In this post, I am continuing my thread of exploring Shia Islam and aspects of Islam that are less present in scholarship and media. Week 7 discussed various forms of Islamic devotion. John Renard, in Seven Doors to Islam, characterizes devotion as temporarily living in “liminality.” Here, the state of liminality is a sacred space, a suspension of earthly life for the sacred, where one can express vulnerability and catharsis. This manifests in both ritual religious practices, such as the Five Pillars of Islam, and communal devotion unregulated by law. Each practice has a reasoning, “draw[ing] its sacralizing power from the custom of the Prophet himself” (Renard 39).

For the Nizari Ismaili, belief in mysticism reigns. Ismailis strive for unity with God, and because the Imam is the link between the earthly world and the spiritual world, a closer relationship with the Imam translates to a closer relationship with God. This relationship is illustrated by a marriage metaphor, where the follower is the bride waiting for his/her union with the divine. It is sung as hymn-like poems called ginans.

The bride metaphor works well in several ways. For one, it shows a bride in longing, much as a person is in longing to be with God. Two, the bride is youthful and can’t wait any longer until her wedding, like a “soul [that] feels it is mature for divine union” (Asani 60). Third, this is something she has been promised, and it is only a matter of time until the fulfillment. This reasoning fuels a follower’s devotion, in which constant prayer and practice will be rewarded.

Liminality is intensified during satadas, period of seven days and seven nights when there is a collective push for unity with the divine. Ginans are sung before the session to set a spiritual mood.

The poem below is my own version of a ginan. Rather than a traditional version, this poem reflects upon the surprising, yet enduring bride metaphor. The first stanza describes a traditional bride, the second stanza expands on her actions, and the third stanza describes the extent of her love and waiting. The fourth stanza is the reveal – she is waiting for her spiritual partner, not a physical husband.

In general, I tried to make the form of the ginan reflect the action or description of the poem in the moment. For example, the word “Down” is deliberately on a different line, dropped down from the word “Streaming,” and the word “Waiting” is deliberately split in two to show how torturous and long the process of waiting for the beloved is. I also chose words specifically to invoke an ethereal, but painful atmosphere. For example, the word “gossamer,” which opens the poem can mean “light, thin, delicate material” or “the fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders” which is an interesting juxtaposition of the beautiful and the creepy in one word. Words like “veil” and “streaming” follow in this vein. The third stanza is unique because it is all direct speech (or direct thoughts, depending on your interpretation) from the bride. I chose to write this part using simple, direct words, because the essence of waiting for the beloved is that simple and if a layman read this poem, this is a part he/she could easily connect to.

 

Gossamer-

Like veil on the bride’s

Forehead. Streaming

Down

Blending with the great white trail

Of her wedding dress.

 

A young woman

In bloom

Like a fresh rose,

Yearning,

Wait-

Ing:

 

“I think of you

And want nothing else.

You are the match for me,

And I am ready

To be the match for you.

I will give you my all,

Everything to please you.

Where are you?

When will you be here?”

 

The wait for the divine

Is winding

But

Worthwhile.