IQĀʿ (pl. iqāʿāt), an Arabic term used in texts on music to denote rhythmic mode (or cycle) or rhythmic pattern.

The theory of iqāʿ was created by the Arabs and introduced in the singing of graceful music (ḡenāʾ-al-raqiq) or artistic music (ḡenāʾ-al-motqan) as a new device of rhythmical symmetry independent of poetic meter. According to Abu’l-Faraj of Isfahan (apud Farmer, 1929, p. 51) “the first in Al-Medina to sing the music introducing in it the iqāʿ (rhythm) was [Abu ʿAbd-al-Monʾem ʿIsā] Ṭuwais,” who sang melodies he had learned from Persian captives (Farmer and Neubauer, p. 758). Prior to the introduction of iqāʿ, the musical measure was apparently determined by the verse meter and obviously was not independent of the ʿaruzµ (q.v.) system.

The theory of iqāʿ itself, however, is based on the same principle as the ʿaruż system, a versification system based on the quantity of syllables, in which a long syllable equals two short syllables. A rhythmic mode is formed by adding long and short beats (in terms of note-value) in various combinations. Therefore, iqāʿ is a kind of “additive” rhythm, and stands in contrast to the “divisive” or “multiplicative” rhythm of Western classical music. The primary importance of iqāʿ lies in quantitative measure-ment. It is not a strange coincidence that the first book on the theory of iqāʿ known to us in the history of Islamic music, Ketāb al-iqāʿ, was written by Ḵalil b. Aḥmad (d. 791), the alleged inventor of the ʿaruż (Farmer, 1965, p. 1).

The notation of iqāʿ was built on the common mnemonics of the ʿaruż, which were based on forms of the verb faʿala. For example, the measure of sabab-e ḵafif (light sabab, or a long syllable) was notated in terms of a mnemonic faʿ; and that of sabab-e ṯaqil (heavy sabab, or two successive short syllables) was notated by the mnemonic of faʿa; that of watad-e majmuʿ (united watad, or a combination of a short syllable and a long syllable) was represented by faʿu; and that of fāṣela-ye ṣoḡrā (small stay, or a combination of two short syllables and a long syllable) was represented by faʿalon.

Musicians, however, produced their own onomatopoeia, such as tan (–), tana (ᴗ ᴗ), tanan (ᴗ –) and tananan (ᴗ ᴗ –), which were recorded for the first time by Abu Naṣr Fārābi (d. ca. 950, q.v.) in his Ketāb al-musiqi al-kabir. Ebn Sinā (d. 1037) says that he saw musicians notating rhythm as fast as they could write it (Farmer, 1943, p. 72). This must have been a similar system of onomatopoeia.

In the modern practice of iqāʿ, the character of a given rhythmic mode is emphasized by elaborate playing techniques of drums such as the darabukka (a vase-shaped drum), naqqāra (a kind of kettledrum), ṭabl (drum), and daff (q.v., or ṭār). Actually the beats within a rhythmic mode are articulated on three levels: (1) distance from each other (or duration), (2) stress accent, and (3) timbre. These features are recited in the teaching process using special onomatopoetic syllables such as dum (düm in Turkish) for a heavy and mellow stroke, tak (tek) for a light and dry stroke, and tak kah (teke). (See an example in Yekta, p. 3043.)

Historical survey. The first iqāʿ introduced by Ṭoways was hazaj, which was “the light [rhythm]” (Farmer, 1929, p. 51). By the beginning of the Omayyad period (661-750), iqāʿ had already been systematized. At least six rhythmic modes (iqāʿāt) were known. The ṯaqil awwal, ṯaqil ṯāni, ḵafif ṯaqil, hazaj, ramal, and ramal ṭonburi are mentioned by Abu’l-Faraj of Isfahan (I, p. 152, apud Farmer, 1929, p. 71).

Abu Yusof Yaʿqub Kendi (d. ca. 874) described eight kinds of rhythmic modes during the ʿAbbasid period in his treatise in his Resāla fi ajzāʾ ḵabariya musiqi: al-ṯaqil al-awwal, al-ṯaqil al-ṯāni, al-māḵuri, ḵafif al-ṯaqil, ramal, ḵafif-al-ramal, ḵafif-al-ḵafif, and hazaj (apud Farmer, 1943, pp. 19-22; see examples, Farmer, 1943, pp. 78-87).

Fārābi described the following seven rhythmic modes (iqāʿāt): hazaj, ḵafif-al-ramal, ramal (or al-ṯaqil al-ramal), al-ṯaqil al-ṯāni, māḵuri (or al-ḵafif al-ṯaqil al-ṯāni), al-ṯaqil al-awwal, and al-ḵafif al-ṯaqil al-awwal (tr., in d’Erlanger, pp. 40-48).

Ṣafi-al-Din of Urmia (d. 1294) records the following eight rhythmic modes in his Resālat al-šarafiya: al-ṯaqil al-awwal, al-ṯaqil al-ṯāni, ḵafif al-ṯaqil, ramal, ḵafif al-ramal, hazaj, możāʿaf al-ramal, and al-fāḵeta (tr., pp. 159-78). In his Ketāb al-adwār, Ṣafi-al-Din gives a name of ṯaqil al-ramal in place of możāʿaf al-ramal and states that Persian musicians call this rhythm čahār żarb (tr., in d’Erlanger, p. 503).

ʿAbd-al-Qāder of Marāḡa (d. 1435) records the following fourteen rhythmic modes, which he calls dawr “cycle”: ṯaqil-e awwal, ṯaqil-e ṯāni, ramal, ṯaqil-e ramal, ḵafif-e ṯaqil, hazaj, moḵammas, farʿ-e torki-e aṣl, fāḵeti, żarb-al-fatḥ, šāhi, qomriya żarb-al-jadid, and meʾatayan (ʿAbd-al-Qāder, 1965, pp. 89-96; qomayria for qomriya in idem, 1987, p. 227).

From the descriptions of iqāʿs by the noted theorists, we can tell approximately what kind of rhythmic modes were practiced in the medieval Islamic world. At the same time, we find that descriptions of an identical iqāʿ by different theorists do not always agree in rhythmic reality. This diversity of iqāʿs in practice may be due to regional variations as well as historical changes. It must, however, be borne in our mind that those recorded by theorists under the eight names were genres (ajnās) of rhythmic modes, from which certain secondary modes (called anwāʿ “species”) were derived. The diversity of the iqāʿs may also be due to the preservation of species rather than the genre itself (Farmer, 1943, p. 81). When we examine the rhythmic modes of Ṣafi-al-Din of Urmia and those of ʿAbd-al-Qāder of Marāḡa, we learn that considerable changes had occurred during the time lapse of five centuries since the time of Fārābi. The Persian contributed significantly to these changes by adding new rhythmic modes.

The Persian contribution. We are informed by Abu’l-Faraj of Isfahan (d. 967) that Persians adopted the rhythmic modes of the Arabs during the time of the caliph Hārun al-Rašid (r. 786-809). The mode ramal was introduced by a musician named Salmak (Abu’l-Faraj, I, p. 151, apud Farmer, 1929, p. 106). Persian taste, however, differed from that of the Arabs concerning rhythmic modes. The Persian preference for certain types of rhythm was recorded by Ebn Sinā in his Ketāb al-šefāʾ: “All the old melodies of Khorasan and Fārs are composed in the conjunct rhythm, because this rhythm is equal and because it regulates the state of the soul” (tr., in d’Erlanger, p. 185).

Ṣafi-al-Din says that Persians have numerous melodies composed in the rhythmic mode of możāʿaf-al-ramal. He also indicates that Persians had characteristic rhythms of their own by saying that Persians have some kinds of rhythm that Arabs are unaware of, and that, on the other hand, there are certain rhythms which many Persians ignore (tr., in d’Erlanger, pp. 172-73). Among the iqāʿs recorded by Ṣafi-al-Din and ʿAbd al-Qāder, several suggest Persian origin or preference, such as al-fāḵeti, čahār żarb, dawr-e šāhi, żarb-al-jadid. Moḵammas, and farʿ-e torki-ye aṣl are Turkish. ʿAbd-al-Qāder includes żarb-al-fatḥ and dawr-e šāhi among the rhythmic modes devised by himself (ʿAbd-al-Qāder, 1965, p. 95; idem, 1987, p. 227).

Much later Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Lāḏeqi (d. 1494) mentioned in his treatise concerning a variety of the rhythmic modes of al-hazaj that “Persians say that this is the čanbar oṣul and the majority of their melodies are based on this rhythm” (tr., in d’Erlanger, p. 477).

The varieties of iqāʿs continuously proliferated. By the middle of the 15th century there were no fewer than twenty-one rhythmic modes (Šarvāni, tr. in d’Erlanger, pp. 183-232). This may be interpreted as a result of the craze for novelty in iqāʿs, since Turkic people began to be actively involved in composing music in western Asia. This tendency ran to an extreme among the Ottoman Turks during the 16th-19th centuries.

In fact, the theory of iqāʿ was most highly developed and elaborated in the classical music of Ottoman Turkey. The rhythmic modes, however, were actually designated oṣul (principles or principal modes) in Turkish rather than iqāʿāt. The term and concept of oṣul were also adopted by the court traditions of the Transoxanian maqām in Central Asia. In Ottoman Turkey, the varieties of rhythmic modes were increased to over one hundred. Rodolphe D’Erlanger (with the co-operation of Shaikh ʿAli Darviš of Aleppo) listed as many as 110 kinds of iqāʿs that were generally known to Turkish and Arab musicians in the 1930s (d’Erlanger, VI, pp. 26-140).

In modern Persia, however, the concept of iqāʿ or rhythmic mode has disappeared completely, at least from the theory, although, according to Mehdi Barkechli, a Persian scholar and musicologist, “almost all the principal rhythms described by Ṣafi-al-Din are still used in Persian music today” (Barkechli, p. 62). This could be due to the nature of āvāz (q.v.), the classical music of modern Persia, in which the unique, non-metric rubato rhythm is predominant, and the measured sections in definite meters are rather subsidiary. The term iqāʿ (rhythm) has fallen out of use and has been replaced entirely by wazn (weight, measure, meter), and another new term, ritm, which was borrowed from the French word rythme (Tsuge, pp. 4-5).

Thus, Persian music today has little to do with the theory of iqāʿ, but is rather connected directly with the ʿaruż system, which was once the basis of the iqāʿ.

For a music sample, see Pišrow in Bayāte Tork.


ʿAbd al-Qāder b Ḡaybi of Marāḡa, Maqāṣed al-alḥān, ed. Taqi Bineš, Tehran, 1966.

Idem, Jāmeʿ al-alḥān, ed. Taqi Bineš, Tehran, 1987.

Abu’l-Faraj of Isfahan, Ketāb al-aḡāni, 20 vols., Bulāq, 1869.

Abu Naṣr Fārābi, Ketāb al-musiqi al-kabir, ed. ʿAbd-al-Malek Ḵašaba, Cairo, 1967; ms. facs. ed. Eckhard Neubauer, Frankfurt, 1998; tr. in R. d’Erlanger, La musique arabe I-II, Paris, 1930-35.

Idem, Ketāb al-iqāʿāt, tr. Eckhard Neubauer as “Die Theorie vom īqāʿ,” Oriens 21-22, 1968-69, pp. 196-232.

Mehdi Barkechli, “Les rythmes caractéristiques de la musique iranienne,” in Gerald Abraham et al., eds., Bericht über den siebenten Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress, Köln, 1958, Kassel and New York, 1959.

Ebn Sinā, “Jawāmeʿ ʿelm al-musiqi,” in idem, Ketāb al-šefāʾ, tr. in R. d’Erlanger, La musique arabe II, pp. 103-245.

Rodolphe d’Erlanger, ed. and tr., La musique arabe, 6 vols., Paris, 1930-39.

Henry George Farmer, A History of Arabian Music to the XIII Century, London, 1929.

Idem, Saʿsdyah Gaon on the Influence of Music, London, 1943.

Idem, The Sources of Arabian Music: An Annotated Bibliography of Arabic Manuscripts . . . from the Eighth to the Seventeenth Century, Leiden, 1965.

Henry George Farmer and Eckhard Neubauer, “Ṭuways,” in EI2 X, pp. 758-59.

Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid Lāḏeqi, al-Resāla al-fatḥiya, ms. British Library, Or. 6629; tr. in R. d’ Erlanger, La musique arabe IV, pp. 259-498.

Ṣafi-al-Din ʿAbd-al-Moʾmen of Urmia al-Resāla al-šarafiya fi’l-nesāb al-taʾlifiya, ed. Hāšem Moḥammad Rajab, Baghdad, 1982; ed. Eckhard Neubauer, Frankfurt, 1984; tr. in R. d’Erlanger, La musique arabe III, pp. 3-182.

Idem, Ketāb al-adwār fi’l-musiqi, ed. Ḡaṭṭās ʿAbd-al-Malek Ḵašaba and Maḥmud Aḥmad Ḥefni, Cairo, 1986; tr. Manubi Sanusi, in R. d’Erlanger, La musique arabe III, pp. 185-365; tr. Mirzā Moḥammad Esmāʿil of Isfahan, ed. Yaḥyā Ḏokāʾ, in Majalla-ye musiqi, no, 46-56, 1960-61.

Mehdi Setā-yešgar, Vāža-nāma-ye musiqi-e Irān-zamin, 2 vols., Tehran, 1975.

Fatḥ-Allāh Moʾmen Šarvāni, Majalla fi’l-musiqi, tr. in R. d’Erlanger, La musique arabe IV, pp. 3-255.

Gen’ichi Tsuge, “Āvāz: A Study of the Rhythmic Aspects in Classical Iranian Music,” Ph.D. diss., Wesleyan University, Middletown, 1974.

R. Yekta, “La Musique Turque,” in Encyclopédie de la musique et dictionnaire du conservatoire, 11 vols., Paris, 1922-31.


(Gen'ichi Tsuge)

Originally Published: December 15, 2004

Last Updated: March 29, 2012

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Vol. XIII, Fasc. 2, pp. 195-197