Musical Arabesque

"Music is the secret of love and love is the secret of God" -- Qutb ad-Din Bakhtiar Kaki

خوش آمديد Introduction أهلاً وسهلاً

Islam, the religion of over 1.6 billion followers has been subject to heated debated on both regional and international stages. The growing interest in Islam, as a category of monolithic religion, has been coupled with the rise of the so-called ‘global terrorism’. Beyond generalization and essentialism, we, students at Harvard, get the chance to approach the study of ‘religion’ from various theological, social and political perspectives in order to unravel the complex phenomena of human existence.  This semester, the course For the Love of God & His Prophet represented a methodological manifesto not only for the ‘academic’ study of Islam, but the human appreciation of beauty and diversity. The teaching and apprentice were largely guided by Prof. Asani’s views he articulated in his book Infidel of Love. He writes, on page 20:

All interpretations of religions are essentially human enterprises: the faithful may consider certain religious truths to be divinely revealed, but religious meaning is constructed by humans based on their worldly circumstances and material realities. As these circumstances differ, multiple conflicting interpretations are not only to be expected but also inevitable […] These conflicting definitions provide incontrovertible evidence of the role of context in formulating religious worldviews.

The context, worldly circumstances and material realities I am particularly interested in is “audible Islam.” As a student of Arabic music and of ethnomusicology, I have always been fascinated by the seemingly intrinsic relationship between religious beliefs, theologies & practices, and musical activities—or what I will call borrowing from ethmunisocologist Christopher Small, “musicking”, that considers music a process of composing, performing, receiving.  In the context of the Muslim world, how set of chants or recitation gathered and consolidated dispersed communities into a shared worldview by simultaneously highlighting the tensions among local differences and celebrating their richness never ceases to astonish me.

Since the sixth century, sonic manifestations of Islam, including spoken words, music and sound—have largely been diverse. These sounds include Qur’anic recitation and call to prayer heard on loudspeakers, religious sermons and chants on cassettes, and all genres of musics, such as folk, pop and more recently rap and rock. The different audiences add another layer to the plurality of sounds that appear in public and private places, and the space between the two. Musical/oral expression is only one among infinite artistic celebration of the Love of God and His Prophet in Muslim societies. Renard, in his compelling book Seven Doors to Heaven supplies us with an important observation:

“Revelation and artistic inspiration go back long way, but theirs has been an often tempestuous love-hate relationship. The Islamic tradition has drawn an exquisitely fine line between divine initiative and human effort, between genuine spiritual experience and simple-self-deception, between verbal visual imagery and the transcendent reality to which they allude. This study of religious aesthetics attempts to trace that line”  (p. 108)


As for the aesthetic aspects manifested in the sounds are important to consider for many reasons. First, they offer an opportunity to question and analyze why and how the oral/aural mode of human expression and communication is central in Muslims communities. Second, it provides a lens through which one can develop appreciation of oral/aural aesthetic practices through the engagement of the emotional faculty and the sensorium. This ultimately allows us, as listeners, to draw near the original listeners of the sonic/musical tradition. Lastly, sonic cultures bring to light the function of creativity in the expression of religious beliefs, social norms, and cultural values.

Given the title of the blog “Musical Arabesque,” it may seem that I am borrowing an orientalist trope to come up with some theory about music in Muslim cultures. However, my intent is to subvert this claim through its own vocabulary. Just like Grabar’s approach to architecture, I do not intent to “seek general and abstract meaning in what had been a concrete personal experience,” (Symbols and Signs in Islamic Architecture, p. 25). I consider this attitude to be conceptually and morally problematic for it threatens the unique cultural experiences by reducing them into “meaningless and obvious generalities” (Grabar, p. 25). By that, I also follow Nebahat Avcioglu’s approach that rejects reducing cultures “to homogeneous stance of a visible sign of referential singularity,” (Identity-as-form: the Mosque in the West, p. 92). Suggesting a theory of oral/musical aesthetics signifies a recognizable modes of understanding associated with specific modes of thinking, behaving and feeling. The multitude of the manifestation of Islam makes this endeavor  impossible.

I must thus also note that the creative responses I provide do not aim to trace the origins of beliefs or the contest the debates around the lawfulness of music, or assert any particular theory to explain these expressions; for given the general acceptance of the difficulty of this task, it is impossible to formulate any model or strategy to interpret the originality of these musickings. Suggesting a model for analyzing creative expressions is a self-contradiction, an oxymoron, for the very concept of “model” assumes a language whose characteristics are fixed, defined and predictable.

The overview I hope to provide of sonic expressions yields insight into the relationship between oral culture, musicking, religious and political authority and spirituality. Generally, musical expressions have been used as means for loftiest sentiments that break the boundaries between secular one, and religious ones, the mundane and the profane, the sacred and the worldly. They also testify the official religious discourses, social and cultural norms.


The first mix is the recitation of Sūrat al-fātīḥa by seven reciters from across the muslim world. The sound of the Qur’an defines the everyday life of Muslims. The recitation featured, that is tajweed based on the art of Arabic maqām improvisation, brings together “majesty and intimacy that makes the Qur’anic voice distinctness,” as Michael Sells puts its (Approaching the Qur’an, p. 3). What I hope to highlight is the consistency of pronunciation and spelling despite the various linguistic and cultural background of the reciters. This distinct characteristic reflects Muslims’ attempts to preserve the oral tradition given the belief that the orality of the Qur’an is intrinsic to the revelatory nature of the Qur’an revealed to prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.  Then we hear, in the second mix, this monolithic sound being fractured by the local musical traditions. The salawāt, again collected from across the Muslim world, give a contrasted perspective to the entrenched desire for a common Muslim identity. It puts forward an aspiration to retain exceptional cultural practices within the lofty ummah.

In the next sound clip, we hear the oral tradition of Ghazal recitation. Poetry in general and Ghazal in particular has been the literary form the most celebrated in Muslim societies since the dawn of Islam. The subject of Love addressed in this form of poems is the symbol of the universal passion that moves Muslims towards their Beloved/beloved. The poem ‘Away from the Garden’ draws on themes from the Persian ghazal tradition in order to orally exemplify the ambiguity of addressed and addressee; subject and object; spiritual and worldly realms; rhythms and meanings.

Beyond the Persian world, we then travel to Pakistan to attend a Qawwali concert by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan only to discover that the concert is a festival where other vocalists (Madhushree) and bands (Junoon) are taking on the stage. Carried by the rich traditions of Sindhi and Hindi, pop and rock musics, the songs celebrate Sir Muhamad Iqbal’s poetry. The recent adoption of Iqbal’s poetry in music has been a shouting illustration of how music has been used by young muslims to protest and proclaim their hybrid identities, and above all interpret the world. Muslims’ conciseness of this complex identity-politics in constant formation is then exemplified by an Egyptian crowd listening to Um-Kulthum on the radio in on the cafes in Cairo (mix 5). The persona of Um Kulthum and the popular culture that surrounds it is an example of a woman whose agency played out in her mastery of the art of tajweed , religious chanting, and the art of Arabic musical tradition. The songs cover religious chants, love songs and patriotic hymns all interweaving within a hybrid musical repertoire.

After turning off the radio, the listener will finally engage aurally and visually. The last clip juxtaposes scenes from the film by (feminist) modernist Iranian poet Forukh Farukhzad with the recitation of Rumi’s poem of the reed and the soundscape of Majid Majidi’s Colors of Paradise رنگ خدا . We hear the sound of nature manifesting in the voice of woodpecker metamorphosing into the complex human voice, and finally orchestral music. To my mind, the colors of God that can also be heard not only seen, emanate over the whole of existence, and every creature.  


A given religion, in this case Islam, can be perceived as simultaneously a message from God and a human response to His presence. The works of arts elicited by ‘Islam’ manifest themselves through and within various cultural and artistic expressions from literary, visual and musical. Audible Islam challenges the dominant narratives about Islam and monolithic reductive discourse about its followers. As for the blog Musical Arabesque, I hope it will offer a taste of at least, one musical notation.

The Opening in One Breath الفاتحة بنفس واحد

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in his compelling book Islamic Arts and Spirituality (1987) writes that the psalmody of the Noble Qur’an, the sonoral sacred art of Islam par excellence, is the origin of the traditional sonoral arts (p. 17). If one walks into a shop in Marrakech, or down the streets in Cairo, take a cab in Izmir, attend a funeral in Lalehzar, or a wedding in FaisalAbad, s/he would very likely hear the sound of Qur’anic recitation. An intimate relationship ties the hearts of Muslims to the Qur’an, especially to its recitation. Michael Sells in his book Approaching the Qur’an in which he explores the sound-meanings of the Qur’an points out to the fact that:

“Generations of Qur’anic commentators have tried to account for the compelling nature of the composition, articulation, or voice of Qur’anic voice; from intertwining Qur’anic allusions and rhythms in the rich fabric of Art, literature, and music; from the way the Qur’an is recited at great occasions and in the most humble circumstances of daily life; and from the devotion people put into to recite it correctly in Arabic.” (p. 3)

Given the belief that the form and meaning of the Qur’an and not separate, but that the sound carries in its timber the revelatory nature of the message, muslims have developed rules of recitation, known as aḥkām al tajweed أحكام التجويد, to preserve the oral tradition against any distortions and variants. These codes regulate the pronunciation, the phonemes, the length and timbre of the voice. A proper recitation following these rules, or murattalمرتل , is recognized for its soothing and restful sound. By chanting the Qur’an melodically, Muslim reciters further explore the inherent beauties that the Qur’anic sound-meanings. This sound clip exhibits different recitation of the opening of the Qur’an, al-fatīḥa الفاتحة, by seven different reciters from across the Muslim world:  Ahmad Nu’eine’ from Egypt, Mu’ammamar from Indonesia, Muhammad Bilir from Turkey, Raf’at Hussein from Kuwait, Habibollah Chichti of Sialkot from Pakistan, Abu abdul-Allah al-Safaqisi from Tunisia, and finally Karim Mansuri from Iran.

Despite this diversity, one cannot spot a slight difference in pronunciation and spelling for most of these reciters are well established reciters who were trained either in Egypt or in their home madrassa (schools of Qur’an memorization). Kristina Nelson who is famous for her ethnographic study The Art of Reciting the Qur;an (1985) in Egypt notes that the “Egyptian style of Qur’anic recitation is well known over the Islamic world.” She also highlights how this style is so well established that most professional reciters in Egypt undergo training in Arabic music. (Reciter and Listerner of the Qur’an, Society of Ethnomusicology, 1982, p. 42). One common feature we hear in these recitation is the improvised phrases followed by a pause that are is main musical feature in Arabic art music. I must note that despite having its basis the Arabic musical maqam, Qur’anic recitation is not described as music. Muslims believe that Divine word is not music because it has no alike.

And now let the Bismillah take you!

بسم الله  

On the Silk Road: One day with Mevlid

The love for the Prophet Muhammad is one of the pillars faith in Islam. Muslims throughout centuries have expressed their love and reverence to the prophet through various literary expressions and vocal arts. For Muslims, Muhammad is God’s messenger, a role model, a beloved intercessor, and a mystic and God’s beloved (Asani, Infidel of Love, 105-153).As Prof. Asani puts it:

“Muslims of all theological persuasions and socioeconomic backgrounds, from educated elites to illiterate peasants, have also engaged in the pious act of composing and reciting devotional poems praising the virtues of their Prophet” (Infidel of Love, p. 109).

The salawat we hear in this track starts from Andalusia/Spain, cross Africa and Asia to reach far east Indonesia: frist Al-Firdaus Ensemble, then salawat from a gathering of the Senousiya Sufi brotherhood, then we reach Egypt and we attend the Mawlid of the Rafi’iya Sufi brotherhood, and before we get to Tukey, we stop by Aleppo to sing along with the Aleppo-ian Nasheed group. Finally, the Pakistani Nusrat Ali Khan and the Indonesian Merdu Andal Hadi join the chants of their brethren.


What is particularly special about this song is that it is an illustration of the hybrid character of musical and vocal sounds that emerged in Muslim lands through intercultural encounters and exchanges. This theme has been one of the most, if not the most, recurring themes that we have discussed in class. These encounters have supplied the Muslim aesthetic imagination with the wealth of local artistic expressions and appreciations.


Take as an example the first group, al-Firdaus. Firdaus derives its inspiration from the word Firdaus, which is the Arabic name, of Persian origin, for the most elevated abode in Paradise. This name reflects the hybrid character of the group that merges musicians from different countries (Spain, UK, & Morroco) and musical background (Classical Western, Arabic & Turkish musics). The album to which this song belongs is called “sam’a”,  the term that refers to a state of meditative listening.

Also,  Al-Firadus ensemble’s musical style is a syncretism of various musical genres. Celtic Salawat (from which I included an extract) as its name announces, in form is inspired from the folk Celtic music of the people of Western Europe. The Celtic motifs can be heard through the harmonic musical line of the cello, the wider tonal interval, and the bass chorus voice. The song also includes other motifs from Arabic and Turkish musics, starting from the first musical improvisation on the Qanun (which is a ‘canonic’ instrument used in both Arabic and Turkish music), and ending with the tar percussion that organizes the song rhythmically and temporally.

Now Just imagine yourself walking through these lands on the day of the Mevlid/Mawlid. You will certainly hear salawat coming from every corner and carry echoes of the musical imprints with you. This is why the background salawat are the juxtaposition of the previous ones you hear, all echoing each other.

I hope you had a wonderful & safe trip, from Spain to Indonesia!

Mūsīqī-e Khūdī

It is said that “Pakistanis have three articles of faith—Islam, the Qaid e Azam and Iqbal,” (Ralph Russel, Iqbal and his Message, the Pursuit of Urdu Literature, p. 176 ). Iqbal one of the most Muslim influential thinkers that the early 20th century, the century of nationalisms and anti-colonial resistances has known. Not only for Muslims Iqbal was an important figure, but for Indians nationalists, Sikhs and Hindus alike. The vocal recitations and songs of Iqbal poetry featured in this short clip illustrate the wide appeal of his poetry to different communities in South Asia since the beginning of the century. The poems speak to many different nationalist sentiments, religious sensibilities and spiritual fervor.

The first voice we hear is the recitation of one of his famous poems Shikwa and Jawab-I Shikwa (The Complaint and the Answer) that is believed to have brought Iqbal “face as an advocate of Islamic reform and rebirth,” as A. J. Arberry, one of the translators of the poem puts it. The poem is an outburst of emotion, an attempt to complain to God the state of defeat and chaos in which Muslims are finding themselves, and lament the glories of the victorious Muslim history. The answer, which is the voice of God, is a call from the Lord and a reminder to Muslims to follow old purity and goodness to gain the worldly realm and the hereafter. The piece starts by the answer and ends by the complaint that end up mixed together to illustrate the belief of co-creation that Iqbal advances, that in which Creator and creature participate together in the making of destiny and the word.

The first words we hear are:

“Whatever comes out of the heart is effective

It has no wings but has the power of flight

It has holy origins, it aims at elegance

It rises from dust, it has access to celestial”

Then we start hearing the poem chanted by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who is known to be the “kings of Kings of Qawwali” music. Qawwali is the devotional Sufi music of South Asia especially the regions of the Sindh and Punjab. Nusrat Ali Khan is also known to have introduced the art of the Qawwali to the international stage.

Then, we hear the opening of the song Khudi, by Pakistani rock band Junoon from their album Azadi (freedom). The band that fuses classical Sufi poetry with rock music has been subject of controversy in Pakistan and outside of it. Despite that, it has been recognized as one of the most famous bands in South Asia. As for the lyrics of the song Khudi, it is very important poem by Iqbal as it illustrates one of Iqbal’s main notion—Khudi—or the self whose potentiality participate with God in the process of creation. In the case of political unrest, Iqbal’s message was concerned with the agency of man to co-create alongside with God their history. This belief especially caught fire during a time when dignity of being that has been jeopardized by imperialism and colonialism.

The first stanza of the lyrics goes as follows:

“Khudi Ko Kar Buland Itna ke har taqder se pehle

Khuda bande se ye poche bata teri raza kia hai

Elevate yourself so high that even God, before issuing every decree of destiny,

should ask you: Tell me, what is your intent?”



Another theme elucidating the thought of Iqbal is found in another poem known as the Anthem of the People of Hindustan, or “Saare Jahan Se Achha,” widely recognized as the Urdu patriotic anthem. Many vocalists have celebrated this poem among which is the vocalist Madhushree whose voice we hear after the band Junoon.

The first two stanzas of the poem go as follow:

سارے جہاں سے اچھا ہندوستاں ہمارا

Our India is the best country in the world

Sāre jahāṉ se acchā, Hindositāṉ hamārā

ہم بلبلیں ہیں اس کی، یہ گلستاں ہمارا

We are its nightingales, and it (is) our garden abode

Ham bulbuleṉ haiṉ is kī, yih gulsitāṉ hamārā (Source:


Finally, as all the themes of the Iqbal’s poetry represent a mosaic of his thought, we hear the many voices mixing all together and ending by the final complaint and answer.

I hope you Enjoy it!


Radio Um Kulthum راديو أم كلثوم

On the Qur’an’s relation to popular culture, Micheal Sells traces a relationship between the Qur’an and pop culture exemplified by Um Kulthum. Sells notes “Um Kulthum lyrics combined the tradition of Arabic love poetry, contemporary forms of music, and a cadence she learned as the daughter of a rural qur’an reciter. In buses, cafes, taxis throughout the Arab world, cassettes of the songs of Um Kulthum are almost as popular as cassettes of the Qur’an.” (Approaching the Qur’an, p. 13)

Um Kulthum was undoubtedly the most famous singer in the Arab world in the twentieth century. Her Thursday nights concerts were aired on the Radio of Cairo, a state sponsored and monitored radio. People gathered, not only in Egypt, but all across the Arab world to listen to her Thursday night concerts. My grandmother used to tell me that during the nights when an Um Kulthum’s concert were on the radio, ‘one would walk down on the streets and hear the echoes of her voice coming from houses and coffee shops.’

The young Um Kulthum who grew up in a rural town to a modest family managed to be the nation’s cultural symbol. Her songs are widely considered authentic Arabic singing, asil. What made my fascination about Um Kulthum phenomena grow is one comment I read in Virginia Danielson’s (who was the former director of Harvard University Loeb Music Library) The Voice of Egypt: Um Kulthum Arabic Song, and Egyptian Society in the 20th century (1997) in which she reports responses by Egyptians saying “her voice was full of our everyday life,” and “she depicted hal (state) of the people exactly.”

The case of Um Kulthum is particularly interesting to this blog and to our class as it represents a case for the agency of music in a Muslim society where the role of music was and still is a syncreticism of religious sensibilities, literary culture and political and social events, in this case the wake of Arab nationalism. The first voice we hear for instance is the voice of a pod-caster who, before interviewing Um Kulthum, mentions that the Egyptian military honored her on a national occasion. Later, we hear her Qur’anic recitation for the film Rabi’a al-Adawiya (1963), a character who is believed to be one of the greatest saints of Islam. The recitation is followed by a vocal improvisation, in this case called ibtihal إبتهال evocation or supplication; it goes as follows:

برضاك يا خالقي، لا شكوتي ورضاي

خلقت صوتي ويدك صورت أعضائي

I seek to please you, oh my Creator

and not my pleasure nor my complaint

You created my voice, and your hand has shaped me”

The supplication is then interrupted by the song  ألقلب يعشق كل جميلthe Heart Loves Everything Beautiful (1972), which reads:

وإلي صدق بالحب قليل

وإنت بتدوم، يوم ولا يومين

وإلي هويته اليوم، دايم وصاله يوم

لا يعاتب إلي يتوب، ولا بطبعه اللوم

واحد ما فيش غيره مالي الوجود نوره

دعاني لبيته لحد باب بيته

ولما تجلى لي بالدمع ناجته

And only few are honest in love

their love lasts for a day or two,

but the One whom I have fallen in love with

his love lasts for long, forever

for He does not blame the ones who repent

Blaming is not his character

He is One, no one other than Him

Has filled the World with His Light

He invited me to the door of His House

And when he revealed himself to me

With my tears I whisper to Him

The radio then is turned to the song رباعيات الخيام Ruba’iyat al-Khayyam (1968) that celebrates, in Arabic, verses from the quartets of Omar al-Khayyam (d. 1131), one of the most influential and beloved Persian poets whose name is widely mentioned alongside the names of Rumi (d. 1273), Hafez (d. 1390) and Sa’adi (d. 1291). The poem go:

القلب قد أضناه عشق الجمال

والصدر قد ضاق بما لا يقال

يا رب هل يرضيك هذا الظمأ

والماء ينساب أمامي زلال

The heart has been drained by the love of beauty

And the chest has been tigheneted by what cannot be said

Oh Lord, do you pleased by this thirst,

while water is flowing in front of me like floods


The song Hundred and One Nights then interrupts al-Khayam’s poem. The song is one of her most famous romantic songs in colloquial Egyptian. The fame of the song is partly due to its title ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ that refers to the epic folk tales, collection of stories from across the East.

Finally, the radio podcasts a patriotic song that Um Kulthum sung in October 1952, only few months after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. We hear:

مصر التي في خاطري وفي فمي

أحبها من كل روحي ودمي

يا ليت كل مؤمن يحبها حبي لها

Egypt is on my mind and on my tongue

I love her from all my soul and my blood

Oh how I wish every believer loves her the way I do!


Each of the songs featured in the track points towards the various themes Um Kulthum’s career addressed. In the wake of Arab nationalism in Egypt, Um Kulthum’s repertoire exhibited the hybridity of identity politics conjoining Muslim sensibilities and Arabic pride.



Black When Heard is Colors

Black When Heard is Colors

Colors of Paradise (1999), one of the films we watched this semester that narrate the chronicles of a life of a blind child, Mohammad, speaks to its viewers in splendid colors and weaving sounds. Majidi takes us from the world of wonder and sensitivity of Mohammad to a spiritual parable. Majidi’s career is one among many filmmakers’ whose films represented the complex relationships that have developed among post-revolutionary Iran’s art, society and authority.

I partly draw my inspiration for this post on the article we read  Picturing Iran: Art, Society & Revolution (2002) that asserts that visual arts “are a testimony to the wealth and heterogeneity of the Revolution’s cultural, and social and political concerns,” (p. 100) for they incorporate ideas from traditional Shiite sources, Marxism, and folk cultures. Cinema, on its part, with the wider political and social dynamics following the revolution, has undergone parallel changes both in terms of style, content & message.  To highlight this difference, I included extracts from a film by Forugh Farokhzad,  خانه سياه است The House is Black (1965). Forukh Farukhzad,  is known to be one of the most influential and controversial poets and visual artists in twentieth-century Iran. In class, we have discussed her name alongside the names of Pakistani (feminist) poets, such as Kishwar Naheed, Fahmida Riaz, Ishrat aafreen and others. As for the film the House is Black, it is a documentary about leprosy’s devastating of the human body in Behkadeh Raji colony. The film opens with black screens to prepare the audience for its content and claims its aim “to wipe out this ugliness and to relieve the victims [in this film].” Later, we will only see subtitled either Forrukhzad’s poetry, or verses from the old testament or the Qur’an. In the original movie, Forukhzad’s voice recites the verses, while in this short video, the background sound is the soundscape of the film Colors of Paradise, and the voice that is matching the subtitles is the recitation of the Jallaludin al-Rumi’s poem of the reed, one of the most celebrated literary masterpiece in the history of the Persian-speaking world.

I must note that the poem has also appealed to a wide spectrum of tastes, social, religious and political affiliation  for the very fact that it is a profession of the art of ambiguity. Thus, the juxtaposition of black & white and colors, sounds and silences, written and recited poetry is meant to highlight the diversity of artistic waves, their continuities and discontinuities and their unresolved contradictions in contemporary Iran.

Away from the Garden دور از گلستان

“the lord Knew I was a lover and said nothing,

If Ḥāfīz know this also, what does it matter?”

says Ḥāfīz in one of his Ghazals (34).

Similarly, the poem we were asked to write for the class Ghazal project should follow the themes of Persian Ghazal poetry. Not only that, we also experimented with the art of reciting poetry. Poems are originally meant to be recited, to the Beloved/beloved.

My ghazal (below) presents the traditional pattern in which the opening couplet (the maṭla’) sets up the rhyme that repeats in the following second line of each couplet. To accentuate of the rhythm, in the background I played a tar improvisation piece accompanied by a recited Ghazal (in Persian). The emotional mood of the poem holds it all together, permitting to slowly but notably uncover the intensity and depth of the poet’s feeling and imagination. Melancholic by tradition, the couplets narrate the poet’s tale of longing for his/her beloved.

I am blind, and the shirt of Joseph has no trace

of his scent, and absence wears the colors of every face


The aroma of rain leads me to the roses that

had grown into the weaving mirage I chase


Pierced are the clouds, above, with the memory of return

Below, the sky is lust, earth impregnated with grace


Drunk, I scatter myself before the ripe grape leaves

Alas, not even the wine of Eden my orphaned lips can embrace


Not even the flood of Noah can quench the thirst of roses

And I, drown, unashamed, naked I become, of no race


Under the sun, light is unattained attachment, seasons

have no presence, and only your shadow fills the place


If there is heaven, it is between your eyelashes and their shade

If there is time, it is the moment when your beauties worlds displace


If they say Zahra has brought us disgrace, tell them

Blame He who in your eyes, away from the Garden, finds solace


The first couplet refers to prophet Jacob’s yearning for his son Joseph. While Jacob’s blindness got cured by sensing the sweat of Joseph off his shirt, the poet’s longing not only does not get consoled by his/her beloved’s traces, but is further intensified by the pain of absence. The beloved as such appears to be dwelling in every face, emanating.

The second couplet, and what follows, are inspired by the prominent imagery of the Persian Garden. In these couplets, nature acts as the mirror of the heart of the poet who sees the garden and the elements of nature as an unveiling of the beauties of the Beloved, and a manifestation of his/her emotional state ravaged with wounds. In the second verse of the couplet, we see the poet desperate of his attempts to reach the beloved. For this reason, the sky and the earth appear to him/her in a sort of an erotic relationship where the earth gets impregnated by the memory of return giving birth to garden’s vine. Intoxicated, the poet cannot be consoled by wine. This state of intoxication is a very prominent one in both Hafiz and Rumi’s poetry where it refers to various states of being from mystical exaltation to emotional despair. The association of senses with these states further amplifies the various shaded tones of the poem where the poet appears in the following couplet simultaneously aware of his/her presence in this world, but also wanting to detach oneself from it, unashamed, naked and reduced to the primitive state of the ‘fiṭrah’.

In the sixth couplet, the poet touched upon the nature of light, metaphor for knowledge, rational or gnostic, and juxtaposes it with the image of the shadow of the beloved, as if knowledge can only be attained through the spiritual experience of love. This imagery leads to the ephemeral blossoming of the poet’s notion of space and time. In couplet seven, just like Hafiz’s conception of time, the poet articulates a “time” freed from chronological and linear understandings. For him/her time is the presence and the presence is one instant, one place where the ultimate beauty of the beloved manifests. This directly ties to the notion of fate or qadar. In the last couplet, the poet expresses his/her complete submission to fate by assigning the ultimate agency to God, who himself is in love with the beloved, and who may also well be the beloved.

The paradoxical positions of the poet oscillating between the sensible and the spiritual, the here and now, and the there and the infinite, the desire to transcend, and the one to annihilate, make his/her story of passionate sorrow of subtle ambiguity.  Just like the Persian poets we read, the sound of every line of poetry uttered appears as a vision for a creation of the world and reformulation of its dimensions and details where the relationship between the poet and composing poetry is like the relationship between lovers, and between musical notes, a one of irresistible attraction.

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