Last month one of Pakistan’s most famous musicians, Amjad Sabri, 45, was tragically murdered by the Taliban. A spokesman for the extremist group said the musician was targeted because his music, known as Qawwali, is considered blasphemous.
Authors Cynthia Schneider and Raza Rumi explain the significance of the genre in this article from Fair Observer, “Qawwali music and the Sufi tradition to which it belongs represent the antithesis of the Wahhabi-inspired fundamentalism of militant groups such the Taliban, the Islamic State or Boko Haram, which view such practices as heresy. From North Africa to South Asia, Sufi ideas—of love for humans, communal harmony and tolerance—are part of lived faith and culture. Violent extremists within Muslim societies find this peaceful, inclusive approach to be a challenge to the dogma of fear they impose, and have been attempting to erase it.”
Qawwali music has deep reach, globally influencing famous musicians such as Peter Townsend and Peter Gabriel, and even Bollywood films.
In 2012, American gospel singers performed with Pakistani qawwali singers in Cairo’s annual Sufi festival. The authors make the point, “the Sufi festival audience, including fully covered guests from Saudi Arabia, swayed to the sounds of the gospel hit, “When I Think About Jesus, I Feel Like Dancing.” Just as with the hypnotic pull of qawwali music, no one was thinking about whether dancing or music were ‘allowed’ or not—everyone was swept away in the unifying feeling of shared spirituality. For fighting extremism in South Asia, regional music is an essential tool. Sadly, with the death of Amjad Sabri, a powerful messenger of peace and tolerance has been lost. That is what extremists find threatening in Pakistan and in countries such as Mali where music is the lifeblood of the country.”