The German-born Hülya Kandemir was a successful singer and songwriter, collaborating with major stars. Then she found Islam and wrote her autobiography "Himmelstochter" ("Daughter of Heaven"). Now she is experiencing a comeback. Nimet Seker spoke with her about art and music in Islam
Some Muslims believe that Islam prohibits music. What do you say to that?
Hülya Kandemir: That is absolutely unacceptable for me. In recent years I have intensively explored the issue of music and Islam. God is the greatest artist, Allah loves beauty. Above all, Islam is a religion of the center. God does not want to make things difficult for people, on the contrary. Many Muslims tend to go to extremes and worry about things that are actually unimportant. They forget the important things about faith and only look for prohibitions. They point fingers. In my opinion that is completely un-Islamic. For me, Islam is the opposite: it is mercy, love, openness, and above all the lack of compulsions, even in faith. Islam gives people the freedom to go their way. There are many Hadiths that speak in favor of music.
Many Muslims repeatedly emphasize that a woman's voice is forbidden for men's ears. What do you say to them, as a Muslim woman singer?
Kandemir: In the days of the prophet there were women who rejoiced when the prophet visited their tribe, who sang songs for him and showed their love for him by singing. At the time singing was something completely natural, because it was part of language. Many things were expressed musically, but that has been forgotten today. At that time there were even slaves who sang professionally. The prophet's followers made sure that these women got their money, and they listened to these singers. Some of the prophet's wives were military commanders and teachers; they had a great deal of influence over the people around them. That is impossible without speech. The prophet's first wife was a successful businesswoman. Those were not women who were shut away. That is why I do not understand where these perceptions come from.
Why do Muslims see things differently today?
Kandemir: Islam has become split; there are so many different directions, and there are directions that tend to take people away from the truth. For me there are many more enemies of Islam among Muslims than outside. In my opinion, Muslims hurt one another the most. I do not want to name any groups by name, but there are many that are constantly pointing to haram (prohibition) and bid'a (bad innovation) and thus blocking access to God's mercy.
After taking a break from music, you have started writing songs and performing again. Is there a difference in the music you are doing now?
Kandemir: No. My music was always inspired by God. Strangely enough, I cannot do it any differently. I never experienced as much enjoyment playing the other songs I have composed. God has always been my inspiration, and it has always been my need to express my love for God. For me, love is the biggest theme in my songs. Another theme is the ego. My themes have a lot to do with belief and with the inner struggle we all have to fight.
Is there an Islamic art scene in Germany?
Kandemir: It is in the process of emerging. Last year the Kreativwerk was founded to represent Islamic art. It held a creative competition called "Show Me the Prophet". That was really unique and wonderful. The Kreativwerk tries its best to address Muslims, but it has a hard time. Among Muslims the consciousness for art has regressed severely. Islamic art used to be unique; Muslims produced a lot of art. But various groupings within Islam have done a terrible thing by robbing people of their consciousness for art and aesthetics and convincing them that creating art is haram.
Is that why Muslim artists need to assert themselves again?
Kandemir: Above all they need to free themselves, allow themselves to make art. As a practicing Muslim, you want to do everything right. If you have no knowledge of Islam yourself, it is easy to become misled by other people, and it takes time to gain this knowledge.
Interview: Nimet Seker
© Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Isabel Cole