How an Age-Old Art Form of Nasheeds – Vocal-Only Islamic Songs – is Gaining Popularity Around the World


‘Allah and His Beloved’ by British-Pakistani artist Nasheed Omar Esa has racked up millions of views and claimed fame third place last year on the iTunes UK music store chart. The continued success of the former R&B singer Esa’s new album comes less than four years after he made global headlines by hitting the number a spot on iTunes world charts with his album My Muslim family.

In an interview with Asian picture, the UK’s leading Asian news site, Omar Esa said: “My friend introduced me to nasheeds, which are vocal-only Islamic songs. I sang my first nasheed at the end of 2011. My motivation is to provide Muslims with a halal substitute for music that can also be enjoyed. The tracks are upbeat, uplifting and spiritual.

Its slogan is “all that music can do, so can the voice – my voice is my instrument”. Over the past few years, it has managed to compete with extremely talented musicians and come up with alternative music.

Nasheed is an Arabic word for ‘songs’. It is a work of vocal music. They are moral and religious recitations, recited in various melodies with/without musical instruments. Some nasheed groups use percussion instruments, such as the daff. The material and lyrics of a nasheed usually refer to Islamic beliefs, history and religion.

The Nasheeds have transformed over the years. Many modern nasheed performers are non-Arab and sing in different languages. Nasheed can be easily found in English, Malay, Urdu or Turkish. They captivate people with their unique vocal virtuosity and lyrical exploration of devotional poetry.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from worldly affairs and engage more in religion by reciting the Quran and replacing music with nasheeds, which has been one of the reasons for their growing popularity. .

Among the many other successful nasheed artists in this genre are Maher Zain, a Swedish nasheed artist who is one of the biggest names in the Islamic music genre; Sami Yousuf, British singer and instrumentalist; South African Zain Bhikha; Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens), known internationally as the one who first sang Islamic songs in English. The list continues. Nasheed artists attract Muslim audiences around the world and perform at Islamic-oriented festivals (such as Mawlid), conferences, concerts and performances.

Ruchika Mishra, a music lover, says, “I often listen to ‘Asma-ul-Husna’ by Atif Aslam. I didn’t know it was a nasheed until now. After a chaotic and exhausting day, I turn to nasheeds and qawwali for solace and tranquility.

Juned Mehmood Khan, a B.Ed student at Jamia Millia Islamia, says, “Nasheeds are quite different from songs because they don’t require music. Listeners and reciters feel complete even without any background music. Personally, listening to it, I feel connected to the higher power. I also run a Youtube channel where I upload my self-composed nasheed.

In South Asia, nasheeds are very popular in the form of Hamd and Naat, which involve lyrics praising God and the Prophet respectively. It explores a form of acoustic splendor taking listeners on a spiritual journey.

A scene from Mustafa Jaan e Rehmat by Atif Aslam. Photo: Screenshot via YouTube/Atif Aslam.

“Even if I don’t understand the lyrics, it still affects me. It puts my heart at ease. I listen to Atif Aslam’s ‘Mustafa Jaan e Rehmat’ on repeat whenever I feel down. Listening to it, I feel like there is hope, there is a lot more to life and things will get back to normal. I now remember the lyrics by heart. They resonate with listeners of all faiths. It is because the idea is to seek the divine power which is all-powerful and all-knowing,” says Vyom Priya, a masters student at Allahabad University.

For many years Muslims, who yearned for an alternative to the spiritually devoid content of popular traditional music, nasheeds opened the doors for the emergence of a new entrant into the contemporary music industry. This created a niche category that has been successfully used/occupied by nasheed artists.

The ease of access and availability of the Internet has increased the global reach of content. The number of music streaming apps has exploded and provided a viable monetization model for independent artists. These apps allow artists to publicize their content, release their tracks, and interact directly with their listeners.

With the advent of multiple music streaming platforms such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora and others, more and more possibilities are opening up for artists. Trends and consumption patterns in the industry are changing rapidly. These platforms allow diverse and emerging artists to reach a wider audience, opening up a wide range of opportunities for artists.

This easy access and reach has helped many nasheed artists stand out in this genre. While every industry undergoes change, the world of music seems to change drastically every few decades. Keep in mind that in ten, twenty, even thirty years, things could be completely different.

Khansa Juned is freelance journalist and studying convergent journalism at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

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