Wicked Problems Are Never Solved

When I chose to focus on the religious exemptions from general music classes as my Wicked Problem, I knew from the start it would be difficult. Religion is a touchy subject, and honestly I did not know much about the two religions that were affected the most by music being a part of school. Much of my research time was spent learning about Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and how music programs around the world interacted with these faiths.

To learn about Jehovah’s Witness students, I found an article from NAfME titled
Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness into the Band Room about a secondary band teacher and student who worked together to solve any issues that arose from the curriculum. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that the teacher starts with “Before the school year began, I sat down with Alice and her mother” (Weidner, 2017). It is important to have this discussion with both the student and the parents to get the dialogue started and have a clear picture of what is and is not allowed. This article gave me the basis for both of my Possible Solutions. Meeting with families is important to discuss the actual contents of the course led to my idea of the after-school forum. Finding alternative assignments for Alice led to my idea of an online individualized curriculum.

The last time I learned about Islam before this project was 13 years ago in a World History class my freshman year of high school. This time, with a focus, I found Islam really interesting to learn about. An article titled Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck and clarified Muslim understanding of music for me. Music has long been challenged as a part of the Islamic faith, according to Ackfeldt and Otterbeck: “The words “lahwa-l-hadith” (often translated as idle tales), in connection with those telling tales leading people away from the path of Allah, were very early on interpreted as referring to music,” (Ackfeldt & Otterbeck, 2012). Depending on which Islamic theologians you follow there are many different stances on music, which you can see below in this chart.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1 from Music and Islam by Ackfeldt and Otterbeck (2012).

Although we do not sing any sensuous music in elementary music classes, improvisation and serious metered songs are a necessary part of the curriculum. These items that are in the controversial zone show that while some Muslim families will be okay with the elementary music curriculum, there are many that will want their students removed from elementary music.

Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta. Photo by Henrik Hansson (2006)

As someone who has considered themselves a musician since I was four, hearing that my students cannot participate in music at all is hard. Music can bring so much joy, love, understanding, and faith to a person’s life and to remove almost all of it seems harsh. I found comfort in Sana, an Islamic Religious Education teacher in a Muslim school in Sweden who uses music to teach about Islam. In an article titled Teaching Islam with music by Jenny Berglund, Sana discusses how she talks about music with the families, works with religious leaders in her area, and because of her faith and background her work is mostly accepted (2008). It is possible for Muslim students to experience music, but it needs to be within their parameters.

My Wicked Problem is still unsolved for now, as I do not have the power at my buildings to implement these ideas yet. I plan on suggesting the forum idea to my schools that are impacted most by students being pulled from music classes. Hopefully this can be done at the beginning of the next school year to set all of our students up for success in elementary music.


Berglund, Jenny. (2008 May 29). Teaching Islam with music. Ethnography and Education. 3, 161-175. https://doi-org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/10.1080/17457820802062409

Hansson, Henrik. (2006 February 26). Muslim girls at Istiqlal Mosque Jakarta [image]. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muslim_girls_at_Istiqlal_Mosque_jakarta.png

Otterbeck, J. & Ackfeldt, A. (2012). Music and Islam. Contemporary Islam. 6, 227-233. https://doi-org.proxy2.cl.msu.edu/10.1007/s11562-012-0220-0

Weidner, Brian. (2017 August 18). Welcoming a Jehovah’s Witness Into the Band Room. Retrieved from: https://nafme.org/welcoming-a-jehovahs-witness-into-the-bandroom/

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