An Instrument, a Refugee, and the Weight of Beauty

How a traveling violin shows the human search for meaning.


John Stonestreet

Maria Baer

It’s been almost two years since the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan, leaving a void of power quickly filled by the Taliban. In that time, Taliban rulers have outlawed women’s education, religious freedom, and even music. That’s why a concert violinist named Ali left his instrument behind when he fled Afghanistan in 2021. He knew the Taliban would confiscate and destroy any instruments they found, along with music shops and schools.  

After Ali arrived in the United States, a stranger heard his story and decided to donate his violin to the displaced musician. Through a series of connections, the violin made its way from New York to L.A., courtesy of a podcaster who shared the saga in a now-viral Twitter thread. Initially, Latif Nasser struggled to track down Ali in California. His texts and calls went unanswered. Eventually, when the two met, Nasser discovered Ali had been unresponsive due to an unpredictable work schedule at the mall. Most of the money Ali made was sent to support his family in Kabul.  

Nasser also learned that Ali had been a famous violinist in Afghanistan. He performed in a TV orchestra and even toured in the West. In fact, he’d once played at Carnegie Hall. 

Nasser not only gave Ali the violin, but he also set up an online fundraiser to help Ali restart lessons or attend music school. The fundraiser was so successful that Ali eventually shut it down, not wanting to take more money than he needed. 

This remarkable story is not only about the kindness of strangers: It also points to something deeper about what it means to be human. God created us to create, like He does. Made in His image, as the first few chapters of Genesis make plain, humans were created for the purpose of cultivating the rest of creation for the glory of God (Genesis 1:26-28). God’s Word makes clear that, in Christ, He intends not just to save souls but to restore His creation. Just as the garden was full of beauty, when Christ’s Kingdom is finally “on earth as it is in heaven,” its beauty will be perfect. Though our attempts to cultivate the earth are tainted, frustrated, and even painful, our calling to care for His creation remains. Beauty remains even when perfection is impossible. Beauty pleases God and brings Him glory, just as beauty pleases us. 

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl tells the story of waking up one night in Auschwitz to the unlikely sound of a violin.  

To discover that there was any semblance of art in a concentration camp must be surprise enough for an outsider, but he may be even more astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humor there as well. 

According to Frankl, beauty and humor offered the prisoners a kind of cognitive distance from their suffering, even if only for a few minutes, suggesting that a deep longing for beauty is central to the human experience. Art and music are not frivolous parts of life. If Frankl’s account is true, human beings will hunger for beauty even when they have far more urgent needs—like food, water, and safety—going unmet.  

The gratuitously oppressive move by the Taliban to outlaw music is fundamentally different from how the Bible describes the purpose and substance of beauty, especially its power to point us to the one true God and move us to worship Him. It only makes sense that the Taliban would hate music, just as they hate education, religious freedom, and individual rights. Each of these things flows from Christianity’s fundamental view about God, His world, and human beings. 

In fact, the power of beauty to point us to God was a theme of this year’s Colson Center National Conference. We hosted an impressive lineup of speakers, many of whom have dedicated their lives to creating beautiful things, from graphic design to good barbecue. If you missed the conference this year, the footage will be available soon to stream online. Just visit 


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