A Riot Of Perfume


Published:

© Sara Russell Photography

 

In the shrines of Sufi saints across India and Pakistan, the passion and fervor of Sufi poetry is brought to life by Qawwals — singers and musicians whose voices give body and life to a deep longing for union with the Beloved. The music they play, known as Qawwali, centers on poetry in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Persian, animated by a powerful chorus of singers, who sing their longing and prayers with full force to the skies, whipped forward at increasing speed and passion by the breath of a harmonium, clapping and the intricate rhythms of the double-bowled tabla.

In Ajmer, India, Qawwali music can be heard reverberating in the shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the Saint who introduced Sufism to India. Chishti told his disciples “to develop river-like generosity, sun-like affection and earth-like hospitality”1 and that charity was the highest form of devotion. The Chishti order is also known for its appreciation of sama — a means of meditating on God through listening and movement, inducing a trance-like state said to reveal what is in one’s heart.2 Amongst the musicians in the shrine sits Tahir Qawwal, a Westerner committed to bringing the Sufi message of peace to new audiences all over the world.

“During my teens I was enthusiastically drawn towards traditional forms of mysticism, especially Vedanta,” shares Tahir. “Through these explorations I began visiting a Naqsh- bandi Sufi community, many of whom were originally from Africa and South Asia. I was deeply moved by their communal, spiritual and religious lifestyle, especially the devotional atmosphere that was evoked from singing zikr together. That’s where I took initiation from my murshid [Master], Sheikh Leben Yusuf.”

Since his initiation in Canada, Tahir Qawwal has spent much time in Ajmer and at shrines throughout the Indian subcontinent, immersed in Qawwali music, but his first encounter with it was at his local library in Nova Scotia. “In my late teens, I picked up a copy of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Real World album The Last Prophet at my local library,” he recounts. “It was the most beautiful synergy of classical, ecstatic and devotional music I’d ever heard. After studying Indian classical music and Sufi mysticism for many years, Qawwali seemed like the perfect direction to develop spiritually and musically... to me, Qawwali is a divine tool and through the universal language of music I’m able to really feel and share the great insights of Sufism. I enter into a realm of expression that’s very primal and sincere, something that words can’t reach. The arrangement of the music is also such a creative medium of expression.”

After falling in love with its power and passion, he has spent many years transliterating Qawwali verses and learning from some of the greatest masters in the tradition. “The poetry of Qawwali is potent,” says Tahir, sharing a favorite poem, “Alif Allah” by Hazrat Sultan Bahu: “It moves me because it innocently conveys, yet doesn’t demand, the natural process of the student-disciple relationship... It means a lot to me to maintain this powerful [Qawwali] tradition — and to see the way it uplifts and connects people in the world.”

Aminah is the first woman to break with tradition and join a one-thousand- year lineage of Qawwali musicians.Tahir is now helping to spread this experience of Qawwali and the beauty of sama in traditional and non-traditional settings. Sixteen years ago, he founded Fanna-Fi-Allah with tabla player and student of Sufism, Aminah Chishti from Oregon, USA. Together, they are unique in being the only non-Eastern group to be representing the old tradition of Qawwali internationally, with the blessing of their teachers in Pakistan.

“The practice of Sufism is very much connected to the music,” explains Aminah. “This is why we chose Fanna-Fi-Allah — ‘annihilation into the Infinite’ — as the name for the group, to emphasize the use of this music as a spiritual practice. We reach for that state of ‘fanna’ — annihilation of the ego, the pain, the joy, where everything exists inter-related as one consciousness, one mind and one heart.”

It’s not just their Western heritage that marks Fanna-Fi-Allah out from their Eastern contemporaries; Aminah is the first woman to break with tradition and join a one-thousand- year lineage of Qawwali musicians. “I started studying classical Indian music in Benares, India in 2002,” she begins. “As a foreigner it was accessible to pay for hourly lessons of any and all art forms. I began tabla and raga. A deep relationship developed with myself to maintain a strict schedule of routine practice; the atmosphere of devotion created a marriage of sorts — a lifetime of experience to be had in this path of tabla and raga theory. Tahir and I decided then to go to the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan [and] we were overwhelmed with hospitality and support to play Qawwali. This was when I decided to pursue this path seriously enough to travel further.”

“To now be sitting (playing tabla) as the first woman in this one-thousand-year-old lineage feels humbling yet empowering. Supported by the ones who were before me, invited by the Sufis themselves, this is the message of the time: equality. I’ve felt encouraged as an artist and respected as a woman. After 16 years of returning to Pakistan, the community recognizes me as their sister, ambassador, and tabla student of Ustad Dildar Hussain.”

Aminah has been somewhat of a trailblazer in becoming the first woman to be given permission to play tabla at some Sufi shrines in India and Pakistan, where more conservative values have been guiding rituals for a long time. Her teacher, Ustad Dildar Hussain, who played with the legendary singer Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan for eighteen years, was critical in preparing her for this timely privilege. “One time on live TV, my teacher was asked ‘why are you teaching this woman Qawwali music,’ he replied with a smile... ‘I had asked why she wanted to learn such a difficult instrument and she replied that her heart told her to. Now tell me, how can you break someone’s heart?’”

Building on sixteen years of successful international touring, Tahir and Aminah are now working on the first ever full-length feature documentary about Qawwali music. The story of Qawwali will be revealed in interviews with the masters of the tradition, collected by Fanna-Fi-Allah on their journeys to India and Pakistan, performing two Peace tours.

“My group and I were so in awe of the great masters we met in dargahs (spiritual shrines) that we felt inspired to somehow share this hidden world with the West,” explains Tahir. “Over so many years of touring and studying in India and Pakistan, we developed such beautiful and intimate relationships with most of the Qawwali masters, and felt it would be valuable for people to hear them tell the story of the tradition as well as see them sing in a traditional atmosphere (instead of a concert setting).”

“The great Sufi teacher Al-Ghazali says ‘what is most essential to Sufism cannot be learned, but can only be reached by immediate experience and ecstasy and inward transformation,’” quotes Tahir. “We hope that by experiencing first-hand the power of Qawwali, people can start to understand the idea of mystical love.”

See Fanna-Fi-Allah in Connecticut and Massachusetts Aug 26-31. Click here for details.
August 26th at Noon in Ellington, CT at Arbor Park
August 26th at 6:30pm in New Haven, CT at mActivity
August 30th in Boston/Burlington at 7:30pm at Academy of Creative Arts
August 31st Great Barrington at 8pm at Saint James Place

More information about Fanna-Fi-Allah and their upcoming film can be found at: www.fanna-fi-allah.com

Notes
1. Dr Z.H.S Gudri Shah Baba IV, e Mystical Philosophy of Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti. (Asma Publications, 3rd edition 2008).
2.  R.B Qureshi, Su Music of India and Pakistan: Sound, context and meaning in qawwali. (University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 18, 2019

Early birds may awaken feeling strangely unrested. The Gemini Moon is at odds with Neptune. A dream may linger, unresolved. Use your imagination to revisit the dreamscape and conjure up a happier, more satisfying ending. The day swings into high gear by…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2019

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Free Evidence-Based Holistic Health Education Program at Wilbraham Senior Center The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation), created and instructed by Michelle...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Grades 5-8 Instructor: Kari Pike Wednesdays, 10/16–11/20, 4pm-5pm (6 sessions) Do you ever feel overwhelmed before a test, or when you are working on a difficult homework...

Cost: $125

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Join us at our free boot camp specifically for post-divorce issues! Make new connections while learning essential strategies for building your post-divorce life with confidence and peace of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Skylark Law & Mediation, PC
9 Main Street
Southborough, MA  01772
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated ways to heal the body and improve your health. Getting 8 hours of sleep, more or less, is not enough if it is not good quality sleep. This class will...

Cost: $20

Where:
Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
411 West Main Street, Suite 2R (rear of building)
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: Open Circle Acupuncture & Healing
Telephone: 508-393-1212
Contact Name: Kim Flaherty
Website »

More information

Are you separated, divorced, considering divorce, or in the process of divorce? Vesta welcomes you to another of our Divorce Resource Nights! These free events are educational, social and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Leading Edge Real Estate
2 Mount Vernon Street
Winchester, MA  01890
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Integrate the pelvic floor into your classes with confidence with Cristin Zaimes. Pelvic floor dysfunction is incredibly common, but not very well understood. People often feel embarrassed or...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Come and see what this is all about! You will be glad you did. Free to see the demo! Registration required, call 207-221-2363. Here is a podcast for you! What is KCR?...

Cost: Free

Where:
Leapin' Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME  04101
View map »


Telephone: 207-221-2363
Website »

More information

The modern science of epigenetics is providing evidence that the patterns of self-sabotage, isolation, chronic illness, depression, addiction, challenges in relationship or an inability to prosper...

Cost: $27

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Facilitator: Peyton Pugmire Fridays, 9/20, 10/18, 11/15, 12/20, 9:30am–10:30am Everyone leaves with a powerful message to inspire their weekend!  Join Peyton Pugmire,...

Cost: Pay What You Wish

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In just one day you will come away with valuable knowledge about the issues associated with separation and divorce, increasingly aware of your next steps in the process, bolstered by the new...

Where:
Burns & Levinson
1 Citizens Plaza
Suite 1100
Providence, RI  02903
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: (508) 333-3191
Website »

More information

Explore your psychic awareness in this fun and informative workshop Designed specifically for people who are awakening to their own psychic senses, this class will provide you with personalized,...

Cost: $125

Where:
The Mills at Salmon Falls
3 Front Street
Lower Mill
Rollinsford, NH  03869
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Join us at Vesta’s One-Day Divorce Retreat in Providence, RI! In just one day you will come away with valuable knowledge about the issues associated with separation and divorce,...

Cost: $149

Where:
Burns & Levinson
1 Citizens Plaza
Suite 1100
Providence, RI  02903
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Facilitator: Jamie Berg Adult Level Do you have too much stuff? Would you like to manage all of your stuff with ease? In this workshop you will learn how to KonMari and you will...

Cost: $50

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Creative Spirit
Website »

More information

Every time we see a giggling baby or an innocent child full of laughter, we're reminded that we are all born with this natural and innate sense of happiness, that it is actually our birthright....

Cost: $108 early-bird price ($120 after October 12)

Where:
Unity Farm Sanctuary
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Sherborn, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Led by Chuck Raffoni ( E-RYT200) named a “person making postiive change in the world for the LGBTQ Community” by Pride Connections and featured on NBC's TODAY SHOW for teaching...

Cost: $50

Where:
KJ Fitness
Tewksbury , MA


Sponsor: YogaWithChuck.Com
Contact Name: Chuck
Website »

More information

Steven Farmer, PhD Here’s a great opportunity to not only clear out the psychic debris that has attached to your soul body as you journeyed through life but also retrieve and reintegrate...

Cost: $77

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street, #1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

October 19–25 Join Seth Monk and Candita Carracci Mamet for a week of yoga, meditation, personal growth and relaxation.

Where:
Sivananda Ashram Yoga Center
Paradise Island, Bahamas, MA


Website »

More information

Reiki Master Teacher Libby Barnett, M.S.W., integrates her healing skills with past experience as a medical social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital. 38 years experience. Reiki...

Where:
Concord, MA


Telephone: 603-654-2787
Website »

More information

Here’s a great opportunity to not only clear out the psychic debris that has attached to your soul body as you journeyed through life but also retrieve and reintegrate those soul fragments...

Where:
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags