As a consequence of the extensiveness of the Islamic world, its music and instruments were both an influence and influenced by the different cultures it met. There was no prohibition against music in the Holy Qur’an, indeed the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) himself had music at his wedding, as did his daughter at a later date. It was only some of the more austere legalists who at various periods tried to outlaw music. For the most part, their condemnation was unsuccessful and many of the great philosophers such as El-Fatabi, El-Kindi and Ibn Sina wrote at length on musical theory. They studied it in depth and so encouraged the making of it. Perhaps over the centuries the classical music of Islam lost some of its strength, but folk music never did and to this day shows a vigour and vitality leaving the impression that Islamic peoples have kept a strong faith with their identity as Muslim people.
Classical music came into being around the 8th century AD in the courts of Damascus, Baghdad, Al Medina and other centres. As these cities were spiritual centres as well as artistic ones. Singers and musicians from all over the Islamic world were attracted to them. With them came the musical traditions that owed much to Byzantium and Persia. Gradually the various traditions combined and evolved, as did the arts, into a discernible Islamic style. From this developed what is generally considered the Golden age of music which lasted until the late 15th century AD when Muslim Spain was conquered. After the loss of Al Andalus, classical music was considered to have declined, with most of the libraries and manuscripts having been destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. The rise of the Ottoman Empire (AD 1453 – 1926) inspired somewhat of a revival and classical music has survived to this day.
The Tareq Rajab Museum houses a range of instruments from across the Islamic world from the 18th,19th and 20th century AD. The collection includes a variety of the three main instruments of classical music; ‘El Oud‘ (the lute), ‘El Qanun‘ (the zither) and ‘El Ney‘ (the flute). Other instruments include drums, fiddles and tambourines. One particular instrument of note within the collection, is a beautiful North Indian ivory ‘Sarinda‘ dated to roughly AD 1800.
A notable example of the instruments housed in the museum
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