The Music of Islam: Sufi Poetry, Singing, and Knowledge in South Asia

Oct 12, 2020 - Nov 18, 2020
Application Deadline:
Oct 11, 2020
6 Weeks
Monday - 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Wednesday - 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
In this course participants will study the rich tradition of South Asian Sufi poetry set to music, a practice called sama'. Traditionally, sama' has been a fundamental mode through which Islamic religious thought has been imparted in South Asia and other parts of the Islamic world. Be it Kafi, Doha, Ghazal, Bait, Vai or other poetic genres in which Sufis of South Asia have written, these poetic texts are mainly heard as sung rather than read. What then is the relationship between poetry and singing? Why is music so important to this literary and religious tradition? What is the larger relationship, and difference, between hearing of a text, like listening to a beautiful recitation of the Quran, and reading it silently? What is the nature of sound (listening) as opposed to sight (reading) and how does it shape and add to our experience, knowledge, and understanding of religious, spiritual, and poetic truth? What can we gain from this knowledge for the upkeep of our souls.

How can this knowledge make us better human beings

This course will explore these and related questions about sama' by introducing the students to four dimensions of this tradition. A) The religious foundations and a brief history of sama' in South Asia, b) the core Islamic philosophical, theological, and ethical ideals articulated in Sufi poetry c) the different moods, purposes, and effects of various musical genres of singing this poetry, and d) the relationships of this tradition to other traditions of devotional singing-such as bhakti or devotional poetry in Hindi and other Indian languages, and madih or na'tia poetry from Sufi orders of West Africa.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

1. Identify the religious foundations of and arguments for sama' as articulated in the classical Islamic tradition
2. Identify fundamental genres of South Asian Sufi poetry and their origins and histories
3. Develop a deeper appreciation of these genres' contexts and functions, literary modes, and musical moods and thus listen to sama' with new ears: critically, attentively, philosophically, and devotionally
4. Identify the main themes of Sufi poetry, and analyze them to understand their core ethical ideas in the larger context of Islamic philosophy and theology
5. Put other musical and poetic traditions in conversation with Sufi poetry and singing to develop a deeper appreciation for non-South Asian and/or non-Islamic religious poetry, music, and thought
6. Develop an evolving personal analytical relationship to qawwali, kafi, and other Sufi music genres and thus have a renewed ethical appreciation of this mine of religious and philosophical knowledge about how to live ethical lives, become better human beings, and know ourselves and God

Click here to view the complete course outline.
Taimoor Shahid
PhD (ABD), South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
MA in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies from Columbia University
Writer, poet, and translator

Course Fee: PKR 12,000/-

Note: CES may cancel or postpone a course due to insufficient enrolment or unforeseen circumstances. In this case, the university will refund registration/processing fee (if any) but will not be responsible for any other related charges/expenses including cancellation/change charges by airline and travel agencies. 

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