Rock n Roll Jihad- The answer to ‘Radicalisation’?- An Interview with Junoon’s Salman Ahmad

By Majed Iqbal- Debates raging around extremism and radicalisation have actively been discussed in the last years in government circles, by Politicians, ‘expert’ think tanks and the media.

Adding to this list comes forth Salman Ahmad, dubbed as South East Asia’s version of Bono and a Global citizen working for peace.

Salman Ahmad is Pakistan’s leading Rock star with over 2 decades of following from millions across the globe. His group, Junoon was declared South East Asia’s biggest Rock Group and he’s no stranger to controversy. In 1996, Benazir, the then Prime minister banned the group from state TV after the group released a song titled Ehtasaab “accountability. Death threats were received over the phone.

Again in 1998 authorities in Pakistan, this time by Nawaz Sharif, banned his group after he stated in an Indian Awards ceremony that Pakistan and India should make peace. And in 2008 he lambasted both Musharraf and Benazir in the Washington Post for their Power hungry appetites.

Adding to the controversial list of topics, Salman’s recent tour of the UK at prestigious Universities focused on radicalisation. His media-intensive trip to the UK saw Salman speaking to Muslim communities, students, policy makers and journalists.

The topic, radicalisation, is one which is close to his own experiences in Pakistan. He recalls his guitar being smashed by Islamic students belonging to the college wing of religious parties who had broken into the hotel ballroom where he had got together with college friends to induce them first time with his blaze of heavy metal riffs.

“Islam has been given away to illiterate men to teach young impressionable students” says Salman. “People learn Islam by rote in a controlled way with absolutely no thinking involved. Young people are not being taught the true enlightened message of Islam and are falling into extremism.”

Whether you go to Peshawar or any city in Britain, Salman believes it makes no difference.

“Radicalisation started long before 9/11. This process started a long time ago. Allama Iqbal in his book ‘Reconstruction of ‘Religious thought’ in 1908 said ‘for the last five hundred years, Muslims have stopped thinking for themselves’”.

Salman questions the motives of many religious parties. His documentary, “The Rock star and the Mullahs” made in 2003 confronted many Madrassas in Pakistan where students were controlled to think and behave in a robotic fashion.

“Islam’s first revelation was Iqra- to read, to seek knowledge. But the extremists don’t focus on this. They masquerade as holy men, brain washing the youth who end up doing their evil bidding”.

“The recent New York jeep bomb alert orchestrated by Faisal Shazad is a prime example of an able and educated young person who was drawn into the wrong hands.”

Terms like Islamism, radicalisation and extremism have largely been affected by how Western Governments have wanted to present a certain debate about the large Muslim populations living in Europe. When questioned about these terms Salman replied “I say you should be a radical centrist! Find the middle way as it mentions in the Quran”

Whilst discussions often centre around Muslims and radicalisation and the influence of mad imams on youth, it is often forgotten how the media itself presents reports on Politicians making misleading remarks about Muslims or MP’s demanding that certain aspects of Islam are out dated or asking for mosque minarets to be minimised as done in Switzerland which in turn leads to a range of views being aired by the over 20 million Muslims residing in Europe.

“When the Muslims in Mecca were persecuted by the Quraish, they took refuge in a Christian country where they respected the laws of the land. When westerners are in Saudi Arabia you won’t see their women parading in bikinis. They respect the Saudi Law. Muslims living in the west must do the same and should integrate” says Salman.

“Yes there are Islamophobic elements who may say things like ‘kick Muslims out’ or want tighter immigration but we need to understand who is doing more damage to Islam. Is it the terrorists or Western Governments?”

“Yes Muslims are very angry, frustrated, and full of resentment post 9/11 when they see Global injustices around the Muslim world. However we are not the first nation that has had injustices meted out against them.  Look at the African-American community who were slaves and gave many sacrifices through people like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Muslims aren’t  slaves in Western societies, we are citizens and we have jobs. A great example is Barack Obama who struggled and worked within the system and as a result, today, he is President of the United States” .

In the last few years, Salman has trekked across the globe for various causes. He has performed  at the UN General assembly twice, is the UN goodwill Ambassador for HIV in Pakistan and has recently teamed up with American singer Melissa Etheridge for a duet “Ring the bells” for Search for Common Ground, a non-profit organization that works to transform the way the world deals with conflict.

His works present himself as an activist for causes for positive change which he believes all Muslims can play a part in.

“One out of every four people on this planet is a Muslim” says a passionate Salman. “We can bring positive change. Look at Prof. Mohammed Younis, Nobel peace prize winner from Bangladesh. He didn’t just say that his country is a victim of a foreign conspiracy. He came up with a brilliant idea and designed micro-loans to help people get out of poverty and in the process aided millions”

“Japan had 2 nuclear bombs dropped on them. They later emerged as a major economic power”

Salman passionately believes his music can help to reclaim Pakistan’s long history of cultural plurality and expression from the stifling dictations of extremists.

His UK tour still leaves many questions to be deliberated upon on radicalisation. His new book “Rock and Roll Jihad” focuses on many of these discussions on identity, modernity, Islam and extremism. However, his Junoon, meaning obsession in the Urdu language, continues to remain un-hindered in his efforts to make the world a better place to live in.


  1. Hmmm…

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