Just like Qur’an recitation, devotional music is often designated the realm of men. Women’s voices are often thought to be too erotic to sing or perform religious content — they sway men to sinful thoughts when they should be focusing on God. But some women have broken from behind this barrier and used their voices to rise to be national and international figures. One such women is Abida Parveen of Pakistan. A singer in the traditions of qawwali, ghazal, and kafi, Parveen ranks among the best-known Sufi performers, a female amongst many males.
Begum Abida Parveen was born in 1957 in
What’s notable about Parveen is that she stands out for her talent, not her gender. Look up any of the styles Parveen performs and her name will come up. She has been reviewed by newspapers across the world, from the New York Times to
Parveen is frequently compared to the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a fellow Pakistani Sufi star, who carries significant name recognition even in the West. The Nepali Times described her “
“We are all the same species — all humans have a representative of godliness, so there is really no male/female division. I have been given this gift by the Divine, who does not recognize differences between male and female singing. I am simply a medium, and if you listen to me sing, even over the period of a few days, it will be entirely different because the transmission is from the Divine.”
It’s disappointing that there aren’t more female performers of Islamic music, but Abida Parveen shines brightly as an example of what Muslim women can achieve.