Please browse and enjoy the following links to speeches, presentations, and publications by Dr. Shakeela Hassan and Harran Foundation advisers.
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Sounds of Faith Chicago (2009): Shakeela Hassan and Bill Kurtis welcome remarks
Bill Kurtis: Sound is a generative force. It connects us to the earth and to each other in an unending symphony of communication. The vibrations pass through the medium of our air and are received in our bodies and move each of us. In our religious traditions, sounds are often even more important than visual cues in connecting us with the Divine, and with each other. Bells, horns, and chants from high places call us to worship around the world. Sounds of nature call us to reflection and meditation. Intoned and recited texts link us through generations to those who worshipped long before us, and remind us to love our neighbors as ourselves today.
In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, sacred sound is a richly interconnected common ground. For millennia, shared geography and history have provided core texts, ideas, and practices. Differing experiences have provided beautiful diversity, independence, and insight of perspective. Tonight, you will hear some of the remarkable sounds of these traditions, as they might be heard in their ritual spaces, and also outside, as part of the current of daily life. For many, these sounds will only have been encountered at a distance before. It is our hope that in hearing them here, some more of their beauty and their bonds will be revealed, and that in receiving them, you will be part of a sympathetic vibration.
In covering the news of the world, and in working with inspired individuals like Dr. Shakeela Hassan, I have come to understand that the need for healing is more critical now than ever before. The same sounds that bridge us to our understanding of God can provide nourishment and reflection across traditional boundaries. Shared experiences and education can build the mutual understanding and respect needed for true communication, dignifying our differences and celebrating our similarities, here in Chicago, and across the globe. I invite you to listen to each other now, and to continue to listen, long after tonight.
Shakeela Hassan: As-Salamu Alaykum. Shalom. Peace be upon you all. My journey with the sounds of faith began five decades ago, with a knock on my door, and the quiet invitation to Mass by a nun at St. Mary of Nazareth hospital here in Chicago, where I was in medical residency. As a young Muslim doctor, I never felt more comfortable and secure than immersed in their sounds of worship, somehow so interconnected to the call to prayer and Qur’an verses in my heart. I joined them every day.
Their innocent invitation opened a shared world of peace to me, and tonight I share it with you. I have worked ever since that time to heal, as a doctor, community member, and a documentary filmmaker. This evening’s journey is a true partnership with the University and Chapel I love, and made possible by the support of Dean Elizabeth Davenport and her wonderful staff, especially Lorraine Brochu. With Elizabeth’s wise guidance, James Kallembach has become both Artistic Director and friend, and I cannot thank him enough for what you will hear shortly. Matthew Dean, my advisor for three years, has been a strong voice for everyone you see here. Greg Samata has brought energy and expertise to capturing tonight’s energy for future audiences. Bill Kurtis is my honored friend. These are my true partners. I also must thank my partner in life and wisdom Zia Hassan, my daughters who are my paths to learning, and my strongest fans and friends – my five grandchildren.
Within each and every sound we collectively make – the sounds that unite us – are purpose, peace, and a chance to pursue happiness. May it be so for you tonight. If you have children with you, do not silence them. If sounds of joy or recognition rise up within you, let them out. If rhythm and movement inspire you, move with them. Let us be together, learning, in peace.
Sounds of Faith at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago (2010): Rabbi Michael Zedek remarks
Comments at the Sounds of Faith program held at the Lutheran School of Theology on Sunday, October 24, 2010. Rabbi Michael Zedek.
The Midrash suggests that every human being is accompanied by a retinue of angels who, with shofars blasting, call out, "Make way for the image of God. Make way for the image of God." And while I do not believe that is a fact, I certainly subscribe to the notion that we can make it, as it were, true in how we care and connect with the other. With that in mind, I submit the sounds of the shofar.
Bobby McFerrin is someone well-known for using his voice only to generate remarkable song and sound effects. When I discussed the topic of sacred sounds with some members of my congregation, one mentioned that McFerrin offers that human beings seem hardwired to apprehend and to sing music, as every culture recognizes the musical octave and "knows" what comes next, in the context of do, rei, me, fa… Perhaps that may help one understand the magic in sound, especially music.
My final introductory comment iss to offer some words of appreciation to Dr. Shakeela Hassan for her vision, persistence and, especially, her conviction that sound/sacred sound may bridge distance, even bring us together not in some pretense of uniformity but in a higher category of union. And certainly there is no possibility that all of us will sound the "same note." No, I believe this undertaking embraces a higher notion, one not unlike a symphony orchestra in which different instruments playing collaboratively yield a higher category then uniformity, namely harmony. Put in a different context, I embrace the conviction that we do not have to see eye to eye in order to walk shoulder to shoulder.
So let's go back to the beginning, metaphorically at least. By that I mean Bereshit or, as we call it in English, Genesis. For as I considered that which I might share in these few reflections, a phrase from early in that sacred literature came to mind/to light/to my (inner) ear. I heard a sound – may it be a sacred one. The specific echo comes from Genesis, chapter 3, verse 8 [I then read the Hebrew and translated] "They heard the voice of God walking about in the garden at the breezy part of the day, and the man and woman hid from the presence of God among the trees." The Hebrew word translated hid is in fact reflexive, which means, provocatively, they hid from themselves. So the question or challenge, what might happen if we stopped hiding from self and others?
Additionally, we spend much time, especially in religious circles, on questions like what is God or where is God. One could argue that a better biblical interrogative is when is God. Perhaps, the answer to that query may be experienced when we listen closely. When we hearken fully, when we really hear what is being said, that which is within our words, our hearts, our spirits. For if we do so, it just might be the case that we too might hear the sound of God moving in the garden of a, of our purposeful lives. For as the Prophet reminds us, "The fullness of the whole earth is God's presence." In fact, that means there is a sacred dimension all around us and holiness within us.
All of that is more than words and/or music may convey. Indeed I understand religions to be languages in which we attempt to express that which is ineffable, truly more than any words may convey. As an aside and to push the image, English is not better than French or vice versa. They are similar and different, but ultimately they are both no more than symbol systems in which we agree that certain letter arrangements point to that which is more than words may capture.
So is it an accident of evolutionary process – and if it is, I suggest it's a propitious and valuable one – that before we enter (to use the English word, are born into) this experience we already "hear" (as in heart beat and blood flow) the sacred melody of our mothers' bodies? As well, practitioners of end-of-life care assert – and my own experience, even if borne only out of need and projection confirms – that as we near the end of our presence in what we call our bodies, the last of the senses still available is that we may hear the voices of loved ones. Such matters suggest to me the enormous and awesome power of sound.
That said, I want to turn to a few curiosities. As you likely know, Jewish tradition assigns a number of names for deity, including one that is understood to be God's most intimate name, sometimes called the tetragrammaton. Often referred to as the name which is not pronounced, for many years those four letters were misunderstood as Jehovah. Best guess – and it is a guess – is YH WH. So if one were to try to write the letters for the sound of one's breathing in and breathing out, inspiration and expiration, the closest one might get to some "accurate" spelling is YH WH, which lends credence to the sage' s notion that we are shofarot. We only move because the breath of life, of holiness, of deity passes through us. In effect, that means our base sound, the one everyone must make, binds us to each other and to the One.
With that in mind, consider Psalm 150. Praise God with blasts of horns; praise God with harp and lyre. Praise God with timbrel and dance; praise God with lute and pipe. Praise God with resounding cymbals; praise God with loud-clashing symbols. Let all that breathes praise God. Hallelujah! That last line either destroys the parallelism, which is the heart of biblical poetry, or it is the culmination. All that has breath will praise (breathes) God. Hallelu...Yah – which is one of the many Hebrew names for God.
Finally, I want to offer a brief word on the Shema [Hear, O Israel]. It is sometimes called the "watchword of our faith." Jesus refers to it as the most important principle. It urges us to really listen, to really hear each other. That in so doing, we shall learn something about the holy one and ourselves. And while this may be only a coincidence, listen to each letter. Shin, SHHHHH. Be quiet. Mem, mmmmm. Think. Consider. Ayin, pronounced as it were, ahhhhh, intending, perhaps for us to finally, finally, listen and be wise.
Sounds of Faith at the Lutheran School of Theology Chicago (2010): Dr. Mark Bangert remarks
Sounds of Faith
Center of Christian/Muslim Engagement
For Peace and Justice
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
October 24, 2010
A Christian Contribution
Dr. Mark Bangert
After I said “yes” to the invitation to contribute a Christian sound to this wonderful gathering, the really tough question popped right into place: what do I choose? We Christians all have our favorites but each suffers from potential failure to adequately represent the tradition. The corpus of available music is vast, ranging from simple chanting of the psalms, through rousing black Gospel songs, Haydn Masses, thirteenth-century pilgrimage songs honoring Mary, right down to Oswaldo Goliov’s exotic and wild St. Mark’s Passion.
There are ways of managing the corpus for purposes of grasping the significance of individual pieces. One way is to sort out repertoires in terms of denominational origins. It’s possible to identify Russian Orthodox music or Icelandic Lutheran hymnody. Another approach creates geographic differentiation. Christian music from Thailand is different from Christian music of Italy, for instance. A further way is to bundle examples into functional categories, of which two seem important in this context: 1) music that originated from and primarily serves gatherings of Christians who are together at worship; 2) music that derives its meaning and sometimes text and/or musical themes from Christian worship but is designed for use outside of that worship. I am thinking here of the great concert masses of Beethoven and Brahms or the Goliov Passion mentioned earlier.
Taking a cue from this latter management technique, I decided to offer you a very simple song tonight--at least it begins simply. After its introduction, a small group of choristers will sing it, and then I want to share with you eight characteristics of Christian music in general, using the song as an acoustical illustration.
By the eighth century, c.e., the fixed, recurring texts of the chief western Christian liturgy, the Sunday mass, had been established. Among those fixed texts was the so-called Agnus Dei, Latin for “Lamb of God,” a text that was no doubt inspired by John the Baptist’s reference to Jesus as Lamb of God in the Gospel of John. The full text is at Illustration 1. It entered the mass liturgy as a song, a song that was sung while the ministers broke the bread into small pieces for distribution to all the people.
At first, the text of this song consisted only of the first line, sung three times. But, as these things go, soon the third rendition of the text was altered to “dona nobis pacem,” give us peace. Other variations also appeared, but this one received wide acceptance. The peace variant gave rise to musical pieces with similar text, no doubt connected in people’s minds to the psalmist’s exhortation to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Ps. 122:6). One of those spin-off songs, “Da Pacem,” or Give peace, originally connected to a psalm, eventually took on a life of its own when in 1279 Pope Nicolas III, fearing military threats to some members of the wider church, decreed that the antiphon should be sung everywhere at every mass right before the Agnus Dei. Just how long that decree lasted is not known, but the practice of singing that song when armies threatened cities and lands continued for hundreds of years.
So it was in 1528, as Vienna was facing possible military siege, Martin Luther translated the old Latin song into German and asked that children sing it across Germany and that it be used in worship as well. It is his version (in English translation) that we hear with a melody that has faint relationship to the original but is more new than old. It should be noted that this song is still used among contemporary Lutherans, appearing in songbooks across Europe and North America.
While repertoires across national boundaries and over the centuries differ significantly in many respects, there are some common characteristics that I hope afford you some understandings about Christian music, perhaps even helping you to appreciate a stray Christmas carol or two and something like the Berlioz Requiem.
- Christian music in general has a high respect for tradition. Invention of the new more often than not comes from what already exists. This was true from the very beginning. While in needing to make another assessment, scholars of early Christian music acknowledge the large debt Christians owe musically and liturgically to Jewish practices. Less-well known is the debt medieval Christian musicians owe to Arabian music theorists. Nearly all of Luther’s hymns are reworkings of materials that already existed. Many of the organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach derive from pre-existing hymns. Mainline Gospel derives from Biblical citations and musical germs that have been around for years.
- The majority of Christian music has roots in the regular gatherings of worshippers. This is to say that the fixed texts of Christians in assembly provide the source for musical invention. Christian assemblies summon a kind of music that answers the call to provide the assembly a way to interact communally through music. While the roots are there in liturgy, branches and leaves sometimes show up beyond, in the home, in the concert hall, on stage. When an effort is made to bring leaves back to the roots, to the assembly, sometimes very lively discussion results, but that’s another matter.
- Christian music is culturally tuned. Text much less so but the music of Christian repertoires is shaped by the culture in which it is conceived. Looking at illustration 3, you will see another version of the melody that appeared shortly after Luther issued his. The alternative has a much more metered feel to it, achieved by the use of the Hupf, German for hop or leap, at the beginning of nearly every phrase. The Hupf has origins in German folk dance (think polka). Luther’s contemporaries naturally borrowed the hop for any new tune; it was part of the culture. Along the same lines the Christian church of Bali, for example, uses for its worship the Balinese gamelan and Balinese dance.
- Surveying the various discrete repertoires, one notices a move from the simple to the more complex. Receiving the tradition is one thing, what one does with it is another. An Agnus Dei song that originated in the fourteenth century is much more complex than one originating in the ninth century. A New Orleans street band comes into its own, we recognize, when the riffing on “O When the Saints” gets really complicated. J. S. Bach can take a simple hymn tune and turn it into something quite complex by altering the melody and inventing new harmonies. Listen to his setting of “Da pacem,” here the concluding movement to one of his 200 cantatas.
- Christian music is popular, that is, for the people. While there are important pieces such as choral anthems written by such notables as Ralph Vaughn Williams, William Byrd, or Charles Ives, what keeps the tradition alive and lively is the music that is designed for the common worshipper. The historian notices a certain cyclic nature about this, however. What begins as the popular soon undergoes treatment from the professional. The resulting musical outcome then begins to take over in the worship gathering, delighting the elitist but eventuating in a rebellion and a call for the true and simple. And then the cycle begins a new. This tendency to honor the common worshiper, the individual person, accounts for the widespread popularity of the hymn, a term that defies definition but generally means a religious song meant to be sung by several people at the same time. Because poets with a strong sense of shared faith issues created the texts for these songs they achieved substantial status within community worship.
- Christian music is both vocal and instrumental. It is true that certain Christian groups have at one time or another banned instruments from the worship gathering. The late fourth-century Canons of Basil advise that if a reader of Scripture in worship learns to play the guitar he should be thrown out of the Christian community. But such distrust of instruments was more the exception over the centuries than the rule. Instead non-vocal music was embraced widely, especially the music of the organ, probably because it more nearly imitated the singing of the people.
- Christian music values the art of improvisation. In the New Testament the apostle Paul refers to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. He leaves few clues as to what is meant by the third category, but the best guesses suggest songs that were inspired by the Holy Spirit, songs that emerged from an individual caught up in the faith. That kind of religious zeal mixed with a long musical tradition of inventing music as it occurs probably accounts for the strain of improvisation, a strain that runs through Augustine, medieval choristers, keyboardists like J. S. Bach, the French organ school and Christian jazz musicians. Taking one more look at our Da Pacem, we now hear a short organ improvisation on the piece, performed by Daniel Schwandt.
- Christian music is accompanied by a long history of commentary and critique. That should come as no surprise since such critique has been around at least since the prophet Amos. But words about music are not always negative. For years commentators have sought to answer the basic questions about music: what is it and what is it for. Those can be theological questions too, and indeed have been. Christians, perhaps, have known for centuries that sound is important to them and to their worship, but they were not always able to convincingly express it. Surely one reason for its importance is the musical practices and attitudes they brought to the faith from their Jewish heritage. Another is music’s apparent ability to channel profound feelings such as joy. But I think Luther had the best insight and said what others instinctively knew: he reasoned that if Jesus was the Word (as the Gospel of John calls him), then Jesus becomes present in the Words about him. That elevates sound to a new level; the Word of God, then, is innately musical in the Christian scheme of things. The Gospel or the good news about Jesus will invariably turn into music, and so it has been for over two thousand years.
With that we have probably opened up a new opportunity for commentary and critique which I more than welcome.
Sounds of Faith New York (2011): Shakeela Hassan welcome remarks
Sounds of Faith: New York – March 13, 2011
Shakeela Hassan opening remarks
As-Salamu Alaykum. Shalom. Peace be with each and all of you!
I am honored to be speaking from this historic pulpit of The Riverside Church about the power of sound. From this place, many important echoes have been created. We hope this afternoon will become a part of that tradition.
I have been a filmmaker and interfaith speaker for ten years, and a physician and community liaison for over forty years before that. In all of my roles, it has occurred to me that nothing connects and heals people quite like sound.
From our everyday greetings to the family events that mark our lives, and from our prayers to the music we listen to, cultural sound is our baseline. It is the current of communication that carries us through each day.
Seven years ago, I traveled around the world listening to the different ways the Holy Qur'an was recited in many places – from Jerusalem to Jakarta - each beautiful and unique.
In each place, the sounds of other religions enhanced the sense of place, history, and the present. I realized there was a story to tell about how sacred sounds are powerful in both their interrelation and in their dynamic diversity.
While working on this story as a global documentary, I wished people in my own city of Chicago could listen to each other in the way I had. We created the Sounds of Faith concert in Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago in November 2009.
Over 1000 people of all backgrounds came to listen! We have since had three other events, including one in Miami, organized by young Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students. Each has been wonderful, provocative, and educational. Many new friends and lasting conversation have been created. Many seem to be hearing each other for the first time.
From Chicago to New York, and from Rockefeller Chapel to the Riverside Church! I must thank our hosts, Reverends Coleman, Thomas, and Phelps, for opening their hearts and doors to the project, and greatly enhancing it with their own ideas and the energy of this amazing city.
Their patience, kindness, and generosity is no surprise in the spirit of this institution, and of New York. I also thank all of the producers, organizers, and congregation leaders who came together to make this possible. Most importantly, I thank the reciters, cantors, and performers for bringing the sounds at the center of their faiths into this place today.
Our faith traditions are continuously under the social microscope, and as a scientist I respect this inquiry. What better way to reveal the compassion and beauty of our faiths than through their sacred sounds, as we share with each other today.
As a physician, I know sound to be the first sense to arrive when we come (all the same!) into the world, and often the last to depart us under trauma or anesthesia.
As you listen to the sounds now, familiar or new, I hope peace and understanding will be with you. There are so many starting points for questions and conversation. Often, listening is the start of the journey.