Shared Religious Symbols amongst Faith Communities of the Subcontinent

By: Sahista Chawdawala  

Religion is often seen as a polarizing factor in dividing the nation due to both the religious nationalism and communalism (Asani, 2002). Yet by studying the religion, one cannot but notice that religious traditions have many commonalities and accommodate several encounters. This idea will be explored by using an example of the Nizari Ismailis (the branch of Shi’i Muslims) which evolved in the Indian-Subcontinent in the thirteenth century and their devotional literature called gināns (devotional hymns). The community narratives talk about the dā‘īs (one who invites people to Islam) being sent to the Subcontinent by the Imams (spiritual leaders) living in Persia. It is believed that dā‘īs (known as pirs) used gināns to propagate their faith amongst the people of Sindh and Gujarat. Pirs adopted the Indic languages, culture, music and built on the Indian Bhakti (love and devotion) tradition to invite locals to their faith, Islam (Khan, 1997). The present paper will look at how ginanic tradition creatively used shared vocabularies and religious symbols to communicate the message of Islam. One such example is "virahini," the word used for a woman longing for her husband. The idea is borrowed from the Bhakti tradition and the symbol of virahini and its related metaphors and imageries are used in the gināns to communicate the notion of separation and spiritual union in Islam. Being a teacher of religion, I will also discuss how this idea allows a practitioner to promote tolerance and pluralism amongst her students using examples of pedagogic practices.

Religious Symbols, Identity, Indic Culture, Islam/Ismailism, Pluralism
Religious Commonalities and Differences
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Sahista Chawdawala

Student, Secondary Teachers Educator Programme, The Institute of Ismaili Studies , United Kingdom
United Kingdom

I am the student studying in London and originally from India.