Saturday, 28 February 2015

The important Question of Faith

Faith is the most important treasure of life, religions unanimously assert. Why? Because it helps us achieve our full potential or perfection as humans and makes us participate in all the joys, beauties, peace, blessings that life has to offer. Faith, as the opening verse of the Quran makes clear, opens up access to the God of Mercy. Faith is good news that we are somehow cared, that all things march toward perfection, that nothing is ultimately jarring. All is a symphony. It is a great festival of lights that the world is, to which faith invites us. There is no greater wine than the Wine of Love that God is for the faithful. Faith is an insurance against all despair, all anxieties, all disheartening things, all disasters that life could have in store for us. Faith and gnosis are the greatest goods we really crave for.
But the question is why is faith, genuine faith so rare today and thus we are bombarded by all kinds of existential, psychological, social and other problems. One reason is people are miseducated. They are more told about fear of hell than love of heaven that is here and now accessible to a large extent. They don’t know the extent of divine mercy that washes all sins. They are not told that God is Reality, not some person in the sky or cosmic policeman. Of the God as Beauty, as Love, as Joy, as Mercy they have only a vague idea. It is not told that God is everywhere, in all forms, for the seeing eye. God’s mercy has precedence over His wrath, the Quran so clearly states. All things beautiful and joyful that we seek including family life, natural beauty, innocent joys, creativity are real modes of worshipping God. Even enjoying tea is an act of worship. Jokes we crack, smiles we share, beautiful messages we exchange, greeting we exchange, all are activities in which and through which we celebrate God.  In fact God is the real Enjoyer in us. All life is a gift. And God grounds this understanding of gift. Friendship we cherish is sweet because God’s attractive power grounds it.

Great beauty of Islamic tradition is hidden from us because we don’t read and preach the great Masters, sages, saints, mystic poets and Muslim metaphysicians. Just a few quotes today from Ibn Arabi (whom we accuse of this or that without reading him) to give us a peep into the wonderful, beautiful, ecstatic experience of the God of Islam. They should be enough to address all apprehensions of growing number of atheists or agnostics in our youth camp. They, in principle, introduce a God who can’t be mocked, disbelieved. Invitation to Ibn Arabi is invitation to mercy, the God of Mercy and his mission was, in his own understanding, broadcasting far and wide the news about the Mercy of God. Ibn Arabi says:
If we gaze, it is upon Him; if we use our intelligence, it is toward Him; if we reflect, it is upon Him; if we know it is Him. For it is He who is revealed in every face, sought in every sign, worshipped in every object of worship, and pursued in the invisible and the visible. The whole world prays to Him, prostrates itself before Him and glorifies His praise; tongues speak of Him, hearts are enraptured by love for Him, minds are bewildered in Him.  (al-Futûhât al-makkiyya)
He says in The Kernel of the Kernel:
He is able to show His Being either within or without; that which is in the image of everything, that which is understandable in every intellect, the meaning that is in every heart, the thing heard in every ear, the eye that sees in every eye, is Him. . .   If He is manifest in this face he is also looking from the other.
In the poem at the beginning of the chapter on Hud in the Fusus al-Hikam Ibn ‘Arabi writes:
The Straight Path belongs to God (Allah).
It is manifest in all, not hidden.
He is present in the small and the great,
In those who are ignorant of how things are and those who know.
Because of this His mercy encompasses everything,
No matter how base or magnificent.”
Islam is invitation to submit to Truth, not to some cosmic or extra-cosmic entity we can speculate about or truth of this and that ideology or exclusive religion. Whosoever is ready to acknowledge truth in anything or experience unconditionally, is Muslim. And faith is submission to this truth. God is the movement toward virtue and beauty we are instinctively attracted to. And isn’t it a result of Divine Mercy we all seek and worship this God who is identified with beauty, truth and goodness in Plato whom Ibn Arabi rated highly?

Debating Muslim Contribution to Sciences

Let Muslim scholars write more universal histories, like Ibn Khaldun attempted, without anxiety to show Islam in the background or foreground.
Many spots on the moon are named after Muslim scientists. Over 500 stars have names originally Arabic as have Algebra, Chemistry and many instruments we routinely use. Muslims made homes for old and abandoned animals and used money from Awqaf to treat and feed them. Even cats whom we often despise had separate buildings. Muslim pioneered bird hatcheries. Muslims wrote over hundred books on horses alone. Muslims invented gunpowder, compass, many techniques in bee keeping, modern floriculture and made countless discoveries in sciences from gravitation to mechanism of vision. Discussing hundreds of such interesting things that most of us don’t know, and succeeding in further convincing (if someone doubted) us about our current decay and past glory, but only tangentially touching on deeper reasons, metaphysical or philosophical that made such glory possible and writing off significance of Greek or other influences that have been matter of contention for theological camp always, Qurooni Wusta kae Musalmanu kae Sainysi Karname (Contribution of Medieval Muslims to Science) is a wonderful read that has been published again after new additions.

How many book have been written by Kashmiris on religion or its history that we can assert with full confidence that they will continue to be read, at least for some time and are currently respectfully taken by scholarship in the given discipline? Perhaps we can count them on fingers. And Dr Ghulam Qadir Lone’s works, especially one on Sufism and current one under discussion taken, one can safely assert belong to this category. Although it is more a compilation than an original work but as a compilation it succeeds quite well to lucidly summarize and briefly review some important works in the history of the subject. The book gives an overview of Muslim contribution to sciences and important branches of humanities, mentioning and sometimes summarizing great number of original sources in a lively style. It narrates number of anecdotes showing great culture of learning, Muslims once had. Almost every reader would find something of interest in it though its main subject is now very well known and somewhat hackneyed, considering Mushtaq A Yusufi’s remark that if one tenth of the money and time spent on rehearsing “Musalamanoo kae science per ahsanaat” were devoted to teaching them sciences, “tou musalmanoo per bada ahsaan hoga.” The book avoids fashionable platitudes of popular preachers that read every new scientific discovery in the Quran and forget similar readings made regarding other scriptures and difficulties in literal defense of literal meaning of many so-called science related verses. The book vividly brings the glory of Muslims – it will take pages to just enumerate names of individual contributors and their contribution to almost every discipline including historiography, geography, mineralogy, botany, zoology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and philosophy (to all of which separate chapters have been devoted). It does so in a charming free flowing prose).
Ironies in current Muslim attitude that proudly claim great contributions of Muslims to sciences include suspicion of philosophy and methodological naturalism of modern science. Dr Lone does well by including a chapter on philosophy as well. Muslim philosophers who were also scientists didn’t reject Greeks as pagans or aliens; they appropriated their work and moved ahead. We still keep debating harm done by Greeks to Islam while celebrate great scientist-philosophers who drew inspiration from Greeks.

The book promotes the current discourse that identifies pursuit of ilm with pursiuit of various sciences and takes a very literal interpretation of first revealed verses that mention God taught ilm by qalm (the fact that predominantly oral culture characterized most of great civilizations contests this simplistic reading ) to defend this position. The book repeats old charges against the West for plagiarism and hiding Muslim influence or contribution despite the fact that for decades the charges have been acknowledged and modern Western scholarship has been attempting to rewrite history. In fact a greater scandal has been to write off China which spearheaded march of civilization by inventing more than 70% of most used inventions in the modern world.

The book displays two interesting points. It is Western scholarship that is appropriated to highlight contribution of Muslims to various sciences and humanities. Many important books are missing. It leaves much of serious contemporary debate on metaphysical background and current implications of Islamic sciences and doesn’t note important contributors to the debate of situating development of sciences in larger framework. Bibliography mentions only secondary sources on Muslim philosophers except Ghazzali. Neither Nasr, nor Sardar, nor such authors as Osman Bakr, Muzaffar Iqbal or Hoodbuoy on history of Muslim contribution to sciences have been consulted. Neither postmodern nor Marxist historians of science and newer accounts of alternative sciences get a mention.

The publisher has rightly and gently corrected the author’s simplistic linking of modern idea of evolution to Muslim rendering of it in middle age. The author has read alchemy and astrology practiced by Muslims along the dismissive literalist lines of Orientalists, a reading challenged by traditionalist scholars like Nasr. Great divide between traditional Islamic and modern sciences on background metaphysical if not methodological grounds, has not been touched.

The book doesn’t seriously probe why Muslim contribution dwindled after middle ages and it seeks to blame colonialism and Muslim modernists and modernist rulers for failure of revival of the legacy thus conveniently forgetting that it is opposition to philosophy, to sciences from ultraconservative literalist mindset that has also its share of guilt for this state of affairs. The author is not ready to grant the possibility that yesterday it was India or China or Arab or Muslim lands that were leading the world in sciences and today it is the West and we identify certain common elements in collective character of nations that better promote cause of knowledge and needn’t connect it to any particular religion or culture. I wonder why we keep mourning Muslim decadence forgetting the possibility that the best of Islamic values have already penetrated modern Western institutions, and East-West or Islam-West binary is in many respects now obsolete way of seeing things as Hamid Dabashi has pointed out. I personally feel that the best in the modern world is collective heritage of humanity as is the best that was produced in the Islamic world to be owned as Islamic. I recommend reading Will Durant’s first volume Our Oriental Heritage of his monumental voluminous Story of Civilization to better place in perspective the question of relative contribution of various civilizations to advancement of sciences. Let Muslim scholars write more universal histories that our forefathers like Ibn Khaldun attempted without anxiety to show Islam in the background or foreground. If Islam promotes knowledge culture and modern world has largely appropriated it why not celebrate the Western minds as our own in the sense that Islam’s universalist claim is that it constitutes The Religion, the religion from Adam onwards rather than a particular religion that emerged from Arabia. I wish Muslim scholars write about Indian and Chinese contributions to sciences, to philosophy and religion the way Max Muller and Joseph Needham wrote and that will be in line with the approach great Muslim scientists and philosophers adopted in the middle ages. (Al-Farabi, for instance, wrote The Virtuous City on the pattern of Plato’s The Republic) Muslim youth are largely ignorant of not only Islamic past but of traditional past in general that grounds Islamic world. It is rightly impressed by the achievements of the West in last few centuries and we should have enough catholicity in outlook to celebrate them as well.

We need more knowledge, than pride over knowledge of ancestors and this can come by both cultivating humility to learn from world cultures, from Harvards and Oxfords that are incarnations of erstwhile great Muslim seats of learning that are themselves incarnations of great Greek or Chinese seats of learning. If we believe “ Wisdom is a believer’s lost treasure” as Dr Lone reminds us of the prophetic tradition, I see no reason for only focusing on Muslim history of contributions to sciences while ignoring both its background, Greek and Oriental wisdom, or its continuity, in the form of Wisdom of the (modern) West. We can’t carry ID of our great grandfathers in our pockets if it is our ID that is required to be presented. However, as Dr Lone emphasizes, we better know our forefathers to fashion our new identity. And that task – that our author doesn’t take up for consideration – will involve engaging with great modern thinkers.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Self versus Other in our politics

We all believe that khaesh (myself) comes first, then dervaish (the other, the stranger). We evaluate in terms of mine against thine. Love for possessions, for power, for status based on this primordial error. And this is the most fundamental basis for the politics that has destroyed the world. AAP(Aam Admi Party) privileged aap over mai or hum. That partly explains ecstatic welcome to its victory. Even ricksahwallas thought that they now participate in Chief Ministership. The question is can we put the other party, the other’s advantage or aap ki “interest” above one’s party or “interest.” To talk about one’s interest (to be differentiated from what Plato calls enlightened self interest or Iqbal calls Khudi) is a sin against God, against Holy Spirit, against all the prophets. Let me explain.
All traditions from Far Eastern to Indian, Judeo-Christian, Islamic, African and Native American unanimously privilege the other in relation to the self. In fact all traditional philosophers–including representative figures such as Lao Tzu, Nagarjuna, Plotinus, Shankara, Ibn Arabi, Meister Eckhart from six traditions–are unanimous in putting non-self at the centre stage and take supra-mental supra-individualist view of the Self. Salvation/enlightenment consists in transcendence of the illusory autonomous self. God/Godhead or equivalent term for the first principle can be understood as the non-self or the Other. All mystical philosophers agree that the thinking self or thought must be transcended to commune with the other, the Reality (Al-Haqq) because conceptual intellect divides and posits dualism of subject and object. The ego, which divides part from the whole, man from Existence or Divine Environment must be annihilated in the process of faana. Hell, as retreat into the cocoon of individuality, which accepts separation from the Real because of inability to love. Thus hell is refusal to open for dialogue – which might include total transformation of the self and taking divine robes. The problems–political, social, economic–over which modern world is in perpetual conflict arises from the wrong view of self and our vacation in the world. Religious, mystical and traditional philosophical traditions, demand loathing of the self and thus rejection of the received definition of man as homo economicus and individualist capitalist mindset. The traditionalist view is countered by the post-Enlightenment modern other negating worldview which may be characterized as individualist or subject/ego centred straightway paves way for the colonialist and ecocidal approach. In contrast for pre-modern traditions it is not soul but the supra-individual principle of Spirit, which is in us but not ours that is immortal and that gives man one identity and basis for loving one’s neighbour as oneself.
In light of this and other clear stipulations that Ghazzali lists in ‘Alchemy of Happiness and Revival of Religious Sciences’ regarding trials of self (nafs) and attachment to world  (that is really love for self projected in things) and the command of dying before death one may ask our politicians, their workers and their partners in alliances this:
Do you really believe that you serve people and not yourself or your party? Don’t you think that often interests of self/party and people may diverge? Don’t you think that putting the other before yourself/party would be in the long-term interests of people whom you seek to represent?  What if most people think Governor’s rule is transparent, less costly, people friendly and efficient? Would you think of letting it continue for some time at least so that encroachments are cleared and many such drives gain momentum? Why is it we need you or your party rule?  Do you believe you don’t covet power? Reading scriptures, philosophers like Plato, Farabi, Pascal, Voegelin and Kierkegaard one comes to understand costs of career in politics that spurns principles, makes and breaks alliances with any party or person for the sake of what you know better, suppresses voice of conscience ten times a day that sees how it is the interests of the powerful that politics is manipulated and party agendas set. Perhaps you are striving to do politics the way best of AAP politicians do it or Gandhi did it – I will not say like Hazrat Umar(r.a) did it as you might say gone is that age?
I wonder if it is possible to have a brain scan or RTI of motivations and intentions to help people know better what is precisely at stake in making certain decisions. But I am sobered by the reflection that we need not to scan minds or hearts but use simple common sense to see logic of games being played.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The Question of Art and Religion

Opening up of the first Art Gallery in Kashmir is great news, not just for art lovers but also for all of us who believe art is an important aspect of education and life and none can claim to be literate who is ignorant of art. Many art forms are often assumed to be alien to Islam, a misperception forcefully dispelled by Mualana Abul Kalam Azad in the concluding lines of his great work Gubar-i-Khatir. Islam, like other traditions, has regulated expression of art and not banned it. In fact Islam employs art physics and theology by calling God Beauty or Beautiful and advocating love of beauty whether it is in nature, in souls of prophets and saints or in any object of utility made for consumption or object of art made for contemplation. Islam has cultivated rich tradition of art that is no less important than Fiqh and requires art education for spiritual development of every Muslim by emphasizing the principle of perfection – Ihsan. One can find emphasis on art in traditional calligraphy, in book designs, in Quran recitation, in Azan, in Na’t or poetic tradition, in architecture of all buildings and not just mosques. Art and worship are artfully woven together in Islam as in other traditions. One may well ask: Why not teach religion through art -Sufis have been doing this for centuries. Attend a mahfil-i-sama with proper etiquette as Al-Ghazzali and many other great saints have recommended and one leaves tasting something of the Beyond, the Other World. Who says toari kus aaw wuchith? Artists know the otherworld that art object evokes, that virgin nature evokes for the poets.
With Schuon we could say, “After morals, art—in the broadest sense of the word—is a natural and necessary dimension of the human condition. Plato said: “Beauty is the splendour of the true.” So let us say that art—including crafts—is a projection of truth and beauty in the world of forms.”
Art demands escape from personality. An artist has no self.  An artist is simply a medium through whom the Great Artificer expresses Himself. The Muse demands moral, intellectual and spiritual virtues in the artist.  A genuine artist may hardly care if anyone knows him or he is given any award or recognition, especially by the state’s institutions, which are often though not necessarily, tailored to promote a certain brand that doesn’t infringe on its power structures. The great rebel artists are exiled rather than recognized by the academies representing the state.
Abhinavgupta has been a key theorist who provided support for the thesis of art as fifth Veda. His metaphysics secures for artistic experience a privileged place that nearly identifies it with religious experience. Although he states clearly that Samadhis and other ecstatic experiences given to mystics or saints are a class apart and artists are not entitled to great fruits of such adventures of spirit he notes that for the laity the quickest means to transcendence is art. If we can teach art we are teaching values to people. So all this hinges to right understanding of what constitutes art. What we need is traditional literary or art critics who sift the chaff of modern culture industry from the grain of genuine art conducive to higher ends of man. We can revisit the heritage of Abhinavgupta as an art critic and we can take the help of Coomaraswamy and Schuon in this matter who have stated traditional theory of art in most strong and lucid terms. Beauty, as the attractive power of perfection is more noetic than aesthetic notion and satisfies that longing to know the reality or God, that eternal urge that moves all men.
Art is not for exhibition. Art is “for the glory of God and angels and sanctification of man.” Art brings God in the world. Artist copies the model in heaven. Music is the proof of Heaven promised by religions and witnessed by mystics and contemplated by artists.
Great Art requires escape from personality as Heidegger and Eliot emphasized and all values are actualized by a soul capable of transcending passion and ego. As Heidegger argued, art lets truth in the things manifest.  It is the poet that shows the path of fugitive gods or the track of the holy in an age that deems transcendence to be otherwise inaccessible. Thought art can’t supplant religion but it does complement it. It has been one of the languages of worship. It points beyond itself to the Most Holy. In an age that deems itself post death of God age or post theological, art is still able to communicate something from the Beyond. Art can help revert the postmodern man to theomorphic being he is.
We need to note tragic divorce between art and life in our lives, works and work environment if we are to be saved and find meaning through beauty in our lives.

Mourning our Art Illiteracy

I think two things explain this: Woeful art illiteracy of the people in general and philosophy of art illiteracy in most of the artists
Our artist friends complain that they don’t receive proper recognition, and hardly anyone is interested in visiting art gallery recently opened in Srinagar.  Visitors, or masses, complain that the art works of contemporary artists don’t speak to them, or they fail to comprehend them. Why this disconnect? I think two things explain this: Woeful art illiteracy of people in general and philosophy of art illiteracy in most of artists. People hardly know anything about art (we don’t teach art in schools, generally speaking) and can be classified with colour blind or beauty blind  group. Those artists who think art is a profession and art works need to be exhibited, or sold, or personality of artist be expressed or art needn’t imitate archetypes or communicate well to all who are interested are ignorant of First Principles art exemplifies. They fail to understand Plato’s (and tradition’s or Islam’s) rejection of  such ideas as art as expression of personality, aestheticism, naturalist art, distinction between fine and applied artists, art as mere ornament, and of taste as criterion for judging art. (Post)Modernist secular art theory or academy doesn’t wish to understand how art is “for the glory of God and angels and sanctification of man.”  I state a few points about traditional or Islamic art theory today.
What AAP victory today brought forth is, among other things, ecstasy of democratization of power. I argue for the democratization of art, an idea that has been affirmed in traditions everywhere and may be stated in terms of the manifesto “Everyman is an artist.” Like politics, art shouldn’t be an elite business. Art is basically science of doing well a given task, thus perfecting or making lovable any given work. Art is what more familiar term ihsan suggests – doing everything in the best way it should be done. Plato, as AKC notes,  includes in artists “not only poets, painters, and musicians, but also archers, weavers,  embroiderers,  potters,  carpenters,  sculptors,  farmers,  doctors, hunters,  and  above  all  those  whose  art  is  government,  only  making  a distinction between creation and mere labor, art  and  artless  industry.”  But we have restricted the term for those who sell arts like painting or make strange art works that are not intelligible or beautiful as they don’t imitate eternal or divine model but appearances and seek more pleasure than perfection. Art is skillful making of all things, activities, not  just what we see in galleries. And in galleries what we see today is mostly the art that has no place in Ideal City of Plato or Augustine or Farabi. It is absurdity pretending to be called art work even if it is merely cerebral or psychological reaction of the “artist” that he or she has depicted. All arts are imitative and ideally imitate archetypes, divine perfection and require moral and intellectual virtues to contemplate. Art requires not assertion of will but its surrender before the Beauty.

Art is not an absurd or occult game of abstractions or private symbols that “non-artists” don’t comprehend and even fellow “artists” keep guessing. Art is for everyone. Art is not for sale as art (a painting sells for crores and art has become a commodity instead of adding beauty to things or representing beauty in art works like paintings) but art objects are objects we require like utensils, clothes. Great art works recall God and celebrate or imitate Divine Beauty. They are ideally not signed as individual is not to be advertised or seen as producer of art work as individual. Artists are not separate professional class who make portraits to get money, who make paintings that are either ugly or too ambiguous or incomprehensible or obscene that fall short of moral, intellectual or spiritual perfection or betray sickness of the soul of the artist. We need art to live, to beautify our environment, to help contemplate God, to love, to celebrate. Art education should be for everyone. Even cavemen were great artists, better than most modern artists. The great film Aguntuk by philosophically inclined Satyaji Raye presents aspects of traditional view of art and meditates on the secret of perfection in cavemen’s paintings.

There is so much confusion, so much misinformation, so much elitism, so much hollow halo around art that I think Coomaraswamy’s The Christian and Oriental, or True Philosophy of Art is a must read. Art is too easily reduced to ideology or made to serve interests of entertainment industry that we need to read Adorno and Horkheimer’s great critique of it in their famous work Dialectics of Enlightenment in the chapter  “Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Art in Islamic tradition has been the life work of Titus Burckhardt (Art of Islam: Language and Meaning). Nasr’s book Islamic Art and Spirituality is  also of help for general reader and professional Muslim artist who wants to be informed about deeper meaning and metaphysical principles of Islamic art.
Now that sermons don’t touch as they once did but crisis of values is deepening what do we do? Abhinavgupta long back suggested turning to art to get education in values and help in the ultimate journey of life – quest for transcendence. Mathew Arnold long back saw in art a substitute for religious instinct and many postmodern thinkers, following Nietzsche, have already been championing certain version of artistic or aesthetic route to get meaning back into our lives in an age when theologies aren’t so impactful or credible for some. Many may today dispute conventional proofs of existence
of God but none can deny the proof from beauty that art makes so dazzlingly available for us. Islamic metaphysic of beauty that defines God as Beauty can’t be questioned by anyone who has healthy instinct for beauty intact. Atheism may be defined as impoverished taste for beauty or jaundiced eye for beauty.

What a great news it is that art lovers have finally got some space in the capital of the State to sit, to research, to deliberate, to dialogue on art, the language of the Self. God speaks to us through many languages, but none is more easily understandable  or pleasing than that of art. That explains central place of art in Islamic spirituality. Without artistic sense houses, clothes, gardens, articles for daily usage, all those things that crafts produce, can’t be made the way God or our theomorphic nature requires. In fact one can say all that is not made in conformity with artistic principles enunciated by traditions is cursed. Art is a question of our religion, our higher life of spirit. It is absolutely central to culture and identity. We need to see art as ritual for purification and discipline and thus support to contemplation leading to the vision of essences and delivery of man from samsara or his reconciliation to the ground of existence

Tail Piece:

 What artist community has seen opening of the Gallery One as a grand shrine of art lovers as
they can refresh their souls by visiting it, others pass by as if it is of no account. Students for excursions or educational tours should preferably visit such spaces to acquaint themselves about their unknown dimension that gives us peep into the Heaven here and now. We are all artists in the sense defined by Greeks and other traditions as makers of objects who need beauty to live better lives but only few know this. Let us discover the artist in us. Let us learn what ails modern art industry and have dialogue with our artists, reorient the museum culture or art exhibition culture towards that end that characterized traditional cultures including the Kashmir of Shah-i-Hamdan –a sanctuary of crafts – and help them to retrieve our great heritage in art and carry it forward.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Pir Parasti or Spirituality? Understanding Our Mystical Culture

Kashmiris are famously charged with Pir parasti. And this Pir parasti is associated with a host of beliefs and practices that we need to take into account. The question is how do we understand or engage with local narrative.  Our dismissive rejection or wholesale embracing of this narrative is what we are often supposed to choose while living in Kashmir. Given ideological polarization and often huge costs hidden in these choices we need to be better informed about what exactly constitutes local narratives and how far one can wish it away if one chooses to. Salafis and others who find some problems with local narrative need to come up with informed critique of a culture deeply informed by this narrative. Such an informed analysis of this local narrative has not been made by our historians or culture experts. And this means a lot for people searching for self-identity in the times that find identities politically problematic and seek to fracture such attempts at self-definition. Here are few points about our local narrative we need to note for critical engagement with it.
Local mystics are consulted by rulers and many life’s decisions are not taken without consulting family mystic. (There are family mystics as there are family doctors elsewhere in Kashmir, especially rural Kashmir.) Mystics can enter any home and are received warmly and reverentially although in this guise many charlatans and insane people are also carving a space or livelihood for themselves. Some of the popular phrases or proverbs like “In Adam’s skin are hidden great secrets” are often invoked while the question of dismissing a claimant of mystical powers arises. Mystics’ residences or shrines are thronged by all and sundry including the educated elite and ruling class. Almost every other day there is some celebration commemorating some local mystic’s anniversary called Urs. Many people claim to be in touch with their dead Masters. And every Thursday there is Mahfil-i- Sama in many places. The most visited spots happen to be shrines. And many people before coming to courts to attend hearing of their cases visit shrines as they believe cases are decided here. Almost every person has a story to narrate of an encounter with a realized soul or powerful mystic. Here mystics are seen roaming naked in the freezing temperature of winter and some are seen with a fire pot in the midst of hot summer. Some have been noted to take food so frugally that people are led to believe that God feeds them. And some are believed to share food with some otherworldly beings.  Childless couples seek the help of mystics and everywhere there are some success stories narrated! And some children are well known in localities to be begotten by mystics’ prayer and almost consecrated to his memory and they receive special treatment. Mystics have been seen publicly predicting downfall of a government and result of new elections and key figures of all ruling parties seek appointment with them at key moments. And I have seen some mystics drawing maps of roads they are yet to be built and claiming that we are making master plans and these will be the future road links. People invoke traditional Sufi belief in the hierarchy of power that is occupied by saints of different categories. The belief in the authority of a mystic is so popular that all kinds of charlatans disguising themselves as mystics loot people. Mysticism is sold as a commodity for faith healing and shortcut to worldly success and its traders are not easily picked. Pseudo-mystics are everywhere contributing to decreasing reputation of mystics in the newer generations.
       Despite strong theological criticisms of certain popular beliefs and practices lately from Salafis and Jamaat-i-Islami ideologues the popularity of cult of mystics and shrine culture along with all its paraphernalia like prayer food culture, loud recitations of mystical or devotional hymns, Khatam/Niyaz parties (in which local community and some religious figures are invited to read certain chants and are served sumptuous food) has not lost its sheen. Many houses invite 11th century Sufi Abdul Qadir Jeelani on every 11th of every month by arranging a tea party.
           It is not that mystics have failed to stamp their indelible prints in cultural consciousness of people. There are countless trees and stones and springs whose special features are attributed to certain mystics. Almost every locality has some miraculous relic in the form of these things.  It seems that Hopkins’ statement that everything is charged with the grandeur of God is felt with all its terrible reality here and captures an aspect of Kashmiri perception of the world.  It is considered a life’s treasure to find a true Master in many Muslim communities and this is particularly true about Kashmir. And in almost every locality there may be someone, famous or hidden who claims or is thought to be a Master. Faith healing is a big business and is an evidence of the power of or faith in mystics.  Faith healing attributed to mystics is differentiated from the one attributed to occultists. And people wish goodbye to near and dear ones with the clause “I leave you in Pir’s (Master’s) custody.” These constitute some aspects of local narrative of mysticism in Kashmiri culture.
     The question is do we take it or leave it in toto, in parts? Stakes of fundamentalism, superstitious occultist ideologies are linked to this question. Even our political destiny isn’t unconnected to it.

Marrying Philosophy and Poetry: Hasan Anzar’s Poetical Works

Life is an enigma for him and he is in search of someone, perhaps a master, to unravel it to him

If art is sacrifice (yajna), form of prayer, a discipline calling for contemplation and certain moral standards for the artists though not for the art itself, we can spot only few artists around. Today art is an ideology, a thing to be exhibited and lobbied for awards, a commodity one can purchase. No wonder genuine artists and poets whom Plato thought are taught by God are rare, or not better known.  A genuine poet can’t be proud, he can’t brag, he can’t be accused of “straying in every valley” as his ethics, his faith in transcendence are there to keep him on the track.  He carves a space in our hearts. Kazantzakis once remarked that “God is the Ah that comes when seeing any beautiful thing.” I think the criterion of genuine poetry is our spontaneous Ah on encountering it. This is made possible by marriage of profound thought and deep feeling besides a command over form.
All these points I recall after reading the man and the poet, Hassan Anzar who can be cited as illustrating classical, oriental and Islamic image of a genuine poet. Anzar’s oriental aesthetic, expressed by love for Ghazal and attention to form, is an expression of his deep sense of tradition. Influenced by his select readings of classics in Indo-Persian  Islamic and Western literary culture and by great modern writers from Eliot to Iqbal who have traditionalist religio-mystical orientation, Anzar is  a beautiful person and a poet one can’t help admire, at least the best of him. He has his share of rather ordinary verses, a temptation to merely versify here and there, some verses where passion and thought don’t happily fuse, certain lack of charity or inability not to call spade a spade when it comes to judge rather frail mortals on both artistic and moral grounds that are his contemporaries, but what characteristically emerges as a dominant note is his enviable personality that we can’t help loving and at times fearing as his strong critical sense and sharp eye would spot our weaknesses and he will not hesitate to point out.
Thanks to his background as officer in police department that made him encounter life’s ironies and pathologies and see it from very close quarters and his background as a formal serious student of literature and philosophy, our poet is better schooled in both life and letters to give us wonderfully humane poetry. Neither romantic nor mystic but someone who has both poles as if he is situated in the Barzakh where imagination takes all things human as its province, Hassan Anzar is a poet who breathes faith, joy, meliorism, and freshness of spirit in an age where lesser poets are bowled by life’s little jokes and find it hard to find faith. He is a poet with a faith in the saving power of human relationships or love and a passion for the art that is akin to religious experience. For him classical and traditional values are still living.  Steering off his boat from the muddy waters into which Modernity plunges us, his poetry embodies an argument for Eastern/Islamic traditionalist aesthetic that is worth our attention. A poet speaking of God and religion in a way that befits an artist who cares for perfection of form rather than as a moralist is Anzar. Anzar’s profession seems to have only positively impacted on his poetry making him a poet who takes the side of life, its transcendence and grandeur against all philosophies of escapist asceticism. An inheritor of Sufi heritage, Anzar writes consciously as a Muslim embodying the values of Islamic tradition and strongly takes on secularist progressives and modernists and others who trifle with the Sacred. Before a few words on his Kashmiri collection “Kya Leukhnem Qalmen” that has already impressed some of our well known critics and scholars and going to make itself notice for its distinctive voice, a few verses from his Urdu poetry that express his fusion of poetry and philosophy:

Hasan Anzar  dua karna mahazi zindagi sae surkhro hokar
Tera anzar, tera shayir, tera aashufta sar aayae,

Ug rahi hae fasl ik bay chahrgi ki her tarf
Bayisa mushkil bani hae ab ana merae liyae,

He can well claim to be “bai Riya Shayir.” “Saadgi menz raaz kya khosh aasnuk, bes mae ousum anzares yutiy prichun.” And  he has no complaints against either God or man for incomprehensible in the odyssey of life. Some of his poems are worth including in school text books like "ae mere Kashmir ae pyare watan” “ Nound boan gulaba soiy etc.” One finds echoes of Sufi poets in him (the haunting title of the book Kya leukhnem Qalmen we owe both to Rahman Dar and his dear friend and critic Shahzada Rafiq who suggested it)  and he has wonderfully appropriated Souchi Kral’s famous Daepomes yaer laagov in Pricheumes Ti Wonnem.
For Anzar, one can make one’s profession a life long wazeefa by taking it as if one has chosen it, as svadharma.  Life is an enigma for him and he is in search of someone, perhaps a master, to  unravel it to him (“Koi to ukda kusha ho,” ” bi oasus haeraan murshides rous/karem kour tem ti chum aaraam basaan”). He is a quest, an anjan banjara. True to poetic spirit he eschews moralistic judgments, abstractions and speculations and finds himself seeking and enquiring though not questioning or doubting. (haqqeqat maer menz dilkesh kitabah/woen gov men menz chu kenh ibhaam basaan). The Beloved gazing in jasmines He pleads for “spiritual literacy,” and “natural supernaturalism” by foregrounding  “sweet pain of love” that cleanses the perception and thanks to theophanic vision that his Hamd and Na’t  celebrates, he is able to love his children (one of the very fathers who says balaayi lagaey at least ten times daily to his children and counts it as worship) his brothers (if for only for one in a thousand persons we can see brothers and their families ready to die, Anzar is one), neighbours and friends if not all of his relatives. At heart a Heideggarian who hated city and technology , advised visiting graves as a mantra, championed poetry as a means of salvation, Anzar, sobered by a deep sense of the tragic asks for decoding symbols of decay and death (harud)  and often invokes Socrates (who defined philosophy as preparation for death) to express his indignity at the rot around him. The final word of this Posh-i- Mout is for dissolving into the mystery of Life (rather than solving it in logical terms) by cultivating love and we know, as Rumi said, Love, flowing from self transcendence, is Galen and Plato that cures all sickness and answers all complaints.

Pan panun muthmut sacraates/
Keti wuch hen yuth kismet woalah

Maasoom nazro saeth chuk pawaan mae chaetes az/
Jannat hawwa ti pati arfaath damah beh

Tail Piece
There have been very few police officers who have written such a beautiful poetry. I think a few more poets like Anzar if keep inducting in police department, would transform it and it would be a delight to encounter Thana or police officer. During training all policemen or officers should be required to take a small course in art or poetry to help them better understand life and deal with people they will encounter later. The secret of morals is love and life of imagination as Shelley pointed out. Daily reading a few verses from great poets as one recites the scripture would help us perfect both our faith and our ability to appreciate beauty and joy  that life, despite its apparent discord, is.