A Musical Mission from Allah

Can a Pakistani rock star strike a new chord in the hearts of Islamic fundamentalists?
The most important battle in the world right now may not be between radical Islam and the West but between Islam and itself. The fourteen-hundred-year-old religion has hit a crossroads.

Moderates and extremists are vying for influence and power in this ancient tradition, and perhaps nowhere is that struggle more evident than in Pakistan. As one of the largest Muslim countries, with a population of 150 million, Pakistan is a test case for a religion that is being pulled apart by the twin tensions of modernity and fundamentalism. In the midst of this maelstrom, fate, with a little help from the BBC, has placed an unlikely champion of a more moderate version of Islam at the center of the debate. His name is Salman Ahmad, and he is the guitarist in the band Junoon. A South Asian trio with members from Pakistan, India, and the United States, Junoon has become a worldwide sensation over the last decade and is now a household name for millions of Pakistanis and Indians. And Ahmad, who has teamed up with award-winning producer Ruhi Hamid to make documentaries exploring Islam, may be the best-known face in what the New York Times has called "the U2 of Asia."

"Who are the Mullahs who say that [music is forbidden]?" demands Ahmad, sitting calm and relaxed in a circle of students at a Pakistani madrassa, or religious school. What unfolds next in the BBC documentary The Rock Star and the Mullahs is a rare glimpse into a world few Westerners have ever seen. Ahmad asks the students of this fundamentalist Islamic school to tell him why they believe that music is haram, or forbidden, in the teachings of Islam. As he presses them and they respond, the young Muslim students are torn between their fascination with this cultural icon, who represents rock and roll and twenty-first-century values, and their adherence to a form of increasingly extremist Islam taught by their local mullahs. Eventually, Ahmad reaches for his guitar, and as the students sit around him, their expressions a mixture of shock and intrigue, he defies the ban on music and sings

LA’s Fires — An Effect of Global Warming?

On Sunday night my boyfriend and I returned from a weekend away in Portland, Oregon.

I’ve always loved returning to Los Angeles after a trip away — I am always happy to come home to palm trees, blue skies and an ever-present sun. But somehow, this time, everything felt a little bit tarnished.

The air — even on the west side, felt nothing like the clear air of the Northwest. And when we got inside our apartment, all the surfaces were covered in dust — everything had a film of dirt on it. Or I thought it was dirt.

This morning, as I opened the apartment door to the outside, the fact that the film was not just dirt, was driven home. It smelled like the fires — which are now engulfing much of Los Angeles and San Diego — were blazing at the bottom of the apartment building stairs. The "dirt" was soot and ash from the fires, blown south by the wind.  

Last year the fires in Los Angeles shut down Griffith Park — burning hundreds of acres of trees and plants.

Since moving here seven years ago, I have paid more and more attention to the fires and their effect. I am also conscious of the droughts Los Angeles experiences. Have things gotten worse in the last few years? Is global warming exacerbating the danger of fires in Los Angeles? Is CO2 and human-created pollution not only contributing to the smog we know so well in LA, but to the destruction of our parks and the closing of our schools?