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The poetics of universal imagination

CultureThe poetics of universal imagination
Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) belong to two different times and spaces: one an Indian Urdu and Persian poet during the Mughal Empire, and the other a Germen post-modern philosopher. One thing was strikingly common between the two: the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe, while extending beyond space and time.
India’s formidable Urdu poet-philosopher, Ghalib was a proponent of an ontological oneness, Tawhid e Wajudi, interchangeably known as Wahdatul Wajud, in Sufi traditions. This has been encapsulated in his Persian poetry, where he says in a couplet:
Jaroob e “Laa” byaar ki eein shirk fil wajud…Ba gard e farsh o sinaa ba-aywan barabar ast.
Explanation: Our hearts are similar to an Aiwan (porch or veranda) and our belief in duality (Shirk in the existence) is something like dust on it. We need to sweep and clean the dust!
The German philosopher, Nietzsche, in his famous conversation with the Iranian mystic Zarathustra, as he sees the latter going to the forest for self-isolation (Khalwat), asks him “why”. The mystic says he is going to find time with God. After Zarathustra leaves for his self-isolation, the narrator, who is Nietzsche, says: the mystic does not know “God is dead”.
Thus, Nietzsche leaves us with the basic question as to how man should reach God. I wonder if Zarathustra could return and get a chance to meet Nietzsche after his self-isolation or Khalwat, he would have responded or retorted the postulate, “God is dead”. But I assume he didn’t.

However, both left us with the paramount question as to what would be the future of new post-enlightenment mankind if their preconceived God is “dead”, or doesn’t exist at all.
Nietzsche, given the huge changes in our understanding of the cosmos and our new understanding of ourselves, believed that our relationship with the concept of a God or godliness we inherited from religions, is outdated. The new human being, Nietzsche says, would be the post-enlightenment human being with a more enlightened concept of divinity. Therefore, Nietzsche wanted to convey that the conventional notion of “God is dead”, i.e., mankind has created an entire God-like system to incarcerate humans into a “make-believe” world. He says that all our ideas are actually the concepts that we humans ourselves have made. Each concept serves our purposes even though we say this is a revealed or divinely ordained concept.
And such a spiritual system has served human race for centuries, of course not without apparent benefits. Thus, as long as it serves to uplift human spirit from the risks of mental decay, it’s just okay. But actually, Nietzsche did not make it patently clear.
However, Ghalib exhibited more courage of conviction and strengthened the uniting thought resources that already abound in India. What Ghalib tried to tell us in his Persian poetry above, was expressed in the Bhagavad Gita (verse IX.4), where Krishna states:
By Me all this universe is pervaded through My unmanifested form.
All beings abide in Me but I do not abide in them.
Those who know of Ghalib merely as an Urdu/Persian poet of different genres like Ghazl and romanticism, would now be greater admirers of his mystical imagination. In fact, Ghalib connects us to a line of extraordinarily profound mystical Muslim thought that has long blurred this radical division like Ibn Arabi, Jelaluddin Rumi, Attar, Suhrawardi and Ameer Khusraw.
In the words of Ebrahim Moosa, an established critical Islamic traditionalist-theologian: “Our traditionalists cannot handle Ghalib because our madrasas/seminaries do not value imagination. The imagination (such as in the poetics of Ghalib) destabilises and creates possibilities for newness and creativity. But traditionalists want stability in order to preserve the status quo and hence they are unable to deal with contemporary challenges.”
Indian Muslim poet-philosophers like Mirza Ghalib pushed the community for creative thinking, universal imagination and cross fertilisation of thought in the Muslim theology. Now the contemporary Muslim intellectuals in the country are expected to advance these at a rapid rate, with a broader cultural and civilisation vision which requires much depth, bravery in research, creativity and imagination. Then only they can form or reform a community of life with deeper intellectual foundations, without just satisfying the custodians of mosques and seminaries. Thus, they will positively impact on the communities of all convictions.

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