Islamic Mysticism at Center Stage at UNC-Chapel Hill

By Duston Barto

The mission of Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) to enrich lives by creating and presenting exceptional arts experiences and connecting them to the UNC community and beyond. In pursuing this mission, Carolina Performing Arts has crafted a project intended to express the diversity of culture reflected in those who practice Islam around the world.

Sacred / Secular: A Sufi Journey evolved from the desire to refute monolithic thinking about the practice of Islam and about Muslims as both communities and individuals. CPA proves that it should not be known for presenting a Euro-centric view of the arts, but rather an all-encompassing view the global arts and how it reflects the world around us.

The various performances of Sacred/Secular: A Sufi Journey help to express the diverse cultural and spiritual representation of Muslims from nations such as Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan and Senegal. This project intentionally avoided the Arab nations whose culture is seen as part of a false monolithic construct of the Muslim identity.

Through this program, North Carolinians can appreciate the vast richness of Muslim cultures and artistic expressions. This can go far in shattering stereotypes and false narratives that paint Muslims as one category of people.  The program will act as a tool for Muslim Americans to share the richness of the diverse cultural heritage of Muslims with our neighbors.

We encourage readers to attend the performances and share the rich diversity of Muslims from around the world.

The photos here in this article will share a glimpse of some of the performances along with the dates for that specific performance.  The full program guide can be found at


Special thanks to the Carolina Performing Arts Communication Manager Darah White for her contributions to this article. Photos are courtesy of Carolina Performing Arts.

Youssou N’Dour

Throughout a 30-year recording career, Youssou N’Dour’s roots in Senegalese traditional music and griot storytelling have remained the hallmark of his artistic personality. This performance features a selection of songs from the Sufi tradition including music from the Grammy-winning album Egypt, a deeply spiritual album dedicated to a more tolerant view of Islam. N’Dour will be joined by guest Senegalese vocalists Moustapha Mbaye and Alioune Badara along with members of Super Etoile. October 25, 7:30pm

Sussan DeyhimSussan Deyhim

Inspired by the works of Forough Farrokhzad, one of Iran’s most influential feminist poets and filmmakers, The House is Black Media Project sheds light on the importance of Iranian contemporary arts. Iranian American performance artist/composer Sussan Deyhim examines the prophetic vision of Farrokhzad, whose message is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when she died at the age of 32. Featuring Deyhim’s striking visual projections along with archival footage including Farrokhzad’s 1965 interview with Bernardo Bertolucci. The original score by Deyhim and Golden Globe-winning composer Richard Horowitz is rooted in Persian and Western contemporary classical music, jazz and electronic music. October 28, 8pm.

Nani Topeng LosariNani Topeng Losari

The extraordinary range of dance forms in Indonesia is a reflection of the country’s huge diversity of cultures and ethnicities. Originating in Cirebon on the north coast of West Java, the Topeng Losari mask dance is rooted in indigenous Javanese culture. Award-winning seventh-generation mask dancer Nani is working to revive this highly dramatic, opulently costumed tradition. Demanding exceptional agility and stamina, the mask dances (“topeng” dances) of Losari are steeped in mysticism and magic, with the belief that masks transfer special powers to the wearer. January 27, 8pm.

Ajoka Theatre – Dara

Ajoka Theatre – Dara

Pakistan’s renowned Ajoka Theatre is committed to ideals of peace and tolerance. Shahid Nadeem’s spellbinding play Dara tells the dramatic story of Dara Shikoh—eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan—who was imprisoned and executed by his younger brother Aurangzeb. A crown prince, poet, painter and Sufi, Dara wanted to build on the vision of Akbar the Great and bring the ruling Muslim elite closer to the local religions. Exploring the violent struggle between brothers, the decisive role played by their sisters Jahan Ara and Roshan Ara, the spiritual challenge posed by the Sufi Sarmad, the authority of the muftis and qazis of the Empire and growing discontent among the masses, Dara offers a resounding message for our times. March 2, 7:30pm.

Sounds of Kolachi

Sounds of Kolachi is a 10-piece supergroup of vocalists and instrumentalists from Karachi (formerly known as Kolachi) that blurs raga and western harmony, counterpoint and South Asian melodic lines. In this instantly listenable ensemble, South Asian classical instruments like the sitar and bowed sarangi are on equal footing with electric guitar and rock rhythm section. March 31, 8pm.

Sanam Marvi

With enthralling performances that draw deeply from one of the world’s great music traditions, Sanam Marvi is Pakistan’s next inspiring diviner of South Asia’s humanist, folk and Sufi texts. A vocal warrior for tolerance, spirituality and peace, her renditions balance immediacy and elegant ornamentation, lending new light to a cherished repertoire of Sufi, Ghazal, qawwali and folk songs. This rising star’s revelatory interpretations of the sub-continent’s mystics reach across cultural borders and generations to offer solace in our uncertain and often troubled times. April 12, 7:30pm.

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