“With music, there are only 12 notes. You can’t increase or decrease them. Those 12 notes are coming from the Divine. And the whole world is within them.” – Abida Parveen.
The inherent mysticism, the state of entrancement, transcendent of language and ethnicity, race and culture, that is present in- what we now term as -‘Sufi Music’ can prove that it is one of the purest and the most diverse genre of music to enrich the culture and history of Pakistan.
A genre born out of the mystic movement that started during the 9th and 10th centuries, the basic concept of Sufi music, or more so, Sufism was coined by a female named Rabi’ah Al Adawiyah. This concept formed the basis of the movement which was later dominated mostly by males. It comes somewhere along the same lines of how academia is strongly centred around men and yet one of the first universities ever built was by a woman. We, sadly, forget the important ones sometimes.
Sufi music is practised in different forms in different cultures, though its most common form in Southeast Asia is the ‘qawwali’ pioneered by some of the biggest names in music. Abida Parveen, Nusret Fateh Ali Khan and Sabri Brothers are some of the preeminent Sufi artists recognized in Pakistan and around the world, having performed in multiple countries, with the same amount of zest and ecstasy as they do in their homeland.
This ‘sama’, this ecstasy, is what is both criticized and celebrated about Sufi music. Since nothing can survive without criticism, Sufi music and its practices have been a subject of harsh dialogue between members of the faith. The music is criticized for, well, the inherent use of music as a medium to reach that higher plane of spirituality, for moving away from the strict puritan discipline and practises that have been carried out for centuries.
While it is also seen as a medium that is accessible for the ordinary members of society for whom it is hard to understand the legal, logical aspects of faith, Allama Iqbal, a great poet and philosopher, inspite of being greatly influenced by the Sufi poet, Rumi, has criticized “the medieval mysticism” for being the cause of “social stagnation for the Muslims.”
And, well, maybe he was right.
But, do we let our differences divide us more than we already are? Or do we allow this mystic experience to unite us all on a higher plane of existence?
In a period like 2020, where our disconnection has emptied us of the devotion and peace that underlies the purpose of Sufi music, we may just be in a dire need of its revival. Despite its criticisms, Sufi music is seen as an element that unites different masses from different racial, ethnic, linguistic and even religious backgrounds, an experience to transform and transcend onto a higher plane.To understand, to include, to bring together and spread peace, these are the core messages that resonate to both the artists and the listeners.
As Abida Parveen once said, “Even if one person understands in the world, it could bring salvation.”