Rock Jihad: Rocking out the Islamic way

Kamal Sellehuddin

Meet Al-Farabi, a local rock band. But, you see, they are not just any rock band. Sure, their brand of music is just like any other heavy metal band, but their lyrics are about promoting the teachings of Islam.

When I first saw them on the Internet, I wondered if they were putting on the whole ‘Serban’-Islamic appearance just for a show. But later, I realized the band’s drummer, Adie Wadi, was a long lost friend of mine.

With all the the fatwas that have been issued recently - the most famous being an all-girl band named Kashmiri being force to call it quits because they were branded haram and 'un-Islamic' by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir - I was surprised to see a Hijab-wearing female band member plucking at the bass guitar, just like ex-Smashing Pumpkins bassist D'Arcy Wretzky. So I decided to contact Adie Wadi to see if I could follow them on tour. They welcomed me with open arms.

The name of the band was taken from a famous Muslim scholar,  Abū Naṣr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Fārābī, a renowned scientist and philosopher during the Islamic Golden era. He was also a cosmologist, logician and - yup, you guessed it - a musician. Al Farabi wrote a book about music titled Kitab-Al-Musiqa ('The Book of Music').

Al-Farabi (the band, not the scholar) consists of 5 members, Nazri Alias, (Band leader - Guitar and Vocals), his wife Fazrina Ghazali, (bass), Ahmad Nasaie Mohd Nawawi, 24, (vocalist),  Adie Wadi (drums) and Kamarul Borhan (lead guitarist).

While on tour with them, I noticed that their appearance and their love for music are not just for show. They showed me Islam is a way of life, and they express their love for Islam through the music they play.

During their tour to the East Coast of Malaysia, I followed them on an impromptu performance in a jamming studio and boy, were they amazing.

However, the reaction of the crowd during a live performance was varied; some listened quietly, some listened with considerable incredulity, and some were quick to walk away when they heard the Islamic chanting.

During a tour in Penang, I witnessed first-hand a group of young men clad in typical heavy metal attire appear entirely lost when the band started their performance. One would expect them to head-bang to the music, but the lyrics had apparently made them hesitate to.

When asked about their brand of music, Al-Farabi frontman Nazri said: "Our music is not meant to be relaxing. It is meant to be played at the highest volume to effectively burn into your soul and spirit!"

But why heavy metal?  Nazri laughed, and said: "I have always listened to rock music and my favourite band is Megadeth."

Lead guitarist Kamarul, a former member of Malaysian metal band, Unicorn, said:  “I listen to Metallica, U2 and just about any other rock bands like everybody else.”

The idea of an Islamic heavy metal rock band is a little bit hard to grasp at first, but it grows on you the more you listen to them. In fact, Al Farabi (who owns a recording studio in Shah Alam) recently released their second studio album, including four English tracks.

The band is currently they are on tour across Malaysia, so if you have the chance, you should catch their performance.