Ali Asani

Session 1, Friday 13th, 9:00-10:30 am
Location: University of Alberta, Lister Conference Centre, Wild Rose Room

Session 8, Saturday 14th, 3:20-4:50 pm
Location: University of Alberta, Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Room 1-140

Heavenly gardens, celestial concerts and the day of alast in Persian Sufi poetry


In traditions of Islamic spirituality, the day of alast is associated with the Quranic verse 7:171 in which God addressed the yet-uncreated creation with the words, alastu bi rabbikum? “Am I not your Lord?” According to Muslim mystics, creation responded with “bala shahidna,” “Yes, we witness it,” and thereby came into being, taking upon itself not only the duty of obedience, but also of love. From that time onwards, every creature has been bound to God with the covenant of love, commonly referred to as the covenant of alast (from the Arabic “Am I not?”). For Sufis, the primordial day of alast represents the perfect state of existence in which all of creation was united in the presence of the Divine Beloved in a state of euphoric joy. This paper will explore depictions of the day of alast in the poetry of the great Persian poets Jalal ad-Din Rumi (d. 1273) and Amir Khusraw (d. 1325) in which gardens of paradise are juxtaposed with celestial concerts of music and dance performed before intoxicated audiences.



Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Ali S. Asani is Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard and Director of the University’s Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Program in Islamic Studies. He attended Harvard College for his undergraduate studies, with a concentration in the Comparative Study of Religion. He continued his graduate work at Harvard in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, receiving his Ph.D. in 1984. He teaches a variety of courses on the Islamic tradition at Harvard. A scholar of Islam in South Asia, Prof Asani’s research focuses on Shia and Sufi devotional traditions in the region. In addition, he is interested in popular or folk forms of Muslim devotional life. His books include, The Bujh Niranjan: An Ismaili Mystical Poem; The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Literatures: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid; Celebrating Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Muslim Devotional Poetry (co-author); Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia, and Let’s Study Urdu: An Introduction to the Urdu Script and Let’s Study Urdu: An Introductory Course. Professor Asani has been particularly active post-Sept 11 in improving the understanding Islam and its role in Muslim societies. In 2002, he was awarded the Harvard Foundation medal for his outstanding contributions to improving intercultural and race relations at Harvard and in the nation by promoting a better understanding of Islam.

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