Sony recalls LittleBigPlanet over Quran quote in music

The soundtrack comes from a famous Malian singer who's Muslim.

Published October 20, 2008 8:10PM (EDT)

So there's this game that PlayStation 3 gamers are really excited about: "LittleBigPlanet," made by Sony. It was supposed to be released in North America Tuesday. After reviewing a preview release of the game, the gamer magazine IGN gave it a soaring review of 9.5 (out of 10), calling it "absolutely fantastic, an instant classic that actually turned out to be better than my expectations."

But now, this game is going to be delayed by another week because of some offensive content. We're not talking about another Hot Coffee sex minigame fiasco, nor an über-violent plot à la Grand Theft Auto. We're talking about offending Muslims -- or more precisely, at least one Muslim gamer, who wrote the following:

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: ("kollo nafsin tha'iqatol mawt," literally: 'Every soul shall have the taste of death').

2- Almost immediately after, in the 27th second: ("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 patch, and make sure that all future shipments of the game disk do not contain it.

A few comments below, another commenter, SolidSebi, left the following message:

I myself am a muslim gamer, and do not find the words in this song offensive.

However, I can see this turning into something nasty, where extreme muslims will completely bash sony for including such a song in their game. This almost reminds me of the Church incident in the Resistance game.

I played the beta for this game, and absolutely loved it. I would hate to see sony get slated for including such a track, so I think it would be best if this was removed. Although i don't really see why it should, as it does not insult Islam in any way.

The 2 statements are merely facts which are in the Quran:

1) Every soul must taste death. TRUE 2) Everything on earth will perish. TRUE (Scientific fact).

So if a song included these two statements, in arabic, why should people say that this is offensive to Islam?

It turns out that it's not just random quotes from the Quran. It's actually a song by the Grammy Award-winning Malian singer and kora master Toumani Diabaté. The song is called "Tapha Niang," from his 2006 album, "Boulevard de l'Indépendance," and as gamer blog Joystiq deftly pointed out, you can easily buy this song on iTunes and Amazon.

Further, a profile of Diabaté in the Guardian from earlier this year describes Diabaté as "a devout Muslim, with his own prayer room next to his office, and for him the kora is a "deep and spiritual instrument.'"

So given that Diabaté presumably gave his permission for this song, and he's a Muslim himself, what's the big deal? Well, based on what appears to be the comment of one person, Sony has delayed the release of the game by a week, much to the disappointment of many of its fans.

As Sony wrote on its blog just three days ago:

During the review process prior to the release of LittleBigPlanet, it has been brought to our attention that one of the background music tracks licensed from a record label for use in the game contains two expressions that can be found in the Qur’an. We have taken immediate action to rectify this and we sincerely apologize for any offense that this may have caused.

So what is Sony doing about it? Sony has delayed shipping the game in North America until Oct. 27, is recalling any existing games and will be replacing them with new ones. The difference? According to Jill Webber, a spokeswoman for Sony Computer Entertainment, the company made the decision to use the instrumental version of the song instead. Webber wouldn't answer specific questions about how or why the choice was made to replace the song.

The U.K. company behind the game, Media Molecule, wrote on its company blog:

We learnt yesterday that there is a lyric in one of the licensed tracks which some people may find offensive, and which slipped through the usual screening processes. Obviously MM and Sony together took this very seriously. LBP should be enjoyable by all. So within 12 hours of hearing about this issue involving a lyric (in Somalian, I believe!), Media Molecule had prepared an automatic day 0 patch and had a new disk image ready; however a decision was made within Sony that the right thing to do for quality and support of people with no on-line was to replace existing disks. They assure us that they are doing everything in their power to get things straightened out as fast as possible, and will announce dates soon.

Aside from the fact that they seem to have confused Somalian for Malian as a nationality, and Somali for Arabic as a language, it's still baffling to me how and why this decision was made.

Just to be sure, I wasn't missing something, I checked in with a few Muslim scholars and authorities.

Ahmed M. Rehab, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Chicago), wrote me in an e-mail:

I fished out the song on the internet and heard it. I have no problem with it. I am a fan of Muslim West African music and art. I would have a problem if someone were to sing the lyrics of the Qur'an to some kind of tune, but this was a tasteful citation of a few words from the Qur'an -- not entire verses -- that were chanted in typical West African fashion, not sung to a melody, granted there was music in the background.

Personally, I find the song to be beautiful and touching. But I respect the views of those who have taken offense and I appreciate that Sony has as well. To be fair, I believe Sony is under no obligation to recall the game given that the song was not of their own making, but that of a devout Muslim who allowed them to use it. However, I think they made an admirable decision to respect the sensitivities of their customers who were offended, which is a wise decision from both a marketing and community relations perspective.

He added:

Keep in mind though, I reckon there is a huge market for Sony's games in Indonesia, Malaysia, Southwest Asia and the Middle East. It just may be that Sony is at the end of the day concerned about its bottom line, not so much sensitivities.

While I'm all for being sensitive to religious faith, it seems that this one went a little overboard to recall an entire world launch of a game in order to replace one song that one person found offensive one time. This wasn't some kind of random quote from the Quran that had no place in this game. This was part of a song, performed by a devout Muslim singer, done in the interests of showing reverence to his faith. It seems rather silly to have to tiptoe around something like this just because one Muslim somewhere says that he's offended.

I mean, there are obvious reasons to be offended for something really outrageous, like a game called Muslim Massacre, but this just seems as if Sony has gone to an unnecessary extreme.

Still, any Muslim gamers out there have thoughts on the matter?

By Cyrus Farivar

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