by Imran H. Khan
Salman Ahmed is a well known musician out of Pakistan and South Asia. He is the founder of one of the most famous rock bands out of that region by the name of Junoon. He has recently written a book by the name of “Rock and Roll Jihad“. When I first heard about the book and the title it struck me as something odd. Rock and Roll and Jihad had until now not been said in the same sentence. Jihad in Arabic language means to strive. In the Islamic religious sense it means “striving in the cause of God”. Jihad has been classified either as al-jihād al-akbar (the greater jihad), the struggle against one’s soul (nafs), or al-jihād al-asghar (the lesser jihad), the external, physical effort, often implying fighting. Having had seen Salman grow from a cute little child to what he is now, it does not take much to understand how he has used his musical skills to achieve social activism in fighting injustices, bigotry, national animosities, disease, religious misunderstandings, religious radicalism and the list goes on.
Salman could have simply been satisfied with writing and producing love songs and could have reaped the economic rewards given the fame of his band. Instead he used that fame to achieve social and political change. He rose up against the injustices of dictatorial political regimes in Pakistan, for bringing about social harmony between Indians and Pakistanis, for better understanding between the Americans and the Muslim world and AIDS awareness around the world. He has used all mediums available to him to achieve his jihad. He chose songs to bring about social change in Pakistan. He used BBC documentary videos for better understanding between the West and Muslim world and music tours to bridge the divide between Indians and Pakistanis. I saw him and his band in action around the Boston area not only in bringing Muslim Sufi music to American ears but also the many discussions Salman would have with the audiences after the event on socio-political issues. He first started visiting the Boston region with his band performing in schools and colleges around the region. He came to Belmont Hill School and made the prep school boys dressed up in their uniforms dance on the pews in a church at 10 am to the songs of Sain etc. . He then engaged them with discussions about Islam. He has made appearances for raising money for Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital with Imran Khan and raising money for earthquake victims in Pakistan. He even had the PhDs who work at MIT Lincoln Laboratory clapping and singing to the sufi music in an auditorium at the Laboratory.
His social activism and philanthropy was recognized by UN in allowing him to hold a concert in the main UN Assembly Hall in order to raise money for Swat’s displaced people in Pakistan. Many well known musicians and leaders joined him in a packed hall on that eventful night. Some images of that concert can be seen by clicking on the image on the left.
His drive for enhancing women’s rights and stigma attached to AIDS is reflected in the attached Al Vida video. This is dedicated to a woman’s fight against the stigma, discrimination and ignorance towards the stigma, discrimination and ignorance towards people living with HIV & AIDS. She campaigns for access to medical treatment for all. Globally half of the people infected with HIV are women. She represents the human face of millions like her in Asia Pacific who are infected by their husbands.
Salman had paid the price for standing up to tyrants of various types. Ahmad and his band Junoon suffered political censorship in Pakistan during the rule of Benazir Bhutto in 1990s, partly due to a song denouncing political corruption. In 1998 during the rule of Nawaz Sharif, Junoon was again banned in Pakistan, because they protested against the nuclear power tests in India as well as their own country by saying, “Why escalate the arms race when people still need water? Why see our neighbors as enemies when we are so close to each other?”
He went public with his stance against then President Musharraf in his open letter. Full text can be seen here.
“..My support for your father’s govt was never meant to be taken as a blank check for the state machinery to run amok and start dismantling civil institutions, making deals with crooks and plunderers, treating civil servants like common criminals, kidnapping and killing innocent Pakistanis under the guise of the “war on terror” and illegally spying, torturing and jailing thousands of Pakistanis (which include national heroes, supreme court judges, lawyers, rights activists, house wives and students).”
Ahmad denounced the Pakistani Government’s peace accord with Taliban in 2008 saying that “artists in Pakistan take their inspiration from Sufism, the tolerant and inclusive strain of Islam that is the antithesis of the beliefs of the Taliban. Commenting on the Pakistani government ‘peace agreement’ with Taliban and acceptance of ‘Sharia’ in the Swat Valley, Ahmad said, “The killing of arts and culture in Swat is an ominous sign. It is the first step in the potential Talibanization of more of the country. If you give the Taliban an inch – as Zardari has done – they will take a mile. Ahmad also suggested that, “President Asif Ali Zardari’s ill-conceived appeasement will only embolden the Taliban and may squelch more of Pakistan’s voices of peace just when Pakistanis and the world need to hear them most.”
He takes an unusual amount of time appearing on all media channels and shows in the US explaining the religious and cultural divide that exists between the East and the West, between Muslim countries and the US and the North and South. He writes about this in his book.
The media storm after 9/11 had created an artificial divide, but I was determined to fight it. My publicist Tracy Mann booked me on radio and television to speak about our U.N. concert and help dispel some common stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. Some of the talking points I used were my own understanding of jihad and suicide. Prophet Muhammad described armed struggle against tyranny and oppression as a lesser jihad. He also warned against the dark whisperings of the nafs (ego) and called the fight against the lower self the greater jihad. The Quran says, “Man was created weak,” and it’s true. The inner jihad is a struggle for self-discovery and is about uncovering our hidden, infinite potentials. It’s about raising oneself up high (as in Iqbal’s poem “Khudi”) and never bringing others down. What the terrorists got wrong was that jihad is about overcoming our human impulses of greed, jealousy, injustice, violence, and inhumanity toward our fellow human beings.
He recently appeared in BBC’s hard talk explaining the many misunderstandings around the word Jihad and more..
I have provided specific examples on how Salman has in the past used his talents to further the causes of peace and harmony. He is an excellent role model for young and old to follow. You can follow Salman by checking out his activities at