Global peace workshop inspires W&M students

  • Going JunooniSalman Ahmad, frontman for the South Asian rock group Junoon, visited William & Mary to discuss his journey as a musician and how students can get involved in the international service world.

    Photo by Greg Benson '11

    Going Junooni
  • Open Your EyesStudents watch the music video for Junoon's "Open Your Eyes." Featuring Peter Gabriel, the song was recorded to raise awareness of last year's devastating Pakistani floods. All proceeds from the single are still going to help victims today.

    Photo by Greg Benson '11

    Open Your Eyes
  • Salman and SaminaAhmad's wife, Samina, discusses the NGO the two of them have been running for the past few years. In addition to promoting AIDS awareness and providing flood relief in their native Pakistan, the organization focuses on interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue, global health and wellness, and music education.

    Photo by Greg Benson '11

    Salman and Samina

Salman Ahmad, founder, guitarist, and lead singer of Junoon, the largest South Asian rock band in history, has spent the last two decades working for global peace, engagement and dialogue. 

After performing a live, sold out concert Friday night, William & Mary students had the opportunity to learn more about the world of international service from the man who practices what he preaches – and sings.

{{youtube:medium:center|7q68vX-tnWU,W&M Silk Road Initiative: Workshop with Salman Ahmad}}

“We’re living in really interesting times, which is cause for concern but at the same time gives your generation opportunities to change the world,” said Ahman, a UN Goodwill Ambassador and advocate for HIV/AID awareness. “Twitter, Facebook, My Space and YouTube all make the distance between American and Pakistan not 10,000 miles, but just a press of a button.”

Ahmad and his wife, Samina, are co-founders of the Salman and Samina Global Wellness Initiative (SSGWI).  The non-government organization has two major projects in Pakistan: a women’s and children’s literacy program and rebuilding villages destroyed by recent floods.

Workshop coordinator Tamara Sonn, Kenan Professor of Humanities and Religious Studies, said William & Mary students are highly motivated to make a difference in the world and are committed to service, but don’t know how to get involved.

“This workshop gave students the opportunity to ask someone who’s done it:  how did you do it?” she said.

It quickly became clear to those who came in contact with Ahmad how deeply the musician cares for the peace and global well-being of his native country. Born there in 1963 and returning again in 1981 after spending his teen years in New York, Ahmad was able to witness Pakistan’s transformation from a relative democracy to what he described as “the kingdom of darkness” under the highly repressive rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.

A spur of the moment decision to attend a Led Zeppelin concert in Madison Square Garden had already inspired Ahmad to learn guitar by the time he returned, but many attempts to express himself musically in his homeland ended in hostility, and on one occasion, a face-to-face death threat.

Ahmad mentioned how incidents like that propelled him further into his dual passions for music and healing the strife in his corner of the world.

“You just gotta think to yourself, ‘How badly do I want to do this?’” he said.

When the bans on musicianship in Pakistan began to ease up in the late 1980s, Ahmad continued to pursue his craft, eventually joining two other artists to form the band Junoon, a word translated either as “passion” or “obsession.” As time went on, and the band started to enjoy more and more success, they also enjoyed an increased ability to help those around them.

Ahmad shared the story of a woman he met in Pakistan who is living with HIV and fighting the stigma associated with the disease.  Junoon recorded a song about her struggle, and the subsequent music video went on to educate thousands of Pakistanis about the disease.

“My job as an artist is to play the music and do the work that I’m doing,” said Ahmad. “Hopefully it will inspire somebody to do something.”

After the workshop, several students inquired about traveling to Pakistan this summer to help with the flood relief efforts.  Two students asked how they might be able to donate profits from an upcoming fundraiser to SSGWI; others signed up as volunteers.

Inspiring, indeed.