By: Nazia Memon
Shah Abdul Latif is known throughout the length and breadth of Sindh, not only as a great poet of the highest order but as a saint, a Sufi and a spiritual guide. It is the spiritual significance of his poetry, couched in the most touching words, harmonized with a musical setting, that makes a direct appeal to the hearts of the listeners, including the elite and the man in the street.
People of Sindh shower their love to Bhittai and call him “Lakhino Latif” “Bhittai goth” he is worldly ranked among the classical great poets, and his poetry been translated in many languages including Urdu and English.
On his “urs” it’s very much needed to have a glimpse of his life to see that centuries ago how he could stand against the odds of society and challenged those norms with his spiritual poetry and moral? For that let’s have a look on his life and learn where we are failed as a society. I just want you all to have a brief view about two major aspects of our society regarding religion and women in the light of Shah’s poetry and life.
Shah Abdul Latif was born in a well known and much respected “Sayed” family but he never showed his liking for the comforts of life. He was kind, magnanimous, compassionate and amiable in his attitude and nature.
He was concerned about spiritual evolution with the sole purpose of seeking vicinity of the divine. In quest of religious truths Shah Abdul Latif travelled a lot, almost three years long with jogis and sanyasis to find the truth, peace and harmony.
Shah Latif was deeply grieved and pained to see to which low level some Muslim priests (clerics) had brought the religion. He could observe how human beings had been split into groups of sectarian antagonism in the name of religion, and the entire society had become diseased as a consequence of this fallacious teaching. Being disgusted at this deplorable state of society, he found it absolutely impossible to accept this situation and was constrained to say.
You claim to believe in your religious creed, but you are weak in faith. Your heart is the abode of hypocrisy, associating others with Allah. Apparently you are a Muslim but in reality you sculpt and sell idols.
And addressing a common man shah said:
You will have to develop a vision, which can help you to see the one you love. Do not seek guidance from others, because it does not please your beloved.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai had thoroughly understood the truth about religion. Then how could he accept the idea that people belonging to the same homeland are not united and that they are a separate nation simply on the basis of religious division. He considered differences of religions no more than a fallacy of vision. He says:
Diversity has come into existence as a result of oneness (of Allah). Therefore, diversity is the only reflection of this oneness (of Allah). The truth is only one and any other idea or faith only serves to misguide. The real truth is that this universe and its diverse beauty are the reflection of only that unique being.
Shah Latif held such views about religion, he saw no difference between friend and foe. Censuring the weakness and defects of Muslim and Hindu priests, who desired to create hatred and enmity between human beings in the name of religion, he says:
This beauty of various aspects of nature reflects the beauty of an eternal being. However, weak-minded people can only find fault with them. They only provoke anger and hatred by creating the differences of Islam and Hinduism.
In the same manner, sometime in a state of ecstasy, he addresses the fanatic sectarian elements:
If you see with some perception, all around you, you will see a reflection of truth, and you will shed all doubts from your mind.
He could never visualize that humanity, creation of one God, living like neighbors and people belonging to the same country, could be considered as a separate nation on the basis of a few customs, traditions and beliefs, although they believe in one and the same God following their different modes of worship. He expresses himself reflecting this truth in a beautiful manner in this verse:
Everything belonging to the land of my beloved is pleasurable. If you experience to taste it with sense and wisdom, you will never feel bitterness in anything here.
Now let’s have a look how he (Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai) regarded a women in his poetry! though women were considered a weaker section of society as compare to present (it’s not much different but slightly better now) female characters were portrayed as protagonists in Bhittai’s poetry.
The seven women of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s poetry are known as “Shah joon Soormiyun” (Seven queens) heroins of Sindhi folklore who have been given the status of royalty in “Shah jo Risalo”.
The Risalo is written in poetic verses, and there are more than 30surs and seven queens “Satt Soormiyun” mentioned in “Shah jo Risalo are Marui,Moomal, Sassui, Noori, Sohni, Sorath-Rai Diyach and Lilan.
As I mentioned already that Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai has travelled in the search of truth he came across to know about these women characters and experienced what their struggle must have been like. Perhaps what Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai saw in his tales of these women was an idealised view of women hood, their positive qualities, determination, faith, their honesty, integrity, devout,piety and loyalty.”
The verses of the Shah jo Risalo describing their trails are sung at Sufi shrines all over Sindh and especially at the “urs” of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai every year at Bhit Shah.
As many intellectuals, writers and poets said Shah Latif was a feminist poet and all heroic charters in his poetry were women.
To me it’s fascinating that “Bhittai the feminist” portrayed women as symbol of courage”.
Today to keep Bhittai in my mind I have one simple question to ask our men what does is take to be called a feminist?
May be through finding an answer we will get near to the solution and that would be the turning point or reformation of developed society.
And the best tribute to Shah Latif will be to understand and implement his message not only for the reformation of individual life but also for a healthy change in all spheres of society.
Author is Producer at Sairbeem and also works for BBC.