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Aleppo Ottoman Mosque 1Syrian-Canadian filmmaker Amar Chebib invites us on an intimate journey exploring the sacred musical culture of the post-Ottoman world. Having grown up in a mostly western context, Amar returns to the Middle East to study the traditional music and reconnect with his roots. However when he discovers this music is inextricably tied to a religious culture, he is forced to re-examine his own understanding of Islam.

Amar probes the conservative trends that had alienated him from Islam until he discovers Sufism, the religion’s mystical dimension. Enamored by the celebrated Sufi poet and Islamic scholar, Jalaluddin Rumi, Amar finds this music at the heart of an ancient Islamic world. The majority of great composers learned music through mystical ceremonies where they would evoke the state of “wajd”, or ecstatic divine union. But with the rise of certain conservative waves of Islam, Sufism and its musical rituals were suppressed. They were seen as a threat to more dogmatic and patriarchal worldviews,

Paradoxically, in post-Ottoman Turkey, Sufism and its music was outlawed in order to forcefully secularize and nationalize society. This pushed the movement underground and many people suffered discrimination as a result. Ultimately, Amar realizes that the rise of both radical nationalism and religious fundamentalism were in fact two reactionary sides of the same coin: the clash of the modern West with traditional Islam.

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Through riveting interviews, ecstatic musical performances, and beautiful poetic imagery, Wajd uncovers the intricacies of this music, the transcendence it seeks to elicit, and its resurgence in recent history. For Amar and many others, a new inclusive paradigm is emerging based on the message of Rumi: Truth, Love, and Beauty. Derived from the tri-letter Arabic root “wa-ja-da”, meaning “to find,” and etymologically related to “wujood”, meaning “being”, Wajd is an account of one young man’s search for meaning and humanity’s continued journey of becoming.