A Voice from North America.

 - By Professor Dr. Saadat Saeed


Though originally Dr. Khalid Sohail belongs to Pakistan, his literary and sociological works have embraced humanity at large. His mystical approach in his poetry and prose, simply written and at the same time profound, fully depicts his liberal self. Living in Canada, he has achieved the reputation of a distinguished poet. The South Asian community in Canada is well aware of his multidimensional works.

Italo Calvino, the great Italian aesthete, once rightly pointed out that literature is necessary to politics, above all when it gives a voice to whatever is without a voice, when it gives a name to what as yet has no name, especially to what the language of politics excludes or attempts to exclude. These encompass aspects, situations, and languages both of the outer and the inner world. In this perspective we also can read and fully appreciate Khalid Sohail’s articles, poems and short stories. His translated works include the same ethos and direction.

Khalid Sohail takes literature not as a combination of mere thought and words but as a kind of subjective truth, which through its content and forms can mirror and depict the social and cultural problems of the contemporary world. He knows that we cannot impart beauty to literature by merely combining various means of expression. It requires an organic unfolding of the inner essence of the writer’s life.

The chapter "Mystic Poetry" in the book From Islam to Secular Humanism by Khalid Sohail is an example of the essential outlook reflected in his literature. In this chapter, he discusses the uniqueness of the symbolic expressions in the poetry of old and modern mystic poets. He has explored minutely the inner truths, metaphysical approaches to formless spiritual worlds and the real existential agony involved in mystical experiences. Khalid Sohail has tried to provide answers to questions of transcendental logic. This logic attempts to inquire seriously into the realms of the unknown. Mystical poetry can provide answers to the questions posed by the mysteries of the unknown world. Khalid Sohail has pondered those questions:

“How do we talk about the world where sounds turn mute?

How do we write about a world where words lose all of their meanings?

How do we discuss a world that transcends every logic?

How do we describe a world that has no boundaries?

How do we conceptualize a world that defies any form?

How do we understand a world that is beyond words and sounds and colours and space and time?"

When we explore the writings of Khawaja Mueen ud din Chishti, Sheikh Ali Hajvairy, Nazam ud din Auolia, Qutbu din Bhakhtiar Kaki, Ala ud din Sabir Kalary, Faridu din Ganj Shakar, Bahaud din Zikria Multani, Shah Rukn-e-Aalam, Bu Ali Shah, and Shahbaz Qalandar, we realize that their thoughts elevate the concepts of humanism, universal brotherhood, and love for God, equality and justice. Love for humanity is the main message delivered by them. Kabir Das and many other poets living outside the circles of traditional religions had embraced too the mystical poetic traditions. Khalid Sohail rightly says :

"Mystic poets are those enlightened beings who have personal encounters with the spiritual World and have touched the borders of known with the unknown, human with the divine, personal with the cosmic. They share with us that their experiences are intimate encounters with a world which is nameless, formless, timeless and pathless."

In this context he has also referred to Buddha, Rumi, Ibn-e-Jalali Samarqandi Amini Madu Lal Hussain, Krishnamurti, and several other mystic personalities who have offered their messages of modesty, humility, purification of hearts and spirituality to a world full of arrogance, pride, enmity, hate, materialism, prejudice, tyranny, oppression, cruelty and other unethical and inhuman attitudes. According to Khalid Sohail, mystic poets have used water, fire and light as symbols. In Pages of My Heart he himself says:

"I think that we have reached such a turning point in history where we are forced to make certain choices individually and collectively. I hope that we do not proceed on the path of self-destruction, which ends in collective suicide; rather we decide to discover new ways of living harmoniously with other human beings, Mother Nature and ourselves. Perhaps one day we will reach that state of communal growth and human evolution where we can accept that whether they are children or the elderly, women or minorities, the physically disabled or mentally sick, all human beings have a right to live respectfully and grow peacefully. For our future development as a species we have to transcend the resentments based on class, race, gender, language or religious differences and anger because of the conflicts between the East and West, North and South, first and third world and many other man-made divisions."

In one of his poems Khalid Sohail says:

In our life

we come across

such nameless relations

Which after crossing

the old grand roads of love and regards

come to the new tracks of

several nameless passions.

In our life

we travel along such nameless ways

which after leaving behind silently

the known brightened city of tradition

bring us suddenly

in the nameless streets

and dark paths of an unknown town.

In our life

we face several nameless tracks

and several nameless relations.

 A poet inspired from mysticism can easily give names to nameless things. A mystic always faces this kind of strangeness.

Khalid Sohail’s poetry and prose contain many topics. He has explored the objectives of mankind from the perspective of human psychology. Like Iqbal, he criticizes misguided poets and poetry.

His favorites topics are

a: Human aspects of religion

b: Sufism for human progress,

c: Harmony in the individual and the community-

d: Man and God

e: Domination as an evil

f: Respect of Man in the perspective of Equality-

g: Fate and free will

h: Mystical Evolution-

i: The necessity for love, reason and learning in the domain of Art and Culture

His books, Pages of my Heart (poetry), Mother Earth is Sad (short stories), Growing Alone--Growing Together, The Holy Prison, and writings in the anthologies Global Safari and Seven Angels embrace these topics. He has earned much fame through the depiction of liberal humanism in his creations. We can find this same humanism in the works of Ameer Khusro, Shah Hussain, Bulhay Shah, Waris Shah, Bedil, Khawaja Meer Dard, Sultan Baho, Khwaja Farid, Ghalib etc. They all express their opposition to a priesthood that often ignores the beauty of reality and upholds traditional prejudices. We can easily point out the approach of the mystic in their literature. They never favored the attitudes of mockery, amorality, artificiality and falsehood. "Desirable man" in mysticism brings to light the realities concealed by a conformist theologian. He finds truth traveling on the roads of love and beauty. Meer Dard truly pointed out,

"After coming into the world, when we looked here and there We found you everywhere."