Out of the darkened room, a single light glows.

Qul a’udhu bi rabbin-nās.
Malikin-nās.
Ilaahin-nas.

Her clear voice commands my full attention. The recitation folds in over itself, echoing and reverberating. I’m transported from a tiny New York apartment to a concert hall – as if I’m experiencing a live event instead of a digital recording from a computer.

Everything around me disappears.

Min sharril waswasil khan-nas… Alladhi yu-waswisu fee sudoorin-nas… Minal jinnati wan-nas.1

It’s beautiful. I have chills and her voice tugs at my soul. It’s ethereal and the feelings the recitation invoke of me are ineffable. I’m frozen in this one moment of praising God.

Suddenly, a voice from the audience: WOO!

My senses snap back and I snicker. Excited by the awesomeness of the recitation, a concert-goer shouts out his appreciation. Packaged in that one WOO, I could hear a giddiness, fan excitement and maybe even a touch of exoticism upon hearing Arabic erupt from the sound mixer. I’d like to imagine he slapped his thigh and thought, “oh man, this is my favourite Qur’anic verse!” But after speaking with the performing artist, I know that he was probably just an unknown factor in a crowd, sharing his appreciation of music.

The Qur’an isn’t just read. It’s lived.

Last month I had the unusual opportunity to speak with Sajida Jalalzai – by day a brilliant PhD student at Columbia University and by night a talented trip-hop, indie singer with the New York band A Bit Cagey.

I was intrigued when I heard that she opened a recent concert with the recitation of the Qur’an.

While it’s not surprising to hear that a practicing Muslim would want to begin an event by evoking the sacred text, even during a non-religious event – some would definitely be surprised to hear that a female artist recited the Qur’an in front of a mixed gender audience:

I know that I don’t really reflect the “norm” of Islamic etiquette, but I have absolutely no problem with women reciting Qur’an in front of non-mahrem.

The first divine injunction given to the Prophet Muhammad via the angel Gabriel was to “recite,” and I think that this is both a privilege and charge given to every Muslim, both men and women. I think that if a man is sexually aroused by a woman reciting a holy scripture, he’s got more problems than I can help him with.

Over 1, 400 years ago in the month of Ramadan, the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed, “Recite! Read in the name of your Lord who created you…” (96:1) And ever since then, Muslims have been reading the Qur’an in melodious and breathtaking recitations.

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