Sufism, or Sufi Islam, is generally regarded as the mystical sect of Islam with a main focus on the love of Allah. To some it is not considered part of Islam because it is too mystical and incorporates the use of music and the veneration of saints into the religion. Sufi music, commonly called qawwali, is consistent with the musical sounds of Pakistan, which lies between Afghanistan and India. Because of its geographic location, Sufism has gained a tremendous amount of influence from Islam, and the religions of India. Islam’s influence upon Sufism is seen within the theology and the lyrics of various qawwali songs. India’s influence on Sufism is seen with the simple use of music and the use of traditional instruments.
Qawwali music greatly emphasizes the veneration of Sufi saints. But to countless Muslims, the veneration of saints is committing the worst sin. Generally speaking, Muslims believe that there is only one God, and to elevate another human to the same status as God is called shirk. Many believe that qawwali music commits shirk because of its focus on saints and the saint’s ability to intercede for the individual. Qawwali music does not only focus on saints, but it also has themes centered on Allah and the prophet Muhammad, which are less controversial within the Muslim community.
Qawwali music is particularly unique because of the relationship it creates between the performer and the audience. The audience’s reaction to the music and lyrics virtually control what the performer will do next. If the performer feels the audience is reacting positively to a specific line they will continue to repeat the particular phrase until they feel the audience is ready to continue with the song. This use of repetition is helps the audience to remember the theme of the song and the purpose of singing.
Another reason qawwali music is different from any other genre of music is the musical instruments allowed to be used. Because music is highly regulated within Islam, the instruments used within qawwali have also been limited to instruments that are culturally from the Middle East. These instruments include the harmonium, tabla, and dholak. However, recently many qawwali singers have begun to use more western instruments such as the drums and guitar.