Tuesday, 13 April 2010

khalq, amr and barzakh

There's a famous couplet from Ghalib-
Apni gali mein na kar mujhe dafan-e-bad-e-qatl
Kyoun mere pate se khalq ko tera ghar mile?
No! Not after I'm slain, fair assassin, I thee implore
Bury me not in your lane, lest others find your door
 The theme here is an old one. The Hubb al Udhri lover dies on the road to the beloved. The kuh-e-yaar- the street of the fair one- is the earth under which the lover wishes to be buried. 
However, the mystical twist behind this particular verse is by no means easy to comprehend for a Hindu. This is because Ghalib has chosen to use a word- khalq- with heavy religious and philosophical overtones. 
Muslim intellectuals grasp these overtones at a subconscious level. The non-Muslim must ponder the imagery and consult dictionaries and reference books to arrive at the same level of comprehension.
When considering why a poet choses a particular word, we begin by considering the rules of prosody. One word may be more apt than another which has the same meaning. However, we also need to consider what other concept that particular word is bracketed with. In the case of khalq, there is a bracketing with amr.

Searching on the web, I find this-
(click on the link for the full essay)
 by  Sayyid Muhammad Husayni Beheshti
Translated from the Persian
by Shams al-Huda 

Published by:
al Tawhid Islamic Journal
Vol. I, No. 2 - Rabi al Thani - 1404 
In theological philosophy, the domain of. being has been divided into various classifications from different angles: necessary and contingent, essential and accidental and so on. One of the divisions is into `non‑material' (mujarrad)and `material' (maddi). The material beings are subject to motion, change and alteration. The non‑material beings are free from matter, movement, change and alteration. A material being is bound by time and space, whereas a non‑material being is free from them, and is not limited by these two binding factors. The complete domain of non‑material being is called `alam al‑'amr(the World of Command).

In the `World of Command' every being assumes existence spon taneously on exercise of Divine will or command, without the need of preparation of any material, temporal or special ground.

The realization of every being is subject to its essential possibility (al‑imkan al‑dhati). Anything which is essentially impossible (al‑mumtani` bil‑dhat)and incapable of assuming existence, whether material or non‑material, God does not command for its coming into being. However, the essential possibility of a being is always with its essence, and time and space do not intervene in it.

As opposed to the World of Command, there is the World of Creation(`alam al‑khalq). The material world is called the Word of Creation. In this world, the existence of every being, in addition to its essential possibility(al‑imkan al‑dhati), depends on its possibility of preparedness (al‑'imkan al‑isti'dadi); that is, its materialization can take place only under the presence of favourable conditions and readiness of ground. Here also, the realization of every being takes place with the will and command of God. However, so long as the ground for the emergence of a material being is not prepared, the necessary conditions are not fulfilled and hindrances are not removed, God does not will its creation and does not command its realization.
Relevance of this distinction.
The distinction between alam al Khalq and alam al Amr is useful to reconcile socio-political,  hermeneutic, historical, and  scientific theories based on Evolution with Revealed Religion as in the following argument put forward by Dr.Hamidullah- 
“He created you in stages” (Wallah-o-Khalaqaqum Atwara ,71:14). The word tawr is the basis of tatawwar, which means evolution. This is then further defended: This can also mean that God created man as a mineral in the first instance. Mineral developed into vegetation, which developed into animal life. There is no contradiction.'
Similarly Dr, Ahmad Afzal writes- 'According to Shah Waliullah Dehlvi (1703—1762 A.D.  ), there are two types of Divine Creative activity viz; Al-Aalam Khalq & Al-Aalam Amr. The Al-Aalam Khalq, the world of Allah’s ordinary creatures, in which every thing that happens takes times (e.g. the universe took approximately 15 billion years to develop from Big Bang and the primitive gaseous state to its presents form. A fertilized ovum takes 270—280 days to grow into a fully developed baby). But there is Al- Aalam Amr, or the domain of Divine Creative Energy, that is a direct manifestation of His Word or Logos that is His command of Be! There is absolutely no time factor involved in this realm and things happens instantaneously. He says: Be! and it becomes (Al-Quran 36:82). The initial act of the creation of matter out of nothing (creatio ex Nihilo) represents a direct command or Amr of Almighty Allah. According to the Holy Quran “Ruh (soul) is an Amr-i-Rabb (17:85)]. (15)'
However, the learned scholar first quoted- anxious to build bridges and unify Islam by pruning back mystical or metaphysical extravagances which might prove stumbling blocks- has this to say-
They ask you about the soul. Say, `The soul is of the amr [command or affair?] of my Lord, and you have been given of knowledge nothing except a little.' (17:85)
What purpose lies behind the reply "the soul is of the amr of my Lord ....", given to answer the questioners? There can be two possible answers to this question: firstly, that the verse throws light on the obscure matter of the soul. Secondly, it may be said that the verse wants to say that the very question about the soul is pointless, because the soul, like many other unknowables, is not known to anybody except God. The more the human understanding expands, the more it finds itself confronted with greater number of obscurities. "You have been given of knowledge nothing except a little," would, therefore, imply that man should apply his energies to matters which have not been put beyond the scope of his intellect, cognitive and even imagina tive faculties, and abstain from indulging in matters beyond their power and range. In such affairs, his share is only to the extent that, he may, through the guidance of his inborn insight, realize that such and such beings do exist in the universe‑ just as he realizes that the Creator exists‑‑though he is unable to fathom their reality.
In the light of the last part of the verse, "You have been given of knowledge nothing except little", the second view seems more accept able. Therefore, the meaning of the sentence, "Say, `The soul is of the amr of my Lord'," is, "Say that the soul is one of those affairs that relate to my Lord, and that He has reserved the knowledge of it to Himself. The knowledge which has been put within man's reach is very limited."
However, the second part of the verse also seems appropriate in the light of the first viewpoint. Seen in its perspective, the meaning of the verse shall be: "Say, `The soul is by the command of my God. and O Jews, who want to test Our Prophet by raising these questions and want to judge his sayings with what you find in your Book, know that not much share of knowledge had been provided for you.' " Neverthe less, the two parts of the verse seem more coherent when interpreted according to the second viewpoint. Well, what is the meaning of the sentence, "The ruh (spirit or soul) is by the command (amr) of my Lord," according to the first viewpoint? Does it mean that theruh is the work and creation of God? Or that the ruh is by the command of God? Or that the ruh is from the World of Command? None of these meanings can be clearly derived from the verse itself.
What is here meant by ruh? The human "spirit" or "soul", the "Spirit" meaningRuh al‑Qudus (the Holy Spirit or Angel Gabriel), "spirit" in its common unspecified sense, "ruh" when used for the Quran, "ruh" to mean Jesus (A) who is also called Ruh Allah or the "Spirit of God"‑are the various instances in regard to which the word "ruh" has been employed by the Quran. Now which of these meanings the questioners had in view, is not clear. Perhaps, the purpose was to ask the same generally understood meaning of human soul. But if the Jews or the idolaters (mushrikun) under the influence of Jewish no tions, had raised this question, it is possible that all or some of these meanings of the word ruh were in view. Therefore, can the notion of the World of Command, or the theory of creation and command, be considered as being validly supported by the Quran? Not at all. Follow ing are the reasons behind this unwarranted and baseless transference of an extraneous notion to the Quran:
A study of the books of exegesis and a comparison of various commentaries written under the influence of ideas expounded by the scholastic theologians(mutakallimun), philosophers, mystics and gnostics, with other commentaries .written by others who have escaped such influence, show that the correspondence contrived between the Quranic verse   (His, verily, is all khalq and amrand the theory of creation and command, originated from the controversies of mutakallimun.
With the beginning of `ilm al‑kalam (Islamic scholastic philosophy), following the discussion about the Essence and Attributes of God, the question arose whether the Quran, being the Word of God, was pre‑eternal (qadim) or of temporal original (hadith). This problem was, for centuries, the subject of heated controversies between many thinkers during the distinguished epoch of Islamic culture and civiliza tion. The discussions regarding pre‑eternity (qidam)and temporality (huduth) became a typical and fundamental issue between the two schools of kalam known as the Mu'tazilites and Ash'arites. Each of these theories, which incorporated many other views, gathered a number of staunch and warring supporters. The gatherings of the elite, in which the major political and religious personages of the time were present, set the usual stage for a show of debates and controversies of the adept exponents of each school. During these controversies, raged with the tongue or the pen, the rivals tried to avail of every possible means to prove the authenticity of their views. They put all their thinking effort into looking for new tools and fresh arguments in support of their position. Throughout these efforts, which were aimed at only getting hold of fresh arguments, the spirit of truth‑seeking remained very weak. It is a well‑known fact that the spirit of rivalry and flair for controversy, despite one's intellectual keenness and knowledge, deviate the mind from the path of truth and lead to extreme distor tion in perception of rational issues and understanding of textual material.
It was in the midst of such tempestuous controversies that the matter relating to Divine verses came under discussion. During these debates, their attention was mainly or totally devoted to finding new `evidence' in the Quran to support their preferred viewpoints, thereby arming themselves with lethal weapons to demolish their enemies' positions. If they came across any faintest literal resemblance of meaning that corresponded with their viewpoints, they endeavoured to forge interpretations that would fit their views. It was not their concern to check the meaning of one verse against other verses on the same subject. Very often, if one portion of a verse seemed to corres pond with their viewpoint, the fact that the rest of the verse would not affirm such a correspondence did not discourage them. Novel interpre tations and new notions circulated from mouth to mouth and were handed down by ancestors to succeeding generations. In many cases that interpretation was considered as the only interpretation of a certain verse by the later generations.
This is what happened in regard to the sentence   in the verse of Surat al‑'A`raf. In early centuries when the Word of God was not considered as created and temporal, the argument was laid out in this manner: The distinction made between khalq and amrshows that the Word of God is uncreated; because all creatures are temporal (hadith), and amrin opposition to khalq, means the domain of pre‑eternal (qadim), uncreated things. Therefore, the Word of God, being His amror command is pre‑eternal and not temporal. This mode of interpretation of this Quranic sentence was mixed up with what was said in philosophy in regard to material and abstract beings. Thereafter, this interpretation was transferred to the verse of Surat Ya Sin

and it was taken to mean creation of abstract beings in the World of Command, and the two commonplace concepts of "material world" and "abstract world" were substituted by the terms "World of Creation" and "World of Command". Later, the main purpose, which was to seek justification from the Quranic verse for believing in pre- eternity of the Quran, was forgotten. From the view that "khalq" and "amr" in the verse represent two mutually exclusive things, the conclusion was derived that the phrase  (creation and command) means the "World of Creation and the World of Command." Subsequently, even those who considered the Quran as temporal and created also accepted this idea.' [2]

It would appear, from the view quoted above, that alam al Khalq is constrained by what is possible because alam al Amr is such that God does not command what is not possible. This raises the question- is possibility, as such, something arising out of an occult aspect of alam al amr- that is God's Will- or is there some sort of reciprocal relationship, at least to the temporal eye, such that the state of preparedness of the ground constrains what is commanded to be?
A related question has to do with the boundary between the worlds of Amr and Khalq. 
Ibn al Arabi's concept of the barzakh as a dimensionless limit or boundary appears relevant here.
However, the question arises as to whether this limbo, this phantom zone, is exempt from the constraint of possibility- or its seeming appearance to the temporal eye- whereby only that which is possible exists on both sides of the boundary.
Does the barzakh encompass impossible objects and incompossible states of affairs?
But this begs the question- are what present themselves to our minds as logically impossible objects or states of affairs merely a reflection of our ignorance, imaginative poverty, and lack of creativity?
Al amr al takwini vs al amr al taklifi
The command by which God engenders Life (takwin), is represented as an aspect of His Mercy (Rahman) as gratuitous gift, and gives rise, in the opinion of 
Vincent Cornell  to Universal Human Rights irrespective of Sectarian differences.

The command which creates specific sectarian duties (taklif) arises out of that Mercy (Rahim) which would seek enjoin Mercy on its object because Mercy is a good in itself.
Cornell writes- 'Unlike the altruistic "Mercy of the Gratuitous Gift" (rahmat al-imtinan), which is part of the Creative Command and is an expression of divine love and creativity, the Mercy of Obligation refers to the mercy that is required in every moral action, according to the Qur'anic verse: "Your Lord has prescribed mercy for Himself" (6: 12).[34] Ibn 'Arabi further relates the concept of mercy to the divine names al-Rahman and al-Rahim, with the Mercy of the Gratuitous Gift corresponding to al-Rahmanand the Mercy of Obligation to al-Rahim. Because of the reciprocal nature of justice, any act of mercy bestowed by one human being upon another constitutes a gift for both the receiver and the giver. For the receiver, the gift of mercy compensates for the severity of justice. For the giver, the duty to act mercifully is also a gift from God because it counteracts the tendency of the ego to indulge in self-righteousness:'
Is the alam al amr subject to a constraint?
the Qur'anic verse: "Your Lord has prescribed mercy for Himself" (6: 12) imply that God only commands the existence of that which is compossible with the Rahim of revealed amr al taklifi? 

Are the chaotic universes invoked in the nightmares of Chesterton ruled out by this verse? 
Perhaps, to the eye of faith, such indeed is the case. However, a common sense view- especially of Religions or Ideologies unfamiliar to one- is that they are, each and every one, precisely the sort of lawless Universes composed of incompossible objects that Chesterton cited as the seed bed of what is wickeder than vice and more callous than crime.

"And among them are those who listen to you, but We have placed over their hearts coverings, lest they understand it, and in their ears deafness. And if they should see every sign, they will not believe in it. Even when they come to you arguing with you, those who disbelieve say, "This is not but legends of the former peoples." (6.25)

The question of how a Necessary Being could ordain unbelief in his created creatures from before time and solely by his Command unconstrained by considerations of possibility links with the problem of 

predestination- one possible way of reconciling a merciful God with eternal damnation- is if God has a relationship with the soul in the realm of pre-existence. But then, events of this life are dictated from that realm. Karma might seem a more economical, indeed merciful, solution because it leaves open the possibility of future births in which the true doctrine can be assented to. 
Equally good, if not better, would be the notion of a sort of shadowy life in the limbo between death and resurrection where imaginal progress can be made towards union with God. This, would be one way of interpreting Ibn Arabi's concept of the barzakh.
However, the difficulty remains that God can command not merely unbelief but also a wholly spurious existence, or illusion of existence. This is a frightening world to live in, more not less frightening because it is sheer nonsense. More not less cruel because of the claim that it is founded upon infinite and gratuitous Mercy.
Ghalib's couplet reconsidered.
The objection to being buried in the beloved's street, after (rather than before) being slain by her- even thought this involves not separation but proximity- arises for the following reason- the khalq will more easily be able to find the beloved while the lover remains in  sort of limbo- tantalized by proximity but unable to do anything about it for in a ghostly state. The poet's grave then is a barzakh analogous to that between alam al amr and alam al khalq and the Mercy for which appeal is being made relates  not to postponement of death but the collapse of an ontological divide from whose benefit that which is imaginal merely is excluded.
In another verse, Ghalib has imagined the fair assassin as being so heedless- even to the horn of resurrection- as to protest his rising from the grave. T
he beloved, here, seems to be acting mechanically from habit, or temperament, or a sense of duty, rather than gratuitously. But this begs the question, if the original engendering command (amr-al-takvini) had the nature of Mercy-as-Pure-creativity is not the Resurrection more of the quality of amr-al-taklifi? 
The word cruelty goes with the notion of mercy. Poems about the cruel fair are understood as emotional appeals for mercy- i.e. the requital of love not on the basis of worthiness but as a gratuitous act of pity and compassion. Unlike Indic religions where cremation safeguards from the terrors of the grave, and re-birth assures one of eventual Moksha, Semitic religions stress the importance of God's mercy for, in its absence, there is simply no default mechanism to save one from a fate as cruel as it is everlasting.
Quite true, some enlightened souls feels disgust at the thought of the wheel of samsara- something to do with the fear of eating their former relatives, I believe- but ordinary people look forward to being reborn in better circumstances, finding their old relatives and loved one's wearing the delightful disguise of prattling infants, and having the assurance that sooner or later they will gain complete Liberation.
To sum it up briefly- the poet expresses himself in an imaginal limbo such that there is no direct contact with either that which is signified- viz. beings- nor that which saves signifiers from chaos- viz. organizing principles. The danger that, while in this limbo, the two realms may have collapsed into each other, consists in that same imaginal world becoming detached from both realms- in effect, the artist has been buried alive.
Since this is a fate no one escapes, and literature teaches no other lesson, Ghalib's couplet becomes a little less trivial on each reading.


Anonymous said...

I do think I see what you're talking about, but surely the danger of the artist's being buried alive must be overstated, since as you point out the same fate threatens not only all artists but (in principle) everybody with any real creative inner imaginative life, and the very fact that most such persons don't in fact go crazy or mentally or spiritually "vanish," we surely have to say that they haven't been buried alive. (Ghalib wasn't, as far as the evidence goes.)

But on your own showing this conclusion in any case tells us nothing about Ghalib's shi'r, since it applies with equal force to all poetry and prose (brilliant and moronic and everything in between). So how can it de-trivialize Ghalib's shi'r (unless it also de-trivializes Kitty Kelley's new biography of Oprah Winfrey, and so on)? A deadly prospect, n'est-ce pas?

windwheel said...

I think most of us feel there is a part of ourselves that has been 'buried alive' as we go about our quotidian duty-bound existence. Indeed, there seems to be a sort of moral panic about who, or rather what, is buried alive beneath the calm, officious, personalities of those in low grade service sector jobs whose choice of profession, presumably, reflects a tragic adaptation to vast tectonic shifts in the Economy. I think this was part of the appeal of David Foster Wallace.
The problem is- duties don't last, codes of interaction become obsolete- there is the growing panic (a panic that drives Facebook- according to the latest installment of South Park) that we will be forced, increasingly, to keep ourselves company. But that is what the imagination is about. That is where creativity comes in. Yet only a vanishingly small proportion of the connections that creativity makes, the entities it calls forth, the theories of mind it modifies, can become actualized and externalized as something with the property of life.
Ghalib commented that the disorder of the stars showing how 'self willed' amr al takvini is simply inartistic and fails for that reason. But amr al taklifi, which is mediated by the desire for a mirroring response in what is created- in other words, what we create to companion- well, that's just another damn ghazal to string together, another step towards becoming the Oprah Winfrey of our own book club, another way to pronounce the elegy over what one has just buried of oneself, another way to see- in the rending of the veil that is the apocalypse- that mirror in which, as David Foster Wallace recognized, our true visage is revealed to be... an Inland Revenue official.

To return to your question, why is Ghalib de-trivializing and Kitty Litter not? Well, Kitty's gossip is of the nature of Heaven and Hell, while Ghalib's gospel is of the nature of being buried alive. One gets you to work and back, the other makes you unemployable.
Thus only the latter is worthy of study for an aspiring M.F.A.

Anonymous said...

I'll have more thoughts later, but I forgot to say yesterday that that particular verse isn't a good candidate for de-trivializing in any case (or rather, de-conventionalizing or the reinvigoration of stylized tropes or whatever). It's one of his more minor and boring ones. Why did you choose it for a focus, when he has so many more intellectually gripping ones that provide better traction for pyramids of ideas?