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Qawwali

The term qawwali is derived from qul, the imperative of the Arabic verb qaula ‘to say’, ‘to speak’. In the Holy Quran suras 109, 112 and 114 begin with the word qul ‘say!’, and this is evidence of the sanctity with which it is regarded. Reading any one or all of these verses is also part of the fatiha; therefore pronouncing the word qul is the equivalent of a blessing or the conclusion of a prayer. In Arabic qawwal does not mean ‘a singer’, but rather ‘one who speaks volubly’ or ‘a srory teller’. When it was adopted by Urdu its semantic boundaries shifted and the term qawwal was exclusively applied to a person who sang qawwalis. The word qawwal was possibly first used in Turkish in connection with the ‘whirling and chanting dervishes’ of Jalaluddin Rumi, but when it reached Indian gradually became a standard element in the sufistic ritual of the seminaries (khanqahs). In its present form the qawwali is first and foremost an exquisite manifestation of the music and culture born from the interaction of Hinduism and Islam. As a musical form it belongs exclusively to the Indian subcontinent, which began to develop after the advent of Islam during the middle ages. It was patronized and cherished by most Muslim sufis, especially those belonging to the Chishti order.