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Faith and Music

Volume 3,  Issue 4      

Dear InterFaith Friend

     There is music in the air and dance in the heart of all earthly beings as the fiery summer comes to an end giving way to more subtle temperatures. Soon they will meander their way into a cold winter, marking the completion of yet another rotation of the earth and the beginning of a new one. This eNewsletter celebrates not only the smooth transition of seasons, that helps bid an adieu to what is of old, but also celebrates the transformation of the human soul into the divine realm. 

      Song has been at the heart of worshiping the Supreme Being from time immemorial. Men and women of old danced the victory of the Divine in the cosmic battle against the evil forces and they sang their woes in the presence of their Healer and Sustainer.  They believed, as some do today, that their passionate chants reached up to the heavens. 

     As IFC approaches its 33rd Annual InterFaith Concert: A Celebration of the Sacred through Song, Dance and Chant, to be held this year on December 6th at Washington Hebrew Congregation, we look forward to experiencing with you how different religions express their beliefs through music and movement. As a lead in to this exciting event, this issue features two different voices describing how their faith tradition inspires such expression. In particular, Anne Khademian reflects on the Zoroastrian tradition of worshipping through song and dance. And, Ali Abbas offers a Muslim perspective on why chant is a crucial aspect of worship in Islam. 

      Before you finish reading this, make sure you've purchased tickets for our concert and invited a few friends to join you!


Esther Dhanraj 

Issue Editor

In This Issue
Celebrating Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds
Chant: At the Heart of Islamic Worship
Book Review: Introducing Theologies of Religions
News & Events from IFC

Celebrating Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds:  Song and Music in Zoroastrianism

by Anne Khademian

     This year, at the end of September, the Zoroastrian community in metropolitan Washington, DC celebrated the ancient Iranian holiday of Mehregan.  The festival is held on the day of Mehr in the month of Mehr, a special occasion known as a name-day feast when the Zoroastrian calendar month coincides with the name of one of thirty days of the month.  Mehr, an ancient reference to pre-Zoroastrian times, represents love, friendship, community, knowledge and kindness, and has special meaning in Zoroastrianism, including reference to a Zoroastrian place of worship, the "Darb-e-Mehr", or door to understanding.  Just as the first Zoroastrians celebrated Mehregan with feasts, song, and togetherness to express thanks for the fall harvest and the turning of the seasons, the Zoroastrian community of metropolitan Washington, DC celebrated the festival with delicious food, musical performances, singing and dancing.  


Anne Khademian
Anne Khademian
     The core ideas of the Zoroastrian faith are presented in The Gathas, seventeen Songs composed by the prophet Zarathushtra approximately 3700 years ago in Iran.  The Gathas consist of 241 stanzas and approximately 6000 words, crafted in poetic form to convey Zarathushtra's message long before writing and recording were established.  As the scholar Ali Jafarey has written, a "poetic piece is easily and correctly memorized and transmitted" (Jafarey 6: 1989).  For centuries, Zoroastrians shared the message of one god (Ahura Mazda), a life lived through good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, the pursuit of knowledge and the good mind, and equality through the recitation and memorization of The Gathas, or the songs of Zarathusthra.  The Gathas are core texts of the Avesta scriptures, the holy books of Zoroastrianism.   

Anne Khademian is a member of the Zoroastrian Association of Metropolitan Washington, Inc. (ZAMWI) and a co-coordinator of the Avesta Classes.  She also organizes the Avesta Class Ensemble for the young musicians in the community and the Khan Ashem Vohu performers.  She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland with her family and is a professor and administrator in higher education.

Chant: At the Heart of Islamic Worship 
by Ali Abbas
Ali Abbas
Ali Abbas

     It is the poetic nature of the Qur'an that has attracted admirers from both the Muslim and non-Muslim faith. Chanting of Qur'an in Islam is akin to chanting of mantras in Hinduism. It is believed in Islam that repetitive chanting of verses creates positive vibrations within the human body. In Hinduism mantra is derived from the two Sanskrit words, "man" meaning mind and "tra" meaning freedom. Yet, the idea of mantra is one that is shared among many religious traditions.

     Islam, for one, greatly stresses chanting verses of Qur'an to attain prosperity, wealth, health and inner peace, thus liberating individuals from the various hassles of life. This chanting is said to accelerate the healing process, ultimately relaxing and assisting in making optimal use of the mind. Known as "vird" in Urdu chanting, it is a means of staying connected to the Almighty. Generally, vird is done after or during daily namaz (prayer offerings) with the use of a tazbeeh (prayer beads).

      Truly a mystical experience, chanting helps to bring the body, mind and soul in tune with each other. It may also bring about a state of ecstasy, which opens the way towards union with the Supreme Being. The pursuit of this mystical path in Islam led to the birth of Sufism (tasawwuf), a practice and belief followed by those who became known as "Sufis" to reach the Truth-God.

     According to the Qur'an, Allah has ninety nine names. Chanting, as opposed to reading these various names, is believed to be one of the sure means to attain spiritual growth, mental purification and bodily rejuvenation. Thus chanting in this manner acts on all three parts of the human person: the soul, the mind and the body. It is believed that an elevation of the soul is possible only with a mind devoid of all temporal anxieties. This in turn adds value and meaning to the purpose of human life.

     Islam teaches that everyday chanting of Qur'an, disciplines the mind to be conscious of realities outside of the human body. As such, the human mind is less vulnerable to temptation and becomes more able to deal with psychological turmoil and maintain equanimity. Furthermore, it is understood that a composed mind is a gateway to bliss and can become a basis for intuition or partial revelation (al- wahy al- juz'i).

     The Islamic belief that chanting creates equanimity illuminates the scientific reality of the human body being made up of vibrating energies and of cells moving in unison. It follows that when the natural movement and rhythm of these cells is disturbed through psychological turmoil; diseases and disorders can crop up. Thus, it is believed that human cells respond to the sound of the chant and vibrate to restore health and harmony. 


Ali Abbas is a Dhikr (devotional recitation) leader and holds Dhikr gatherings. He is well known within the Muslim circle in his hometown for his devotional writings. Having a deep understanding of the connection between various religious traditions, he strives to work for the unity of Hindus and Muslims. He lives in India with his wife and three children. 


Book Review:
Introducing Theologies of Religions

by John Mason

      Paul Knitter is a Roman Catholic teaching at the Protestant Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  In his "Introducing Theologies of Religions" Knitter outlines four models that Christian theologians have developed to engage adherents of other religious traditions.  These include (1) the Replacement Model in which Christian faith is conceived as supplanting other faiths because Christianity is regarded as the "only one true religion"; (2) the Fulfillment Model in which other faiths have their own integrity but are nevertheless only competed by Christianity; (3) the Mutuality Model in which Christianity is among "many true religions called to dialogue" upon various "philosophical-historical, religious-mystical and ethical-practical bridges;" and (4) the Acceptance Model in which Christianity accepts and affirms in their integrity the other religious traditions, that is there are "many true religions" and "so be it."

    Mark Heim, author of several theological books, and Professor of Christian Theology at Andover Newton Theological School, describes Knitter's book as "a triumph of intellectual empathy: it treats the variety of Christian views of religious diversity" with "courtesy and grace." To which I would add the compliment that this book is clearly written and has an eye to a broad readership. 

     I am curious about how Knitter's "models" would resonate with members of other faith traditions.  Are their own beliefs and practices adequately captured in his exposition?  Do the other traditions have parallels of their own with those identified by Knitter?  For instance, do the other traditions wrestle, just as does Christianity, with the notions of the replacement, fulfillment, mutuality, and acceptance vis-�-vis other religions?  For Christians, I believe there is much insight to be found in Knitter's framework for engaging other traditions as they strive to be faithful witnesses both to Jesus and to the gifts of other traditions.   

News & Events

from IFC

IFC Annual InterFaith Concert Thursday, December the 6th, 7:00 - 9:00 at Washington Hebrew Congregation. This event celebrates the sacred through song, dance and chant. To purchase tickets online, click here or call 202-234-6300.



Grand Launch of IPL - Baltimore  Join Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) in Baltimore, on Saturday, November the 17th, 6:00 - 9:00 pm at Notre Dame of Maryland University It is a celebration of religious environmental action in Baltimore. After a successful Washington DC endeavor, IPL (a program of IFC) is now coming to Baltimore! To RSVP, click here.



Volunteer for Tree Planting through Casey Trees Join the tree planting community at Casey Trees on two occasions: Saturday, December the 1st 9:00 am - 12:00 pm. at the 300 year old St. Paul's Parish at Rock Creek Cemetery, home to IFC. The effort to restore the tree canopy of these historical ground began in 2008; and, Saturday, December the 8th 9:00 am - 12:00 pm at Wangari Gardens. To sign up to volunteer, click here.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Religious Service with eight world religions participating in the 84th year since his birth on Sunday, January the 13th at 3:00 pm at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Reception to follow service at 4:45 pm. Dr. M.L. King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change in Atlanta and three nonprofit organizations chosen by our speaker, Rev. Dr. Lewis Anthony and choir directors will receive the proceeds for the free-will offering. No RSVP required. 

IFC's "Teaching About Religion" Supplement on the Environment Now Available!
This addition to our popular educational tool features the importance of caring for the environment from each of our faith communities. To purchase the supplement, call 202-234-6300. Cost is $5/each plus $1.50 shipping and handling.   

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