Ali Asani – From Qawwali to Sufi Rock: Contemporary Expressions of Muslim Devotional Literature


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Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic religion and cultures at Harvard University describes the modern Sufi rock phenomenon epitomized by Salman Ahmad and his band Junoon. Asani outlines Ahmad’s personal musical, religious, and political journey and attempted to place Sufi rock in the broader tradition of Muslim devotional literature.

A native of Kenya, Asani received both his undergraduate degree summa cum laude in the comparative study of religion and his Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages and civilizations from Harvard University. He currently directs the university’s Ph.D. program in Indo-Muslim Culture and chairs the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He also serves as the associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program.

A scholar of Islam in South Asia, Dr. Asani’s research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in the region. In addition, he is interested in popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life, and Muslim communities in the West. His books include The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem; The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Literatures: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid; Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Muslim Devotional Poetry (co-author); Al-Ummah: A Handbook for an Identity Development Program for North American Muslim Youth; Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literatures of South Asia; Let’s Study Urdu: An Introduction to the Urdu Script and Let’s Study Urdu: An Introductory Course.

Dr. Asani has been particularly active post-Sept. 11 in improving the understanding of Islam and its role in Muslim societies by conducting workshops for high school and college educators as well as making presentations at various public forums. More recently, he has been involved in the Islamic Cultural Studies Initiative, an international professional development program for high school teachers in Kenya, Pakistan and Texas intended to promote a culturally and historically based approach to the study of Islam and Muslim societies. He has also served on the American Academy of Religion’s Task Force on the teaching of religion in schools. In 2002, he was awarded the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations at Harvard and in the nation.

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