I Begin this talk by telling you a story, that of a Spaniard who was living in the Moroccan city of Tangiers. One day he came to see the president of the local Council of Ulemas and said to him: “I feel attracted to your religion. I would have embraced it already but for one thing which disturbs me.”
“What is it?” asked the ‘Alim.
“I am a musician by profession,” answered the Spaniard, “and Islam forbids music.”
“Who told you that?” retorted the ‘Alim angrily. The would-be convert didn’t reply, which he would have done nowadays, as I hear it in the news; he simply pulled out of his pocket a sheet of paper and gave it to the man of religion who read it and understood everything. It was an ad for a book recently published by a local professor. The ‘Alim began to explain patiently that the book was five centuries old and that it was about a theological controversy known as the Sama’ Dispute over the way the Koran should be read in public. What was forbidden, at least in the eyes of some clerics, was to sing the words of the Holy message because the listener would be more interested in the music than in the meaning. But it was soon clear for the ‘Alim that he was speaking for nothing. His visitor had read in the article exactly what he was hoping to find, an Islam more rigorous, stern, severe than his own religion. Otherwise his conversion would be pointless. The kind of Islam the ‘Alim was offering him, simple, moderate, conciliatory, Jesuitical in a word, wasn’t the real thing.