Qasidah Unplugged with Nader Khan + Exclusive Interview
Nader Khan explores the intersections of faith and art in a night filled with music and discussion.
Anybody who came to Al Wehdah expecting to sit down quietly and simply enjoy listening to Nader Khan singing was sadly mistaken.
On his second visit to Singapore to perform, Sidi Nader started the show with a discussion on what spirituality was, encouraging an initially apprehensive audience to speak up and give their views on spirituality, and whether spirituality could exist in an outwardly sinful person, and spirituality’s relationship to art and creativity.
Armed with a MacBook, an iPad, and two drums, Sidi Nader then began the show proper with “Zikir and Blues”, getting the audience to participate in reciting the first part of the shahadah, La Ilaha Illallah, over and over again as he sang praise of God and this simple declaration of faith.
Continuing the discussion, Sidi Nader stated that art should have an emotional impact rather than simply being informational, and devotional art should have spiritual consequences as well. He elaborated further, stating that art should point out subtle realities that most people would miss.
Sounding even better in person than on record, Sidi Nader ran through a set covering a number of songs including renditions of poetry by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, “Pray my Lord and Grant Your Blessings” and “Spring’s Gift” respectively, giving them a sad, bluesy twist. He performed the title track from his 2008 album Take My Hand, explaining its origins in a story about two friends told in Imam Al-Ghazali’s Duties of Brotherhood.
On the audience’s insistence, he also previewed the sequel to “Take My Hand”, which would be featured on one of his future albums. Where ”Take My Hand” was upbeat, uplifting and assuring, its sequel was melancholy, slow and told from the point of view of a repentant but fearful sinner.
Following “Sound of Tears”; a request from several members of the audience, Sidi Nader also told the now captive audience about the call to crowdsource the funding for his upcoming two albums, getting donations from people around the world to produce the albums, and that subsequently one hundred percent of the proceeds from the sales of the album would go to charity. He talked further about how his organisation, SeekersWorks, was supporting Charitywater.org and the Mississauga Food Bank, among other charities, and that everyone who contributed to the production of the album was performing an act of sadaqah jariyah.
Closing his set with “Echoes”; an ode to the Prophet Muhammad, Sidi Nader made a special note of thanking the soundmen from Sahabat Selawat for their superb work and the humble venue more than proved itself of being up to the task of hosting the show.
Despite having an early flight the next day, Sidi Nader made time to take photographs and sign autographs for the audience and graciously agreed to an interview with Muzlimbuzz even as he was packing his equipment.
Muzlimbuzz: How did Reliefworks come under the Seekershub umbrella to become SeekersWorks?
[box_light]Nader Khan: It was a natural progression. I started Reliefworks with Sh Faraz Rabbani. This was a one o’clock in the morning idea in his office. When the album came out, I wanted it to be about more than just good music. We both wanted it to make a difference in the lives of people. So that’s where Reliefworks came from. Coming under the Seekers ‘brand’ was a natural progression for us, because we wanted a closer relationship between the knowledge and the actual work. We’d been working more closely with Imam Afroz Ali out in Australia.
As soon as we established this, because we have a partnership with him as well, his centre was called the Al Ghazzali Centre and he renamed the whole thing Seekershub Sydney.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: Tell me more about your relationship with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani and your association with SeekersGuidance and SeekersHub.
[box_light]Nader Khan: Shaykh Faraz and I went to university together, he’s my best friend. I consider him as my best friend, he probably considers me as a test from Allah. He’s been putting up with my friendship since 1994, so make du’a for Allah to give him more patience. (laughs) So Shaykh Faraz and I we go back a long time, we were students together, we were doing Islamic work in Toronto together, then he left for Syria to study the deen, and Jordan and later he moved back. I had gone to the Middle East as well to work.
So when I moved back to Toronto, he had just started his company Seekersguidance. So I initially worked with him a little bit and there was a loose association between what I was doing and what he was doing. It had to come together. That’s just the nature of our relationship. If I don’t have my act together, he will bonk me on the head with something and tell me to get up and move it. So, Alhamdulillah.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: You mentioned bringing more artistes on board for SeekersWork. There’s a whole industry of Christian recording artistes. Insha Allah, the aims of Muslim artistes are higher, to link creativity and spirituality. How do we avoid turning it into an industry where your aim is to make the next record and the next record, rather than talking about spiritual things and bring people closer to Islam?
[box_light]Nader Khan: There are people in the Christian music industry who are more conscious about causes and they are actually doing things about them. Technically there isn’t anything wrong about being just concerned about your next record, but that will show you what kind of a person you are. My call, the call that I’m answering to, and perhaps that I’m sharing with others, is of a very specific kind. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody should conform to what I’m doing. Other people are doing it too, and insha Allah they’re doing a better job as well.
But with regards to focusing on something bigger than your own music, if you’re doing devotional art of any kind, you must have a devotional path of your own. If you’re not travelling anywhere, fat chance you’re going to be able to help anybody else travel. If you’re not filling up your own jug with water, you have no water to give to anybody else.
So devotional artistes of any kind, whether they’re painters, photographers, calligraphers, singers, poets, or of any other kinds, for them to be effective as devotional artistes, they need to have their own path that they’re traveling, or at least keep the company of other people who are traveling the path, because company rubs off on you. So that’s the advice that I give myself, and that I share with others that insha Allah will benefit them.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: I know you were just in Kuala Lumpur for the Creativity and Spiritual Path conference and you’ve been a regular fixture for the past few years.
[box_light]Nader Khan: Alhamdulillah I’ve been at four of the six ones.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: How do you find it? Do you find it inspirational to be among like-minded individuals, very creative and very spiritual people?
[box_light]Nader Khan: I find it to be an incredibly intense learning experience when I’m with them, because there is so much to learn. Because when we meet, even when we’re not in the CSP context, when we meet as friends, Peter Gould is an old friend of mine and Sister Khadija is also somebody I’ve known for a while now and whenever we meet, whenever we talk, whenever we connect, I’m learning so much from these people because the nature of creativity is you build on what you already have by adding other people’s work you sort of amalgamate these other knowledges and create connections you never knew existed. For me, it’s an intense learning experience being with these people. Insha Allah there’re more CSPs to come, and insha Allah we’ll find you at one of them.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: What do you think of the opinion that music is haram or at least something to be avoided, when one is on the path, when one is trying to practice Islam? People like Shaykh Nuh Keller for example hold this view. So what do you think of that and how do you relate it to yourself?
[box_light]Nader Khan: I myself am a murid of Shaykh Nuh Keller. According to what I have learned from his student, Shaykh Amjad Rasheed, who is a Palestinian scholar who teaches in Yemen and who is one of Shaykh Nuh’s leading students, so whatever I do, any of the music I produce, is completely in line with what Shaykh Amjad Rasheed told me. But that is something I can only hold myself to account, because given the fact that historically there has never been ijma on the permissibility or impermissibility of instrument usage, because there has never been consensus on it, anybody following one opinion cannot condemn anybody else following a different opinion. This is the nature of disagreement in Islamic law.
What we can do, if we are following a more conservative opinion for ourselves, that is our choice for ourselves, we cannot tell other people to do anything else. So if somebody is following a more permissive opinion, that is his business. The fact remains that there has never been ijma on the issue, and so there’s quite a bit of leeway, and to be quite honest with you there are much bigger issues that need to be addressed. It has to be said that musical expression is perhaps one of the most raw expressions of the nafs, so each of one of us must be personally aware what we’re putting in our souls, what we are allowing our souls to be exposed to.
We are affected by the books we read. If the book is written by an arrogant person, we will find that arrogance in ourselves. And the music we listen to, so every single person is self-aware enough to understand the choices they make and their consequences. So if you’re going to be listening to satanic death metal music, and you’re giving yourself a rukhsa saying it’s okay, music is allowed, who are you kidding? So that is a different matter.[/box_light]
Muzlimbuzz: Let’s take what is probably a 180 turn from the previous question. Who are your creative influences, musically speaking? Islamic or otherwise?
[box_light]Nader Khan: I can honestly say that I have been influenced by every single artiste I have come across, whether as a positive influence or a negative influence. For example, if they’re doing a horrible job, they’re teaching me what to avoid. If they’re doing a really good job, then they’re teaching what to implement. That is how I have always seen artistic influences. There have been many artistes who have taught me what to avoid.[/box_light] [divider]
Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah
Ahmad Zhaki holds a degree in English Literature from the University of London. He is a full-time executive at a local training institute and a part-time writer.