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Islamic Personalities ( 20 Jun 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Kashmiri Sufi Ahad Zargar against Mullas: To Whom Shall I Bow, and For Whom Shall I Perform ‘Nemaz?’

By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah

20 Jun 2019

Zargar masterfully handled language and sounds too profane at places and deconstructs romantic-mystic, revelation-intuition or scriptural-experiential binaries.

All great poets and mystics and philosophers have one thing in common: rejection of Mullaism identifiable with dry, empty, legalistic, judgmental dualistic mode of thought and action. One might loosely identify it with Zahir Parasti (worship of form/letter) that has been associated with a class of jurists and those scholars who don’t pay attention to esoteric or mystical/symbolist dimension of scripture. In the Muslim world Mullaism has donned political guise. The term Mulla has lost its honorific connotations from quite some time though this degeneration in its traditional status has been especially exacerbated in modern age. Newer movements and trends in philosophical, theological, and socio-economic spheres have all contributed to delegitimizing Mullaism as an ideology that once had a significant say in public spaces. New atheists are especially hitting hard at the abuses of Mullaistic religion. In Kashmir Zargar is perhaps the most vocal sufi/poetic voice that can be appropriated in building a counter-narrative to the dominant Mullaistic narrative that pays only lip service to mysticism or rejects mysticism as parallel religion or innovation.

     Zargar is, probably, after Shams Faqeer, the most radical Wujoodi Sufi of twentieth century Kashmir who recalls Mansoor’s rebellious style. To quote a verse that states his radical formulation of Tawhid-eI-Wujoodi:

I am the hidden secret of the exterior as well as the interior

To whom shall I bow, and for whom shall I perform “Nemaz?”

      Let us recall that Zargar is preceded by great poets and mystics both in Kashmir and outside, who take on Mullaism in extremely provocative language. How Mullas tried to desecrate Hafiz’s image by refusing funeral prayer and how his Divan provided ready refutation of charges levelled against him is well known to Hafiz lovers. Hafiz was both hafiz and first rate commentator of the Quran who nevertheless questioned Mullaistic understanding. Calling for sprinkling prayer mat with wine if the Master so desires while refusing to entertain the charge of sinner by saying “It is only for the sake of courtesy that we attribute sin to ourselves” and “In my Shariah, the only sin is hurting someone” are only three such examples from Hafiz. We find an extreme statement of Mullah bashing in Shaikh-ul-Alam when he says “Malla Deastheh Perzay Istigfar.” (Take God’s refuge on encountering a Mulla). This recalls Nietzsche who said that he washes hands after he encounters one.  Iqbal was no less “indecent” in praising Deen-e-Kafir as “Ilm-O-Fikr-O-Jihad” while denouncing Deeni Mulla as “Fi Sabeelillah Fasad.” Faiz’s dig was perhaps more provocative: “Why ask the jurist whether wine is allowed/ In his eyes even the moonlight is forbidden.”

      One point that may be noted is potential of inherent transgression (of exoteric dogmatism) in any creative use of language in poetry. Since Mullaism is fossilization and resistance to ineradicable ambivalence of language and all pervasive metaphoric nature of all discourse including theology and philosophy as postmodernists would show, a great poet who plays with language plays with ossified concepts. He recreates more creative scriptural landscape as filtered through his polysemic sieve that is open to each and every possibility of play of word in our countless existential states or modes of experience. Zargar masterfully handled language and sounds too profane at places and deconstructs romantic-mystic, revelation-intuition or scriptural-experiential binaries. Logic is a misappropriated tool of Mulla because it abstracts and ossifies. Poetry, by its very nature, disseminates, diffuses, transgresses, deconstructs. Zargar, a master of paradox, makes extensive use of various devices for overstretching or “twisting” received usage.

      Zargar’s uniqueness among Kashmiri Sufi poets perhaps lies in the fact that his is a more targeted attack against the Mulla that is designed to provoke a retaliatory action. So extreme was his Mulla bashing that even some Sufis had to distance themselves from him and write rejoinders to his “Kafar Sapdeth Korum Aeqrar.” (Becoming an infidel, I made an affirmation.”) Zargar is also adept in making his attack more concrete. Here he shows his poetic virtuosity. Where many Sufi poets have talked in certain abstractions (denouncing legalism as such) Zargar takes on certain concrete images that jurists invoke and then questions or deconstructs traditional privileging of moral-legalistic framework. He talks about hanging zahid! Where other Sufis and poets would be contented with laughing away Mullaism or just satirizing it, Zargar is for full fledged war against them. He would hardly grant them any space or audience and not care to pay any attention to such visitors.

      Now the interesting question that is seldom asked is “Who is this Mulla that is satirized?” Can we pinpoint at someone and throw Zargar’s grenades at him or her? I think Zargar provides us an interesting clue when he defines his hero as Hoshiyaar (awake) and his other as bayzaan (ignorant). Now this awareness is more an existential or experiential state that we can’t adjudicate from outside. Awareness is a state to be enjoyed rather than bragged about. Awakened person will be distinguished by greater humility. And in mysticism Kafir, Zahid, Mulla is, in an important sense, one’s own state – a lower psychic or egoic one – and one better focuses on the devils within than seeks to label someone as a Mulla. In fact the very claim to assert one’s higher mode of awareness betrays or negates it. Recalling the old adages “Hate the sin and not the sinner” and “Don’t judge”, Sufis will not fire at particular sinners but at sin and they will first taunt themselves regarding their own weaknesses instead of finding another to hit. Anyway if one wants a more concrete answer to identifying Mulla and his universe, we read Iqbal’s poem “Zohd-O-Rindi.”

      Zargar’s poetry is treasured for its haunting music, forceful imagery – so much so that Zargar’s poetry has been rather problematically classified as horror poetry – and distinctively Kashmiri ambience besides boldness of expression. While the masses or Sufis have received Zargar’s overall work as contributing to distinctively mystical or Sufistic poetry in Kashmir, the more modern or secular readers and critics have been attracted by the poetical charm thanks to the great attention to the form that the author has been apparently quite consciously taking care of. His characteristic reticence in giving audience to general populace and secular academic critics and his more radical and bold posturing with respect to orthodox religious establishment earning him certain notoriety  have contributed to his wider reception. Despite popularity and influence in local Sufi circles Zargar abruptly abandoned composing poetry at the height of his reputation. A distasteful personal experience resulting from hostile reception both within and outside Sufi circles following publication of his most controversial piece Kafar Sapdith Korum Aeqrar may possibly have contributed to this decision.

      Here follows rather loose (strict word for word translation would be much harder and perhaps lose much in communicating to the audience) translation of select verses of this controversial piece.

Realize the “No”, declares the scripture of the Self,

After negating, I affirmed.

Only the awakened understand the secret of words.

After negating, I affirmed.

The living shall be one with the dead

Like carefree spirit, share love

The opposite sexes will gamble for union

After negating, I affirmed.

Suck all the milk from the breast

Of the one to whom you have been granted access

Let not be misguided by any Other

After negating, I affirmed.

Abandon the unlawful as sacrifice

Offer the prayers where there is no pointer to the Kaaba

And the leader of the prayer wears the cross and tika

After negating, I affirmed.

I fashioned Adam and breathed life into him

I gave birth to Mohammad and revealed the Quran

The King, the Irresistible manifested through me

After negating, I affirmed.

Hang the ascetic like an enemy

Kill the witnesses and become one

Burn first the prayer cells

After negating, I affirmed.

Discussing some of the more provocative and symbolic verses with local Sufis and scholars and keeping in view overall Sufi worldview informing Zargar, one may come up with somewhat different rendering of the verses which though not loyal to the text’s letter may express the intent better and this is closer to how his Sufi audience would interpret him. It is more an interpretation or even trans-creation than a translation. I offer the following both as an interpretation and trans-creation of select verses as an attempt to engage with Zargar’s veiled and seemingly provocative text.

Fervently love the Master who is dead to the ego

Like carefree spirit, radiate Love

And opposites will play the gamble of union

Through the negation of the ego I affirmed the Self

Drink deep from the founts of Love

To whom you have been granted access

Heed not how literalists construe it

Through the negation of the ego I affirmed the Self

Be careful with your Master, offer the head

Become one with the Master who gave you new birth

Overthrow the desiring self

Through the negation of the ego I affirmed the Self

Slowly cut away the attachments of the flesh

Break into pieces what pulls you down

If you dare, end the sport with the desiring self

Through the negation of the ego I affirmed the Self

Abandon the unlawful as sacrifice

Offer the prayers at the altar of formless Beloved

Bow to the Teacher who has transcended forms

Through the negation of the ego I affirmed the Self

While Rumi is easy to translate, even literally, for an international audience, the case of some Sufi poets including Ahad Zargar poses difficulties. It calls for wider debate from the students and translators of Kashmiri Sufi poetry.


Another important feature of Zargar is masterful appropriation of what is called Shaster (Saivist sacred canon and phraseology). Without deep familiarity with Kashmir Saivism Zargar can’t be understood. This implies genius of Kashmir Sufi tradition to assimilate “alien” idiom without dissenting from traditional Sufi metaphysic. This is how interfaith dialogue has been carried out by our poets. Now, how shocking it is to note that a centre for interfaith dialogue recommended by NAAC few years back is still awaiting to see the light of the day and one fears it might die before birth by getting absorbed into some other department.

Source: Greater Kashmir