Professor Ali Asani, a friend on the faculty of Harvard, hosted a wonderful conference this weekend entitled, "Contemporary Muslim Voices in the Arts and Literatures." You can see the program here. Asani, who is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures, organized a marvelous mixture of music, poetry, film and other art forms. The two days demonstrated how the arts can be integrated into the traditional view of the academy to bring greater depth of understanding of political, cultural, and religious issues.
After the formal conference, there was a special treat. Salman Ahmad, the world famous Pakistani Sufi Muslim musician, visited one of the Harvard dormitories and gave an impromptu concert and talked with a small group of people about his experiences. Ahmad explained a bit about his new autobiography, Rock and Roll Jihad, which explains how he became a musician notwithstanding tremendous cultural and religious objections.
Ahmad also related an interesting story about cultural misunderstanding. He had been invited to perform at New York City's upcoming Earth Day celebration, but he was uninvited when someone decided that a performer who talked about jihad would not be appropriate. In Ahmad's view, though, jihad means striving in the way of Allah, "not the meaning that has been kidnapped by terrorists."* After this was made clear to the Mayor's office, he was re-invited to perform in the concert.
As he notes on his Twitter page, @sufisal: "Jihad means to strive, struggle, overcome the ego, and to find your purpose NOT commit violence and/or spread terror."