Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Little Big Planet’s Quran Music Faux Pas

Posted in Religion,Scandal by Elliott Back on October 18th, 2008.

The upcoming videogame LittleBigPlanet (LBP) for the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) console has received an unexpected blow to its release schedule. During the final review process, Sony Entertainment discovered that two verses from the Qu’ran were included in Little Big Planet’s background track. The verses are found in the early portions of this song, and to Western ears are utterly innocuous:

1- In the 18th second: “كل نفس ذائقة الموت” (“kollo nafsin tha’iqatol mawt”, literally: ‘Every soul shall have the taste of death’).

2- Almost immediately after, in the 27th second: “كل من عليها فان” (“kollo man alaiha fan”, literally: ‘All that is on earth will perish’).

I was curious as to why “we Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending” and I came across this Yahoo Answers thread which tries to explain that “music is haram for believers of Islam.” I don’t find any of the answers convincing. Putting aside–for a moment–the question of whether music itself is acceptable to a Muslim, there merely remains the issue of why Sony Entertainment, a global company, would harm its own videogame release by giving into the demands of religious socio-terrorists.

It’s clear to me that merely offending a subset of people is not a good reason to give up creative direction, freedom of speech, or any of the other Western ideals. It’s also not a particularly good business decision. A product which satiates the myriad desires of every interest group, which pleases everyone, that offends no one is a product which has thus had every innovation stripped from it.

Little Big Planet is a family-oriented game where players control a Sackboy to play and explore the game environments, create their own content, and share creations with others around the world. It hardly merits a religious challenge over the inclusion of text into its soundtrack.

The full letter which Kotaku believes is responsible for the delay is reproduced below the cut for posterity:

To: Sony Computer Entertainment & Media Molecule

While playing your latest game, “LittleBigPlanet” in the first level of the third world in the game (titled “Swinging Safari”), I have noticed something strange in the lyrics of the music track of the level. When I listened carefully, I was surprised to hear some very familiar Arabic words from the Quran. You can listen to part of the track here:

The words are:

1- In the 18th second: “كل نفس ذائقة الموت” (“kollo nafsin tha’iqatol mawt”, literally: ‘Every soul shall have the taste of death’).

2- Almost immediately after, in the 27th second: “كل من عليها فان” (“kollo man alaiha fan”, literally: ‘All that is on earth will perish’).

I asked many of my friends online and offline and they heard the exact same thing that I heard easily when I played that part of the track. Certain Arabic hardcore gaming forums are already discussing this, so we decided to take action by emailing you before this spreads to mainstream attention.

We Muslims consider the mixing of music and words from our Holy Quran deeply offending. We hope you would remove that track from the game immediately via an online update, and make sure that all future shipments of the game disk do not contain it.

We would also like to mention that this isn’t the first time something like this happened in videogames. Nintendo’s 1998 hit “Zelda: Ocarina of Time” contained a musical track with islamic phrases, but it was removed in later shipments of the game after Nintendo was contacted by Muslim organizations. Last year, Capcom’s “Zack & Wiki” and Activision’s “Call of Duty 4″ also contained objectionable material offensive to Muslims that was spotted before the release of the final games, and both companies thankfully removed the content.

We hope you act immediately to avoid any confusion and unnecessary controversy, and we thank you for making such an amazing game.

Regards,
NSider

(On behalf of the gamers at True-Gaming.net)

What do you think? Should Sony have pulled that piece of soundtrack? Or should they have published a short, reasoned reply to that letter to the effect that, “if it offends you, exercise your discretion and refrain from purchasing.”

Update: The delay and this unreasonable rationale has been confirmed on the Playstation blog.

Update 2: According to Edge Magazine, M. Zuhdi Jasser, M.D., president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, disagrees with the decision to censor LBP:

Muslims cannot benefit from freedom of expression and religion and then turn around and ask that anytime their sensibilities are offended that the freedom of others be restricted. The free market allows for expression of disfavor by simply not purchasing a game that may be offensive. But to demand that it be withdrawn is predicated on a society which gives theocrats who wish to control speech far more value than the central principle of freedom of expression upon which the very practice and freedom of religion is based.

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7 Responses to “Little Big Planet’s Quran Music Faux Pas”

  1. gita says:

    there are more than 1.5 billion muslims around the globe and I think sony would not be happy if muslims stop puarchasing their prorducts over a small thing such as this one don’t you think ?

  2. SamJ says:

    Its one thing to debate whether Sony should have pulled it or not and I agree w/ Dr.Jasser's thoughts above. However, what are such lyrics doing in a 'family oriented game' anyway?

    One wonders (especially since this has happened in the past) if this is all some sort of reliable hype building strategy… After all, it never fails… rest assured there will be an uproar from the “Islamic side”.

    I'm a muslim living in the US and I have a rather liberal outlook, and I know plenty of other muslims who share that outlook; and believe in free speech. BUT when it comes to religion (Islam or otherwise), we don't have a sense of humor about it. Because I believe there are some things that are sacred and should be left as such. This does ignite a little bit of a cultural clash in the US because religious-satire, jesus-jokes etc. are common here and there may not be any harm intended; yet, from an Islamic perspective, it can be perceived as highly blasphemous. I do believe even in the US, religious satire is frowned upon by the Evangelicals and the religious right. What you don't see is the violent uproar common in radical Islamic societies. That aside, is it really 'the right thing' to use 'religion' in any form less of 'sacred'? You may be an athiest, does that mean you can bash religion freely? or does it mean you HAVE to respect something you don't believe in. Guess it all goes back to the 'live and let live' mentality… if only more people exercised it.

    Sorry to ramble, but I guess my point is that freedom of speech is best exercised when accompanied by 'responsible' speech… maybe then we can all co-exist peacefully.

  3. ED says:

    its not harmful at all although its verses from the Quran but its also normal words than can be used in everyday life and why not let millions of people hear words from the Quran i think thats a good thing

  4. elliottback says:

    Come on, the marketplace of ideas doesn't require mutual respect. If you're offended about lyrics in a song, but the song's author's don't care, there's a bit of an impasse, no?

  5. Blackjacket says:

    Unfortunately the 'respect others' rationale doesn't work, because by attacking lyrics in songs one is 'disrespecting' the virtues and freedoms of art through lyrics. Essentially, someone is gonna get hurt.

    So a decision has to be made to 'hurt' the fewest people. I think that in a single decision, fewer people would be hurt by removing the lyrics, though ultimately the cost will be much much greater.

    Out of curiosity, is it only phrases that can't be used in music? or is every single individual word banned from being in lyrics?

  6. mmmm says:

    If you believe on what you claim is freedom of speech then you should know that the limit of your freedom stops before the others. In other word if your freedom will harm mine in any sort of way it is not your right to exercise such an act. Furthermore, you should respect others believe and what this game has to do with religious stuff. After all western society believe in secularization of everything why they suddenly lose their believe (or lack of it) if it has to do with Islam.

  7. Mosh says:

    You still have to wonder – how and why did the words end up in there in the first place? Someone who understands Arabic and the Quran has picked them and mixed them in for some reason. Stranger yet, it’s happened a few times.

    But I’d agree with the “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it” philosophy. DO you hear the Christian churches whinging with every release of a game featuring corpses risen from the grave, or images of Hell, or where the player takes control of a devil or somesuch?

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