“Our goal is to have children deal with differences in a healthy, positive way and encourage them to be inquisitive while exploring the world instead of running away from its differences,” Rashid said, an experience not so different from his years growing up in Elmont.
For the last few years, I got paid to play with toys. I was able to put a philosophy of Star Trek’s Vulcans into practice, and live as a Jedi. Comics littered my work space, and Dr. Who’s TARDIS traveled with me through space and time. All I was missing was a Buffy or Firefly fix. All of this was possible because I was working on religious literacy and global citizenship.
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."
The combination of Yoon's voice and the electronic components helped create a bridge between the trappings of the modern and sense of spirituality as being ancient. The stories were inverted, and technology was ancient, with spirituality being modern. Perhaps that is the state of affairs we are entering. Twitter and the writing stick are both technology, and we are coming to grips with our own spiritualities now. And when I think about the prayer of the monks, with nothing but their voices, it makes me wonder if we can only understand a mediated spirituality.
Part two of Neo-Sufi and the American Jugni focuses on the music of Arooj Aftab and the instrument Arif Lohar always has by his side, the chimta, or "musical fire tongs."
On April 28th, 2012, Pakistani musical icon M. Arif Lohar and Pakistani American musician Arooj Aftab brought their passionate blend of traditional Punjabi music, Sufi spiritual poetry and contemporary rock and pop music to Asia Society for the organization's Creative Voices of Muslim Asia project. Before this outstanding event, David Weinstein had the chance to sit down with the two artists, as well as professor and journalist Hussein Rashid, Aristic Director of Caravanserai Zeyba Rahman and Asia Society's Director of Performing Arts and Programs Rachel Cooper, to listen to and discuss the myriad of voices Jugni brings to life within Punjabi folk music.