Sound and music occupy an important place in the life of most Sufis. It is a tool for the believer to get closer to God, dissolving the physical realm into the spiritual one by polishing the heart and enhancing the spiritual aspect of the human being over the physical being. However not all schools emphasize this. Dhikr, or God's remembrance, "Mawlid Annabawi," praising and blessings of the prophet are what Sufis concentrate on. Depending on the different "Tariquats" or "schools of thought," it is done out loud or within the silence of the heart. Dhikr is also considered as a form of meditation to connect to God and draw the divine energy into the world of matter. "Mawlid," for some, is the expression of love one has towards the prophet, or for others it could also be to embody His qualities and to testify to God that He delivered the message He was entrusted to deliver.
" Sufi music means any music that connects with the heart. It is the music of submission and surrender that bonds humans to God and transcends all religious boundaries". Contemporary singers like the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen from Pakistan, Indian Shubha Mudgal, Mohammed El-Sheikh Juma of Sudan, Roomi of Iran, Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, Baul singers from Bangladesh or even pop groups like Junoon have all contributed in re-vitalizing this unique religious singing. …
Sufism is the mystical and ancient branch of Islam that emphasizes the seeker's path toward ecstatic unity with God. This path is opulently embroidered with many means to "remembering God," or dhikr (also transliterated as zhikr), including chanting the names of God, prayer, meditation, poetry, Qur'anic recitation, praise and music.
Sufi music is not about entertainment; it is more about spirituality. Its powerful lyrics talk about reaching the divine by spreading love and harmony. With tension and turmoil all around today, the works of Sufi saints and mystics are more relevant than ever.
Hundreds of years after being relegated to the background, the mystical Sufi music of the 14th century is staging a resounding comeback. A unique style of singing that transports listeners into spiritual ecstasy, it is acquiring a steady fan following much like the rock genre of the sixties.
Not bound by any particular religious belief, Sufism is a philosophy that glorifies every religion as the path to righteousness. It gives precedence to love for humanity above everything else. Credit for its spread must go to the energy-charged music that sends both the singer and listeners into a spiritual trance.
In India, noted film-director Muzzafar Ali, who has been associated with Sufi music and Sufism for close to forty years says he is one of the handful of people who have been in the forefront of this revival." Sufi music means any music that connects with the heart. It is the music of submission and surrender that bonds humans to God and transcends all religious boundaries," says Ali of the increasing appeal of this music.Traditionally Delhi has had a special place in the spread of Sufism because a number of great Sufi saints like Amir Khusrau and Nizamuddin Auliya lived here. " When I came to Delhi I felt I should do something to revive this exceptional form of art," says Ali.One of the first events he and his wife Meera organized was the Jahan-e-Khusrau festival that has now become an annual congregation of eminent Sufi singers from all over the world.
People like Ali who have joined the bandwagon because of its increasing popularity are fast making Sufi music a fashionable art in avant-garde circles. It is gaining adherents largely because of the passions it arouses and its poetry is imbued with deep meaning.
Contemporary singers like the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen from Pakistan, Indian Shubha Mudgal, Mohammed El-Sheikh Juma of Sudan, Roomi of Iran, Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, Baul singers from Bangladesh or even pop groups like Junoon have all contributed in re-vitalizing this unique religious singing.
What started in dargahs and mazaars years ago has today metamorphosed into a singing culture. Hazrat Moinnudin Chishti, Hazrat Khwaja Bakhtiar Kaki, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, Baba Farid and Amir Khusrau have all been great Sufi poets who spread their message through hymns and qawwalis.
" Sufism is the real form of Islam, which speaks of compassion and brotherhood," says Hasan Saani Nizami, the Sajda Nashin of Delhi’s Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin. Nizami claims his forefathers were among the pioneers of this movement.
Sufi music varies from region to region. Its spread is attributed to Fakirs who travelled to different parts of the country and picked up regional nuances and styles. The oldest and the most widely admired is the qawwali developed by the Chishti clan and later popularised by Amir Khusro. Punjab’s Bulleh Shah, one of the most revered Sufi saints had an inimitable style of singing. Avadh, Rajasthan and Kashmir had their own distinct formats.
Internationally, the greatest influence of Sufi music has been on Iran. It also found acceptance in Turkey, Sudan and even Israel. At every place it created its own separate order by intermingling with the local culture and using local dialect to spread its message.
According to some scholars Sufism was meant to spread Islam and its true tenets, others are of the view that it is not associated with any particular religion. It is divine communication and for this it just takes the help of any religion.
Says Nizami, "It is wrong to label Sufism with any religion other than Islam although later many saints from other sects also adopted the style. Initially the aim of Sufism was to spread a more moderate view of Islam which talked about respect for other religions, service and love for all. That is why it became so popular."
Because of its exotic appeal, it is again gaining acceptance in some western circles as well. Especially after the September 11 strikes against America, Sufism is providing an alternate way to attain mental peace.
Today the great Iranian Sufi saint and poet Roomi is among the largest selling authors in America. Sufi schools of thought have sprung-up in places like Amsterdam and Boston, there is the Sufi way of dressing, Sufi food and even Sufi lifestyle. Pop groups like Junoon from Pakistan are a huge hit the world over for their lyrics and presentation.
But a big section of Indian Sufi followers like artist Manjeet Bawa, Sufi scholar Madangopal Singh and even Hasan Nizami feel that people are demeaning the real essence of Sufism by associating it with materialism.
Says Bawa, "Commercialisation of such a revered art form is permissible if the intention is good, but most of the time people use Sufism and its high values to foster their own interest, that is why you see fashion shows, dance programmes and many other purely commercial ventures exploiting Sufism. It is just one more way of making money."
According to Nazami, Sufism is not just another form of singing, it has a deeper meaning. There are strict rules that have to be followed. Islam lays down that a Sufi song should only be sung at place where no one is disturbed, the listeners should come with the intent of devotion, women and children are strictly banned from singing Sufi songs and both singer and listener must perform wajoo before a performance.
" Many of those who claim to be the greatest exponents of Sufi music don’t even understand the basic parameters of this religious music. Some of them are just using it to earn money, any song which does not follow the above mentioned basic tenets of Sufi singing is not real Sufi music," claims Nizami.
However, another section of followers is of the view that as long as the underlying philosophy of this great art form is maintained, Sufism must be allowed to imbibe modern influences even if they are not a part of the original preachings.
" There is nothing wrong if people practice Sufism as a fad or derive commercial benefits from it as long as they manage to spread the exalted message of love and peace," feels Muzzaffar Ali.
And a young computer software expert who had come to attend the recently organized Jahan-e-Khusrau endorses Ali’s view. " It may be a fad but as long it makes me happy and de-stresses me I don’t really care." That, in a way, showcases the growing popularity of Sufi music.