Sony Videogame with Lyrics from the Quran in a Musical Track has Been Recalled

The Situation

A trial version of the Sony game LittleBigPlanet had a track by a Malian musician who had included two quranic verses in his song. When Sony realized that these verses had made it into the videogame as this track played, they issued a recall of the game and ensured the public that the track would be removed. They were determined, they claimed, to make sure that not a single solitary soul was offended.

Being as Unoffensive as Possible

Now, I appreciate that they did this. My friend JDsg and I often discuss the importance of not causing offense to others unnecessarily (see the Quran Read-A-Long posts), and I think it’s great that Sony is so determined to set things right. They are a global company with global responsibilities and in addition to doing what’s right for their business and public relations interests I imagine they also think they’re doing what’s right on a basic social level. And in pretty much all these cases I would say they are. Kudos, Sony.

However, what I’m wondering is where the decision to use this song came from in the first place. What I mean is, surely they got the rights to use the song in the game – at least I hope so – which means that either the artist himself or his producer/agent/label (though admittedly I’m unsure of how the Malian music business works) had to have signed off on this. Did no one warn Sony that this might be a problem or consider sharing with them that in using the song they were including two quranic verses in their videogame? Though it’s nice this was caught at the beta level of the game, I feel like someone didn’t do their homework at an earlier stage, and I’m a bit puzzled.

A Whole Lot of Questions

Second, which quranic verses were they? I’d be most interested to find out. Moreover, what is the game about? Does it relate to the verses because on some level it relates to the song? What about the song itself? Is it a secular song, and if so, is it as potentially offensive for the artist to have included the verses in his song as it is for Sony to have inadvertently used the song (and therefore the lyrics) in its game? Is it just that the singer has less to lose? Moreover, and this becomes more hypothetical, what if the game is about doing good and has positive messages (I have no idea what the game is about, by the way) – then is it acceptable to include a song with quranic verses, or the verses in writing if they actually reinforce the positive messages of the game? Is this along the same lines as depicting Mohammed? What if it was a Muslim videogame or even a videogame designed to teach children about the Quran? Then would it be allowed to include quranic verses?

I guess all these questions get at one big thing that I don’t get. I get that this could have been a potentially offensive situation to Muslims, but I guess I fail to see exactly why, and if it is because there is a policy as straightforward as “including quranic verses in videogames (in whatever fahion?) is wrong and offensive” what exactly is offensive and are there exceptions to this rule (e.g. Muslim games)?

A Post-Update

I would like to add that the author of the song has come out and said that he is a Muslim and in his culture singing verses from the Quran in songs is absolutely normal and acceptable. He’s also said it was not blasphemous and is bothered by this huge row. Apparently he was well aware that his song was being used and saw no problem or conflict. In fact, it is the Muslim Forum think tank that is opposing what he’s saying and insisting that it is unacceptable to have put the words of God to music like that.

So interestingly, though Sony was doing what it thought was right (and probably still is) in order to offend as few Muslims as possible, they’re definitely pissing off one by pulling his song on the grounds that it could be blasphemous in the first place when he insists that it’s not. It seems that this case is one of Muslims not having a consensus and western business interests definitely trying to save face in the process of offending as few people as possible. Is something wrong here?

Summary

What do you think about all this? Can you shed some light on any of my questions or puzzlement?

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3 Responses

  1. Muslims have various viewpoints with respect to music in general, one view being that most music is haram (forbidden) and that the only allowable musical instruments are the voice and the duff (a type of tambourine that doesn’t have cymbals on the sides). That doesn’t mean, of course, that all Muslims subscribe to that view, and a lot of popular music is created throughout the Muslim world. (Here in S’pore, the only two winners of “Singapore Idol” were Malay Muslims; a televised band competition was won by a Malay group. This in a country with 3/4 of the population being non-Muslim Chinese.) But there is a common fear among the vast majority of Muslims that various aspects of Islam and Islamic culture will be used by non-Muslims in ways that are unsuitable at best, denigratory at worst. This case by Sony being only the latest example. The use of the Qur’an in this musician’s lyrics is not necessarily a problem; he’s Muslim and presumably used the ayat in an appropriate manner. But the use of the ayat for commercial purposes makes the music inappropriate, even if no malice was intended by Sony (and I haven’t read anything to make me believe that that was the case). So I’m happy that Sony decided to pull the games because, insha’allah, it sets an appropriate precedent and will create less fitna (strife) in the future.

    For an example of a popular nasheed (Islamic song), I recommend Sami Yusuf’s “Supplication”.

  2. I like the distinction of commercial – that certainly starts to answer my question about what the real problem is here. Even the original artist was using his song for religious purposes to a certain extent (yes, it is commercial, but as a practicing Muslim whose culture embraces what he’s done, it would be hard to point a stern finger). However, Sony’s use is obviously purely commercial, though immediately pulling the game upon discovering this fact does set this kind of precedent.

  3. I partially agree with JDsg —In that, in today’s climate, it may have been the appropriate thing to do—but I hope it is not considered a “precedent”. I agree with those who say that perhaps we muslims have become a bit hypersensitive since the cartoon fiasco. This is understandable in an environment where misunderstandings, both malicious and unintentional abound. But I hope that we muslims can eventually relax and enjoy the diversity of views and traditions within Islam and let others also enjoy it.

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