"Zikr" is a song written by Grammy-award winning composer A.R. Rahman (composer of the score to Slumdog Millionaire) and arranged for men's voices by Ethan Sperry. The song is a traditional song of praise to Allah from the Sufi tradition (which the Pakistani qaawali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan helped to popularize in the western culture). The Virginia Glee Club first performed the song in the 2010 Choral Showcase and Christmas Concerts and has performed it from time to time over the years.
The inclusion of a Muslim song, regardless of its tradition of origin, in the Christmas concert sparked controversy when an audience member wrote a letter of protest to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, asking "Would a Ramadan celebration include a Christmas song?" The letter was widely picked up on conservative blogs.
Albinder wrote a letter in response, in which he stated:
The Arabic word for God, Allah, predates the establishment of the Islamic faith by generations. To call God “Allah” is no more remarkable than to call God “Adonai,” “Jehovah,” “Yahweh,” “Dieu” or any of God’s many other names. Islam, like Christianity and Judaism, is one of the three foundational Abrahamic faiths. All three religions worship the same God the Father.
I intended no political message. Every fall, the Glee Club learns several general occasion sacred pieces to perform at UVa’s Family Weekend concert. I then include these pieces on our Christmas program.
Because the Glee Club is made up of students, I feel responsible to program a wide variety of music to expose them to beliefs and cultures that might not be their own as part of their broader education. The university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, owned a large quantity of religious texts including a prized copy of the Quran. I would hope that he would be supportive of just such an approach to programming.
- Price, Jean (2010-12-18). "Muslim song disappointing at annual Christmas concert". Daily Progress. http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2010/dec/18/muslim-song-disappointing-annual-christmas-concert-ar-724458/.
- Albinder, Frank (2011-01-01). "Concert not only about Christmas". Daily Progress. http://www2.dailyprogress.com/news/2011/jan/01/concert-not-only-about-christmas-ar-747535/.