sufi poetry and desi themes
Sepoy has relevant observations on Sufism and historical references to devotional themes in the translated works of Rumi (www.chapatimystery.com) I intentionally use the word “devotional” instead of “homosexual” because as rightly pointed out by sepoy, there is no historical evidence that Rumi had physical relationship with Shams Tabrez.
There are indeed cultural precedents for this practice (Mughals, NWFP & Afghanistan). My objective to post this is that I am troubled by the basic premise that somehow the reference to “union” in sufi poetry is of sexual nature (be it gay or heterosexual)
I am and have been an avid follower of South Asian sufi poetry and have been attempting to translate sufi verses, an uphill task due to the obsolescence and permanent loss of certain terms/words. Nowhere have I come across sexual references in sufi literature of South Asia. I cannot relate to the statement that “Sufi poetry casts the boy as one of the many personifications of the Beloved (God).”
The sufi yearns for union with the Creator. The creator is a non-physical being, hence physical entities, mostly people serve as a "guide" to reach the ultimate goal, the eternal union. The most referred-to guide in sufi literature is the embodiment of supreme piety, the prophet (or one could take a secular view that the reference is to beauty hence a gal/guy)
The concept of love (ishq-e-majazi) for the guide is fine but true/real Love (ishq-e-haqiqi) is reserved for the creator. So we have references in classical literature such as that for rain to imply the unleashing of the blessings made possible by the prayers of the prophet leading to salvation by the creator. The moon, its beauty its splendor is a reference to the perfection of the beloved (prophet, physical love) leading to eternal devotion to the creator. The sun is a symbol that unleashes its wrath to test the mettle of true lovers who unite with the creator as they plunge to their death in a forsaken desert.
These are the themes that evoke feelings of ecstasy in believers in the east and lok/folk/sufi themes in Pakistan are replete with such symbols. Does ecstasy equate to sexual pleasure, I hardly think that it has ever figured in sufi literature to mean that it does. Cultural propriety also heaps disdain over such thought. Somethings are too sacrosanct that we indulge in such an debate in Pakistan.
It is the personification of the guide that the sufi refers to, not the creator Himself, the raison d’etre, atleast that is what I have learnt.
If there are any homosexual themes attributed to Persian-turkish sufi poetry, then these have emerged after the proliferation of western translations. I was searching for a Persian verse by Khusrau on google and got linked to a german gay pornsite. Not exactly thrilled to see the graphics representation of a sufi verse to invoke “the several personifications of the creator” depicted this way.
Western interest in Rumi is (a) academic to gain more insight into the wonderful world of Sufism, a discipline carried out with meticulous detail with cross references across cultures that are mind boggling (Read Annemarie Schimmel if interested) and (b) the specific interpretation of Rumi that suites a specific fringe of western scholars. They infer material love to mean homosexuality when they notice same-gender relationship between Rumi and Shams Tabrez but this is where east differs from the west. The east is looking at “the friend” as a guide to the creator whereas the west conjures up homosexual connotations.
I for one am all for a free society where gays in our society can exercise their right to live as they please but finding a precedent in sufi writings of Rumi, Kabeer, Khusrau, Hafiz, Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid, Guru Nanak, Latif, Qalander and Sachal would lead to nowhere.
Equating union to sex (homosexual or heterosexual) demeans sufism. Translation is an imperfect art and the western translations are at best approximations of the original thought. They could never come close to the culture nuance and replicate the milieu of texts written hundreds of years ago.
I do not wish to comment on the Boston Globe article. It is written from a western perspective for a western audience. After 9/11, we view most of western with indifference and contempt as it only paints caricatures. I am glad to have read Marlowe’s comment that patience is extremely important to deal with issues where minority speaks about its right. If there is this great big issue about gays wanting acceptance in Pakistan then they have got time on their side. The media is getting into the homes of people like never before and I hope an open debate about these issues could be viewed on our TV sets in the near future. At the present moment, the burgeoning level of people living below the poverty line takes precedence.