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Author: Ali Altaf Mian

Abstract

This article contributes to scholarship on Muslim humanities, Islam in modern South Asia, and the Urdu literary tradition in colonial India. It does so by contextualizing and closely reading Ashraf ʿAlī Thānavī’s (1863–1943) commentary on the Dīvān of the fourteenth-century Persian poet Ḥāfiz̤. Unlike his modernist contemporaries, Ashraf ʿAlī does not read Ḥāfiz̤ through the prisms of social reform or anti-colonial nationalist struggle. Rather, in his capacity as a Sufi master, he approaches Ḥāfiz̤’s Dīvān as a mystical text in order to generate insights through which he counsels his disciples. He uses the commentary genre to explore Sufi themes such as consolation, contraction, annihilation, subsistence, and the master-disciple relational dynamic. His engagement with Ḥāfiz̤’s ġhazals enables him to elaborate a practical mystical theology and to eroticize normative devotional rituals. Yet the affirmation of an analogical correspondence between sensual and divine love on the part of Ashraf ʿAlī also implies the survival of Ḥāfiz̤’s emphases on the disposability of the world and intoxicated longing for the beloved despite the demands of colonial modernity.

In: Journal of Urdu Studies