The Awakening of Islamic Pop Music

Jonas Otterbeck

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Published in Association with the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations and the Aga Khan Music ProgrammeExamines how the making, marketing and performance of new Islamic music genres relate to Islamic discourse and thoughtListen to the Spotify playlist ‘The Awakening of Islamic Pop Music’, featuring 103 of the songs mentioned in the book
  • Analyses the contribution of popular music to the development of contemporary interpretations of Islam
  • Uses Awakening as a case study to explore the relationship between Islamic popular music genres and wider Islamic discourse
  • Supported by fieldwork (following tours), content analyses (of songs, videos, promotion material and social media) and interviews (with artists, business people and musicians)
  • Includes new perspectives on celebrity culture among Muslims and its connection with ethical Muslim masculinity

Awakening – an Islamic media company formed in London – has created the soundtrack to many Muslim lives during the last two decades. It has produced three superstars (Sami Yusuf, Maher Zain and Harris J.) among a host of other artists. As the company celebrates their first 20 years in the industry, Jonas Otterbeck examines their remarkable rise to success and their established reputation as one of the most important global enterprises producing pop music inspired by Islam.

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  1. Hi and Welcome to the Field
  2. Awakening to the Music
  3. Awakening Takes to the Stage
  4. Setting the Stage, Ideas in Progress
  5. The Message and Its Media
  6. Performing an Ethical Islamic Masculinity
  7. The Politics of Entertainment
  8. Carefully Pushing Ahead
  9. Islamic Discourses on Popular Music: A Historical Footnote

Jonas Otterbeck’s book is an ethnographically rich study of the rapid and massive emergence of a new phenomenon: Islamic pop music. [...] Overall, I believe Otterbeck’s work should be acknowledged by a wider readership than the sole circle of Islamic Studies.

François Gauthier, Université de Fribourg, Journal of Contemporary Religion Vol 38, Issue 2 (2023)
Otterbeck’s book is a must read for all interested in the assured and ambiguities of Islamic discourses on the ever-changing landscape of Muslims arts.
Mahomed Faizal, The Muslim News

Overall, the book is an insightful and entertaining read and will be of interest to students, researchers and teaching staff in Islamic studies, cultural studies, musicology, cultural anthropology and the social sciences. [...] The vivid writing style and the use of extensive field material will also appeal to the general public interested in the everyday practices and cultural preferences of Muslims as part of a global popular culture.

Maruta Herding, German Youth Institute, Journal of Muslims in Europe 13 (2024)
[...] an excellent example of how popular culture can be taken seriously in the study of contemporary religion [...] opens a rich understanding of a diverse field without diminishing the actors and arguments by forcing them into neat categories easily labelled as liberal or traditional.
Ruth Illman, Åbo Akademi & Uppsala Universit, Tidsskrift for islamforskning 15 (1) · 2022
Otterbeck’s book was personally a joy to read and to reflect on [...].
Shanon Shah, The Revealer

Otterbeck, who toured with several Awakening artists, argues that the development of new global musical idioms and superstars reflects a turn among Muslims away from doctrine and religious law to a focus on ethics in contemporary religious practice.

Foreign Affairs
Jonas Otterbeck is Professor of Islamic Studies at the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, London. Prior to this, he was Professor of Islamic Studies at Lund University, Sweden, and Lecturer in International Migration and Ethnic Relations at Malmö University, Sweden. Over the last twenty-five years, he has engaged in research about contemporary Islam, often with political relevance. He has published on the situation of Muslim pupils in Swedish schools, the identity constructions of Muslim youth and their understanding of Islam, the representation of Islam and Muslims in Sweden, Islamic revivalist discourse, active citizenship among Muslims, and the relationship between European states and Muslim organisations. His research has also focused on music censorship and artists’ right to expression. Among his many publications are the books Muslims in Western Europe (together with J. Nielsen, Edinburgh University Press, 2016) and numerous articles in journals such as Popular Music and Society, Contemporary Islam and Ethnic and Racial Studies.

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