Movie Review: No One Knows About Persian Cats

I wanted to see No One Knows About Persian Cats (trailer here) because I’m curious about everyday life in Iran. The movie delivers some of that, but what it excels at is showing us Iran’s underground music scene.

As with most things, Iranian officials are very restrictive about what music can be played, who can sing (females are not allowed to sing solo), even what instruments are used. You can only play publicly¬† in Iran if you get a special permit and of course you won’t get a permit if you don’t stay within the boundaries. Anything that smacks of the “decadent West” won’t get approved and might even get you put into prison.

That poses a problem for the musicians in Persian Cats because they want to play everything from indie rock to rap. In fact, one of the things that most surprised me in this movie was the wide range of styles that were represented. I expected something that sounded, well, Persian (don’t ask me what I meant by that). I was also surprised by the quality. Even the rap song, which I don’t normally gravitate toward (a nice way of saying I dislike it), was well-done and enjoyable.

That doesn’t mean that the music was merely copied from Western music. The lyrics especially are brooding and poignant. What they weren’t–and this also surprised me–was political. It seems that the only rebelling the musicians are interested in is in the realm of art. That’s not to say that art can’t be political, but when these musicians sing about freedom, they mean the freedom to express themselves. They’re not advocating an overthrow of the government.

That’s what makes the Iranian government’s prohibitions and punishments seem so over-the-top: the music scene, at least the way it is portrayed in this movie, is no threat to the regime. Unless you ascribe to the view that once people taste freedom in one area, they want more of it.

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Is This Haram?

Some of the comments about this video by Sami Yusuf were that music is haram (forbidden) in Islam. Some¬† people condemned the guitar music, others conceded that his voice alone would be acceptable. I say what’s the difference? Music is music.

To be fair, the vast majority of the comments (there are over a hundred) loved the song. Personally I think that music is a gift from Allah and one of the signs of His beauty. As usual, I am writing out of ignorance, but one thing I’ve noticed about Islam is that there is a wide range of opinion about many things and that it is better not to judge others when they follow a ruling that is different from the one you follow.

The lyrics themselves are beautiful, but I have a question: Is Yusuf singing about Allah or Muhammad? Because I prefer to think that He is addressing his words to Allah. Because if he is singing to Muhammad, that just strikes me as too close to the way Christians talk about Jesus.

As a former Christian, that makes me uncomfortable. The Qur’an makes it very clear that Muhammad is not divine. It is all right to praise him, I suppose, but it is Allah alone who deserves the credit for all that Muhammad did and taught.

Is it wrong to say to Allah: “You filled my heart with love/showed me the light above/Now all I want is to be with you./You are my One True love”? Isn’t Allah supposed to be our One True Love?

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to love, honor, and respect Muhammad. All I’m saying is “Allahu Akbar.”