Mirzā Ghālib’s Revelatory Rebuke of Ḥamzah Khān
Written by: Shabbir Agha
When studying Islamic intellectual history, it is not enough to study just the literature of those who are commonly held as scholars of the tradition, such as the fuqahā (jurists). It is critically important to expand the parameters of analysis to include other voices important in society, such as that of poets, and there is probably no greater voice representing 13th/19th century North India than that of the poet Mirzā Ghālib (d. 1285/1869). Unfortunately, the legacy of Mirzā Ghālib has been obfuscated for many reasons, limiting popular discourse on his words to just a handful of themes. In truth, he was an important philosopher and theologian in his own right, and was fascinated with the concept of waḥdat al–wujūd, but greater than that he was aligned with Imamophilia, maintaining his spiritual loyalty to ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (‘a) and the Twelve Imāms (‘a). In fact his takhalluṣ (pen-name) of Ghālib, he adopted in honor of ‘Alī (‘a), the dominant lion of God (Asad Allāh al-Ghālib) To read some of his profound Persian poetry, @Ghalib.Shinasi is a new initiative in this direction. Nevertheless, herein his poetry will not be presented, instead some of his prose.
In a letter to his close friend Nawwāb ‘Alā al-Dīn Aḥmad Khān, Ghālib included a revelatory segment rebuking his friend’s associate Mawlawī Ḥamzah Khān, who had targeted Ghālib’s apparent drinking of wine. In response to Ḥamzah Khān, Ghālib argued that there were far greater sins than drinking, such as maintaining wrong ideas about the Divinity of God, or by considering others as equal to the Divinely appointed successors of the Prophet (ṣ). Mirzā Ghālib humiliates the Mawlawī, by stating that true knowledge is ‘irfān (gnosis) and not the memorization of legal tracts; obsessively discussing the bodily functions of women amongst Hindu money changers is ignorance, and not knowledge. Lastly, he mocks the Mawlawī by stating that if he were indeed destined for the hellfire, it would be to fuel the fire burning the enemies of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (‘a).
The excerpt is an extraordinary powerful statement on theology, and an example of the excellence of Mirzā Ghālib’s Urdu, please read below:
After extending the greetings of peace, do tell Ḥamzah Khān:
“O you, who are unaware of the pleasures of our perpetual drinking!”
See, this is how we are made to drink. By educating the Banīya (money lender caste) of Darība (a marketplace in Dehli), as well as their sons, getting recognized by the title ‘Mawlawī’, and by looking over the treatise of Abū Ḥanīfa, and diving into the questions of ḥayḍ (menstruation) and nifās (postpartum hemorrhage) is one thing, whereas implanting the words of the ‘urafā (gnostics) concerning the ḥaqīqat-i ḥaqqa (reality of the truth) of waḥdat al-wujūd (unity of existence) into one’s heart is another thing. Polytheists are those who consider the trait of existence (wujūd) as shared amongst the wājib [al-wujūd] (necessarily existent/God) and the mumkin [al-wujūd] (possibly existent/creation). Polytheists are those who consider Musaylimah al-Kadhdhāb (the liar) a partner in prophethood to the Seal of the Prophets, polytheists are those who equate new Muslims (the companions) with the father of the Imāms (‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib), hellfire is for those people. I am a muwaḥḥid-i khāliṣ (pure monotheist), and mu’min-i kāmil (complete believer), from my tongue comes the testimony “there is no God, but God” and in my heart I confess that “nothing is existing, but God” and “there is no effector of existence, but God.” All of the prophets must be respected, and each in their own eras were commanding of obedience, prophethood concluded with Muḥammad (ṣ), he is the Seal of the Prophets and Mercy for all of creation, the maqṭa’ (final verse) of the poem of prophethood is the maṭla’ (first verse) of the poem of Imāmat, and Imāmat is not based on ijmā’ (consensus) instead it emanates from God (min Allāh), and the Imām emanating from God is ‘Alī, peace be upon him, then Ḥasan (‘a), then Ḥusayn (‘a), in continuation to Mahdī (‘a), the promised one.
“Upon this have I lived, and upon it will I die!”
Yes, if I may add, in my opinion ibāḥat (licentiousness) and zandaqa (atheism) are inexcusable, and likewise I opine that alcohol is forbidden, and I do consider myself a transgressor. If I were to be thrown into the hellfire, burning me would not be the purpose. Instead, I will be the kindling used to fuel the raging fire, so that the polytheists and the munkarīn (deniers) of the prophethood of Muṣṭafā (the chosen one of God) and the Imāmat of Murtaḍā (the approved of God) may be consumed!
- Excerpt from letter 16 of Urdu Letters of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib
- Translated by: Shabbir Agha Abbas