I’ve mentioned before that I used to live in Beirut. I lived in Hamra, in an awful apartment called Residence Haddad, off of Makdessi Street. My room was on the second floor, and I learned to drown out the roar of the streets below. I usually slept through much of the day, awake for most of the night.
Religion was often the topic of conversation in a neighborhood that prided itself on its secularity. I was always quite blunt about the fact that I don’t believe in god. To my (initial) surprise, the Lebanese people couldn’t care less whether or not I was a believer. In fact, the few people who cared about my religious affiliation were atheists who were happy to make fun of Christianity and Islam with me.
Lebanon is about 1/3 Christian, 1/3 Sunni, and 1/3 Shia. The country has been plagued by sectarian violence for generations and generations. Evils in the name of Christ and Allah have found a sacred home in this Middle Eastern Mediterranean state. The shatters of religious difference fought a 15 year civil war, the effects of which can still be seen and felt. Drive to any neighborhood in Beirut, and you’ll still see bullet holes in the facades of skyscrapers.
Not only am I atheist, but in general I’m an anti-theist. That is, I’m against religion.
Yet, because I slept through the day, I was subjected to an alarm clock five times a day. The Muslim call to prayer (Adhan) is a public address that everyone can hear. You’ve heard it before, even if you’ve never been to the Middle East. Maybe you’ve heard it on TV.
The speakers that played this music were literally right outside my window. There was no escaping its decibels. They woke me up every time. But it was not a bad thing. I grew to love the music, eventually, despite it symbolizing faith in a very dangerous religion.
Despite all the dangers of Islam, I think we can agree that it is responsible for making some very beautiful music. This is actually quite true for all religions. Religion seems to have at one time held a monopoly on beautiful music, from black gospel and soul music to Irish folk hymns, I think even many anti-theists can agree that religion was responsible for one good thing. On the other hand, thankfully religion no longer holds such a monopoly. In the West, at least, blues and rock music of the ’40s and ’50s largely secularized all future vocal incarnations of the pentatonic scale.