The (Critical) Edge of Tradition: Understanding Ġhālib as Valī in Contemporary Delhi

In: Journal of Urdu Studies
Anand Vivek Taneja Assistant Professor, Religious Studies and Anthropology Vanderbilt University

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In this essay, I explore an emergent trend within both authoritative Islamic discourse and Urdu public culture in north India, in which the poet Mirzā Asadullāh Ḳhān “Ġhālib” (1797-1869) is portrayed as a saintly and prophetic figure. I aim to show that claiming Ġhālib as an authoritatively Islamic figure—and hence his life and poetry as Islamically authoritative and legible—at this historical moment of unprecedented Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias in India is a profoundly radical claim. It gestures towards a Muslim—and crucially, also non-Muslim—reclamation of precolonial lifeways and intellectual, literary, and spiritual traditions as an antidote to the poisonous discourses of modern religious nationalism and sectarianism.

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