Qawwali is the artistic expression of the Sufi, who are considered the mystic sect of Islam. The song (the qawwali) is the perfected devotion and is often accompanied by dancing, chanting, and instrumentation. Although the instruments vary greatly, there has traditionally always been some sort of reed pipe, flute and drums. All these tools used by the Sufi are a means to experience and interpret the divine by transcending human barriers of worldly treasures through piety and the repetition of these trance-like state inducing words. The true definition of a Sufi is a Sufi. Only one with knowledge of the practice can one fully understand what it means to use divine love for all beings and the destruction of the ego to further ones understanding of Allah.
The origin of the Sufi has been an ongoing debate for nearly a thousand years. The main reasons for this is the vast area of influence and cultures that the Sufi came in contact with and the secretive language much of their writings are encoded in. The hearth area is considered Persia, or present day Iran by the nation of Islam, although some Sufi would argue that the soul of Sufi sm has pre existed and run a parallel existence to Christianity, whether recognized or not. A specific date is unknown, only that it appeared sometime after MuhammadŐs journey to Mecca in the 6th century. Evidence exists that song and dance were well established practices as early as the 7th century. Sufi sm reached the India sub-continent around 900 A.D. where the qawwali evolved. By the 11th century, Islam and Sufi sm had spread to nearly all of the Arabian Empire as well as England in the form of what was originally a Sufi sect, the Free Masons. There was a continuous movement and trade of folk instruments, practices and religious rites amongst these various cultures creating an even greater collage of influence.
Sufi have endured many restrictions and regulations over the centuries, imparted by the orthodox Islam. Sufi find enlightenment and the path to truth through the metaphorical and mystical interpretations they find in the Koran. This as well as the song and dance have been questioned by other Moslems as to their accordance with the word of Allah often labels them outcasts. Periods of history have existed where Sufi sm is banned or at least limited by what is considered pious by the greater community. Two major distinctions exist between Sufi and the rest of Islam: the creed of "No God but one God" is tightened to "All that is, is God" and those things which do not appear to be God are really God in disguise. Because of this, Sufi will often use secular phrases in repetition to relay divine meaning which can be found everywhere. Even within Sufi sm there is a great deal of divergence among different sects who follow different masters and of course have independent interpretations and practices than others. The spirit of Sufi sm breaks through boundaries of specific religious dogma to discover the truth of communion with the divine.
Although the International Association of Sufi sm was founded in the United States in 1983,, Qawwali Sufi music was not introduced to main stream, western culture until 1985 with the involvement of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in Peter GabrielŐs WOMAD project (World of Music and Dance). Born in NE Pakistan, Nusrat was influenced by his father who was also a famous Qawwal, or music leader in a group of Sufi. The modern day group consists of such a leader who monitors the audience response and reacts with change in speed and what they call "heat," as well as a harmonium (small reed organ), a dholak (double-headed finger drum), a tabla and back up singers and clappers. The west has very openly adopted many of the practices of Sufi sm. The Sufi Order of the West examines the best mystical texts from each major world religion and adopts practices such as prayers, meditations and music from all.
Mystical Dimensions of Islam by AnneMarie Schimmel. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1975.
The Sufis by Idries Shah. Anchor Books, Garden City, NY, 1964.
Sufism by AJ Arberry. Urwin Paperbacks, London, 1979.
The Elephant in the Dark ed. Leaonard Lewin. E.P. Dutton and Co., New York, NY, 1976.
The Tale of the Reed Pipe by Massud Farzan. E.P. Dutton and Co., NewYork, NY, 1974.
Words of Ecstasy in Sufism by Carl W. Ernst. State Universiy of New York Press, Albany, 1985.