• Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poetry

    I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 1996

    ISBN Paperback:
    1 86064 151 2
    ISBN HardBack:
    1 85043 907 9
  • Download PDF version of Introduction (174 KB)

    The literatures of the Islamic peoples are rarely known to Western readers, except for a few classics such as the poetry of Hafiz, the mystical verses of Mawlana Rumi and Omar Khayyam’s Ruba’iyyat. The paucity of reliable translations and of introductions into the complicated web of rhetorical devices, of allusions to the Qur’aninfo-icon and the Prophetic tradition, the rich colours of hyperbolic speech and the measureless feelings expressed by the poets make it difficult for a non-tutored reader to appreciate this poetry in all its dazzling beauty. And even less known than Islamic poetry in general is that of its Ismaili community.

    Among those who are connected with Ismaili literature one name, however, was known for a long time: that of Nasir Khusraw (d. after 1072 in northern Badakhshan). His travelogue, Safarnama, was formerly often used in European universities as the first reading book in Persian for its deceptively easy style. The Safarnama was edited and translated into French first by Ch. Schefer of Paris in 1881; during the same decade the German scholar H. Ethe as well as the French orientalist E. Fagnan edited and analysed some other works of the great philosopher-poet. E.G. Browne, well-known for his pioneering work on Persian literature, considered Nasir Khusraw one of the very rare Persian poets whose work would appeal to Western readers as he does not indulge in panegyric poetry but speaks honestly out of his heart, defending the true faith. However, despite E.G. Browne’s enthusiastic praise of Nasir Khusraw’s poetry, which was published in 1905, very few attempts were made to offer his verse, at least in part, to an English-speaking audience. For the mainstream orientalist, Nasir Khusraw’s poetry remained outside the normal course of Islamic studies, and only recently deeper research into his fascinating thought has begun.

    One may compare his verse to the work of Ibn Hani, who lived a century before him in the farthest west of the Islamic world, in Andalusia, where he used his highly hyperbolical language to emphasize the Ismaili da‘wainfo-icon, the call to the “true religion” - so much so that he had to leave his native country to become the panegyrist of al-Mu'izz, the Fatimid caliphinfo-icon who after the conquest of Egypt in 969 AD founded Cairo, al-Qahirainfo-icon al-Mu’izziyya, the capital of the Fatimid empire in which, under the inspiring rule of the Imaminfo-icon of the time, happiness and wealth seemed to reign and people prospered, as Nasir Khusraw shows in both his Safarnama and in some of his autobiographical poems.

    Arabic and Persian poetry in honour of the true Imam and of the Ismaili Tariqahinfo-icon were by no means restricted to the classical time when the “Fatimid Sun”, as Nasir Khusraw sometimes calls it, was shining over parts of the East. Pious poets have poured out their hearts wherever small pockets of Ismailis were found, be it in Syria, be it in Eastern Iran, in Badakhshan, where Nasir Khusraw is still venerated as a miraculous saint and wise philosopher, and somewhat later in the vast areas of the western subcontinent, from Gujarat to the Panjab. There, the devotional songs of the community, the ginans, were composed, again, in a large variety of languages - songs, in which the Indian traditional imagery is used side by side with the philosophical vocabulary of the Ismaili tradition. These ginans again deserve an in-depth study owing to their linguistic problems and the complicated Khojkiinfo-icon alphabet in which they were noted down till recently. And if the different yet familiar idioms of India and Pakistan were not enough to make our access to Ismaili devotional literature difficult, what can be said of hymns in Burushaski, a language absolutely unrelated to any other known language, and spoken to this day in the high valleys of Hunza?

    The different languages used by the Ismaili community during the past millennium have meant that this literature has been a closed book for most people, even within the community - for a Syrian or Iranian Ismaili was or is not able to read and enjoy religious poetry in Sindhi, Burushaski or Shina, while the pious in the lowlands of Sindinfo-icon or Cutch might not be conversant with Arabic or Persian.

    For this reason, a collection of Ismaili religious poetry in translation is most welcome to both the insider and the outsider. In this volume we follow the translators through their fine English renderings of a number of selected pieces from many of the linguistic areas in which Ismaili communities lived and still live, and we read with joy and deep admiration the poets’ various statements about the true faith, about the radiance of the Imam whose didar is the hoped-for goal of the believer. The strong faith which has inspired the original pieces is certainly reflected in the translators’ work, and every reader, from whatever religious background he or she may come, will enjoy this anthology and experience the intensity of religious feeling that touches his or her own heart.

    The poems show a beautiful way to the “shimmering light” the poets have seen in their visions, a way that will inspire their readers. We hope, therefore, that the anthology may serve as a fine introduction into a hitherto inaccessible world, a world filled with ardent spiritual love and inexhaustible beauty.

    (Adapted from the Foreword by Annemarie Schimmel of Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poetry. London: I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1996.)

  • Acknowledgements



    Al–Qadiinfo-icon al–Nu‘man

      The Most High


    Ibn Hani al–Andalusi

      A shimmering light
      O children of Fatimainfo-icon!
      The progeny of Hashim
      The foundation of faith
      The glory of our time
      The first creation
      The proof of God
      You are the one
      Heaven on earth
      If you were not to be
      Those who have lost their way
      The pilgrimage of a mount
      Encounter in the desert
      Thunder in the mountains
      Assembly of banners


    Amirinfo-icon Tamim al–Fatimi

      Elegy for al–Mu‘izz
      On the festival of Nawruz
      Time and destiny


    Al–Mu’ayyad fi’l–Dininfo-icon al–Shirazi

      The pure progeny
      The evil of desire
      The soul’s satisfaction
      The light of intellect
      The sanctuary


    Nasir–i Khusraw

      The Prophet’s faith
      In search of knowledge
      The Prophet’s legacy
      The sword of ‘Ali
      The excellence of ‘Ali
      O people of the ummainfo-icon!
      The world’s friendship
      The eye of the intellect
      Journey to the light
      Speech and silence
      The master and the disciple
      The candle of intellect
      The momentum of time
      Pearls of heaven
      The sovereign of time
      A conceited eagle
      A pavilion of paradise
      The esoteric and the exoteric
      Secrets of the pilgrimage


    Hasan–i Sabbah

      Particles of dust
      Make me complete


    Ra’is Hasan

      The master of the time
      The heart that knows
      The call of the spirit
      Good fortune
      The rising of the sun


    Nizari Quhistani

      Alexander’s quest
      The virtue of ma‘rifa
      Abode of the beloved
      I found the treasure
      The one above them all
      The sovereign of time


    ‘Abd Allah Ansari

      Form and essence
      The felicity of grace


    Khayrkhwah–i Harati

      The miracle of knowledge
      The three worlds


    Khaki Khurasani

      The inner reality
      Anchor of the ship


    Shaykhinfo-icon Khudr

      Ships of salvation
      The awe–inspiring light
      The trustworthy spirit
      The coming of your light
      Cupbearer of the night
      Love in seclusion
      In the courtyard of love
      The fruits of reality
      The call of the friend
      The city of shining light


    Fida’iinfo-icon Khurasani

      The wealth of this world
      Remembrance of the heart
      Recognition of the Imaminfo-icon
      If you have Mawlainfo-icon’s love


    ‘Allama Nasir Hunzai

      The slave of Mawla ‘Ali
      Quatrains of love
      The treasure of Luqman
      Glad tidings for the soul
      Secrets of the heart


    Isma‘il Adra

      A noble birthday
      My breathless heart




    Index of First Lines

    General Index

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