Today if you tell me some things are fated I would be inclined to believe you.
The last three posts just sort of happened – there was no grand design involved, just the order in which we happened to chance upon things. There was a BBC story on syncretic communities under threat and that led to Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Then there was a column on the usefulness of Milton by Stanley Fish that led to Milton and Ghalib. And finally, an essay by Mark Lilla that a reader had sent last year popped out of a randomly opened file and led to The Politics of God.
In retrospect, you can see the threads that link. The threat to syncretic communities could be attributed to the politics of God (as some readers have already done in their comments) and one could use Milton or Ghalib to think about the issue, if one were so inclined. But there was no way one could have planned Ghalib himself stepping in and providing just the perfect tool to think with on the issue.
It was almost like that. For on the very day we finished posting The Politics Of God, there appeared on the excellent blog dedicated to Ghalib (Meher-e-Niimroz) a post on the faith of faithlessness centered around the following couplet:
vafaadaarii ba shart-e-ustuvaarii asl-e-iimaaN hai
marey butkhaane meN to kaabe meN gaaRho barahmin ko
Faithfulness, as long as it is firm, is the essence/root of religion/faith
If he dies in the temple (idol-house) bury the Brahmin in the Ka’ba
You can look up the full commentary on Meher-e-Niimroz. Here we simply note how Ghalib has linked together our three posts, pick up on the essence of the couplet, and see where it takes us.
The essence of the thought is the following:
It is not the faith that matters but the faithfulness of belief in that faith. All who are faithful to their beliefs (regardless of what the beliefs are) are equally worthy.
And the thought is dramatized powerfully by the image of a Muslim eager to accord the highest honor of his faith, burial in the Ka’ba, to a Brahmin who has died in the temple. Why? Because the Brahmin was faithful to his own belief.
Note, one believer is not saying to another: “You are an Unbeliever no matter how faithful you are to your own belief.” He is not saying: “My belief is better than yours” (on what basis could he really say that?). He is not saying: “Yes, you are a devout believer but you are deluded and in error; let me show you the right path.”
So, Ghalib has brought us back to the questions we posed at the end of Hindu-Muslim or Muslim-Hindu? Except that Ghalib has needed only 15 words to set us thinking for hours – that is precisely the greatness of Ghalib.
- Does a believer in one faith have the moral authority to determine whether someone else’s faith is right or wrong?
- Do you agree that Ghalib provides a good criterion for behavior – that it is faithfulness and not Faith that counts? If not, why not?
- What do we do in a shared space where the lines have become drawn in terms of Believers and Unbelievers?
And just so there are some who consider Ghalib one-sided (a condescending Muslim), it is good to remember that Ghalib looked up to Mir:
Rekhte ke tumheeN ustaad nahiiN ho Ghalib
Kehte haiN agle zamaane meN koii Miir bhi thaa
You are not the only Ustad of Rekhta, Ghalib
They say that in an earlier time/age there was even/also some Mir/master
And Mir had expressed a similar sentiment as follows:
Miir ke diin-o-mazhab ko ab puuchte kyaa ho un ne to
Qashqa kheenchaa dayr meeN baiThaa kab ka tark Islam kiyaa
What do you ask now about Mir’s religion and faith?
He drew the caste mark (on his forehead), sat in the temple, and long abandoned Islam
So, what the poets seem to be saying is that it does not matter who you are but what you are. It does not matter what label is ascribed to you, it is your faithfulness that counts in the end.
I wonder what Ghalib has to say about fate?
While you are at Meher-e-Niimroz and have a liking for Ghalib, do not miss the opportunity to link to Professor Frances Pritchett’s page. Make sure though that you have many hours to spare for it is not easy to come back out of that Desertful of Roses.