First published in english daily, The Islamabad Dateline on 26th June, 2011
Almost 700 years ago, when religious polarisation in the Indian subcontinent was at its helm, a preacher was born. He was named Kabir and he spent the rest of life trying to bind Hindus and Muslims together. Today, as religious hatred is bred into masses and intolerance is injected into young minds one finds it necessary to bring forth Kabir, the champion of religious tolerance and interfaith harmony.
The mystics from united India are more relevant to us than Persian or Turkish voices as they spring from the culture we own. For a relatively more radicalized society in Pakistan, these pluralistic and tolerant voices need to be disseminated vehemently. These great men seemed to be far ahead of their times and Kabir is no exception. Kabir stands tall, in the line of greatest mystics of all time with St. Augustine, Ruysbroeck, Buddha, Rumi, Emre and Hallaj
Kabir’s vision, though timeless in its essence when transformed into simple poetry addresses the basic problems humanity faces today. His message was simple and straightforward — that God is perceived in different forms by different people, but in essence they all talk of One supreme power.
Koi bole Ram Ram, koi Khudai
(Some call him Ram, some name him Khuda)
His honest message offended both Mullahs and Purohits for it challenged their stakes. He was persecuted by both to which he screamed:
Sadhu dekho jag baurana / Sanchi kaho to maran dhawe /Jhoote jag patiyana
(O gentleman, see the world has got mad / I say truth but they run to beat me and believe the fake.)
His intent was not to offend anyone and he made it clear:
Kabira khada bazaar mein mange sab ki khair / na kahoo se dosti, na kahoo se bair
(Kabira Stands in the market place( the world) / Asks for everyone’s prosperity. Neither special friendship nor enmity for anyone).
His mission, through his vision was to promote brotherhood, unity, love and forgiveness beyond regions and religions.
The Hindu says Ram is beloved, the Muslim says Rahim / They fight and kill each other, no one gets the point.
And the point that no one got was:
Maatii Aik Anaik Bhaanth Ker Saaji Sajan Haray
(The Clay Is The Same, But The Designer Has Designed It In Various Ways)
Kabir through his words challenged the authority our society has given to clerics quite audaciously:
The spiritual athlete often changes the color of his clothes
& his mind remains gray and loveless.
Or he drills holes in his ears, his beard grows enormous
People mistake him for a goat.
He shaves his skull & puts his robe in an orange vat,
Reads the Book & becomes a terrific talker.
Kabir says: the truth is, you are riding in a hearse to the country of
death, bound hand & foot.
He even warned against the mindless following of religious preachers and to use one’s own conscience to decide what is right or wrong:
Jaka guru hai andhla, chela hai ja chandh / Andhe andha theliya, dunyu koop parent
(If the preacher is blind (unrealized) and the disciple is also blind, how can they progress further? If a blind shows the path to the other blind, they both are bound to fall in some dead well at some time).
To those bigoted who would not understand this, he remarked:
Phootee aankh vivek kee, lakhe na sant asant
(People have their inner eyes of conscience blind; they don’t see who is real and who is fake)
“What can one do, if, with lamp in hand, one falls in the well”
Bura jo dekhan main chala bura na milya koi / Jab man khoja aapna mujh se bura na koi.
(I went on the search for the Bad Guy, Bad Guy I couldn’t find. / When I searched my mind, Non one is Nastier then Me)
He lived to restore the confidence in the common man against the elite clergy or the rulers, who claimed their superiority by virtue of their status. He explained:
Bada hua to kya hua jaise ped khajoor / Panthi ko chhaya nahin phal laage ati door.
(If You are Big so what? Just like a date tree / No shade for travelers, fruit is hard to reach).
He used simple vernacular language, with metaphors from common examples to engage the people around him. People were fascinated by the deep moral messages contained in his simple poetry.
Kabira Garv Na Keejiye, Uncha Dekh Aavaas / Kaal Paron Punyah Letna, Ouper Jamsi Ghaas
(Kabi , Don’t be so proud and vain, Looking at your high mansion / Tomorow you’ll lie under feet, On top will grow Grass).
Ab Tun Aaya Jagat Mein, Log Hanse Tu Roye / Aise Karni Na Kari, Pache Hanse Sab Koye
(When you came in to this world, Everyone laughed while you cried / Don’t do such work, That they laugh when you are gone)
And that it’s not one’s status but one’s deeds which pay off ultimately:
Ek daal do panchi re baitha kaun guru kaun chela / Guru ki karni guru bharela, chele ki karni chela.
(Both the preacher and the follower are together / but both will be dealt according to their deeds.).
The Purohits and Mullahs could not tolerate his audacity, and how he influenced the common man. His words had already penetrated into masses and exposed the self-righteous claims of every clergy. He got expelled from Kashi. He roamed around Benaras preaching his message and passed away in Maghar.
After his death both the Hindus and the Muslims both claimed ownership over him. There are a few legends but one wonders how was the matter resolved. As for now, there exists a Hindu shrine and a Muslim Dargah adjacent to each other at the place where he died.
Kabir’s words are very pertinent to current Pakistan, where religion is manipulated for political ends and justify acts of violence. Voice of Kabir needs to be resonated in our academia and society being the need of time. Why did not we own Kabir like India? – I leave this question to be answered by the reader.
Co written: Ilmana Fasih with Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi.
Comments on: "Kabir a day keeps radicalism at bay" (6)
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This is excellent!
Just got this email from some random: I paste
To the authors,
I am a Hindi teacher in India. I saw your article on Kabirdas poetry on my friend facebook. It is one of the most beautiful article I have seen online. I will teach my students Kabirdas like in your article.
Certainly Kabir is the answer to the religious extremism rampant in the pakiland today. It is down to earth humanity of Kabir and Bulle Shah’s audacious humanism which can restore sanity to the blood-thirsty religious bigots of the sub-continent and kindle ‘Aman ki Aasha’ in the hearts of the people.
You know, I really can sense it when he says “the fools don’t get it”, his desperate attempt to show us the right path and our repeated failures and repeated refusing to try! Sometimes it really feels that I am that fool, Kabir’s fool! Just like “Hindu says Ram, Turk Says Rahim, both don’t get the point” I can relate to this because I belong to a family where there is a lot of emphasis on rituals and you know, the criticizing the act of anyone criticizing all this! And sometimes it feels that none of us get the point, why we are here why they are practicing so many rituals and why I oppose it all! I think Kabir, very softly also suggests that we must mind our own business! Although I am very glad Kabir never confined himself to his own business! And I sometimes also feel that Kabir’s songs are his attempt to perfect himself.
Kabir mann nirmal bhaya, jaise Ganga neer, pache pache sab chale, Kahe Kabir Kabir!
Kabir has cleansed his mind like the Ganga water, now everyone follows him saying “Kabir Kabir”, very true it is, no?
A very great post! I am glad You both wrote this. My best wishes to both of you!
Here I would like to recall my personal experience. Several years back, in my “Pak Study” book, once I found the author interpreting Kabir and Nanak’s efforts to bring harmony among Hindus and Muslim as the decisive effort of preaching and defending Hinduism using Islam’s cloak. The same author, in another other chapter tried to portrait the callous invader Sultan Mahmood Ghaznvi as a just leader. Firstly i laughed a lot at author’s mentality then my heart sank that is this what we are teaching to our youths? aren’t we playing with our future?
Now coming back to the blog:
1. No doubt, to us, our Sufis are better that foreign Sufis because they spoke in our tongue. Like, it would be funny, indeed, if to your blog in English I comment in Persian or Arabic. Despite all this, Kabir, Rumi, Buddha, Socrates, Hallaj, Nanak and all great reformers and teachers stand well above every thing. They all have definite and most respectable place in their lovers’ hearts. They all were the soldiers of ONE army who served it during different times, in different places and in different situations. None was taller, none was shorter!
2. Good thing about Hazrat Bhagat Kabir Sahib is that he spoke frequently of common issues of common man in common tongue. He was the poet of masses. The main theme of his verses is as valid today as it was during his time.
3. For every verse you quoted above I’ve in my mind a verse of Bulleh Shah of similar theme. This is wonderful! Their minds were waving on quite similar wavelengths!
4. I would like to say that Kabir’s attack on capitalists and aristocratic class is still not well discussed by our authors, neither in India nor in Pakistan. They usually discuss spiritual aspect of Kabir but Kabir also gave political sermons to his pupils. He encouraged slaves’ uprising against their worldly bosses, the oppressors of working class. He also discussed the poor living standards of working class, especially of wool weaving industry, in his poetry. He even spent some time in exile (as you too mention). All this needs to be bought before public ALOUD so that they can think loud!
5. The last question asked in the article is WELL RAISED, though not well-stated as “watan hai saraa jahaan humara” 😉 BUT who’ll answer this question??? The nation is sleeping so far!
“uttho meri dunya kay ghariboon ko jaga do
Kaakh e Umrah kay dar-o-dewaar hila do”(Iqbal)
(Some one wake up the poor masses of the world from deep sleep and [through them] raze the walls of [exploitative] rulers’ stronghold)
Keep writing and best wishes.
@ Talawat Bokhari :
Well said….. very very well-said.
You wrote, “I think Kabir, very softly also suggests that we must mind our own business! Although I am very glad Kabir never confined himself to his own business!”.
All great reformers preached what they practiced! (They weren’t hypocrites like our clergies and politicians). Interfering in other’s family or religious matter is prohibited by Kabir but he encourages interfering in social matters that deal with community. For example, if in your family, “there is a lot of emphasis on rituals” I should not force them to abandon this, though I’m not addicted to performing ‘rituals’. But if you found me forcing someone to child labour or sex trade, you’ve definite right to interfere in my matter. This is all what Kabir and all other sages taught us.
You said, “…now everyone follows him saying “Kabir Kabir”, very true it is, no?”
Many of us chant “Kabirdas Kabirdas” while at the same time practicing Purohits’ acts. This is dilemma 😦