Based on material collected during fieldwork in 1992-3 (partly published in the author’s Minstrel Poetry of the Pamir Mountains: A Study on the Songs and Poems of the Ismailis of Tajik Badakhshan, Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2004), this article shortly introduces the Isma‘iliyya in Badakhshan and the tradition of maddah-khwani — lit. ‘singing of praise’, the cycles of religious poetry performed by predominantly non-professional musicians (maddah-khwans) on varied occasions of community life. The author describes the performance in traditional Pamirian houses in the presence of a khalifa (the local religious leader of a rural Ismaili community), the singer accompanying himself on the rubab or on other string instruments, sometimes with a tambourine player. Almost exclusively in Persian language, the maddah is characterised by its themes: mystical love and the praise of the key figureheads of the Isma‘iliyya in Badakhshan (Prophet Muhammad, Nasir-i Khusraw, Agha Khan IV, but first and foremost Imam ‘Ali together with his mule Duldul and his two-edged sword Dhu’l-Fiqar. Trough the Bahr al-asrar, a collection of stories on Nasir-i Khusraw attributed to Sayyid Jalal Munji (published in Dushanbe in 1992), the author develops on the activity of maddah-khwans in pre-modern Badakhshan. A piece of this text — a locally well-known qasida on the heroic and noble deeds of ‘Ali, endowed with a divine status — is compared with texts of the Ithna-‘Ashari tradition (notably the tenth-century gnostic Hadiqat al-haqiqat by Sana‘i and the late sixteenth-century more official Kitab-i farigh by the Safavid court poet Farigh Gilani), all seen as traditional reinterpretations of the Sura al-Ma’ida (‘The Table’) of the Qur’an (5: 55), known in Badakhshan as the ‘Sura of the Gift (sura al-‘ata’)’. Pedagogically written for readers unfamiliar with Central Asian realities, this article sheds light on the function of maddah as a provider of examples of behaviour for Ismaili audiences. Besides, the author also astutely notices the absence of the hostility to Sunnis that remains conversely a characteristic of the Ithna-‘Ashari tradition, especially in Iranian ta‘ziyya and rawzakhwani.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-4.2.A-340