The Qasida is the devotional poetry of Ismailis of Persian heritage

From the Diwan of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, Iran, 1582.<br />  Image: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Catalogue: Spirit and Life
From the Diwan of Sultan Ibrahim Mirza, Iran, 1582.
Image: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Catalogue: Spirit and Life

Music had a high place in the cultures of pre-Islamic dynasties. Amongst the earliest historical records of Persian music are the writings of the Greek historians who refer to the use of ritual and ceremonial music at the time of the Medes (900-550 BC) and the Achaemenian (559- 331 BC) dynasties. The performance of music continued both in the court and in society after the advent of Islam through the Arab conquests in the seventh century.

The Sitar (Persian ‘three strings’) is a small lute with a long neck. It was originally equipped with three metallic strings but a fourth was added during the Qajar period ((r. 1794-1925).
Image: The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Performance and recitation of religious music and poetry has been a feature of Muslim piety for many centuries in different cultures. The tradition of devotional poetry amongst the Ismailis in Persia (modern day Iran), known as Qasidas, is part of the broader literary tradition of Persia found among other Muslim traditions as well.

From the thirteenth century onwards, attitudes towards music in Persia were influenced by the growth of Sufi orders; almost all of them regarded music as an essential part of their devotional practices. The Safavid* period, particularly under Shah Abbas (r.1588-1629), saw significant royal patronage of music; many miniatures from the period depict scenes of people playing musical instruments and dancing.

The Ismaili community has had a long history in Persia. Since the establishment of the Nizari state of Alamut until the migration of Imam Hasan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I, Ismaili Imams lived in Persia for almost eight centuries. After the fall of Alamut to the Mongols in 1256, the community and the Imams lived under the guise of Sufi tariqas for many centuries in order to avoid persecution. As a result, there has been a mutual interchange of ideas and terminologies between the Sufis and the Ismailis, resulting in many similarities between their poetry and literature.

* A major Shi‘i dynasty which ruled Persia (1501–1732)

Visit to listen to Qasidas in the collection of The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Amnon Shiloah, Music in the World of Islam, Wayne State University Press, Detroit.1995
Music & Melodies of the Persian Ismaili qasideh, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Research by Nimira Dewji

Qasidas: Rendition & Expression:

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