Women's band sing pop for Allah
By Frances Harrison in Kuala Lumpur
The Guardin, London
May 17, 1999
The Taliban in Afghanistan and the hardline clergy in Iran might regard
them as blasphemous, but in Malaysia Islamic pop groups are a hit, even
with the fundamentalist PAS party. Nasyid groups, as they are known, are
winning awards for using their talents to bring people closer to Allah.
Not exactly Malaysia's answer to the Spice Girls, the women singers
of Huda wear full Islamic garb, white headscarves, red lipstick and platform
shoes. 'It's quite an attractive yet bizarre image,' said the music journalist
Graham Nesbitt, who described the singers as 'very confident and competent
at performance - and very sexy'.
Sexy is certainly not what they are aiming for. 'How we're dressed is
the costume of the Islamic woman way back in the Prophet Mohammed's time,'
explained Shila Lama, one of the singer. Nominated for a prize at the recent
Malaysian music industry awards, Huda stood out in slinky evening dresses.
The aim of the group, founded in 1997, is to provide a positive role
model for young Muslim women, to counter western popular culture.
'Basically, the message is to love Allah and instil good values in our
children so they will be good citizens,' said another, Lisa Mohamad. Their
music video shows babies and school children learning Arabic. The singers
in Huda, which means womankind, were chosen because they are mothers. Their
producer, Farihin Abdul Fattah, asked their husbands' permission to form
'Girl groups always have these emotional problems, especially when they're
not married,' Mr Farihin said. Asked by Warner Music Malaysia to form a
female nasyid group, he was hesitant. 'They have emotional breakdowns -
the boyfriends don't want to see them anymore, and then they start not
going to the studio.' Stable and secure women, he reasoned, would be wives
To sing convincingly about good values, the members of Huda had to exude
spiritual serenity. 'Soothe the soul, don't get wild' was the message,
he said. Many Islamic countries would not allow women to sing in public
at all, but Huda say they are promoting a 'tolerant Asian brand of Islam'.
In their community, Mr Nesbitt said, 'it's still not exactly encouraged
for women to sing, or be associated with music'. But he believes that Huda
could succeed commercially, as all-male bands have done. Contemporary
Islamic music emerged with Raihan, the male counterpart of Huda, which
Mr Farihin also produced.
When Raihan, which means 'heavenly scent', released its first album
in 1997, it sold a record number of copies in Malaysia and Singapore.
Raihan wear traditional Malay costumes, and a typical lyric goes: 'Let
us find a way to know our God, Feel the tortures of hell fire.'
Last month they won the industry prize for the best vocal group in Malaysia,
and a special award category for Islamic music has been created. 'It's
now a must for every record company in Malaysia to have a nasyid group
on its books,' said Mr Farihin, who modestly attributes his success to