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All Great Poetry Is a Species of Na’t, Defined As Poetry in Praise of the Prophet

 By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah

15 Nov 2018

Modern Contributions to Kashmiri Na’t Tradition

All great poetry is a species of Na’t defined as poetry in praise of the Prophet who in turn is understood, by the greatest Na’t writers who happen to be inspired by Sufism, as the Principle of Manifestation, Logos, the Pole of Existence, the Perfect Man, Wisdom personified, drive for perfection of ethics and love of beauty.

One may better appreciate the thesis if one notes the function of poetry provision for discovering the good and beautiful in all that meets and surrounds one (Coleridge), “truth telling, which is why in the Celtic tradition no one could be a teacher unless he or she was a poet,” reconciliation with the world/celebration of love/women – one may recall Wallace Stevens’ remark “A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman,” and Holderlin’s point that the duty of the poet is “to stand/Bare-headed under the storms of God,/Grasping with our own hand/The Father's beam itself, And to offer the gift of heaven,/Wrapped in song, to the people.”

When we note, with Baudelaire, that “Any healthy man can go without food for two days - but not without poetry” recalls the advice of Muriel Rukeyser “Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry,” one sees how poetry or better Na’t as praise of Life, of all the 99 names of the Prophet that pay tribute to life and its higher calling, is of central importance for life and salvation of all mankind. It has been well observed that life blooms by virtue of appreciation or celebration and no wonder God and we need to bless (send Durood) life.

      Read these points with Shelley’s “Defense of Poetry” and recall key statements of great poets in different traditions on their divine calling one can’t fail to note how poetry is affirmation of life suffused by love and vivified by the sacred, witness of truth, attention to beauty and a means for salvation – in short a realization of liberating graces of the world of manifestation whose ontological ground Sufi metaphysics identifies with Muhammad (SAW). Whatsoever is manifest in the world constitutes splendour or riches of Muhammad (SAW), and as such blasphemy against him is blasphemy against life. It is blasphemy against Holy Spirit which is inexcusable for anyone who chooses life over death. Or conversely desecration of life is the blasphemy that mankind can’t tolerate.

 It is no wonder that countless non-Muslim poets who include such distinguished men as Goethe have affirmed a kind of faith in and love for Muhammad (SAW) in their Na’t. Goethe, like his hero Hafez, also identified the Prophet as the “head of created beings.” And noted that “If Islam means, to God devoted/ All live and die in Islam’s ways.” Poetry by its very nature is Muslim – submission to truth of experience, renouncing agency to claim anything for ego and readiness to be drenched or consumed in love. While a poet, one is under the tuition of the Muse that plucks strings we are and create a song. Nazir Azad’s verse (“Yeh Shart Hae Ki Anna Ki Mamat Hojayae/Jabhi To Shan-e- Muhammadi Mei Na’t Hojayae.” that the ego must die to allow a Na’t to be written makes the same point.

      Let us read, this week, three works that deal exclusively or extensively with Na’t/Meelad  – Prof. Bashir Ahmed Nahvi’s compilation of poetry (and critical essays on the same) of little known but in many respects dazzling poet and scholar of classics, Ghulam Hasan Nahvi titled Armagani Nahvi, Badharwah’s distinguished poet and researcher Bashir Bhaderwahi’s Jamis ta Kasheeri Manz Kashir Natia Adbuk Tawareekh, a significant addition to documenting Na’t and best of critical views on the same and Ishaq Nazki’s introductory treatment of certain sensitive issues surrounding Meelad. All the three works and certain limitations of the last one would be better appreciated if we keep in view little understood Wujoodi foundations of Na’t and doctrine concerning Muhammedan Light. Again it is Shaykh-i Akbar, himself a great poet, who illuminates our path in understanding deeper significance of poetry in general and Na’t in particular.

      G.H. Nahvi’s Na’t distinguishes itself from much of preceding Na’t tradition in Kashmiri by its creative appropriation and far better cognizance of great Arabo-Persian Na’t tradition. A perusal of selections of Na’t literature in Badharwahi’s anthology shows how little of quality has been produced in modern times. It seems that the lull observed in Sufi poetry after Ahad Zargar happened to Na’t after Abdul Ahad Nadim as our poets have not been able to devote necessary attention and devotion to Na’t to produce sustained prolific works of Na’t. A few verses here and there or an occasional Na’t is what we have mostly post-Nadim. Along with certain Na’ts of Rashid Nazki, Rasa Javidani, Fazil Kashmiri, Kamgar Kistwari, and a couple of other poets, Nahvi’s work on Na’t constitutes something close to an exception though it remains a fact that somehow Kashmiris are primarily enamoured of older Masters and it is time we seriously take this decline and pray for birth of a major Na’t poet. However, the author has succeeded in foregrounding major contributions of Jammu division and non-Muslim poets besides making certain corrections to dominant readings regarding certain poets accused of having ignored Na’t.

      A few lines/images/themes of Nahvi in the Wujoodi vein: “Nami Name Chan-I Gov Deewani Hasti Ibtida” “Muhammad is the best work of art by the Supreme Artificer. (SAW)” He attributes major salvific events and triumph of life - such as end of Adam’s exile, cooling of Nimrod’s fire through him, blooming of flowers – to Muhammad (SAW). Some other verses/images from other poets anthologized in Bhaderwahi’s book describe what Muhammad is for the lovers/faithful/Urafa. His love is driving the world of form and colour (“Yesend Amaar-I Gul Pholan/Barg Barg Mushk Chahtan.”) He is the king of the world (“Arbek Sardar Ajmek Rajae/Shah-I Mehraj Kersoan Paye – Maqbool Shah Kralwari) who address every problem (Jami – whose “Naseema Janib-I Batha Guzr Kun/Zi Ahwalem Muhammad Ra Khaber Kun,” Kamgar Kisthwari, Mir Sanuallah Kreeri and others have rendered into Kashmiri), whose name is a succour and salvation for the sinners (“Myani Gunahgari Seth Poushen/Aam Pen-I Diyei Tar Muhammad” – Naseem Shafai) and his splendour fuels moon and stars, the long dream of life and constitutes jam of Marifat and countless achievements of civilization. A distinctive feature of Kashmiri Na’t poetry in general and Kashmiri Na’t poetry in particular is Wujoodi streak of it. Regardless of whether one is a Sufi or not, is an Akbarian or in other camps, when it comes to na’t Muslims have only one “Aqeedah” expressed by Kashmiri poets thus: “Muhammad Bay Kasen Hound Kes Muhammad/Diluk Aaram Roohuk Kes Muhammad” (SAW) (G. R. Nazki), “Choun Gul Rokh Chi Bulbulen Award,”( Rashid Nazki) “Kayinatuk Shabab Choan Wujood/Kuntu Kenzen Jawab Choan Wujood.” and  lastly “Dildar Ti Dilbar Ti Dilafroz Muhmmad (SAW)” (G N Khayal). Elsewhere Iqbal has aptly stated that the destiny of all the caravans and the key to the secret of the universe is Muhammad (SAW). None of these verses can be understood except in light of Wujoodi metaphysics.

      Mufti Syed Muhammad Ishaq Nazki Qasmi, one of the very few Muftis in Kashmir whose eloquence is much appreciated and whose pen keeps busy on non-legal issues including biography of the Prophet and saints, has tried his best to express Deobandi point of view regarding Meelad in his Mehfil-I Meelad aur Juloos-i Eid-i Meelad un Nabi (SAW). While upholding the idea or essence of Meelad as celebration, his school takes more guarded view of so many new things including using the term Eid for Eid-i Meelad, formalization of Meelad as elaborate ritual taken as community emblem (Shi’aar) of Islam by some and very critical view of excesses committed in the name of celebration.

He has lucidly historicized the institution and presents his arguments for more refined and ethico-legally unassailable manner of celebration. However, one needs to note limitations of moralistic legalistic viewpoint that suspects culture, fails to understand autonomous ritualistic nature of cultural manifestations, seeks precedents for legitimizing everything new in the past even if it has nothing to do with religion as such or is not considered necessarily religious obligation by its practitioners.

Barelvi School is more open to indigenous cultural formations and has better developed theology of culture that explains its better diffusion in masses.

While Deoband School’s anxiety to safeguard what it calls Islamic identity of Muslims is legitimate, its inadequately theorized theology of culture (to which Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri, among others, tried to contribute) calls for re-examination. The need is for seasoned dialogue to replace current name calling attitude regarding the question of Meelad for which insights from mythologists, anthropologists, historians and culturologists need to be taken cognizance of. I conclude by certain reflections on Na’t and Meelad from a metaphysical Irfan centric viewpoint to help resolve nagging debates and clarify perplexity of many amongst new generation Muslims.

      Everyone who affirms faith in life, hope, love and compassion has implicitly affirmed Muhammad (SAW). The Muhammad (SAW) of history is unknown or little known or little appreciated by vast majority of mankind but the metahistorical Muhammad celebrated in great Na’t poetry in general and Sufi poets in particular is implicitly known by everyone who cares to live and beautify it or pursue perfections of human state.

      When we understand that the very soul of poetry is praising what deserves praise (life principle/principle of manifestation) the Prophet is seen as implicit object of all great poetry. When we understand that culture by its essence is a function of Spirit and all life involves ritual for meaning creation and we do have Na’t tradition that celebrates cosmic rhythms of life through symbolic vision of the Prophet, the sharp edges in the debate between Deobandi and Barelvi schools disappear. Wujoodi theology of culture gets the universal praise every great poet central stage in history he deserves. The debate should be on the essence of poetry as praise of the Prophet. And we see there is really only one Eid even if one may not formally name it so and that is the birth of the Prophet – all Eids are dependent on the primordial gift of life and prophetic consciousness immanent in all life and that embraces every heaven-ward move ever made by man.