In all the trials of life and pain, doubt and heartache, love and forgiveness of each other how uplifting to ask for Gratitude to soar like an eagle above the earth. The earth where our troubles and joys are found but Gratitude takes one inner and higher. It is to the other world. Another world where equality and peace reign upon the earth or otherworldly, altogether spiritual, non-material.
Ask first that your Gratitude for all you have shines high like an eagle so that in comparison your troubles seem small and as such you are given great strength and confidence to face and inshallah overcome them by yourself or with the assistance of some anonymous solidarity.
Oh Allah, God of Abraham, Solomon, Moses, Mary, Jesus, Muhammad (peace be upon them All) improve my gratitude/shukar to You Alone. Not gratitude to my memories (good or ill) nor to my personal achievements, nor to wealth or poverty, nor to charity, nor to my sense of arrogant self-righteousness, even though I may feel justified. All Justice is Yours to dispense or otherwise.
Gratitude to You Alone oh Allah. All is from You.
Nothing is of my doing but by choosing of this or that thing, this or that emotion to dominate my mind and heart. Nothing is of my doing but what I choose and accountable for.
Poetry is still one of the dominant modes of reflection and self consciousness in the Orient. It has somehow survived amidst all the threats a growing industrial culture presents, particularly in its impersonalising effects. In spite of all the stark contrasts of poverty and wealth, power and powerlessness, poetry, whether it is traditional or modern, continues to impart to people’s minds and hearts a sense of idealism and warmth.
Ali Zahir (19th February 1947 – 16th March 2003) is from Hyderabad, one of the major cities in India, a meeting point of several streams of cultures, religions and languages. Formally ruled by a Muslim prince, and now a part of the Indian Republic, Hyderabad has gone through a series of political, economic and cultural transformations which have led to the breakdown of old values, both religious and humanitarian, giving way to imbalance between the personal and the collective dimensions of people’s lives. Though Hyderabad maintained for a considerable time a sense of communal harmony which was fast disappearing from the other parts of India, it has collapsed over the last two decades into periodic outbursts of inter-religious hatred and violence thus wrecking the eclectic foundations of its semi-feudal culture.
Writers have responded to the challenges of modern India in three distinct modes – traditionalist, marxist, and modernist. The traditionalist approach involves the continuation of the classical literary forms, nostalgia for the late mediaeval culture, and a formal adherence to the rules and forms of art and poetry. The Marxist or the progressive school which thrived from the middle forties to the late sixties rested on a confident ideological mood that art and literature should reflect the people’s struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The modernist approach came about as a reaction to both the traditionalist and the marxist perspectives and claims. It was a revolt against formalism, both of form and ideology. It reflected the cry of the lonely individual for identity, recognition and communication. All the three modes have been generally humanist an agnostic.
Ali Zahir’s poetry reflects the traditionalist respect for form and the modernists emphasis on subjectivity. Having experienced the changes his city has undergone over the recent decades and also having worked in Iran during the years preceding the revolution there, Ali Zahir could witness the extremes from spiritual vacuum to religious enthusiasm. He could see both outside and deep within himself an urgent need for a new religiosity or sensitivity to both the psychological and political challenges. His poetry is one of the modes in which he expresses this quest.
The search begins with perception and remembrance of the human situation, of that predicament that envelops all humanity. Ali Zahir takes notice of the tragedies of the communal riots right within his own city, and points to the irrelevance of all the instructions of philosophy and ideology.
At the edge of the death of each abstraction
There is the mother, sister, brother –
Such tangible realities
Noticing the failure of both secularism and religion to give to India any relief from poverty and exploitation, Ali Zahir says:
For the oppressed and poor and humble, philosophy is a mockery that drains their very life force.
However critical of all those abstractions which empty the nations of the resources of humanity, Ali Zahir is drawn to the metaphysical mystery at the heart of life’s expressions both in pain and creativity.
“What is all this, dream or reality?” he asks.
The mood of his beautiful poem, Seven Days, Seven Heavens, bears witness to his quest for harmony, for meaning, and for the unity of reality behind all number and image:
Seven heavens unfurled
Architects of harmony.
From chaos to order, from loss of meaning to recovery of purpose, there is both a lifelong striving and at times a sudden leap into the depths of one’s being.
Within the heart
And within the spring, a flame
And within this flame of elemental yearning
There is another flame
The one which we call life.
Life, that mysterious all-embracing joy overflowing every cup and even at times drowning in its ecstasy the cupbearers as well, is one unending call of love, both the caller and the called all at once. There is the hearth of all reality – there is the abode of meaning and purpose. Hence, Zahir so truthfully regards all life as continuous communication, and he wonders: “How many garments that one spark has changed?”
Drawn to the heart of his own mystery, rejoicing in the variety of colours that one colourless unity puts on, and waiting at sunrise to hear the call of the “white moments” inviting him to step inward and then look, Ali Zahir brings to us in his poetry a new sensitivity nurtured in pain, linked with loneliness – a new religiosity without forms and rituals but not without courage and responsibility for both our inner and outer transformation. Those who are looking for the unity of mind and heart will find in Zahir’s poetry one of its most moving examples from the Indian subcontinent.
See also Hasan Askari’s 1995 speech in Hyderabad on Spiritual Humanism at which Ali Zahir and Musa Askari were present…. Hasan Askari says… “On that morning I said to Ali Zahir well, still there is light in this country. And perhaps we should begin from here again. Because in Indian tradition no other culture today talks about the soul so clearly and so continuously as India does.”
“I did not ask to be born,” he said. “I did not ask for my eyes. I did not ask for my face. I did not ask for my ears. I did not ask for my hands. I did not ask for my feet. I did not ask for anything that one may call a Body. I did not ask for I did not even know what even a body was. I did not ask for my Parents. I did not ask for my Family. I asked for none of these things for I had no idea of what they were. I did not ask for companionship. I did not ask for friendship. I did not ask for food to eat, for shelter nor for warmth. I asked for none of these things for I knew not what they were. I was in no lack or want of any such thing.”
“Who are you to not ask or need for such things?”
“All I know, all I remember, all I recollect, and know to be true, the one certain thing, that I am a soul. Yet I did not even ask to be a soul.”
“I did not even ask for my name. All these, given not by myself to myself. Given unknown and unbidden by the Giver of All. For what purpose, for what reason unknown to me and I shudder to ask. That I cannot ask.”
“If all such have been given and given in abundance with no memory of my calling for them, who is the Giver that gives as such? Pray tell so that I may give thanks and thanks in perpetuity. All I ask is to whom I offer this thanks. For thanks and much more is due. That is the only thing I can ask. To know where the offering of gratitude is to be placed.”
“But first I must pay attention to this Body ahead of that offering. Where is the place for wadhu (ablution)?”
“You behave as if there is nothing in this world to learn from. That all your materialistic theories from economy to climate to the universe and all your religious theologies from here to hereafter and beyond are enough.”
“I have conquered many lands, east and west,” he said. “I have usurped many Peoples and enslaved their bodies and later enslaved their minds for generations. What has the conquered to teach the conquerer? I have sold them co-operation laced with only a drop of unity as the tool by which to better themselves knowing full well it is a fallacy. While gifting them the illusion of co-operation I have left intact their collective identity self interest all times. After all the conquerer needs an ally from among the conquered.” he retorted.
There was a long pause.
“Why do you cry?” asked the so-called conquerer.
“For you.” He replied.
“For me?” laughed the conquerer.
He looked at the conquerer deeply. Through him and said,
“No. I am not addressing you here. I am addressing and crying for your nobler and loftier Self everywhere. Whom you do not even know. Your very Soul. Whose enlightenment and liberation in which you have a hand. Though not totally but nevertheless significant. As like an oar has a “hand” in the movement of a boat. Yet you go in circles with only the oar of your self-interest. Even a Conquerer cannot escape karma, kismet. It too is a “subject.” Despite all your conquering of the world of body you have not even begun to conquer your greatest height. Your self. Your soul.”
“How do you know? asked the conquerer.
“Because all your energy and time is expended away from you. Everything you do is in the outer. Even in your sleep you scheme. When you awake it is illusory. You are still asleep. Sleep walking through life.”
There was a long pause.
“Why do you cry?” he asked the conquerer.
That’s one of the ways to open the inner door. Solitary Silence. You don’t co-operate with silence. You don’t negotiate with it.
Set aside the missionaries & proselytisers of collective hypnosis. Of division & enmity. They have no good news for the Soul. To keep us enraged & unstable against the quest for Justice is their act. The choices become clearer by the day & yet we travel by a starless night. Night is inner Freedom, Solitude & Remembrance. Daylight is outer Freedom, Companionships & Remembrance. Justice, however, blind as it may be, recognises no boundary of Night & Day. Daylight is Consciousness unmasked. It is in Daylight the hypnotists have no influence. Rejoice for the coming of Daylight. Blessings to the Soul of Rumi from a grateful dervish.
Laura Daly is an Activist for Social Justice, a Socialist, and a Feminist. Co-Founder of Socialist Think Tank (SST), a Left Media Outlet Youtube Channel. Laura is a founding member of the Women’s Banner Group and also CLP Secretary for Sedgefield Labour Party. We dialogue on the meaning of Dialogue, how lockdown has altered activism and the opportunities it has created online. Spiritual outlook, religious influences, and how socialism can be an expression for a kind of secular spirituality. Women’s Rights, the challenges of being a woman in a socialist movement, concluding with a powerful reading of prose by Laura.
Musa Askari Dialogue podcast with Chris Ramsbottom who runs The Amethyst Centre in Coventry, which is a complementary therapy and training centre. Part of the work of the centre concerns the spiritual side of life, and Chris runs a spiritual development group at the Centre The “Walking the Path” podcast grew out of the spiritual development side, in wondering how to maintain that work during a time of lockdown. (Listen to the podcast)
Chris writes, “Musa tells us of the influence of his father, a Sufi Muslim but also an interfaith leader, and also about the way his spirituality expresses itself in his own life and beliefs. His website, Spiritual Humanism, is the place that Musa has opened for discussion on the intersection between spirituality and humanism”