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Unlikely as it may seem, the Islamic devotional music of Pakistan has become a major strand of the world music scene, thanks principally to the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. As a form of Islamic music espousing peace and tolerance, Sufi music has a cultural importance in the 21st century, countering the forces of extremism.
Qawwali is music with a message – the Sufi message of love and peace – sung to catchy melodies dating back as far as the thirteenth century. Although qawwali is a recognized musical genre in its own right, the bulk of the repertoire consists of religious poetry set to music which shares a great deal with the light classical music of India and Pakistan.
As an occasion, qawwali is a gathering for the purpose of realizing the ideals of Islamic mysticism through the ritual of listening to music (sama). By enhancing the message of mystical poetry, and by providing a powerful rhythm suggesting the ceaseless repetition of God’s name (zikr), the music is designed to arouse mystical love and even divine ecstasy – the central experience of Sufism.