‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam
The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.
Obviously, I feel children should sing.
I feel the art of music and especially singing is the highest form of art in the world and in the cosmic cycle. To have the ilm (idea) and knowledge of this art is itself a blessing because it is much higher than any other form of art or work as such.
Music, and especially singing, is the closest to ibadat (worship) and meditation. This can also transport you into another world, meaning it can connect you to God, to Allah in a direct, beautiful, easier manner… this is what Sufism is all about.
I have gone through ups and downs in my life with some male family members objecting to my singing. Some had gone to the extent of saying, because of their jealously, that my father did not formally teach me music. My office put up a clip from a documentary film on my father Ustad Vilayat Khan on YouTube. He is seen making me a formal student in front of Naushad (Ali) sahib, Dilip Kumar uncle … All of them were there when he tied a thread around my wrist and formally made me his student. This means I am one of his successors.
Music greats like Hariprasad Chaurasia ji, Ghulam Ali chacha, Yamini Krishnamurthy ji, Amjad Ali chacha said I had done great khidmat (service) for my father and had learnt the most from him. I share this story so that everybody — be it those who are religious, farmers or urbanites or traditionalists, etc. — understands that they should encourage their daughter as much as their sons to do any kind of work but with dignity, respectability and honour.
This is to encourage those who are in two minds about becoming an artiste. An artiste can be more respected if he conducts himself with dignity. I have done that all these years and that is the reason that a traditionalist and purist like Ustad Vilayat Khan made me his student. I am the only daughter whom he made his student. I am the first girl in the whole family who was allowed to sing outside the house.
Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity.
(Follow Shashank Chouhan on Twitter @shashankchouhan )