Devotional Literature and Songs of Worship as Complementary T ...

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The Qur’an is the foundational text of Islam. It is supported by the practices and sayings (Sunnah & Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad and, for the Shi’a branches of Islam, their Imams. This article will take specific examples of devotional songs of the Ismaili community and explore their function as complementary texts, in supplementing foundational texts and differentiating this tradition from others by providing a basis for specific rituals, practices, as well as pedagogical tools in religious education. Among the Shi’a, the Shi’a Imami Nizari Ismailis (Ismailis for short) are the second largest Shi’a community, led by their 49th Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The Ismailis have historically spread over North Africa, the Middle East, Persia, Central Asia, and South Asia. As a result, religious education and different rituals and congregational practices were conducted in the vernacular and adapted to local cultures, and with this, a broad corpus of devotional songs developed in these regions. As the corpus of this devotional material is very large, this article takes a few specific examples of devotional Ginans, Munaajats, and Qasidas to explore how these devotional songs are used to recall specific religious histories, celebrate religious events, and convey teachings based on the foundational texts of the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Hadith of the Prophet and the Shi’a Imams. Similar to Sufi poetry, more generally, this type of literature draws the reader or listener to search for spiritual truths and understanding, serving as a primary vehicle for esoteric religious education.