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Sacred Sounds, Dangerous Women

Remona Aly explores the turbulent relationship between Islam and the female singing voice - with the help of the acoustic duo Pearls of Islam, who join her for a live performance.

Journalist and broadcaster Remona Aly explores the turbulent relationship between Islam and the female singing voice.

Over the course of history, Islam has had a troubled relationship with music, with some believers arguing that it should be banned. Female singers have been particularly hard hit. Despite periods of repression that have seen Muslim women banned from singing in public and performing solo in front of men, there is a rich tradition of women using music to deepen their Islamic faith.

Remona interweaves the stunning tones of the "queen of Sufi music", Abida Parveen, with the young hijabi singer-songwriter Sevval Kayhan, who wowed the X-Factor Holland judges. We hear silken Quranic recitations from Indonesia alongside Olivia Newton John's rendition of one of Islam's oldest songs - Tala'al Badru 'Alayna.

In order to find out more about the current state of affairs in Britain, Remona speaks to Sakinah Lenoir and Rabiah Abdullah who together make up the acoustic duo Pearls of Islam. The band explain that they believe the negative reactions some have to the sound of the female singing voice is due to fear. Far from trying to revolutionise Islam, the pair explain that their work refers back to the time of Prophet Muhammad who surrounded himself with vocal women, female singers and poets. Following their interview, Pearls of Islam perform their beautiful track Mercy live.

Remona concludes that, while the controversy over female singers remains within certain quarters of her faith, these female singers are far from dangerous. For Remona, the real danger lies in stripping away an avenue of spiritual expression for women whose only aim is to reach out to the divine through music.

Presenter: Remona Aly
Producer: Max O'Brien
A TBI production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Sun 9 Sep 2018 23:30

Music Played

  • Sevval Kayhan


    • Hello EP.
    • Sound Vision Studio.
  • Abida Parveen


    • Coke Studio Season 9: Sound of the Nation.
    • Mainstage Productions.
  • Sacred Sounds Women's Choir

    Tola'Al (featuring Sarah Yasseen & Renu)

    • Unreleased live recording.
  • Olivia Newton‐John

    Tala'al Badru 'Alayna (Interlude)

    • Grace and Gratitude.
    • ONJ Productions.
  • Pearls of Islam – Recorded Live for Something Understood


  • Umm Kulthum

    Amal Hayate

    • Amal Hayate - Aroh Le Men.
    • Mazzika Group.
  • Jimmy Page & Robert Plant


    • No Quarter.
    • Mercury Records.
  • Ensemble Hassaniya Rahali, Ensemble Lalla Batul Lyoubi & Ensemble Lalla Mulati

    Qaçida an-nabi - Qaçida du prophète

    • Chants sacrés des femmes de fès, Maroc.
    • Al Sur.


Title: Abida Parveen: ‘I’m not a man or a woman, I’m a vehicle for passion’                  

Author: Nosheen Iqbal         

Publisher: The Guardian       


Title: Women, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia                     

Author: Anne Rasmussen     

Publisher: University of California Press


Author:  Natalie Bergner                  



Title: In Iran, no men allowed at women’s music fest       

Author: Rachel May  

Publisher: The Christian Science Monitor


Title: Making Music in the Arab World – The Culture and Artistry of Tarab                    

Author: A. J. Racy      

Publisher: Cambridge University Press


Title: Women of Sufism: A Hidden Treasure                      

Author: Camille Adams Helminski    

Publisher: Shambhala


Today’s programme was presented by Remona Aly

The producer was Max O’Brien