Qawwali Music and Islam in the Media

Last night, Ushi and I went to an amazing Qawwali concert at Stanford by the Farid Ayaz Qawwal Ensemble from Pakistan. Qawwali music is a beautiful art of the Sufi tradition of South Asia. The ensemble group sings in a chanting fashion, climbing ever higher into sheer bliss while contemplating God and his unity through this powerful expression. The performance was truly ecstatic, with the singers becoming almost trance-like as the night progressed, swept up into a state of devotion that was infectious to all of us in the audience. Everyone was clapping along, and my heart sang…

After the concert, I was so jazzed I couldn’t sleep, and ended up lamenting the fact that the mainstream media presents Muslims and South Asia in such a negative light, especially with the recent cartoon protests around the world. (Ann Coulter appears to have gone totally off the deep-end into a pool of hatred and racism this week, for an example from the conservative side.)

The concert reminded me that the Islamic tradition is so diverse, with Sufism being a mystical strain that particularly appeals to me and my Hindu sensibilities. Here is just one verse from one of the Sufi poems featured in the qawwalis of the ensemble (by Sachal Sarmast, translated by I.A. Adni):

Struck by the love of manifestation,
the absolute consented
to be imprisoned in the finite.

I encourage all of you to listen to some of the qawwali masters, like the Farid Ayaz ensemble and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan… (Oh, and P.S. – A.R. Rahman, the legend himself, was in the audience at the concert last night!)

One Response to “Qawwali Music and Islam in the Media”

  1. Ushi Says:

    Thank you Archana for saying it so beautifully. You echo my thoughts completely. There are so many beautiful elements in all religious traditions that can be celebrated. As a Hindu I have been touched by the humility and peace of the Buddhists, the tradition of Saints in Catholicism, the devotion in Judaism, the humanitarian efforts of the Mormons and also the dedication and worship in the Islamic tradition. Unfortunately the constant stream of negative images in the media perpetuates a fear and distrust in others—particularly Muslims. Paralyzed by fear, so many people are not able to appreciate and revere the radiance and joy present in all traditions. I personally believe the root, or the source, is all the same. Perhaps some people’s beliefs do not permit that—I understand. However, in the name of a truly universal principle, humanity, we can educate. As you have demonstrated, there is a way to stay informed while also focusing on words and images that perpetuate tolerance, peace, and respect.

    For me, this topic is ever illumined by a quote from Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, a saint of the Sufi tradition:

    I want to set fire to heaven with this flame and put out the fire of hell with this water so that people will cease to worship GOD for fear of hell or for temptation of heaven. One must love GOD as GOD is Love.

    —translated by B.R.V.Schlegell in a book called ‘Principles of Sufism’, by Al Qushayri

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