Monday, 1 September 2008

Ramadhan: Searching for the Face and Light of God

Ramadhan Mubarak – Ramadhan Greetings

I wanted to post something which started this month of God with the name of God. How was I to do that? This was the million dollar question which came to me in the face of the Late Aziz Mian (b.1942- d.2000). Aziz Mian was a Qawal from Lahore, Pakistan. Qawalli is a South Asian form of devotional Sufi (mystical) music/song. Qawalls are known to transform themselves into a trance, as they feel closer to God. Qawalli is often dismissed by the puritans because it is in essence in song form but I believe that there is much to be learnt from Qawallis. Aziz Mian was known for writing his own Qawallis which were often quite controversial. I will at some point translate a few others but in meantime I wanted to introduce this Qawalli which I think is very fitting for the start of the Holy Month of Ramadhan.

“Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed so that you may attain God consciousness” Qur’an 2:183

So, let us unpack this Qawalli in hope that it helps us get closer to God. Firstly, all translations are mine so I apologise in advance if they are not that great. This Qawalli uses the ‘beloved’ as a metaphor for God. This is often the case for the Sufis who see God as their ultimate love and want to get closer to Him. However, Qawallis can be understood at two different levels. The external level, which could push one to understand the beloved as a human being, so when listening someone could remember his or her partner, male or female. At the internal level, and this is most important for the mystic, they are trying to become at one with God. I am going to comment on this Qawalli in the first person, in the sense of it affecting me.

Teri Soorat Nigha’ho Mein Pir Tey Rahay
Ishq tera sita’ay to mein kya karo

Your visage constantly meanders in my eyes, my soul
If your love haunts me so much, what am I to do?

The face/presence of God is constantly meandering in thoughts, what is to be done if this love of God continues to haunt me?

Dil kay bazaar mein daulut nahi dekhi jaati
In the bazaar of hearts, money is not seen
Pyaar ho ja’I to soorat, nahi dekhi jaati
In love, the outer is not seen/important
Ek tabassum pey, do alum ko nachawur kur do
On one smile, I bestow the world
Maal acha ho to keemut nahi dekhi jaati
For something good, the cost is not an important issue
Meinay dil diya, pyar ki hadd thi
I gave my heart, the ultimate boundary of love
Meinay jaan di, aitbaar ki hadd thi
I gave my life, the ultimate boundary of trust/belief
Mur ga’ay hum, kholi rahi ankhay
I died, yet my eyes remained open

Yeh meray intizaar ki hadd thi
This was the ultimate boundary of my waiting/longing

These verses are quite self-explanatory but remember the internal is always important. The way in which the believer longs for God is shown in ultimate limits.

Dil ek mander hai,
aap ek moorat hai,
aap kitnay khobsoorat hai

The heart is a temple,
you are an idol within it,
you are so beautiful

This verse could be seen as rather blasphemous because there has always been an issue with figurative depictions in Islamic culture. However, something clever is done here where the believer is using the heart as a place where God dwells, giving God that ‘beauty’ which the believer constantly enlightens their life with.

Tuj ko tuknay lagay,
tu jo aya masjid mein,
namaz sub nay kaza ki teri ada kay liyay

All eyes were fixed on you,
as you entered the Mosque,
everyone delayed their prayers as they were all enthralled by your presence

This is maybe even more controversial as it seems to imply a homoerotic imagery but could also be the presence of God. Keeping in mind that many Sufis believe that God could be witnessed in objects and human beings and so beauty was something which gave witness to God. So beauty/love stopped the prayers – that the acts of worship are ‘delayed’ to bring forward these acts of love/beauty. I found this very uplifting that quite often we get so enmeshed in the ‘duties’ that we lose sight of the love of God that they should uplift us with.

Tuj mein jo baat hai,
who baat nahi ay’i hai,
kya yeh tasweer kisi gayr sey kichwa’i hai?

What you truly are,
is not evident/forthcoming,
what – is this picture taken by some other?

This verse has left me totally dazed as it pierces the heart with God’s love. In this verse the believer is saying that everything that God is, is still not evident in the ‘talk’ of the world. The talk of the world is what the ‘scholars of Islam’ have presented as an image of God. This is an incorrect image which Aziz Mian is passionately seeking. This hard edged image or rules, doom and gloom, says Aziz Mian, has been been taken by someone who is alien to the beauty and love of God.

Husn aur ishq dono mein tafreeq hai,
kya karo mera dono mein imaan hai

There is a difference between beauty and love,
But what shall I do,
I have faith in both?

Agur khuda rooth ja’ay to sujday karo,
Agur sanam rooth ja’ay to mein kya karo?

If God is upset with me then I will prostrate in front of Him
but what should I do if my beloved is upset with me?

These two verses seem to be linked when Aziz Mian sings them. I heard Aziz Mian in another version say that the question of beauty and love has been one that he has been asking all his life but still has not found an answer. In the second verse he still leaves the question open to debate where he states that when God is upset then the believer knows what ‘duties’ (prostration) they must undertake but what about when the beloved is upset? This is a play on words as the beloved is actually God. However, the former is the image of God that Aziz Mian questioned previously as an image created by the ‘scholars of Islam’. When God is the ‘beloved’ then will ‘duties’ be good enough to make up with Him?

Meray murnay kay tum mangtay ho dua
Lay gula gonth dey mein bhi bezaar ho
Maut ub tak to daamun bachati rahi
Tu bhi daamun bacha’ay to mein kya karo

You keep praying for my death
Here, strangle my neck, I am now without any emotion
Death has been saving my body up till now
If you now save my body, what should I do?

Here Aziz Mian is reminding himself of the certainty of death by imagining that it is in fact God who prays for his death. Death for the mystics was not seen as something negative but a moment of union between them and God. Aziz Mian is saying that his submissive position as a believer wants to place his neck in the hands of God who has full control over his life. The final part is beautiful, that if the concept of death had been keeping the body there was no difference now if God decided to continue that salvation.

Husn ki shaan mein,
ho ja’ay na ghustaki kahin,
tum chalay ja’o tumhay dekh kay pyar ata hai

In the glory of beauty,
there cannot be a misdemeanour,
you must turn away as I desire love when I see you


Aziz Mian is showing the distinction between those believers immersed in reaching God through love and those who use duties/laws to reach God. He is stating that God’s beauty is so immense that he wants God to go away just incase he does something that is ‘incorrect’. Again, another play with words against those so enmeshed in laws, rules, rights, wrongs.

Chayn bin dekhay unko na ayay,
aur dekho to dekha na ja’ay,
bich sulfo kay, wo roo’ay roshan,
jaisay gunga mein sooraj nehla’ay

I am at unease without seeing you,
but when I look at you I am lost,
that bright face surrounded by dark tresses,
as if the sun is bathing in the waters of the Ganges river

Aziz Mian is raising the very real face of faith. That it fluctuates between strength as God’s presence is close at times and far at times. That in between the dark reality of this world, God’s ever lasting beauty is a breath of fresh air.

These are my meagre attempts at trying to understand this Qawalli and it is dedicated to all those fasting during this blessed month in hope that we are all able to strengthen our relationship with God. And as a form of apology to those who have been offended by questioning and criticism in the previous post.

1 comment:

  1. Aman...a fascinating commentary :) and this is what it led me to think:

    Love, divine or otherwise, opens the heart, the soul, the entire being and when you are face to face with your beloved then no facade, no obscurity can hide your true self from the other. All external values, appearances and dimensions fall away and nothing can hold a light to the divinity of love especially the love between the Creator and the created. One desire stays supreme and all roads, all hope, all wished lead to the ultimate desire of oneness with the creator. This is done with such faith,fervour and trust in your Creator that ultimate Oneness is almost guaranteed, if not expected.