Qawwali (Urdu/Persian/Pashto/Sindhi: قوٌالی; Punjabi/Multani: ਕ਼ੱਵਾਲੀ, قوٌالی; Brajbhasha/Hindi: क़व्वाली) is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, particularly in areas with a historically strong Muslim presence, such as southern Pakistan, and parts of India. The style is rare, though not entirely absent, in North and West Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. It's a vibrant musical tradition that stretches back more than 700 years. Often listeners, and even artists themselves, are transported to a state of wajad, a trance-like state where they feel at one with God, generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism, and the ultimate goal of the practice.

The roots of Qawwali can be traced back to 8th century Persia (today's Iran and Afghanistan). During the first major migration from Persia, in the 11th century, the musical tradition of Sema migrated to the Indian subcontinent, Turkey and Uzbekistan. Amir Khusro Dehelvi of the Chisti order of Sufis is credited with fusing the Persian and Indian musical traditions to create Qawwali as we know it today in the late 13th century in India (Hindustani classical music is also attributed to him). The word Sama is often still used in Central Asia and Turkey to refer to forms very similar to Qawwali, and in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the formal name used for a session of Qawwali is Mehfil-e-Sama.

Qaul (Arabic) is an "utterance (of the prophet)", Qawwāl is someone who often repeats (sings) a Qaul, Qawwāli is the style of singing of Qawwāls.

Qawwalis are classified by their content into several categories:

  • A hamd (arabic for praise) is poetry in praise of Allah. Traditionally, a qawwali performance starts with a hamd.
  • A naat (arabic for description) is poetry in praise of the Prophet Muhammad(SAS). The opening hamd is traditionally followed by a naat.
  • A manqabat (arabic for characteristics) is poetry in praise of either Imam Ali(AS) or one of the Sufi saints. Interestingly, manqabats in praise of Imam Ali(AS) are recited at both Sunni and Shi'a gatherings.It will follow right after the naat. There is usually at least one manqabat in a traditional programme.  
  • A ghazal (arabic for love poetry) is recited that sounds secular on the face of it. There are two extended metaphors that run through ghazals -- the joys of drinking and the agony of separation from the beloved.But in the context of qawwali, this poetry of intoxication and yearning use secular metaphors to poignantly express the soul's longing for union with the Divine, and its joy in loving the Divine. In the poetry of intoxication, "wine" represents "knowledge of the Divine", the "cupbearer" (saaqi) is God or a spiritual guide, the "tavern" is the metaphorical place where the soul may (or may not) be fortunate enough to attain spiritual enlightenment. (The "tavern" is emphatically not a conventional house of worship. Rather, it is taken to be the spiritual context within which the soul exists.) Intoxication is attaining spiritual knowledge, or being filled with the joy of loving the Divine.