To Sing Is Human

Murder of Afghan Folk Singer Highlights Power of Music

There has been no shortage of tragic images and stories coming out of Afghanistan in recent weeks, but perhaps one of the most heartbreaking, not to mention chilling, was the killing of Fawad Andarabi.

Andarabi, an Afghan folk singer, was reported by multiple outlets to have been murdered by the Taliban after the terrorist organization overtook the country. Andarabi’s son, Jawad, said that his father was pulled from his home and shot in the head at the family farm.

"He was innocent,” Jawad Andarabi said, “a singer who only was entertaining people.” The murder followed a New York Times interview with Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in which Mujahid said, "Music is forbidden in Islam.” When the Taliban last ruled the country, it outlawed most forms of music.

The question that immediately comes to mind is why? Andarabi wasn’t plotting the Taliban’s overthrow. He wasn’t harboring Afghan rebels. He was simply singing. Why seek him out and kill him in cold blood?

The answer is easy. Singing is one of the most basic expressions of the human spirit. Whether the song is one of joy or sadness, celebration or lament, hope or grief, the act of singing is foundational to human existence. Some researchers even believe singing was a precursor to the development of language. Whatever the origin of singing, history records that it has always been one of the primary ways people teach and comfort their children, celebrate special occasions, worship their god, pass down their stories, express their devotion to one another and share in their common experience. Furthermore, this is a truth that cuts across time and culture. Take someone’s song away, and you take away more than his voice: you take away a piece of his soul. What better way to bring a civilization to its knees?

Yet, when I look at my own country right now, I sometimes wonder how many Americans would care if they were told they could no longer sing. Sure, music is a billion-dollar industry. But these days, it’s less something we do ourselves than something we consume.

In the early days of America, music was routinely performed and sung as a part of everyday life in homes and communities. With the advent of recording technology, music has become something we are more likely to leave to the professionals. A basic ability to sing and read music was once considered a necessary element of a well-rounded education. But arts programs have been the target of school funding cuts for years, a situation that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Music literacy is on the decline; congregational singing in churches has too often been replaced by bands that sing at, instead of with, the assembly; and we don’t even sing our national anthem ourselves anymore but typically queue up a recording or bring in a soloist to do it for us.

Are there any songs a group of Americans can sing together today beside “Happy Birthday” or “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”? If someone launched into “Auld Lang Syne,” would you be able to sing along, all the way to the end? What about “The Star-Spangled Banner”? How many of the hymns in your hymnal can you sing by heart? Wait, does your church even use hymnals anymore?

If the practice of singing is not a regular part of your own life, it’s time to change that. There is an abundance of ways to do so. Pull out your hymnal and pick some hymns to learn and memorize. (Don’t merely listen to recordings of hymns.) Invite some friends over and have an old-fashioned singalong (without the karaoke machine) of folk music, oldies, and patriotic songs. Rediscover the tradition of Christmas caroling. Support those making music in your community through your participation, attendance and dollars. Advocate for excellent musical instruction in your local school district. Enroll your children in music lessons, community arts organizations and your church’s children’s choir. Sing in the church choir yourself — it’s one of the best places to learn and improve upon your own musical skill. Don’t say you can’t sing. Statistics show that true tone-deafness, or amusia, is rare.

Fawad Andarabi’s voice has been silenced, but his song has not. Individual singers come and go, but their collective song lives on as it is preserved and passed on by those who continue to sing it. The act of singing has provided succor to the oppressed, fomented the overthrow of repressive governments and comforted nations during times of tragedy. In the Bible, there are numerous direct commands from God for His people to sing. Faith cannot help but sing. Thanks be to God, we live in a country that doesn’t forbid it. Well, not until recently. May we never take for granted our ability and freedom to sing, and may we ever choose songs —and occasions to sing them — that nourish the best of the human spirit.

is managing editor of Reporter, the official newspaper of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. She has written for a variety of publications, including The Federalist, Touchstone and The Lutheran Witness, and is a contributor to the book He Restores My Soul from Emmanuel Press. She has degrees in English and music and enjoys playing piano in her spare time.

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