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The Ghazal Complex: Iqbal and the Problem of Certitude
The ghazal form exists in dozens of languages, deeply associated with both popular and esoteric Sufi traditions. While the ghazal’s formal qualities and thematic parameters inextricably link it to its Islamic heritage, those same structures also resist religious identification. Much ink has been spilled, especially in the modern period, on debating whether or not these poems are meant to be read as “sacred” or “profane,” “metaphorical” or “literal”; such debates, however, miss the mark. In this paper, I argue that the ghazal not only presents these paradoxical orientations, but creates them at the level of form and meaning, setting forth the tools for its own interpretation and offering us a poetic method. This method is exemplified, perhaps paradoxically, by the ghazals of Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), the poet, philosopher, and political thinker whose legacy is largely considered in terms of the creation of the nation-state of Pakistan. For Iqbal, I argue, the ghazal's performances of ambiguity, paradox, and textual instability work as a method for negotiating between Islamic poetic tradition and the demands of colonial modernity, modeling how to think beyond binary terms of inquiry through subverting them. These features, which will be analyzed through close readings of select Persian and Urdu ghazals of Iqbal, allow for a reconsideration of the importance of uncertainty for a thinker who has always been characterized as the epitome of certitude.
Religious Studies/Theology
Geographic Area
Indian Ocean Region
Islamic World
Sub Area