'Little Big Planet' Musician Defends Controversial Song To MTV, Muslim Experts Assess Whether Song Is A Problem

The musician behind the song that caused the highly anticipated PlayStation 3 game "Little Big Planet" to get recalled just days before its release has defended his song in a statement issued to MTV Multiplayer.

Perhaps even more significantly, singer Toumani Diabate has explained what the song is about and why its inclusion of verses from the Qur'an  is his "way to attract and inspire people toward Islam."

Multiplayer received the statement late yesterday, following conversations with two Muslim experts who helped illuminate the reasons why Diabate's song might trouble some Muslims and just how similar -- or different -- this situation is from the publication of the Danish cartoons that inspired deadly riots across the world.

They note the complication that there is no explicit rule in Islam prohibiting a song like Diabate's.

"It is quite normal to play music and be inspired by the words of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace on his Soul) in my country in Mali."

Diabate's song first was initially flagged on the official PS3 message boards by a Muslim gamer who found the inclusion of two verses from the Qur'an in the song to be troubling and offensive. The gamer asked Sony to remove the song from the game, which Sony has agreed to do, delaying the game several days in the process. That request puzzled some gamers who did not understand why the inclusion of the verses would be a problem. Was it against the rules if Islam?

Diabate told MTV Multiplayer that Toumani says that "it is quite normal to play music and be inspired by the words of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace on his Soul) in my country in Mali. You can see this on television all the time." A representative from his label, World Circuit Records, added that the musician "Toumani never performs without speaking about God, either before, during or after the performance."

Dilshad Ali, a Muslim editor at religious website Beliefnet, explained that there is no strict prohibition against including lines from the Qur'an in music. But she described the reasoning that some Muslims might use in finding it a problem. "Muslims are told not to drink alcohol or do drugs or things like that because they are things that would make us lose our inhibitions," she said.

There is no strict prohibition against including lines from the Qur'an in music.

"I wouldn't put music on the same scale as that, but that's the idea behind it. Verses form the Koran have been used all over the place, from poetry and books to words from the Qur'an being quoted in an article. The reason why it's harder when it comes out in a song is because you've got the background of songs being considered Haram -- which is "forbidden" -- in the very proper-ist of Islamic context. That doesn't mean Muslims don't listen to music. I've watched MTV. I listen myself when I have the radio and I'm driving the car. But if you put the two together I can see why it would have the potential to be offensive."

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights and advocacy group, said that he "commended" Sony for removing the song from the game, but reiterated Ali's point that the inclusion of verses from the Qur'an, while potentially problematic, isn't likely to be widely considered a breach against Muslim religious rules. "It's not necessarily some strict prohibitions," he said. "It's just the appropriateness of the context of the sacred text. I could see Christians or Jews objecting if verses from the Bible were used in a similar way."

The lack of a specific prohibition against Diabate's inclusion of the verses makes this situation different from that of the Danish cartoons which violated the teachings of the Prophet. "Portraying an image of the Prophet, that's an explicit thing," Ali said. "That's in Hadith, [the sacred teachings of Mohammed]. And it's not just the Prophet. Strictly speaking, you're not supposed to show images of people and especially religious figures, because we're taught, you don't want to worship to a portrait, you want to worship God... The idea of a prohibition that there shouldn't be verses of the Koran, in music...that's an implied or interpreted rule."

"I don't think there would be death marches and things going on."

Ali doesn't think that anything close to the reaction to those cartoons would have occurred had Diabate's song stayed in the game. "I don't think there would be death marches and things going on," she said. "Maybe some hardcore Muslims would start some boycotting. That might have happened. I don't think it would happen on any scale of what happened with the cartoon controversy." She pointed out that the Queen song "Bohemian Rhapsody" includes a word taken from the Qur'an and no significant controversy ever arose from that.

Given all the discussion of Toumani Diabate's song, what hasn't been explained is what the song is actually about. His label provided MTV Multiplayer this description:

In the song, "Tapha Niang" (taken from the World Circuit/Nonesuch album "Boulevard de l’Independance"), the singer, Moussa Diabate, adapts a traditional Malian song about the death of a much-loved hippopotamus who has been shot by a white hunter.

In the original song (Mali Sadjo) the griots of the village sing about how difficult it is to be separated from your loved one in death.

The singer adapts this song in "Tapha Niang" to lament the death of his brother Mustapha, who died very young as a child.

Moussa draws on the excerpts from the Koran to console him & help him overcome his bereavement.

In this way, his intention ("Neeyah" in Islam) is a good one. He is not blaspheming or taking the Koran out of context.

He is trying to draw strength from the words of the Prophet.

"?? ??? ????? ?????" ("kollo nafsin tha'iqatol mawt", literally: 'Every soul shall have the taste of death').

"?? ?? ????? ???" ("kollo man alaiha fan", literally: 'All that is on earth will perish').

It is important to remember that everyone - no matter who you are or what you do – will die one day. It is the will of God.

Sony is shipping "Little Big Planet" to the U.S. next week and to Europe by early November. For those who already have a retail copy of the game (including us here at MTV Multiplayer), it's likely that Sony will patch the game to remove or block the song. As of last night, no such patch had been issued.

Photo via MySpace.com

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