When Najmuddin sits down at his harmonium he is aware of the musical DNA running through his genes. He and his four brothers are the 26th generation of Sufi musicians in his family. They trace their lineage back 750 years, to their ancestor Hazrat Mian Salamat and the birth of Qawwali music in Delhi. Over the centuries, their family and ancestors have preserved the traditions of this mystical music, passing on its secrets to every new generation.

Qawwali is just one of many styles that come under the umbrella of Sufi Music. Throughout the Muslim world, the Sufis have been at the forefront in producing art forms that are the entry point for the ordinary person to experience a higher state of consciousness. Sufi Music is listened to in every corner of the world and its universal appeal has helped to attract a fan base across the non-Muslim world.

‘There is a Soul inside of your Soul. Search that Soul. There is a jewel in the mountain of body. Look for the mine of that jewel. Oh, Sufi, passing search inside if you can, not outside’

Sufis are Muslims who concern themselves with the inner aspects of the Islamic faith. They look for the experience that lies beyond the outer rituals of religion, towards a personal experience of God. The origins of Sufism (tasawwuf in Arabic) are inseparable from Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed, Peace and blessings upon him.

Beyond the defined laws of Sharia (the Muslim legal code) lie the essential emotions that allow human beings to experience the divine, love, mercy, compassion, humility, and patience. Sufis place great importance on these emotions and how they can improve their personal behavior and interactions with others.

For centuries ‘Sufism’ had no name and existed within the basic practice of Islam. The outer rules of ‘sharia’ were combined with the inner aspects of the soul, ‘haqqiqa’. The two worked complementary and it was only much later that Sufism became identified as a separate practice and science.

Today Sufism has spread across the world and is organised through a number of orders (Tarriqa) each one tracing its origins back to a great Sufi Master. These orders help keep the legacy of traditional Sufism alive, and identify themselves closely with the teachings of the original founder and the local traditions. Sufism has always demonstrated an ability to find expression in art forms that fuse local customs with universal ideas about spirituality.

Creativity lies at the heart of Sufism, and many of the Tarriqas mentor and support the production of culture. This culture in the form of food, music, art, poetry is considered a sacred expression of faith, and its honest and authentic beauty attracts everyone. Supreme amongst these art forms is Sufi music.

Sufi attitudes towards Music differ from the orthodox Islamic view, which considers it a ‘grey’ area. While there are no prohibitions against music in the Quran and there are recorded instances of when the Prophet Mohammed allowed music at weddings, the conservatism of the early jurists, frowned upon it. The Sufis in contrast place music at the heart of the Sama, a ceremony of spiritual music and singing.

The purpose of the Sama is to create the conditions in which the human soul can experience divine love. Transcendental and ecstatic, the music produces in the listener an intense love for God. The listener is moved and becomes aware of the majestic presence of God, his emotional, mental and at times physical state altered for a short while. The music supplicates to God, praises the Prophet Mohammed, and celebrates the lives of great saints and Sufi masters.

Distinct musical styles, singing, chanting and ceremonies have emerged over time, often unique to the local culture, but all unified under the purpose of creating this altered state of spiritual awareness.

The great Muslim scholar Ghazali (1058 –1111) recorded his thoughts on the Sama:

‘What causes mystical states to appear in the heart when listening to music (Sama) is a divine mystery found within the concordant relationship of measured tones (of music) to the (human) spirits and in the spirits becoming overwhelmed by the strains of these melodies and stirred by them – whether to experience longing, joy, grief, expansion or constriction. But knowledge of the cause as to why spirits are affected through sound is one of the mystical subtleties of the science of visionary experience.’

There is no one particular form of Sufi Music, rather a number of styles have evolved from across the Muslim world. From Turkey to Senegal, Pakistan to Morocco, there is a rich diversity of sound all sharing the same purpose, to experience something higher, than yourself. ‘  

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