Tuesday, August 02, 2011
How would you define Sufism?
Simply speaking, Sufism is knowing the divine with the heart and the mind. It unveils the indivisible unity of the cosmos and embraces all creation. Humanity and the universe are one and totally interconnected. Sufism also teaches you how to see with the heart. When you see with the heart, all the masks fall down.
Are you happy with the sudden interest in Sufism in the subcontinent?
Sufism is in the DNA of South Asia. The secular and the sacred are one, like body and spirit, the duality can be seen in all aspects of our culture – music, poetry, movies, art and society.
Has Bollywood helped promote Sufism? Has it been able to stick to the essence of Sufism?
Bollywood’s interest in Sufi music is because Sufism is a huge part of subcontinental culture ever since the times of Hazrat Amir Khusro, Khwaja Gharib Nawaz and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Even in the age of cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and the Internet, there’s a natural desire in people to experience love, peace and transcendence, which Sufi music provides.
The song “Beshaq mandir masjid todo” in Raj Kapoor’s “Bobby”, showed me as a child, the power of Bulleh Shah’s poetry and was a perfect example of how the secular and the sacred can coexist harmoniously.
Can Sufism work in bridging gaps between India and Pakistan?
As I write in my recent memoir, *Rock and Roll Jihad*, Pakistan and India share a common history, and Sufism is the spiritual bridge between both nations. Wars and violent extremists have tried to disrupt this harmony but that natural bridge still prevails.
Destroying Sufi shrines, killing and threatening artistes (I have received death threats many times) is not going to change the people’s love for peace and harmony. Ultimately Real Peace in the subcontinent can only come if there’s an end to all wars in the region. We need cultural fusion not nuclear fusion. We need jobs and homes not bombs and drones.
Yours was among the first music groups to promote Sufism. How receptive were your listeners to it at that time (in the 1990s)? You must be happy with the effort?
Thanks to the Almighty, Junoon is still the most loved Sufi-rock group in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh despite having to face bans and all kinds of death threats and attacks over the years.
Junoon’s music has been deeply inspired by Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and our 1998 album Azadi, with songs like Sayonee and Khudi brought us an enormous fan following in India and the rest of the South Asian diaspora. I’m very proud to see other modern artists in Pakistan and India also emulate the music that Junoon popularised. Even today, the most popular music TV programme in Pakistan, Coke Studio, owes its popularity to the blend of Sufi music with pop and rock.
The traditional and the modern will always complement each other. Sufism is not going away anytime soon, our children and grandchildren will be humming Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hazrat Amir Khusro’s melodies, and perhaps even Sayonee too!
What kind of Sufism exists in Pakistan? Amongst the hardliners and the moderates, has it been able to make discernible inroads?
Sufism is still the most prevalent brand of Islam in Pakistan and the majority of Pakistanis have always been passionate centrists and tolerant as far as their faith and beliefs are concerned. That is one of the reasons for the great success of Pakistani artists like Abida Parveen, Reshma, Saeein Zahoor, Nusrat fateh Ali Khan, Junoon, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and others.
However, Sufism is under threat from violent extremists like al Qaeda and the Taliban who have sent suicide bombers to blow themselves up in Sufi shrines across the country. Those killers are brainwashed by murderous thugs masquerading as holy men. Nevertheless, I am very hopeful of the future, because Sufism has always triumphed over extremism. Baba Bulleh Shah, the Punjabi Sufi poet was branded a heretic and denied an Islamic burial when he died in 1757.
But hundred of years later there are hundreds of thousands of people who still go to Baba Bulleh Shah’s shrine in the Pakistani city of Kasur.
Terrorists can blow up a shrine and get on the media radar, but despite their disruption, society has a resilience that is shown throughout the centuries.
Sufism is not some sort of trend. It’s been there for centuries and it’s the glue of this region.