Amjad Sabri: Pakistanis mourn singer killed by Taliban

image copyrightReuters
image captionThousands gathered around the ambulance carrying Sabri's coffin

Pakistan is mourning one of its most famous singers, Amjad Sabri, who was shot dead in Karachi by militants.

Thousands paid their respects, throwing rose petals over an ambulance carrying his coffin. A faction of the Pakistan Taliban claimed Wednesday's attack.

Sabri performed Qawwali devotional music from the Sufi tradition, an Islamic practice opposed by extremists.

He will be laid to rest in Paposhnagar Graveyard next to his father, Qawwali legend Ghulam Farid Sabri.

media captionAmjad Sabri was one of Pakistan's most famous singers

Ahead of his funeral, mourners gathered outside his home in Karachi.

At the scene: Riaz Sohail, BBC Urdu, Karachi

image copyrightEPA
image captionUnusually, women were also present at the funeral

I have never seen so many people come out for a funeral. A river of human faces, from all walks of life, filled up Liaquatabad's main avenue.

One reason for this huge attendance may be because Amjad Sabri was so well known across the country.

Sabri was also a friendly character. Neighbours said he would often play a carrom board game with boys from the area on the pavements outside their houses. And he was on intimate talking terms with shopkeepers running tea stalls, grocery shops or cigarette booths along the narrow street leading to his house.

Another unusual thing was the presence of women, who are normally never a part of funeral processions. Dozens of women lined up along the pavement and a nearby pedestrian bridge.

Several announcements were made from the public address system asking the women to climb down from the bridge as it could break. I saw there women aged 17 to 70 years.

One woman said it was hard for women to leave home during Ramadan because there was so much work, but "we have come because he was like a brother to us, and because he earned his fame by praising God".

There were demonstrations overnight in Lahore and Islamabad, condemning the killing of Sabri.

He died after two gunmen fired on his car in the busy Liaqatabad area of the city. A relative in the vehicle was also injured.

image copyrightAFP
image captionMujjudid Sabri (C), the son of Amjad Sabri, was comforted by relatives

Sufism, a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam, has millions of followers in Pakistan but is opposed by extremists.

The Pakistan Taliban have been blamed for previous assaults on targets linked to Sufi Islam, although this is the first such attack in several years.

The militant group views Sufism as heretical because Sufi worship involves music and dance, and the veneration of saints.

A blasphemy case was filed against Sabri last year after he mentioned members of the Prophet Muhammad's family in a song.

It is not known if the shooting is related to that incident.

Qawwali music and Sufi Islam

image captionPerformers and spectators enter a trance-like state seeking to get close to the divine

Qawwali music is the words of Sufi saints set to music, which aims to bring listeners into a trance-like state that helps them establish a close link with God.

The spiritual songs are a lyrical expression of love with a divine being, kept in time to the beat of Eastern musical instruments such as the "Tabla" drums and harmonium.

The devotional music, which dates back several centuries, is also known as "the music of the shrines", and has a special place in the indigenous Islamic faith of the Indian sub-continent.

media captionBrothers Kaif and Saif Ali Miandad Khan perform at the shrine

The early Muslim preachers who came to India tended to assimilate with the local culture, and created a more tolerant and colourful version of the religion, unlike the revivalist creed of today's Taliban.

The shrines of those preachers became sites of pilgrimage for followers from across the religious divide, while devotional music and dance (already forming part of the Hindu faith) became a part of the ritual.

Qawwali music may have begun as spiritual music performed at the shrines of Sufi saints, but as now become a popular commercial music genre as well.

The end of a chapter? M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

image copyrightAFP
image captionAmjad Sabri continued a family tradition of performing Qawwali music

Amjad Sabri's killing has shocked the people of Pakistan, and there will be mourning for some days to come, but it is not going to significantly deepen the sense of insecurity which already pervades the country.

His fame derived from the mark that his father, Ghulam Farid Sabri, left on this genre by composing some of the most memorable Qawwali numbers from the late-1960s to the mid-1990s.

Amjad Sabri has gone around as the reincarnation of his father, performing many of those numbers and also experimenting with modern and more commercial forms of Sufi music.

The Sabri family's association with music dates back to the 17th Century, but Amjad Sabri was the only one among his siblings to take on the mantle of the family tradition. Many of his fans worry that this may be the end of a chapter in Qawwali singing.

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