far worse and have endangered people with religious rulings that have brought us nothing but misfortune, and yet we have never heard them say they’re sorry.
Some might ask if I am defending Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni. The answer is yes! I have disagreed with Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni in the past on major issues, and we will probably disagree again in the future if necessary. But if truth be told, Sheikh Aaidh al Qarni has a good heart and is very tolerant. Today he has a presence in consolidating [the concepts of] tolerance and openness, as he is a man who does not call for darkness and hatred of life, and for branding so-and-so a non-believer and so-and-so immoral. Rather, he calls for tolerance and dialogue, both of which we are in dire need of today.
The poem entitled ‘There is no god but Allah’ contributes in this regard; it is like a heavy stone that has been thrown into stagnant water. It is beautiful to hear religious recitals in this language by a man of such status as Sheikh Aaidh and in the voice of an artist like Mohamed Abdo, who excelled in reciting the beginning of the poem:
There is no god but Allah, I begin with this truth,
Words from the hidden world through which your Lord travels,
There is no god but Allah, these words that break through rock, through solidity,
Ahmad, the Chosen One for eternity, said these words before us.