For some reason I expected something more exciting from Salman Ahmed. But after listening to his speech at the Aga Khan University Hospital yesterday I came to the conclusion that the title of his first book "Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution" may be nothing short of an overstatement. And I am not judging the book by its cover, but by the trivial details the author had to offer during his talk.
Throughout his speech, Salman reminisced about his childhood, part of which he spent in Lahore after which he moved to the US. "The radio and television were my only two friends initially," he recalled as he tried to make sense of the diametrically opposing viewpoints of his parents and his friends. "My parents wanted me to become a doctor, but my heart was in music."
While in high school in the US, Salman also learnt to play the guitar and sought inspiration from some musical icons in the West and Sufis in the East and thus created a unique blend of music that later went on to become his trademark style.
But the new mantra of his musical and spiritual life did not last long as he was sent back to Pakistan to pursue a career in medicine. His love for music, however, did not fizzle and despite being confronted with a military dictatorship in the country during which the religious establishment restricted musical bands from playing publicly, Salman decided not to give up. This decision led to the birth of Vital Signs first and later the Sufi-rock band Junoon that revolutionised popular music in Pakistan.
As some of his Pakistani counterparts have opted for the 'path to Heaven', Salman continues to bring people of different cultures together through his music. In fact, he went on to become the first Pakistani rockstar to have spoken against the Taliban as a result of which he has gathered quite a following in the West. However, Salman's foreign clout alone was not enough to inspire Pakistani youth, who attended his talk seeking specific and serious answers.
In response to most questions from the audience in the AKUH auditorium, which was filled to capacity, Salman strummed his guitar to songs like “Lal Meri Pat”, "Sayonee", and “Dil Dil Pakistan”, among others. While he did manage to unite the crowd through his music, a few chords and lyrics cannot suffice as answers to the burning questions of young Pakistanis.
Let's face it, ever since Imran Khan left cricket for politics, this country has been devoid of role models, a vacuum that has created an opportunity for the likes of Zaid Hamid. The least Salman could have done yesterday was establish a connection with the youth and given them something concrete to look up to, rather than vaguely quoting the poet and Sufi mystic Maulana Jalaluddin Roomi. "If you follow the music, it'll show you the way," he quoted repeatedly, each time someone from the audience posed a serious question.
"I was so not impressed by what he had to say," remarked a medical student I spoke to during the tea break. "Just because he was blessed enough to pursue a career in music and medicine simultaneously, he can't expect everyone to follow in his footsteps. He should have been more realistic."
At this point, I couldn't help but wonder: shouldn't someone who has been confronted with General Zia's dictatorship and understands growing Pakistani conservatism and the challenges this country is faced with be doing more than just giving a speech as a visiting lecturer in his own country? In fact, wouldn't it have been better if he taught a course on Muslim music and poetry at the National Academy of Performing Arts rather than at the Queens College in New York?
Aroosa Masroor is a staff reporter for Dawn.com.
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