Monday, January 18, 2010

Salman, Bulleh Shah, Hava Nagila in Silicon Valley

World renowned Pakistani rock singer Salman Ahmad -- the "Bono of South Asia"-- led a group of Muslim and Jewish musicians last weekend in Palo Alto, in support of Abraham's Vision and the Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative (SSGWI). The concert was also promoted by Pakistani-American Cultural Center (PACC) in Silicon Valley, California.

It was a high energy performance that brought the audience to their feet, with loud cheers, and ecstatic dancing to an eclectic mix of music with origins in South Asia (Saleem Ahmad on tabla) and Central and Eastern Europe (Yale Strom with fiddle, and an accordionist).

Dubbed as "Unity Jam", the concert began with Salman Ahmad and Elizabeth Schwartz singing the poetry of Punjabi Sufi Saint Baba Buellh Shah (Punjabi: بلہے شاہ, ਬੁੱਲ੍ਹੇ ਸ਼ਾਹ), and ended with the popular Jewish folk song of Hava Nagila (הבה נגילה in Hebrew), and John Lennon's "Imagine".

Baba Bulleh Shah's poetry carries the messages of romance, love and tolerance that constitute a solid foundation for any inter-faith efforts to resolve conflicts, and to bring peace and harmony to a world torn by hatred, terror and violence. For example, one of the poems chosen by Salman Ahmad for the concert goes like this:

Masjid dha de, mandir dha de, dha de jo kucch dainda
(Tear down the mosque and the temple; break everything in sight)
Par kisi da dil na dhain, Rab dilan vich rehnda..
(But do not break a person’s heart, it is there that God resides)

Another wise choice of Salman from Bullleh Shah's poetry:

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun
(Bulleh! to me, I am not known)
Na maen momin vich maseet aan
(Not a believer inside the mosque, am I)
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
(Nor a pagan disciple of false rites)
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
(Not the pure amongst the impure)
Na maen moosa na pharaun.
(Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh)

The Unity Jam was sponsored by Abraham's Vision, which says "it empowers future Jewish and Muslim leaders to reach their potential to transform deep-rooted conflicts through unique, experiential educational programs" and SSGWI that "is working to bringing relief to Pakistan's three million internally displaced refugees". The concert attracted a large number of young men and women of Islamic and Jewish faiths, some of whom spoke movingly about their fervent hopes for peace, and explained the reasons for their participation as fellows of Abraham's Vision program.

Salman Ahmad has been using his musical talent and writings to help Pakistanis deal with the growing Taliban threat. Last year, he joined Deepak Chopra in publishing an Op Ed titled "Pakistan's War is Cultural, Not Military" that was published in San Francisco Chronicle. The OP Ed piece said that "Pakistan is a war zone, but its battle is far more cultural than military. The whole country realizes this fact and is holding its breath, hoping that President Obama will come to the same realization. As long as the United States pursues the futile military policy of the Bush years, the situation in Pakistan will grow increasingly dire."

In another opinion piece published by the Washington Post, Salman Ahmad and Pakistani filmmaker Kamran Pasha condemned the Taliban as "the enemies of Pakistan and Islam". Salman and Kamran wrote as follows in their opinion:

Despite the distorted teaching of extremists like the Taliban, the truth is that the Holy Qur’an does not establish any form of government. Indeed, it is disputes over politics and leadership that split the Muslim community into two sects, Sunni and Shia. The very idea of imposition of religion on others goes against the heart of the Qur’an. In Surah 2:256, the Qur’an says forcefully: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

Even the notion of imposing “Islamic law” is nonsensical, as the very idea of a monolithic body of religious rules agreed to by the Muslim community has no basis in Islamic history. There is no unified notion of Sharia. Over the past 1,400 years, many schools of law have developed, each with its own doctrines and jurisprudence, and with contradictory rulings on many matters. Sharia is not a codified body of rules, but a dynamic interaction between scholars, jurists and the Muslim community.

In a recent book titled "Rock and Roll Jihad", Salman talks about his journey in an increasingly hostile environment, facing down angry mullahs and oppressive dictators who wanted all music to be banned from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He talks about his band Junoon, a "sufi - rock" group that broke boundaries and sold thirty million records. Salman's story begins in New York, where he spent his teen years learning to play guitar, listening to Led Zeppelin, hanging out at rock clubs and Beatles concerts, making American friends, and dreaming of stardom. That dream almost died when his family returned to Pakistan, and Salman was forced to follow the new rules of piety imposed by Zia's regime. But his persistence has paid off. As expected by his parents, he did finish medical school in Lahore, and then went back to his love of music, and he has stayed with it ever since. Along with his music, he has lent his celebrity and talent for various humanitarian causes, most recently focusing on helping a large number of internal refugees created by the ongoing conflict in Pakistan.

The book was offered after the concert, with Salman on hand to personally sign it. I bought my autographed copy after being told that the proceeds will go toward helping the refugees.

There is a lot of talk about the "clash of civilizations" in the Western media in the context of the US "war on terror", but little is reported about the fierce clash of ideas going on within the Islamic civilization. The polls continue to show distrust of the United States in the Islamic World, mostly based on the US policies that are perceived as unjust by the majority of the world's Muslims. The list of Muslim grievances against the United States is long, stretching from its support of the brutal Israeli occupation of Palestine to its role in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to the increasing drone attacks and rising suspicions about the role of the CIA, there are new and explosive revelations about the role and the strength of Blackwater contractors in the region. A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine have alleged that Blackwater chief Erik Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." The number of US contractors working for the US military and the CIA in the region exceeds the total strength of the US troops and CIA personnel, according to estimates by Jimmy Scahill who has researched and written extensively about Blackwater. The presence of over 80,000 US military and intelligence contractors in Afghanistan and Pakistan makes the level of privatization of war unprecedented.

However, it would be wrong to conclude from such reports that any more than a tiny minority of the followers of the Islamic faith support the terrorists inspired by al Qaeda's ideology of hate. In a recent International Republican Institute (IRI) poll, eighty percent of Pakistanis oppose Pakistan's cooperation with the United States on the "war on terror," a figure that shot up 19 points since March. At the same time, 86 percent agreed that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants posed a problem for Pakistan and more than two-thirds supported a recent Pakistani army offensive on extremists.

The clash within the Islamic world is happening at all levels and in all spheres of life in Pakistan, from culture to academia, mass media, military and politics. It is best for the West to extend support and stop their hostility toward the Islamic world, and let the Muslims sort out their differences among

Acknowledgment: Photographs by Nasreen Aboobaker

Here's a documentary on Islam narrated by Benazir Bhutto:

Related Links:

Taliban--Enemies of Pakistan and Islam

Pakistan's War is Cultural, Not Military

Rock and Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star's Revolution

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Alam Versus Hoodbhoy: The Clash Within Islam

Have a Murree with your Currie

CIA's Secret War in Pakistan

Pakistani-American Cultural Center, Silicon Valley

Junoon--Pakistani Rock Band

Pakistani Rock Music

Pakistani Entrepreneurs Survive Downturn


Data Cruncher said...

"In Surah 2:256, the Qur’an says forcefully: “There is no compulsion in religion.”"

except that no one is allowed to leave islam, even when they themselves didn't make the choice of getting into it (like those who are born to muslim parents).

Najam said...

That was a wonderful message from you. Thanks for the great education and information.Now we can understand the true message of Islam in Rock concerts with loud cheers, and ecstatic dancing to an eclectic mix of music .It will also be in real spirit of Islam if we try to understand it by singing with Jews ,the Hava Nagila.It is further nice to learn that truest preachers are people like Salman Ahmed and Depak Chopra and Kamran Pasha.Perhaps Allah could not understand the benefits of interfaith relation ships when he sent this message through his prophet.

O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Auliyâ' (friends, protectors, helpers, etc.), they are but Auliyâ' to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as Auliyâ', then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allâh guides not those people who are the Zâlimûn (polytheists and wrong­doers and unjust). (Al-Ma'idah 5:51)


O you who believe! Take not for Auliyâ' (protectors and helpers) those who take your religion for a mockery and fun from among those who received the Scripture (Jews and Christians) before you, nor from among the disbelievers; and fear Allâh if you indeed are true believers. (Al-Ma'idah 5:57)

Also we learn that Allah and prophet could not comprehend that there is no compulsion in Religion ,as we see in Quran.

Then when the Sacred Months have passed, then kill the Mushrikûn ( V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salât (Iqâmat-as-Salât), and give Zakât, then leave their way free. Verily, Allâh is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (At-Tawbah 9:5)

Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allâh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allâh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islâm) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah[] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (At-Tawbah 9:29)

Perhaps Quran also wants just to tease people by declaring,

He it is Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad SAW) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islâmic Monotheism) to make it victorious over all (other) religions even though the Mushrikûn (polytheists, pagans, idolaters, and disbelievers in the Oneness of Allâh and in His Messenger Muhammed SAW) hate (it). (As-Saff 61:9)

It was no surprise to read that Salman Ahmed sang the Bhullay Shah poem. Bhulley Shah in his poetry ridiculed each and every tenet of Islam,be it prayers,fasting,zakat,mosque,kaaba,haj and zakat.He prided himself to be called an "infidel"and Muslims did a great injustice in not allowing his fragranting corpse to be buried in Muslim graveyard.No wonder Asif Zardari in his speech of yesterday read this verse of Bhulley Shah

(Bhulley shah will never die.There is someone else in the grave).

Riaz Haq said...


Your response is highly predictable, and clearly draws your battle lines. It essentially represents the Talibans' extreme interpretation of Islam that would guarantee war without end, something that US is often rightly accused of.

Remember what George W. Bush said after 911: "You are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Al Qaeda, Taleban and Bin Laden also say the exact same thing: "You are with us, or you are with the infidels."

Tariq Ali correctly pointed out in his book "The Clash of Fundamentalisms" that Goerge Bush and Osama Bin Laden represent two sides of the same coin. His book's front cover carries a picture of Bush dressed as Bin Laden, and the back cover has a picture of Bin Laden dressed as Bush.

Rashid said...

This same "Clash of Funda's" will keep popping up in new guises everytime. This time it is Salman Junooni - who is actually just following in the footsteps of Bhulley Shah. History repeating itself. Thanks to both Riaz and Najam to make this connection very clear to me.

The backlash from Najam (representing the other Fundas) - predictable and extreme - but not invalid. With a little bit of polishing and replacement of a few words - it can become palatable.

Another prediction - both factions will always be in the 3rd or greater Standard Deviation from the Mean.

Riaz Haq said...

Rashid, In response to your prediction that"both factions will always be in the 3rd or greater Standard Deviation from the Mean", let me quote from Martin Luther King's Nobel acceptance speech:

"I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. "

Riaz Haq said...

Spotify Turns Up the Volume in Pakistan With Events and Music Campaigns

Two years ago, we introduced Spotify to listeners in Pakistan. Since the launch, we’ve worked with the country’s artists to expand their reach and share their music with new fans worldwide—and now we’re taking things to a new level.

March marked the first anniversary of our EQUAL women’s empowerment program in Pakistan, with singer Tina Sani as the Ambassador of the Month. RADAR, which highlights emerging artists from all around the world, also recently made its debut in Pakistan, featuring Taha G up first. He’s at the top of the RADAR Pakistan playlist, and Spotify worked with the singer to create a mini-documentary that spotlights his life and career.

In addition to bringing these programs to the region, we’re finding unique ways—from Masterclasses to cricket campaigns to local playlists—to connect with artists.

Lending artists support with a Masterclass in Lahore
Our music industry experts were ready to share their knowledge during a Spotify for Artists Masterclass event in Lahore, PK. “We hosted at the historical Haveli Barood Khana mansion, and used this opportunity to educate and share information on music streaming trends and new product features with the burgeoning music industry in the region,” shared Khan FM, Artist and Label Partnerships Manager for Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. Renowned Coke Studio music producer, curator and artist Zulfiqar Jabbar Khan shared his perspective on the Pakistani music industry with an audience that included more than 150 artists and their teams.

Spotify gets in the cricket spirit
“Cricket is huge in Pakistan, and Spotify highlighted the nation’s love for the game by launching a cricket marketing campaign and digging into the data* of the popular Cricket Fever playlist,” shared Talha Hashim, Marketing Manager for Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The curated collection has seen a staggering 611% increase in streams since the beginning of Pakistan Super League 08 (PSL) this year. Among other trends, we noticed:

Karachi is the top city streaming the playlist.
Tuesdays and evenings are when the playlist sees the most streams.
Top songs include “Groove Mera – Pakistan Super League” by Aima Baig, Naseebo Lal, and Young Stunners and “Agay Dekh (Pakistan Super League)” by Atif Aslam and Aima Baig.

Celebrating local artists with Pakka Hit Hai
The Pakka Hit Hai playlist is the go-to Spotify destination for Pakistan’s top hits. “The playlist first launched in 2022 and has seen incredible growth and popularity since its inception. To celebrate, Spotify partnered with COLABS for a concert series called Pakka Hit Hai Live,” said Rutaba Yaqub, Senior Editor for Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. The first show featured Fresh Finds success Abdul Hannan and Taha G, two of the best-performing artists on the playlist. Bringing the playlist to more fans through live events is one way we’re expanding its reach.