“…it is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy.”

Reading one of Eric Edberg’s recent posts reminded me of the quote in the title of this blog post.  Oliver Leaman, in his book “Islamic Aesthetics”, describes the role of the audience of musical performances (in the context of a discussion of audience response to the great Egyptian vocalist Umm Khulthum) under a section titled “The role of the audience in music” (Leaman 2004, 107):

To a degree the audience reacts as it has seen Sufis react, and this is often in a rather wild and free way. Yet in many of the leading writings on the topic the Sufis stressed the significance of remaining quiet and contemplative when listening to music, and if the music and dance throws one into ecstasy then obviously we might act wildly, but when when that stage is over we should be quiet and still, physically and mentally. As al-Ghazali puts it, in the Iha’ ‘ulum al-din it is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy (wajd).

“[I]t is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy [sic].”

I like that.

Al-Ghazālī (1058-1111 AD) was a Persian Sufi. His work, Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn (a Sufi treatise translated as “Revival of Religious Sciences”), is regarded by some to be the greatest work of Muslim (Sunni) spirituality after the Qurʾān. Sure, most Westerners know about Sufism through a passing knowledge of that other Persian Sufi, Rūmī (1207-1273 AD), but as is often the case what becomes popular in the West isn’t necessarily a representative (or the representative) proponent of a cultural artifact from another country or time (e.g. Zen Buddhism; Tai Chi; Trancendental Yoga).

“It is often the quietest person who achieves the highest degree of ecstasy.”

There’s also that Indian saying that “music is meant to clear the mind to allow for divine influences.”

With the raging debate about Western Classical music not “connecting” with modern audience being one reason for its decline it just seems a bit disingenuous since there are plenty of contexts wherein a performance tradition can and will favor silent reception of performances. It’s disingenuous since it sets up a false dichotomy between “Stuffy Art Music” and “Engaging Popular Music” and the “Silent and Passive” reception of the former as opposed to the “Noisy and Active” engagement of the latter.

Not that Classical music concerts aren’t generally silent so much as silence doesn’t mean passive. Or rather, the two aren’t equivalent. And neither are folks who are being noisy necessarily actively engaged by or with the music.

Sometimes it is often the quietest audience members who achieve the highest degree of engaged ecstasy!

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