The melodious song of a sparrow, the soothing waves of an ocean, the delicate touch of a devotee. They give one joy. Getting fits of laughter, dancing wildly, loving passionately, they give one joy, and so does listening to a qawwali. I have attended many a qawwali, from Abida Parveen, to Amjad Sabri. I may not be much of a religious person, but during these live qawwalis, I have surely felt a connection with God. They have been profound spiritual experiences. I would irresistibly merge with the mood of the music, with the enchanting soul stirring voice of the qawwal, to form a glorious, divine whole. Time would stop, the mind would go on a break, and the mesmerising music would enter the inner core of my soul.
I am told that the most likely reason (if that can be called a reason) for Amjad Sabri’s cold-blooded gruesome murder is that he was an icon for the most popular form of Muslim devotional music. That he came from a family of great qawwali maestros, that he was becoming more and more popular among the younger generation who could find some relationship with spirituality through his qawwalis. That sounds completely bonkers but that is the explanation for the murder of qawwali, which has emerged so far.
Why would anyone be, or even want to be, against such a divine and spiritually uplifting form of music? Why would anyone attempt to crush such a harmless expression of a religious devotee? Is it because it is music? Are they against music per se? Does the sound of music threaten them so much? Do they want to stifle the crooning birds or singing streams, the melodious notes of the awesome wind and rhythmic oceans? Would they like to put an end to the rhythmic journey of the planet Earth or the Universe itself for that matter?
The kharjites of early years of Islam did have such beliefs. This nihilistic mindset emerged during the time of Hazrat Ali, when divisions in the empire started becoming evident. That ideology slowly morphed into what it is today, the dark forces of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Isis. The destruction of Sufi shrines, bulldozing of tombs of prophets and saints have become a crusade for this evil breed. They have bombed hospitals, massacred children, and attacked places of worship. Killing of qawwals is another “feather” in their despicable cap, another attempt to instill fear in the minds of the people. Islam was and is meant to be a religion of Love, not a religion of fear.
God is to be loved. He meant his creation to be beautiful, understanding, at peace, joyous. He wanted and wants His creation to do good deeds but to also laugh, dance, cry. Why are these Isis/Taliban/Kharjittes so vehemently against such innocent form of self-expression because a religion of fear is much easier to control than a religion of love. Fear breeds hate, love breeds tolerance, understanding, empathy, sympathy, dialogue. And this evil force does not want dialogue or debate. If people are able to converse, with understanding, the nihilist destructive mindset of Isis and Talibs would have no leg to stand on. This was the vision of Hitler, of Pol Pot, of destroying the world and rebuilding it, not in God’s image, in their own sick image. That is why tombstones are broken, dance banned, ancient ruins and valuable treasures destroyed. That is why thousands of years of our glorious history has been decimated, our very roots torn apart. That is why, Amjad Sabri was killed.
Why do we follow the self-appointed spokespersons of the Almighty, so blindly? Why do we assume their declarations to be, God forbid, gospel? It is because we are weak, or made to be. We will follow these fake spokespersons’ interpretation of our Holy Book, but not our own. These self-proclaimed champions of God sit in parliament, roam about in the shopping malls, and sermon the hapless nation on live TV.
It is said by the Sufis that there are three layers in our Holy Book, three layers of understanding. The first is a surface understanding, the second goes deeper, and the third is the profound level, which is mostly attained by the Sufis. Most of us scramble to only the first level. In fact we are stopped at the first level by these middlemen, for if we understood the true meanings, we would not only realise these spokesmen are not needed, but start to, or at least try to, live our lives in harmony, peace and love, the true message of our religion.
Many hundred years ago, Christianity went through the same sort of ordeal. The pope was many times more powerful than the King, and no one could obtain a direct connection with God. A ‘middle man’ was always needed, who knew more about the religion, about life. This class minted money, loved the power they had, for if you control religion, you control power itself. Christianity managed to grow out of these dark times. But we are still stuck there. In fact it seems we are getting deeper and deeper in this quagmire. We have to show the world, and ourselves, that Islam is indeed a religion of peace, tolerance, beauty, joy and understanding. That is only possible when we do away with these self-proclaimed spokesmen, and usher in a new understanding of what it means to be ‘Asharf-ul-Makhlooqat’ (the best amongst creation). A great challenge which can only be met with the power of love; love which is imperishable, music which is unstoppable, peace which is inevitable. But the first step is to identify the enemy and point in the right direction. We have to keep singing, keep dancing, and keep the spirit of love alive. That is how we can and will avenge Amjad Sabri.