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one song, many traditions

March 12, 2010

The nasheed (religious song or hymn) “Tala‘ al-Badru ‘Alaynā” (طلع البدر علينا) has a long history. According to Islamic tradition, the song was first sung to welcome the Prophet Muhammad when he and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina. Fourteen centuries later, it remains popular in Muslim communities around the globe–and new recordings mix the traditional Arabic song with synthesizers, rock and R&B sounds, and new or multilingual verses. The versions of the song below illuminate the diversity of contemporary Muslim music, tracing the migration of a single song through several different regions and genres, and highlighting different interpretations of what Islamic music should be.

First, a simple, short version with voice and drums–some conservative Muslims believe that voice and percussion are the only halal (religiously permitted) instruments:

Yusuf Islam‘s popular rendition of the song alternates between the Arabic lyrics and an English translation:

This unusual version, by African-American hiphop and R&B group Native Deen (who avoid string and wind instruments, but use synthesized percussion and sounds) features new, original lyrics that contextualize the story told in the song:

In this live recording, British singer Sami Yusuf–a superstar on the Muslim music scene–performs the song on violin, accompanied by choir and drums. Like many Muslim musicians, past and present, Yusuf uses a wide range of instruments in religious music:

The American Muslim band Raef has recorded a version of the song (based on Yusuf Islam’s) that provoked both controversy and applause for its fusion of rock & roll instrumentation (based on the Young Marble Giants) with the traditional lyrics:

Tala‘ al-Badru ‘Alaynā is often learned by children studying the nasheed repertoire and the recitation of the Qur’an–as in this a capella rendition by Mizanur Hussain, a talented young student from the UK:

And there are hundreds more–including a TV performance by Turkish arabesk singers Mine Koşan and İbrahim Tatlises, an Urdu version sung by a girls’ choir, a rendition accompanied with acoustic guitar (and whistling) from an Egyptian singer, a performance at a mehfil in Hyderabad, India, and even a recording by Olivia Newton-John.

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