Sufi Music

Dr. Jamal Elias
Department of Religion
Amherst College

This lecture continues with the theme of religious poetry in the Sufi tradition as it is applied to music. As poetry became part of the mainstream religious culture in the Islamic world it was very often set to music. Such musical compositions are regarded as tools with which to uplift one’s spiritual states. Though participatory and often trance-like listening, the audience accesses spiritual states.

The Whirling Dirvish form of Turkish sufi dancing and music is only one of many forms of sufi music and dance. More common are the many informal performances wherein people are transformed in the listening. What has exploded in popularity in the West is the kawali sufi music of South Asia, mainly in northern India and bordering Pakistan, of which the reknown singer Nusrat Fatah Ali Khan is most associated.

Whether dhikir, or sufi music and dance, can be considered part of the mainstream Islamic tradition is not certain, but they are a central function of the mystical tradition within Islam. The lecture ends with a comparative look at the place of silence.