Reviews

Partly based on the author’s doctoral dissertation (Minstrel Poetry from the Pamir Mountains: A Study on the Songs and Poems of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan, University of Leiden, 1997), this article explores an issue related to one of the major genres of sung poetry in Tajik Badakhshan, namely, the maddah.  Performed as an Isma‘ili ritual on religious occasions by specialised maddah-khwans, the maddah binds several pre-existing lyrical and narrative poems together in a cycle-like form.  It is further characterised by its language—almost exclusively Tajik Persian—, as well as by its edifying and religious purpose.  Focusing on examples of akhir-zaman (apocalyptic) poetry, Gabrielle van den Berg undertakes a close examination of one of the popular qasa‘id to be found in the maddah cycles performed as a ritual after decease or on the evocation of the Resurrection.  Prophesying the coming of the Antichrist at the end of time, the poem displays the strangest portrayal of Safavid kings as temporary saviours and messengers of the Last Hour.  But though their composition obviously cannot be dated prior to the times of Shah ‘Abbas, the various existing versions of the qasida are all attributed to the eleventh-century poet and champion of Isma‘ili faith, Nasir-i Khusraw.  One cannot but be struck by the unexpected connection with the Safavid dynasty, that ruled between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century and numbers among the keener promoters of institutional Twelver Shiism in the Middle East.  Yet the “connexion” seems only to deepen.  In a series of performances, the qasida is associated with a specific narrative poem (hikayat) bearing the pen name of “Fariq”.  The name refers to the seventeenth century Gilaki poet Hasan Fariq-i Gilani, who composed his work in praise of ‘Ali and Shah ‘Abbas.  A number of his poems are found in anthologies (bayazes) that are widely used in the local rituals of the maddah.  This reference confirms the syncretistic aspect of popular culture in Badakhshan, where Isma‘ilism was influenced by several religious trends, among which the “extremist Shiism” of the Safavids must have proved appealing to some extent.  Van den Berg also alleges Alessandro Bausani’s claim that Fariq shared in the beliefs of the unorthodox ‘Ali-Ilahi movement, which played an important part at the court of Isma‘il i. But many questions remain unanswered in this improbable embedding of Safavid references in the context of Badakhshani Isma‘ilism.  In the aforementioned apocalyptic qasida, for instance, which is deprived of any reference to ‘Ali, Nasir-i Khusraw’s takhallus alone would stand surety for its Isma‘ili contents.  “In how far then can one speak of a Safavid connection in the Isma‘ili poetry of Badakhshan?”  Though it does not bring the problem to a close, this article suffices to show the eclecticism of popular mysticism in Badakhshan, and convincingly argues that “maddah-khwani is the expression of a rich tradition of what may be called popular Islam, in which various unexpected elements come together.”

Justine Landau, New Sorbonne University, Paris
CER: I-6.2.B-525