- Professor Ali Asani, Harvard
- Professor Azim Nanji, Stanford
- Professor Dwight Reynolds, UC Santa Barbara
Sounds and Spaces of Muslim Piety: Tradition and Transformation
Muslims across the world have given sonic shape to spiritual words. From spoken declamation to melodic chant, devotional repertoires expressing Muslim piety are abundant in their continuity and vitality. They are anchored in the sonic-oral articulation of the divine koranic messages through its chanted recitation across Muslim communities as well as in the local traditions of spiritual poetry. Their melodic shape may vary, but the messages are uncompromisingly uniform. However, sounding the word is both universal and particular. Human diversity in language and culture has for centuries found expression in sonic form, articulating faith and piety in relation to a plurality of local, historical, and social identities. These expressions of particular groups and individuals are grounded in practices that have deep spiritual roots and a powerful impact on faith.
Muslim sonic diversity is also linked to diversity of place and to the particularity of spaces where sounds are produced and heard. Designated spaces of performance are integral to the experience of sound and its spiritual message, and built space symbolizes Muslim collectivities and their expressions. Al Ghazali’s tripartite tenet for spiritual listening (appropriate place, time and participants) is therefore relevant to all sonic expressions of Muslim piety. Piety is here used broadly in the sense of devotion and reverence; the term is also meant to include the personal spirituality or human response to the divine message.
Devotional repertoires of Muslim piety are abundant across the world. This conference is designed to encompass and further expand the breadth of ethno-musicological research produced at the University of Alberta covering South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Africa, and North America. We propose to explore and celebrate these practices by focusing on their place in the lives of Muslim individuals and communities/congregations, their sonic identities, the relationship between the spiritual words and their musical setting; the effect of these sounds, in providing acoustic reach (volume) across space, transmitting sonic beauty, in creating a shared experience of piety and of communication with the transcendent, as in the sounding of the divine name; the role of built space -shrine, mosque, imambarah, Jamatkhana -both as a location for sonic expression, and as an embodiment of piety itself.
Shared by all Muslims, the sounded words of the Holy Qur’an stand out as a powerful expression of divine blessing in Muslim life, providing comfort in death, celebrating births and opening important gathering. The expressive quality of Koranic recitation moves even those who may not understand the language. The impact of this unique sonic experience would be explored.
These traditions emerge in their own cultural milieus, drawing from the repertoire and motifs of their regions, traditions and languages, makes it evident that there will be a plurality of expressions of piety and devotion within each community as well as across religious communities. Sufi communities and other mystical traditions contain perhaps the most extensive discourse about the spiritual and emotional dimension of Muslim religiosity. Particularly widespread and well known are the repertoires and literatures of Sufism grounded in spiritual poetry of Arabic and Farsi provenance, and located in spaces associated with the spiritual influence of the lives and impact of spiritual leaders, particularly founding figures who are linked to the spread of Muslim communities in the medieval to early modern era of Islam. An instance of such spiritual leadership, literature and recitational practice is found in the historically grounded practice of Ginans, the central hymnody of spiritual life and its vitality of practice of Ismailis originating from South Asia. The diversity of devotional expressions within the Ismailis must be noted. Whilst Ginans are part of the South Asian tradition, the Central Asian Ismailis have their own traditions such as madohs and qasidas.
The new era of sound recordings and Internet has resulted in an increasing spread and worldwide access to these spiritual literatures in sonic performance. But dispersals and migration, especially to the West, are also posing new challenges: of language and textual retention, and of continuity of trained reciters and their repertoires. Migration also results in challenges to finding places of worship. On the other hand, the diaspora situation sees Muslims of diverse backgrounds coming together, and migration even opens spaces for creativity to finding new ways to teach and reach new generations of the community.
An important highlight enhancing this conference is the celebration of a unique donation presented to the University of Alberta by Mr. Pyarali Jiwa who has the finest collection of Ginans, the central heritage of Ismaili religious hymns from South Asia. His collection of Ginans and Geets is perhaps the most extensive recorded repertoire of recitation in existence; it represents years of dedication and hard work from Mr Jiwa, and numerous reciters across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. The Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology has over the last 2 decades built an expanding archive of Muslim devotional recitation focused on South Asian as well as North African and North American sonic practices. It is further enhanced by the range of Islamic recordings in our Smithsonian Folkways collection. Together with the existing Qureshi, Waugh, and other donations, the Jiwa Ginan donation will enable the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology and the folkways Alive! Initiative to develop a distinct Archival Collection of sacred and devotional music and literature. It should become a center for religious and ethno-musicological study, and connect digitally with more such archives internationally. This Archive will be named and inaugurated during the Conference.
The Association for the Study of Ginans has organized a number of International conferences on Ginans, is co-sponsoring this Conference. Mr Jiwa is currently the Chairperson of the Association. The joint organizing committee includes University of Alberta scholars, some members of the Ismaili community, and representatives of the Association for the Study of Ginans in London. The organization of the conference will reflect the collaboration between university and community. It will present scholarship and performance of a concert highlighting the rich variety of Muslim hymns from across South, Central and West Asia, Middle East, North and West Africa. The University of Alberta will present a core of scholarly work on a range of Muslim sonic practices, with perspectives ranging from literary and musical repertoires to their performance and to their spatial and architectural contexts located in diverse regions and built environments. The overall goal is to investigate as well as celebrate the richness and diversity of sounds and spaces of Muslim Piety through performances, culminating in a concert by community performers and university of Alberta ensembles. We aim to create a verbal and musical dialogue between communities of both practice and scholarship so as to explore, compare, and support Muslim devotional traditions and their creative transformations in today’s world of global interfacing.
Papers will be presented by scholars as well as community experts along with contributions by international keynote speakers will be complemented by a broader range of presentations by both scholars and community experts in response to this call for abstracts. This is a University-Community collaboration situating the exploration of this central Ismaili literature of devotion within the wider horizon of Muslim devotional genres across regions, from India and Central Asia to the Middle East as well as North and West Africa and North America. The conference will also include shared performances, both in between sessions and in a gala concert for celebrating the plurality of devotional voices of Muslim piety, especially in Canada. A film on Zurkhane of Iran will be shown.THEMES
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Related posts from our archive
- International Conference on Ginans and Muslim Devotional Expressions to be held at the University of Alberta in Edmonton Canada form 29th April to 1st May 2011
- Association for the Study of Ginans – Memo Pyarali Jiwa
- Ginan Org launched a new website
- 5th International Ginan Conference to held in London on the weekend of 24-25th October 2009