Religious Symbolism In Faiz Ahmed Faiz
We have become so much polarised ideologically that now we cannot see anything in its multiple menifestations and hues. Owing to this, everything appears in black and white to us. Like other spheres of life, literature could not remain immune from this debilitating mental disorder of ours. This becomes even more evident on the occasion of Faiz’s birthday every year.
For his acolytes, Faiz is an infallible icon who does not brook any space of religion or mysticism in his writing. On the other side of the ideological divide, he is a blasphemous sufi targetting the sacred ideals. Contrary to the views of these ideolgoical divides, Faiz has the plasticity of mind and catholocity of the spirit that extract meaning and symbols from the antithesis entities like ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ to form a new synthesis.
In his poetry, Faiz appropriates religion, and infuses new meaning into religious symbols, images and metaphors by connecting the scriptural narrative to explicate the quotidian realities of life, and therey reconfigures congnitive geography and semiotic universe.
Faiz Ahmed Faiz is one of the luminous lodestars on the horizon of Urdu who broke new grounds in Urdu poetry by merging gam-e-jana with gam-e-doran. By integrating wailing of the heart (game-e-jana) with woe of the world (gam-e-doran), he breathed a new life into words and symbols that have become clichés now. Though he did not subscribe to the ritualistic part of religion, he employed religious symbols for creating alternate world by changing the semiotic universe of people. By making meaning of the words polysemic, Faiz infused revolutionary meaning into the religious language in which meaning had been ossified over the centuries because of atrophy of mind.
Meaning of metaphors changes and exceeds its primal meaning. Expansion in metaphor takes place, when an artist reinterprets a particular message or event in the light of needs and thoughts of his time and space.
Through his art Faiz expanded the horizon of religious symbol by linking it with the domain of profane. The managers of the sacred and its knowledge spend all their energies to keep people in the mental fetters of an anachronistic interpretative schema. They reduce richness of religious meaning to a monolithic version that excludes even its followers let alone accommodating ‘Others’. Through the catalyst of art, Faiz expands religious discourse to shed light on quotidian affairs in a secular way. That is why he appears blasphemous to the guardians of sacred.
In his popular poem ‘hum dankhain gay’ Faiz rejuvenates not only religious language, but also inspires readers by invoking symbols that are part and parcel of their collective memory. In this poem, he employed words, symbols, metaphors from ‘Surat-ul-Qaria– the striking hour’- and alludes to a dissenter, Mansoor-al-Hallaj, in Islamic history to rally masses against the exploitative system and tyrannical rule.This poem gives allusion to the Quranic description of a cataclysmic event in which the ‘mountains shall be like plucked wool-tufts’. Faiz’s art turns ‘Anul-haq– I am the truth’ into a rallying slogan for masses to revolt against false gods who claim to have monopoly on truth and own sentient beings.
Two points are conspicuous in above mentioned poem. First, it challenges the traditional hermeneutical framework and proves that the language of revelation can be an effective tool for social change if we free it from the clutches of the sacred guards of the sacred. Second, it makes the common folk owners of religious language not the managers of sacred. Remember, clergy control masses by controlling the language. Faiz favours vox populi to the ghetoised language of clergy. Therefore, he urges the masses to take the charge of everything to from a new social semiotics and society.
Faiz uses the medium of poetry to convey his iconoclastic message. In a vein reminiscent of the scripture, Faiz in his poem “ham deikhain gay” (we will see) pronounces coming of a catalysmic time when most the solid things will melt into air, and the masses will take the charge of their own destiny by crushing every icon under their feet. The real vocation of intellecual is the smashing of idols. In the poem, Faiz smashes the gods on earth to restore the diginity of downtrodden. Following the iconoclastic tradition of sufis, and appropriating words from scripture and the historical event of removal of idols from Kaaba, Faiz expands the meaning of ‘lauh-e-azl’ ‘arz-e-khuda’ ‘kaaba’ ‘ahl-e-safa’ ‘mardood-e-harm’ ‘manzar’ ‘nazir’ ‘gayab’ ‘masnad’ ‘ Allah’ ‘hazir’ ‘nazir’ ‘khalq-e-khuda’ etc. He is optimistic that the promise of salvation will be fulfilled on the day when the onerous mountains of tyranny and exploitation will be blown away like wool-tufts under the triumphant march of rebellious masses. Here Marx’s pronouncement ‘all that is solid melts into air’ sounds closer to Quran than an exegesis of ‘Al-Qaria’ by an obscurantist clergy.
The way Faiz turns the figure of Mansoor Hallaj into a symbol of dissent and voice of the wretched of the earth has exceptional appeal to the readers. Faiz’s art delicately blends inner world with the outer world on the one hand, and sacred and profane on the other.
Like any piece of literature, meaning of Faiz’s poetry is also subject to change with the passage of time. This creates polysemy in his oeuvre and makes him relevant to different times. The biggest threat to the richness of any work of literature comes from reducing the multiplicity of meaning and dimensions into uniform and uni-dimensional one. However, the threat to polysemy of Faiz’s works does not come from his adversaries, but from his acolytes who present him as the hardcore atheist and revolutionary whose symbolism and metaphors have nothing to do with the religion and his socio-cultural milieu. Though his lovers represent Faiz as an iconoclast, they alleviate his status into a sacred icon. Thus, idol smasher becomes an idol. Because of this, his religious overtones and symbolism have been suppressed to project a sanitized and uniform image of Faiz. Yes, Faiz is sacriligious but not in the way nihilists are, but more in the tradition of malamati sufi (blameworthy mystics) of the middle ages who apparently disobeyed the sacred law for preventing themselves from becoming saint to the people.
Despite Faiz being a blameworthy mystic, the religious people keep appropriating him, while liberals stick to uni-dimensional facet of Faiz. If the rejectionist mindset of the liberal class in Pakistan continues, then the day is night when people like Khadim Rizvi will quote Faiz in their speeches. This has already happened with Dr. Muhammed Iqbal. The obscurantist forces appropriated Iqbal who was abandoned and lost in the post-colonial ideological labyrinth of Pakistan. There is a great lesson for us. That is “save beloved from the lover”, for it is not the jealous foe, but the ardent lover who causes excruciating pain to the beloved. Instead of confining Faiz to our uni-dimensional and uniform ideology, let him bloom in thousands of minds and manifest in thousands of interpretations and myriad manifestations.
The author is a social scientist and columnist. He can be reached @azizalidad