Rock and Roll Jihad is the journey undertaken by Salman Ahmad, a household name in South Asia, founder of Asia’s best known rock band, Junoon. With 30 million record sales under his belt, and with fans including Bono and Al Gore, Pakistan born Salman Ahmad is renowned for being the first rock & roll star to attempt to destroy the wall that divides the West and the Muslim world, and India and Pakistan. He has deftly captured the pangs of growing up as an immigrant child, his journey of self-discovery as a musician dedicated to interfaith understanding and peace, while providing readers with both the political and historical context of what ails Pakistan. Speaking on behalf of every Muslim, his book is also a reminder “that the West (needs) to examine the causes of terrorism, not just the symptoms.”
Salman's family lived his middle school and high school years in New York. Here, his days were spent struggling to fit in, learning to play guitar, choosing Led Zeppelin and the Beatles for his hero’s, and knowing he wanted to be a rock star. The memoir is a must-read especially for every young adult caught between two worlds – whether it’s cultural or those pertaining to parental expectations. As a South Asian, I know only too well the expectations that tend to be placed on the young – you can grow up to be a doctor or an engineer and more recently, a lawyer. All else, especially aspirations to be a rock star, means that you are shortchanging yourself, and more importantly your parents. Asian youngsters will be inspired to run with their passions just as Salman Ahmed did, even after he completed medical school. Rock and Roll Jihad also brings precious insights into the thoughts and feelings of those growing up bi-cultural in America or anywhere in the world. ““You people”, my guidance counselor said to me, need to try extra hard to fit in here in America. To her, it was that simple. Conform or be cast out,” he writes And yet, Salman’s story is heartening because it shows how cultural differences are neither rigid nor impermeable.
Upon his family’s return to Pakistan, the teenage Salman created his own underground jihad: his mission was to bring his beloved rock music to an enthusiastic new audience in South Asia and beyond. He started a traveling guitar club that met in private Lahore spaces, mixing Urdu love poems with Casio synthesizers, tablas with Fender Stratocasters, and ragas with power chords, eventually joining his first pop band, Vital Signs. Later, he founded Junoon which was followed to every corner of the world by a loyal legion of fans called Junoonis.
His is the story of battling to hold on to Pakistan’s historic romance with the arts and music, in the face of angry mullahs and oppressive dictators who wanted to dress Pakistan in all hues gray. Despite his government’s attempt to banish music from the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Salman Ahmad rocketed to the top of the music charts, bringing Western style rock and pop to Pakistani teenagers for the first time. His band Junoon became the U2 of Asia, a sufi - rock group that broke boundaries and sold a record number of albums.
As his music climbed the charts, Salman found himself the target of religious fanatics and power-mad politicians desperate to take him and his band down. But in the center of a new generation of young Pakistanis who go to mosques as well as McDonald's, whose religion gives them compassion for and not fear of the West, and who see modern music as a "rainbow bridge" that links their lives to the rest of the world, nothing could stop Salman's star from rising.
Just as he has stood up to corrupt politicians in Pakistan, so also he’s critical of the misguided choices of American politicians. “..Bush’s “war on terror” made Pakistani’s view the U.S. as a country to fear or resent for its racial profiling of Muslim-Americans or its torture of Muslims at Guantanamo Bat or Abu Gharib.” This was not the case earlier where America to Pakistani’s was simply the land of opportunity or a place, as Salman’s mother put it, “where people of all colors, cultures and religions could go and fulfill their dreams.”
Carrying a message of hope, of which Salman is an embodiment, the book is suffused with the warmth of spirituality, and its author’s deep-rooted faith in God. “We can only wake up each day and go out and plow the fields, armed with our God-consciousness and a clear awareness of the purpose of our individual life. In my own case, I try to keep the focus on finding common ground through music and teaching,” he writes.
Today, Salman continues to play music and is also a UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador, traveling the world as a spokesperson and using the lessons he learned as a musical pioneer to help heal the wounds between East and West -- lessons he shares in this illuminating memoir.
Originally published by Common Ground News Service