Harvard University is offering a brand new course by Professor Ali Asani on Muslim Devotional Literature in South Asia, featuring the study of the Ismaili Ginans in their historical, cultural, and devotional contexts. The Ginans stem from the Satpanth Ismaili tradition of South Asia and Ismaili tradition attributes the authorship of the Ginans to the Pirs (the babs or supreme hujjats of the Imam) and Sayyids descended from the family of the Ismaili Imams and who were active from the 12th century to the 19th century.
The status of the Ismaili Pirs, to whom numerous Ginans are attributed, is described by the Ismaili Imam Shah Gharib Mirza (known also as Shah al-Mustansir bi’llah II):
The Pir is the person to whom the Imam of the time has granted his position, which makes him the highest amongst the creations (ashraf-i makhluqat). And whenever he (the Imam) has chosen the Pir, and appointed him, he (the Pir) must convey to others the knowledge in detail (ma‘rifat-ra ba-tafsil bi-guyad). You must attain perfection in knowledge of the Imam through him. But if he (i.e. the Imam) has not appointed a Pir, you must come to know some person amongst the possessors of knowledge (sahiban-i ilm) whom he has commissioned to guide and to preach to people (ba-dalalat wa da‘wat) so that you may attain through the guidance and summons of such a person (irshad wa da‘wat) the recognition of the Imam (ma’rifat-i Imam). Thus you will not remain in wretchedness, attaining through the illumination of his knowledge (rawshana’i-y-i ilm-i u) the recognition of the Imam. And whenever there is a Pir, the teachers will take up summons (da’wat), by his permission, remaining under his control and order.
Imam Shah Gharib Mirza (Mustansir bi’llah II),
(Pandiyat-i Jawanamardi, tr. W. Ivanow, 26)
Dr. Shafique Virani also explains the mission and context of the Ismaili Pirs in South Asia and how they claimed direct descent from the Ismaili Imams:
The family of Pirs claimed descent from Isma’il b. Ja’far, but through a line different from that of the Imams, and provided the most gifted and dedicated exponents of Ismailism in South Asia. The leaders of the community seem to have continuously been appointed from their ranks. Their activities are alluded to in a contemporary Iranian source, the anonymous treatise entitled Epistle of the Right Path. Describing how the Imams from ‘Ali through Isma’il were manifest (zahir) while those from Isma^il through Mahdi were concealed (mastur), it continues:
Mawlana Isma’il manifested in the cities of Uch and Multan, leaving indications among the people of India and displaying marvels. A community from among that Imam’s descendants still remains in that realm, and by means of those indications those people will never entertain doubts.
Shafique N. Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, 99)
Course Title: Muslim Devotional Literatures in South Asia: Qawwalis, Sufiana Kalam (Sufi Poetry) and the Ginans
Course Number: RELIGION 1814
Professor: Ali Asani
Course Description: This course explores traditions of Islamic spirituality in South Asia through the lens of three genres: the qawwali, concerts of mystical poetry; sufiana kalam, Sufi romantic epics and folk poems; and the ginans, hymns of esoteric wisdom recited by the Satpanthi Ismailis. Since these genres represent examples of language, symbols and styles of worship shared across Islamic and non-Islamic denominational boundaries, we will also examine their relationships with other Indic traditions of devotion, particularly those associated with the so-called sant and Hindu bhakti movements. Special emphasis will be given to the impact of contemporary political ideologies, globalization and the revolution in media technology on the form and function of these genres and their relationship with contemporary communities of faith in South Asia and beyond. (See Harvard University Website)
Some of the Readings on the Ismaili Ginans from this new Harvard Course are listed below:
Ali S. Asani, The Buj Nirinjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem. Read on Google Books.
Aziz Esmail, The Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics. Read on GoogleBooks.
Tazim R. Kassam, Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance: Hymns of the Satpanth Ismaili Muslim Saint, Pir Shams. Read on Google Books.
Zawahir Moir & Christopher Shackle, Ismaili Hymns from South Asia: An Introduction to the Ginans. Read on Google Books.
Ali S. Asani, Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia. Read on Google Books.
Shafique N. Virani, “Symphony of Gnosis: A Self-Definition of the Ismaili Ginān Tradition”, in Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy and Mysticism in Muslim Thought, ed. Todd Lawson, 503-521. Read on Shafique Virani Website.
Zawahir Moir, Tazim R. Kassam, Franscoise Mallision, Ginans Texts and Contexts. Read on Google Books.
Karim Gillani, Sound and Recitation of Khoja Ismaili Ginans: Tradition and Transformation. PhD Dissertation, University of Alberta 2015. Read on University of Alberta Website.
Ali S. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Shia Ismaili Muslim”, in A Modern History of the Ismailis, ed. Farhad Daftary. Read on Harvard Website.
Shafique N. Virani, “Taqiyyah and Identity in a South Asian Community”, The Journal of Asian Studies Vol. 70, No. 1 (February) 2011: 99–139. Read on the Harvard Website.
More academic studies on the Ismaili Ginans are available on Ginanic Studies courtesy of Karim Tharani.