Amjad Sabri, an international performer of Islamic devotional music who gave a well-received concert in Buffalo last month, was fatally shot Wednesday while driving his car in the Pakistani city of Karachi, according to various press reports.
The BBC reported that two gunmen fired on Sabri’s car in the busy Liaqatabad area of Karachi, and that Sabri, 45, died on his way to hospital. It is not yet clear who was behind the killing, but Dawn.com, an English language website, reported that Qari Saifullah Mehsud, spokesperson for the TTP Hakimullah Mehsud group, had accepted responsibility.
Sabri’s brother was wounded critically, according to an aljazeera.com report.
The website quoted a senior police officer in Karachi as saying the killing was targeted and an “act of terrorism.” The attackers apparently were on a motorcycle and used pistols. Sabri was a musical star in countries with large Muslim populations, renowned for his brand of qawwali, a form of Islamic devotional music that is popular throughout South Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
The Western New York Muslim community sponsored his concert performance on May 19 in Adam’s Mark Hotel and Event Center. The concert drew about 300 people.
“It was wonderful. It was very well attended, more than we expected,” said Amber Shaikh, project manager for WNY Muslims, the sponsoring agency.
The killing sent shock throughout Pakistan and beyond. “It’s extremely sad to hear, very disheartening,” said Shaikh.
Qawwali involves repetitive singing of Sufi Muslim spiritual poetry, usually in praise of Allah, or of Muslim teachers and saints. The singing is accompanied by harmonium, a portable organ that sounds similar to an accordion, and a tabla, a hand-struck drum. It often invites interaction from audience members and joyous clapping and swaying.
Sufism is a tolerant, mystical practice of Islam that occasionally has been attacked as blasphemous by Sunni extremists.
Sabri was the son of another celebrated qawwali singer, Haji Ghulam Farid Sabri, the first person to bring qawwali to the United States in the 1970s on tours with his brother Maqbool Sabri, Amjad Sabri’s uncle.
Sabri typically toured larger cities such as Toronto, New York City and Chicago, and Shaikh said Buffalo-area residents were lucky to have seen him here.
She described Sabri as very down to earth, despite his international celebrity. Sabri gave no indication during his show here that his life potentially was in danger because of his music.
“He was a very happy, jolly guy,” she said. “He just said he was very happy to be in Buffalo for the first time.”