Poetry and Prayer: Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum

Poetry and Prayer

Islamic Manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum

Poetry Ritual Prayer Recitation Calligraphy Personal Piety Digital Books


Poetry (shi’r) had played a key role in Arabia since antiquity. With the spread of Islam after the 7th century, it served as a cultural mode of expression in a vast region where many languages, such as Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu, were in use. Poems were committed to memory and recited on all occasions. Certain poets were revered to such an extent that their graves became important pilgrimage sites. Poetry and its recitation continue to thrive in today’s Muslim societies. In Iran, for example, it is common to hear verses of the great classical medieval poets, such as Sa‘di (d. 1292) and Hafiz (1310–85), being recited in large public forums or in intimate settings of friends and family.

The members of the human race
are limbs one to another,
for at creation they were one essence.
When one limb is pained by fate,
the other limbs cannot rest.

The Gulistan of Sa‘di of Shiraz, 1:10

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Page from Gulistan of Sa‘di of Shiraz

Divan-i Hafiz
(Collected Works of Hafiz)

Suz u Gudaz (Burning and Melting)

Kitab-i Bahriye
(Book of the Sea)

Kitab-i Bahriye



Page from Khamsa (Quintet) of Amir Khusraw of Delhi