October 25, 2014

The Qaseeda – An oral Islamic tradition

The Qaseeda, or ‘hymn of praise’, has always been part of the Islamic tradition in Guyana, bringing together both old and young to offer praise to the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

Haroon Subhan of Suriname, back row left, the winner of the male segment of the Qaseeda Competition 2011, poses with his father (extreme left) and relatives who also won trophies in the competition

The first historical record of Qaseedas was made over 1400 years ago, when the Holy Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina. When the Prophet arrived in Medina, the people came out in their numbers and greeted him with a song, which is the first recorded Qaseeda known. The song, “tal’a al Badru Alayna”, is still very popular in all Muslim communities throughout the world, and is taught in all Muslim schools.

Origins

Raymond Chickrie, author on Muslim history in Guyana, who resides in America and holds a Masters in History, said that the Qaseeda came from the heart of Arabia to the “Islamic periphery.” He also said that the Arabic language impacted heavily on the vocabulary, grammar and literary prose of other languages, such as Persian, Urdu, Turkish, Bosniak, Hausa and Swahili, among others. “Today, Qaseedas are written in Arabic, but also in other languages spoken by Muslims; and have become part of the Islamic cultural expression.”

Chickrie noted that there are four types of Qaseeda, which are characterized according to their evolution. The pre-Islamic Qaseeda, rooted in the ancient Arab tribal code; the panegyric Qaseeda, which is expressing an ideal vision of a just Islamic government; the religious Qaseeda, exhorting different types of commendable religious conduct; and the modern Qaseeda, influenced by secular, nationalist, or humanist ideals.

“What Guyanese Muslims know about Qaseeda is what has been handed down from one generation to another. It’s not a written tradition, but rather an oral one which, until recently, inevitably has lost its scholarly character.”

The historian noted that the madrasahs do not teach Qaseeda in Guyana, but a few Islamic organizations in Guyana do hold Qaseeda competitions. The Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) recently held Qaseeda competitions in various parts of the country, and hopes to bring Islamic groups from Trinidad and Suriname to join in these. This they do annually in order to keep the Qaseeda tradition alive, as it is somewhat dying within the younger generation. The historian added that the Guyana United Sadr Islamic Anjuman, the country’s oldest Islamic representative organization, was the first to organize Qaseeda competitions in Guyana. This was done for many decades until that organisation’s dormancy.

Debate

In 1999, the Muslim Youth League (MYL), in conjunction with the CIOG, held a national Qaseeda competition. At that competition, it was questioned whether the Qaseeda was an “Indian” something and therefore had nothing to do with Islam. However, the visits of several Islamic scholars to the Caribbean, notably Maulana Fazlur Rahman Ansari, Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddique, and his son Maulana Ahmad Shah Noorani Siddique, provided an opportunity for Guyanese Muslims to seek clarification regarding the practices of tazeem (salaatus salaam), milad-un-nabi and Qaseeda. Those scholars endorsed these practices and refuted claims that these were “evil.” They were able to convince the locals that, based on the Qur’an, Hadith and the fiqh, they were within the parameters of Islam; and if kept within the boundaries of Islam, these practices are good innovations.

The MYL, in recent times, said Chickrie, initiated the effort to receive the support of qualified ullema from India and Pakistan, where their foreparents came from. “This has made it possible for adamant pronouncements of the practices of tazeem and moulood as being totally correct and in line with Islam, and challenges the views of the opponents with equal proofs from Quran and Sunna.”

Urdu is an emotional issue, especially since the majority of Guyanese Muslims are of Indo-Pakistani origin, noted Chickrie. Urdu has resurfaced in the last decade, and effort is underway to resuscitate the language.

Qaseeda competitions

This year, the eleventh International Qaseeda Competition was hosted by the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) and the Anjuman Hifazatul Islam (HIFAZ) at the National Cultural Centre on April 24. It is hosted annually on rotation between Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname.

Aleema Nasir, Head of NACOSA, said that the female segment of the competition was held at the Ocean View Hotel Convention Hall at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara, with Suriname emerging as the overall winner for that competition.

At the competitions, it was brought out that the CIOG does not have any record of the Qaseedas sung by the first Muslims who came to Guyana from West Africa, but the organization expressed hope that contact would be made with African brothers and sisters to revive this part of their Islamic heritage.

The late Imam Haji Hassanallie Rajab singing a Qaseeda

Nasir noted that, over the years, there has been a decline in the Urdu language. “One of the objectives of the Qaseeda competition is to revive the Urdu language and to promote the singing of Qaseedas, especially among the younger generation.”

She emphasized that these competitions promote unity among the Caribbean people, so that there can be more interaction and familiarisation between the people of Guyana, Trinidad, and Suriname. There is also the hope that this can be extended to other countries in the Caribbean and South America. (Taken from Guyana Times Sunday Magazine)