Pakistani Musicians Making Their Mark

Arooj Aftab Photo: Natasha Jahangir

Significant parts of Pakistan’s governance and security structure may be crumbling before our very eyes, but the country’s musical arts are anything but dead. Those lucky enough to have been exposed to the creative energy of Pakistani musicians know of the contributions from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Farida Khanum, and others. Now, even those outside of South Asia and the world music scene are being exposed to the sounds of the region. Often combined with western influences, and deriving from Sufi traditions, musicians and music from Pakistan are growing in popularity inside and outside South Asia. Continue reading

Becoming a Pakistani-American

Zehra Imam is an alumna of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She is currently designing a course, “The Patterns of Struggle and Triumph” to foster self-development within students. She is also working on “Desegregating Detroit in Delhi,”an experiential-learning fellowship to serve as an avenue for dialogue among student leaders in Metropolitan Detroit.

Painting: Zehra Imam

I’m not going to sugar-coat this complex terrain that is my motherland. My family immigrated to America due to religious and political unrest in Pakistan. I feel like my native land has grown to become a superstar since our family left – always in the news, always getting caught doing something that warrants a comment, always in the limelight. But something else other than natural ties still compels me to call a part of myself Pakistani and retain my dual identity of Pakistani-American. It has taken me a long time to say that I am from Pakistan with pride, and that I am choosing to live in America with gratitude.

I was fifteen when the attacks took place.

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Celebration or Time to Reflect?

Reststop on N-35 Highway near Abbottabad, Pakistan Photo: Colin Christopher

Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda has slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own.

Last night, President Obama exemplified the dignity, honor, and humility of most public servants around the world when he placed the death of Osama bin Laden into context. While thousands of people shamelessly celebrated outside the White House, some singing “We Are the Champions,” President Obama delivered a speech of humility and perspective.

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The “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan

Despite its wealth of intellectuals, higher education institutions, and rich arts tradition, Pakistan has become increasingly choked by violent extremist elements. Initially foreign in origin, these elements are now seen as “indigenous” violent fundamentalism.

Inadequate land reform, an ambiguous national ideology, and politically motivated Islamic nationalization efforts by both internal and external forces have separated Pakistan on many measures from its rival and socio-historical “cousin” India. The pockets of social and religious conservatism within Pakistan’s borders are foreign to a majority of regional historical narratives, but extremist influences are rapidly growing.

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Reinforcing Gender Equity in Islamic Law

School girls, Deh Sabz, Afghanistan Photo: Natasha Latiff

Almost a decade after U.S. forces entered Tora Bora, one has to wonder what has come of Afghanistan. Having never been to Afghanistan myself, I can’t comment on the day-to-day reality of the country’s 29 million + people. It is safe to say, however, that the quality of life has not remarkably improved for most, and outside observers wonder what can be done.

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Should Blasphemy Lead to Death?

This past November in Pakistan, Aasia Bibi, a Christian, was sentenced to death by hanging. Bibi is accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with co-workers. According to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the punishment for defiling the Qur’an is life imprisonment, but for insulting the Prophet the penalty is death.

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Peaceful Coexistence or Heretical Practice?

Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai, India

Manhattan’s Lincoln Center recently housed The Manganiyar Seduction, a musical  performance with multiple interfaith elements. Last week, 36 Sufi Muslim Musicians from the Indian state of Rajistan offered New York the traditional sounds of their Manganiyar culture. A formerly nomadic group that lives in both India and Pakistan, the Manganiyar’s folk music praises God. Performances often begin with the seeking of a blessing from the Hindu God Krishna. Many Manganiyar also celebrate aspects of Holi, a Hindu holiday observed by a number of faith traditions in India, including other Muslim groups.

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Where Are the Violent Muslim Extremists?

A photo of a Christian, Muslim, and Hindu child holding signs representing their respective faiths

India’s secular democracy was tested with the latest ruling from a regional High Court dividing up the land of a religious site holy to both Muslims and Hindus. The disputed area lies in the center of Ayodhya, a sleepy north Indian town that normally sees more cows in the street than cars.  But it hasn’t always been sleepy.

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Coming Out of the Closet as a “Secular Muslim”

This is a guest post by a Pakistani student pursuing his masters degree from Columbia University. He wishes to remain anonymous in order avoid any difficulties upon returning to Pakistan.

A few days ago I went to a Jewish musical event and had an interesting conversation with the organizer of the event. While describing her passion for Jewish music and food, she told me that she was a “secular Jew.” “For me, being a Jew is not necessarily a religious label, instead it’s an ethno-cultural label. I am secular in outlook and am married to a Christian, but I identify with and cherish the Jewish tradition, culture, history and community,” she said. This statement really resonated with me as it reflected my own conception of my identity as a Muslim. I have been brought up as a Muslim in a Muslim-majority country and my passport even says I’m Muslim. Therefore, the Muslim identity and label is something that definitely applies to me and I own and cherish it as well, but what does it mean when I define myself as a Muslim? Continue reading

Islam in South Asia: Interview with Joe Elder

This is a guest post by Michael Kruse, a staff member of Center for South Asia at UW-Madison.

Since the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the American public has learned much about the division between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In the context of South Asia, however, the situation is much more complicated than one might expect. Just ask Joseph Elder, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prof. Elder has studied South Asian society and religion for over 50 years, and has produced a series of almost 40 documentary films on all aspects of South Asia.

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