On this week’s episode of Muslim Footprints, we discuss the history and significance of our cherished ginan tradition. Professor Ali Asani of Harvard University helps us explore the profound meanings, cultural significance, and spiritual depth in their verses — tune in to learn more.

Ismailis from South Asia find their origins in Gujarat, Sindh and Punjab. Their ancestors belonged to various castes such as the Lohana and Bhatia communities, who found themselves drawn to the teachings of Muslim saints, known as pirs or sayyids.

According to community tradition, Ismaili pirs were sent from Persia by the Imams – or spiritual leaders – to spread knowledge of who the Ismaili Imams are, and the notion of the Imam as the guide to spiritual enlightenment. The pirs did this through ginans, one thousand or more religious hymns assumed to date as far back as the thirteenth century. The people that accepted these teachings came to be known as Satpanthis: those who followed Satpanth, or the True Path.

On this episode, Ali Asani, professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University, speaks to us about ginans, and the fascinating evolution of this particular Ismaili tradition over the past 800 years.

“The term Ginan itself indicates their function because it comes from this word gnan, which means knowledge, so they are meant to transmit some kind of knowledge. And I like to think that the knowledge that they're transmitting is, in fact, a knowledge that is spiritually transformative,” Ali Asani says. “And the reason I talk about this knowledge as something spiritually transformative is because you have some Ginans where the pirs, the composers, are asking you to listen to the Ginans, which are filled with light, which are filled with enlightenment. And that when you recite them, because of that enlightenment, you will feel happiness, you will become ecstatic.”


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