Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Colorado Student Quits Choir Over Song about Allah

Those who do not know that there is only one God often think Allah is not the same God we worship. Those who do not know the history of Islam do not understand that all our traditions stem from Abraham, and that Islam springs from Hajar, mother of Ishmael. They do not know that the prayers start with “There is no God but Allah” and I am willing to bet that linguistically, Jahweh and Allah are related, too.

The good news is, too, that this is not an official school activity, and the student has the freedom to sing – or not to sing. My bet is that the student is missing out on an interesting opportunity to sing some very different music.

A Colorado high school student says he quit the school choir after an Islamic song containing the lyric “there is no truth except Allah” made it into the repertoire.
James Harper, a senior at Grand Junction High School in Grand Junction, put his objection to singing “Zikr,” a song written by Indian composer A.R. Rahman, in an email to Mesa County School District 51 officials. When the school stood by choir director Marcia Wieland’s selection, Harper said, he quit.

“I don’t want to come across as a bigot or a racist, but I really don’t feel it is appropriate for students in a public high school to be singing an Islamic worship song,” Harper told KREX-TV. “This is worshipping another God, and even worshipping another prophet … I think there would be a lot of outrage if we made a Muslim choir say Jesus Christ is the only truth.”

But district spokesman Jeff Kirtland defended the decision to include the song.
“Choral music is often devoted to religious themes. … This is not a case where the school is endorsing or promoting any particular religion or other non-educational agenda. The song was chosen because its rhythms and other qualities would provide an opportunity to exhibit the musical talent and skills of the group in competition, not because of its religious message or lyrics,” Kirtland told in an email while noting that the choir “is a voluntary, after-school activity.”

“Students are not required to participate, and receive no academic credit for doing so,” he said.

At an upcoming concert, the choir is scheduled to sing an Irish folk song and an Christian song titled “Prayer of the Children,” in addition to the song by Rahman.
“The teacher consulted with students and asked each of them to review an online performance of the selection with their parents before making the decision to perform the piece,” Kirtland said, and members who object to the religious content of musical selections aren’t required to sing them.

Rahman, who has sold hundreds of millions of records and is well-known in his homeland, has said the song is not intended for a worship ceremony. He told in a written statement that the song, composed for the move “Bose, the Forgotten Hero,” is about “self-healing and spirituality.”

“It is unfortunate that the student in Colorado misinterpreted the intention of the song,” Rahman said. “I have long celebrated the commonalities of humanity and try to share and receive things in this way. While I respect his decision for opting out, this incident is an example of why we need further cultural education through music.”
The song is written in Urdu, but one verse translates to “There is no truth except Allah” and “Allah is the only eternal and immortal.” Although the choir sang the original version, Wieland distributed translated lyrics.
Grand Junction High School Principal Jon Bilbo referred questions to Kirtland.’s Joshua Rhett Miller contributed to this story.

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February 16, 2012 - Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Community, Education, Free Speech, Living Conditions, Values


  1. That`s unfortunate. Linguistically, Allah is just one of the Arabic equivalents of the English word “God”.
    On a happier note, we finally had a flashmob in Kuwait to celebrate the National and Liberation days! Thought I`d share

    Comment by Noura | February 16, 2012 | Reply

  2. LOL, Noura, my friend Hayfa sent it to me just before your comment. Don’t you LOVE it??? It makes me wish I were in Kuwait! February is always the best month, and I am curious about the light display this year. Of course, it is not one of the BIG years, but this flash mob is great. Thanks for sending it. 🙂

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 16, 2012 | Reply

  3. I don’t think any student should be forced into singing something that he feels strongly about and I’m not just talking about religion, I’m talking about any strong convictions that don’t have to do with education. Like for example children who love Rush Limbau may feel outraged if you made them sing about the merits of the democratic party 🙂

    Hope your elections don’t end up with results as upsetting as ours. (Ours didn’t one single woman!!!!)

    Comment by 1001Nights | February 18, 2012 | Reply

  4. I agree with you totally – and the choir was an after-school activity, like football, something you could do or not do. But when I read his statement – the student thought it was a “different” God, and that it worshipped a different prophet – two very basic misconceptions about Islam in the United States.

    Choir masters often choose music to challenge their students. I just feel sorry that this student missed an opportunity. Choirs sing music all the time that maybe not everyone agrees with – hyper patriotic songs, love songs, musics from other cultures and beliefs, songs in other languages. Choir members have the freedom to sing or not participate – just as this student did. I think he intended to cause a big stink by going public.

    Comment by intlxpatr | February 18, 2012 | Reply

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