I remembered what Sheikh Hassan al-Attar said, as attributed to him, when he was asked about Sharia’s ruling regarding listening to music. He said “That who is not touched by the birds singing on the trees and fine poems recited along with music is a thick-skinned stupid one”. Sheikh Hassan al-Attar –for those who don’t know him or who know but turn their backs to the man’s history– was the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar from 1830 to 1835. Also, he was the one with the plan to modernize and reform Al-Azhar; such attempt that strict traditional Sheikhs resisted him for, and so al-Attar convinced then-ruler Muhammed Ali Pasha of launching reform by dispatching delegations and establishing modern schools.
While avidly listening to and thoroughly enjoying Saint Joseph’s chorus chanting more than twenty hymns in beautiful voices by more than hundred young women and men, boys, girls and children with age ranging from 4 up to above 30 accompanied by stringed, wind and percussion musical instruments, I remembered the man. Meanwhile, Father Monk Botros Danial, the one with the enlightening notable contributions in music composing, distribution, playing, orchestrating and in cinema as well, was playing on the piano.
In the middle between every hymn and the one following, I used to whisper to the intellectual media anchor and ex-minister of information Dorria Sharaf ed-Din I was honored to sit next to saying: for God’s sake, can anyone of those ever think of hurting God’s creatures, whether humans, animals or plants, not to mention that it’s impossible to become a terrorist?
That was in the church of Saint Joseph in the very heart of Cairo, a worship place very rich in architecture and human simplicity. The audience was large; however, listening to melodies, recitation and singing was like listening to a sermon and taking part in a prayer.
My mind also wandered away remembering the bunch of turbaned men who captivated our minds by reciting Quran and chanting supplications and Callings for prayers in their beautiful voices. They also had long history in composing music; the thing that cultivated the greatest voice talents and made them, women and men, prominent figures in Egypt’s soft power.
I got lost in my thoughts about the strong connection, historically and scientifically proved, between hymns of ancient Egypt and that of Christian Egypt, and how the impressive wonderful performance of people like Sheikh Muhammed Refa’at, Sheikh Nada, Mostafa Ismail, Abdel-Baset Abdel-Samad, al-Banna, al-Tablawi, an-Naqshabandi, Ali Mahmoud, Nasr ed-Din Tubar and tens others like them has deep-rooted origins in ancient and Christian Egypt; those origins all connected by Sufism in different forms throughout those eras. I also remembered what I witnessed myself with reciters in Mawaled of revered Muslim figures and others of Mary the virgin and Christian saints where melodies and performance match in both of them. Therefore, one can say that artist Intesar Abdel-Fattah’s distinguished talent was in the perfect blending between this and that and other things related to other religions in an integrated process of playing and reciting as well.
I used to look at the angelic faces of children not exceeding 4 or 5 years old, females and males, while they were enthusiastically singing. The adult singers too had the same enthusiasm and smiling faces. There would have been nothing of this if it wasn’t for the complete harmony inside those pure souls; harmony with beautiful humane values like value of gaining knowledge, value of tasting music and playing melodies, value of having beautiful architecture in a worship house of God, also the kind spirit and benevolence represented in having clergymen composing, playing, talking, complementing and welcoming every single human in general regardless of his color, race, religion, doctrine or gender.
At this point, like one struck by a disaster, we ask ourselves: what happened? When did this disaster that we live in started? And how did we let it continue?
I, and millions others, who did not have the chance to join the schools of Jesuit, Franciscan, Dominican or other schools that may not accept people like us, used to have two consecutive sessions of learning music. We also had sessions teaching us drawing, manual crafts and planting. For example, in Ain Shams University, where I studied, graduated and worked, we used to have highly-distinguished music bands, also other groups for acting, folklore dancing, scouting, trips and others. Out of those students’ groups came remarkable stars in fields of composing, singing, acting, directing, and writing and composition.
Where has all that gone? how have we let it go? How did it come that we left the doors, first ajar, then open, and finally wide open for scowling, ugliness, violence, killing, ignorance, unprofessionalism and communicable psycho-social diseases to come into our life?
I could be wrong, exaggerating or biased, but I believe I have the lead to the answer; open files of Othman Ahmed Othman, Muhammed Othman Ismail, Tawfiq Oweida, Kamal Abou El-Magd, Ashraf Marwan, also file of Sadat… stop and take a thorough look at the pages concerning Islamist groups in the Egyptian universities starting from 1972 and afterwards reconciliation with muslim brotherhood and letting the Salafists loose in the society… open those files for perhaps you may find those people not guilty or you know what they did and still is hidden until this moment.
Salute to Franciscan Fathers and their comprehensive enlightening role in education, art and serving the poor… and special salute to Father Botros Danial.
Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar
This article was published in Al Ahram newspaper on December 21, 2017.
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