Hussein Rashid, a professor of religion at Hofstra University, says that many qawwaliartists working in South Asia today have limited themselves. He believes this American group is bringing the music back to its roots.
"You know, I think there's been so much concern about what is Islam, and what isn't, politically speaking and artistically speaking," Rashid says, "that there's been a push in modern qawwali to actually sanitize it and make it very sterile — and almost rule-bound — rather than ecstatic and devotional. For me, I think what Riyaaz Qawwali is doing is trying to go back to that very exciting, innovative space that qawwali was."
And so to Rashid, it's totally logical that such a burst of inspiration would come from deep in the heart of Texas. "In fact," he says, "it seems natural that we would get a new flourishing of Muslim devotionals in a place like America, where we do have this freedom of religion."
"My initial thought is that the cover is a near perfect response to the tragedy," said Hussein Rashid, a professor of Islamic thought at Hofstra University in New York.
"They are not backing down from the depiction of Mohammed, exercising their free speech rights. At the same time, the message is conciliatory, humble, and will hopefully reduce the anger directed to the Muslim communities of France."
Rashid noted that the cover's central message -- forgiveness -- resonates not only throughout Islam but through other world religions as well, embracing all in a spirit of reconciliation.
"The cover is a call to our better angels," Rashid said, "and an acknowledgment that religion also offers good to the world."
Europe remains on edge in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack at the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo.
The attack has highlighted deep divisions between French nationals and Muslim immigrants—a community that Hussein Rashid, a professor of religion at Hofstra University, says has been under fire for years.
"French society has a very hard time integrating its minorities—whether they're Muslim, Jewish, or black," says Rashid. "Nicolas Sarkozy, the former prime minister, during his tenor as interior minister, once called the minorities of Francs scum."
Regarding images: Muhammad is a powerful symbol for Muslims. The Quran calls him a “beautiful role model,” and he is considered to be the most perfect Muslim.
It is generally accepted by Muslims that images of Muhammad, or any other person, do not appear in mosques.
However, this ban does not extend outside the mosque. Various Muslim cultures show a comfort with painting and figural representation. Images of Muhammad, his family, prophets and other holy figures exist. They are on display in museums throughout the world. In some, the faces are obscured, but in many, the faces are on full display.
In a bitter irony, the sometimes violent attacks against portrayals of the prophet are kind of reverse idol-worship, revering -- and killing for -- the absence of an image, said Hussein Rashid, a professor of Islamic studies at Hofstra University in New York.
With each bloody act, Islamic State militants demonstrate their need for self-importance overrides any moral, ethical, or religious boundary. Peter Kassig’s beheading is a microcosm of all the Islamic State wants, and religion is not high on that list.
The recent attacks on military and law enforcement personnel in Canada and the U.S. raises the specter of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks, making Muslims suspect. Such thinking is superficial and reactionary. In the age of modern Islamophobia, it is a situation of owning a hammer and thinking everything is a nail. Looking at so-called “lone wolf” attacks in more detail and in a larger context reveals disconcerting issues in mental health care and media representations of Islam.