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Middle Eastern Music

Middle Eastern Music

All of the world's peoples have culturally specific music, which fulfills personal, spiritual and community functions. In the Middle East, music also serves as a religious link between Islamic people and traditions in the fluidly defined geographic, cultural and linguistic region. The nations included by the term "Middle East" vary, according to whether the subject at hand is language, politics or culture. When the subject is Middle Eastern music, as it is here, it is generally understood to be synonymous with the music of the Islamic culture, that cultural and geographic region unified by the spread of Islam since the 7th century AD.

Within the region, there are many ethnic groups that are neither Arabic-speaking nor Islamic and who have their own music.

  • The Bedouins and pre-Islamic Moroccan Amazgh (Berber) people
  • Coptic Christians in Lebanon and Syria also have religious music traditions that are significantly different from those of Islam, despite their presence in Middle Eastern nations.
  • Some classical Jewish ceremonial music is allied with the Moroccan Muslim Arab musical tradition (Shiloah, Language)
  • Turkish sema music of the Sufi Muslims is dissimilar to both Islamic music and to Jewish classical music.

Because the region is so diverse, unless otherwise specified, the music of Islam (Middle Eastern music) in this paper will refer to that music which is evident closest to the center of Islam, in the Arabic, Turkish or Persian-speaking Middle Eastern countries of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey. Specific genres of Middle Eastern music, such as pre-Islamic camel driver songs or Bedouin music will not be included in this limited overview of Middle Eastern music, which will examine music that originated in, and has a continued relationship with, Islamic culture.

Following the death of the Muslim prophet Mohammed in 632 AD, Islam spread throughout the Middle East in a series of conquests that created a great Arab empire which encompassed Central Asia, North Africa, Andalusia, and the Gulf regions in what are now the nations of Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sicily, Spain, Syria. Cordova, Spain was made the capital of the western empire in 756 AD, and Baghdad, Iraq became the cultural and administrative capital of the eastern empire in 762 AD. These great intellectual and cultural centers supported the blossoming of Islamic music under various caliphs' courts until 1258, when Baghdad was destroyed by Mongols.

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