Jihad at the J-School

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On Wednesday evening, BBC Correspondent Daljit Dhaliwal sat down with Salman Ahmad, guitarist of Pakistan’s biggest rock band Junoon, to discuss his new, provocatively-titled autobiography, Rock & Roll Jihad: A Muslim Rock Star’s Revolution for Peace. Liz Jacob, Bwog’s South Asian Entertainment Correspondent, reports.

Going into Wednesday’s lecture, your correspondent expected to see the J-School’s World Room filled with fans eager to see their favorite Pakistani rock star in person, especially given the size of Columbia’s South Asian population. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The venue was half-full at best—a sad turnout for what proved to be an entertaining evening.

After opening the evening with a song, Salman Ahmad moved on to discuss the origins of his autobiography with the lovely Daljit Dhaliwal. Though obviously now a successful musician, Ahmad had never been encouraged to pursue music as a career. In his hometown of Lahore, people simply did not consider music a viable profession. It was not until he moved to the United States to attend junior high when he discovered the wonders of Jimmy Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Here, he realized his desire to become a rock star—an aspiration that conflicted very strongly with his parents’ wish for him to become a doctor.

When asked about this apparent clash of eastern and western viewpoints, Ahmad waxed poetic about music’s blindness to boundaries, likening the conflict to a musical collaboration. “When you’re jamming,” he said, “you don’t know where it’s going when it first comes out, but you trust in your heart that it will take you to a really magical place.” Following this line of reasoning, east and west can merge without difficulty. Ahmad argues, in fact, that people lock themselves behind imagined boundaries between themselves and others. “In reality, we are all in unity.”

Though his musical inspiration may come off as slightly clichéd, his motivation is legitimate. As a devout Muslim, he sees it as his obligation to defend his religion from the negativity that has been associated with it, particularly through the term, “jihad.” Sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, jihad, meaning “struggle” in Arabic, represents the religious duty of all Muslims. It implies the necessity of leading a righteous life, battling against injustice, doing good works, and defending Islam. According to Ahmad, it is this last requirement that has become deeply misconstrued. “Hijacked” by religious extremists, jihad has been used as justification for the killing of innocent people. As result, rather than inspiring self-improvement, the term conjures up many of the buzzwords peppering the American media for the past eight years—terrorism, al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the like.

Indeed, Ahmad attests that it is the media that has cast such a dark shadow on Pakistan and Islam. Though most Muslims openly condemned the violent attacks of September 11th, he contends, the media chose to focus on the radical minority that condoned that supposed act of jihad. This, inevitably, provoked “a strange, almost unilateral judgment that all Muslims thought that this jihad was valid.”



  1. Anonymous  

    great piece on a great event

  2. Hopeful Paki for Columbia 2014

    So glad he spoke about this! Not all Muslims/Pakistanis (like myself) are terrorists, you know! Quite the contrary, rather. I mean, I would like to intern for Anna Wintour or Kelley Cutrone some day - what \terrorist\ would want to do that? Though, perhaps those fierce, feisty ladies could be classified as such, hmmm...

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