Literary Reading: Pir Sadr al-Din and the Da’wah in India – A Brief Note


Pir Sadr al-Din [1] was born in the first half of the fourteenth century in Sabzwaar in Iran. His father was Pir Shahbudin and mother Noor Fatima binti Ibrahim Sabzwaari. The family was related to the Imams. From a very young age, Pir Sadr al-Din had a good education. By the age of fourteen he had studied and could recite the Holy Qur’an beautifully. He also studied the Hadith literature, Islamic jurisprudence, Sufism and the Ismaili haqa’ iq [2] literature.

The thirtieth Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Islam Shah whose Imamat was from c. 771 A.H./1369 A.C. to 827 A.H./1423 A.C., appointed him as Pir at a fairly advanced age. He was sent to the Indian sub-continent to continue the work of da’wah there. Ucch in Punjab became his headquarters from where he visited the jamats in Sindh, Gujarat, Katch and Kathiawad. He died in the early fifteenth century and was buried at Jetpur near Uchh, where his shrine still exists.

Pir Sadr al-Din played a key role in developing and consolidating the gains made by the Ismaili da’wah of the earlier period in the Indo-Pak sub-continent in the regions of Sindh, Punjab and Kashmir. He gave the name Khojas [3] to the converts from the Hindu Lohana trading caste. There are traditions claiming that he established Jamatkhanas in Kotri, in Sindh (at a place called Allahrakhia Kotri), in Punjab and in Kashmir whose Mukhis were Trikam, Shamardas Lahori and Tulsidas respectively. The old Ismaili Du’a and a prayer related to the ceremony of  Ab-e-Shafa (Holy Water) practiced by the Ismailis  were prepared for the jamat in Sindhi language by him.

Apart from his work in the organisation and consolidation of the scattered Ismaili communities, it is Pir Sadr al-Din’s great contribution to ginanic literature that he showed his poetic genius and devotion to the Imam-e-Zaman (Imam of the Time). In the subcontinent he studied the Hindu scriptures and gained a genuine understanding of the sanatan dharm [4]. He had a good knowledge of the ragas and ragnis of the Indian poetry and devotional religious songs. From the Sindhi Lohanaki script he created the Khojki script, known as Chaali Akhri [5] meaning ‘Forty Letters Alphabet’. The ginan manuscripts are in this Khojki script. More than one-fourth of the extant ginanic corpus is the work of Pir Sadr al-Din whose contribution is composed of more than two hundred short ginans and eighteen granthas [6], the longer ginans, which includes the Das Avtar.

Since Pir Sadr al-Din (and the other Pirs and Sayyads) had to preach among Hindus to whom Islam was alien, they had to devise methods of preaching which helped them to circumvent the reluctance of the people they were hoping to relate to. One of the chief methods took the form of these ginanic compositions which is the precious religious heritage known as satpanth [7] or ginanic literature in the Indian languages Gujarati, Sindhi, Hindi, Punjabi, Siraiki and Saddhukada Boli, which is the mixed language of the Indian mystics.

Pirs and Sayyads distilled the essence and the spirit of Islam and its interpretation of Ismaili tariqah from its original Arabic and Persian languages and modes of thought and spread the universal ideals and the spiritual message of Islam through the medium of the Indian poetic languages and mythology by eclectic identification of the common elements. Their achievement in converting many adherents by this evolutionary process of acculturation is the measure of their success and poetic genius.

The Holy Qur’an admonishes all those who have to do the work of da ‘wah not to hurt the sensitivities of the people they are hoping to relate to:

Invite (all) to the way of the Lord, with wisdom and fair preaching, and reason with them in ways that are best and most gracious… 16:125.

Pir Sadr al-Din and also the other Pirs and Sayyads abided by this injunction given in the verse of the Holy Qur’an quoted above.

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1. General Reference for article: (a) Noorun Mubin by A.J. Chunara. Revised by Alwaez Jafferali M. Sufi,  Second Edition, Bombay, 1950, pp. 334-338; (b) Pir Padhara Apne Dw’ar by Alwaez Abdulhussein A. Nanji, Vol I and II, Darul Ilm, Bombay, 1986, pp. 298-320 and 321-374 respectively; (c) The Nizari Isma’ili Tradition by Azim Nanji, Caravan Books, 1978, pp. 72-77.

2. Haqa’iq (Ar. sing. Haqiqa): Truths or verities. In the plural, it is used as a technical term in Isma’ili thought, to denote the transcendental ‘realities’ or the ultimate sense of Divine Revelation, arrived through a true perception of the teachings of the Imam, Azim Nanji op cit. p. 205.

3. Khoja, from the Persian Khwaja, meaning lord, master. It became an ethnic term to designate the Muslim converts in the sub-continent, the great majority of whom are Nizari Isma’ilis, but including Sunnis and Ithna ‘Asharis. Among the Nizaris, the appelation is said to have been given to the new converts by Pir Sadr al-Din who wished them to be honourably designated, p. 206 Nanji.

4. sanatan dharm meaning ‘eternal perfection’ is the Sanskrit name of Hindu religion. The word ‘Hinduism’ was invented by western orientalists in the nineteenth century.

5. Ginans of Ismaili Pirs – Rendered into English verse by Dr. G. Allana, Ismailia Association for Pakistan, Karachi, p. 25. The Khojki Script: A Legacy of Ismaili Islam in Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent by Ali S. Asani in the Journal of the American Oriental Society Vol. 107 No. 3, July-September, 1987 pp. 439-449. Introduction: Catalogue of Khojki Manuscripts in the Library of the Institute of Ismaili Studies by Zawahir Moir, London 1985.

6. Alwaez Abdulhussein A. Nanji op cit. Vol. II, pp. 357-370, for list of Pir Sadr al Din’s first lines and titles of ginans.

7.  Satpanth (Khojki) – means  ‘The True Way,’ a term widely used in the ginans to reflect the rightly-guided mode of the teachings of Nizari Isma’ilism, pp. 207-8, Nanji.

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Credits: This reading is an extract from Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano by Sadrudin K. Hassam published in Ilm, Volume Numbers 3 & 4, December 1987 – March 1988.

An adaptation of Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano by Mr. Hassam has been published in this website at:

Literary Reading: In Metaphoric Ginan “Eji Dhan Dhan Ajno” Pir Sadr al-Din Asks Mu’mins to Act Righteously and Gain Spiritual Recognition of Imam-e-Zaman

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