Who Knows?

Author: Musadiq Sanwal


Who knows

if he awakes even a little or not yet

Who knows if in the grave

from the tongue of the questioning angels[1]

flows blood

Who knows if the language they understand

is not that of the mad lover Qais[2]

but of the pious and wealthy Ibn-e-Awf[3]

If today he is remembered as Abu Ufak[4]

so what

For in a fable of this kind

at every hour a miracle happens

Those who were accepted became immortal

in the salutary circle of faith

Those who had the pleasure of negation were killed right here

and after that perished in eternity


Who knows

if on their saddlecloth now

is the velvet sheath of Abu Ufak


Who knows

even though he had died, a thousand years later

he knows no weariness

Strange how they languished

the hands that were God’s, of his command and secret

of his impartial, indifferent gaze

They could not lift even for a moment

so heavy was his sword of sadness

which had fallen asleep, and failed that moment

then it became his

filled with the acid and poison of a thousand years

as if it owed him

just one revenge

as if just one last duty


Who knows


Who knows

Who knows how far my stonecutter was from minarets

steeped in the limitless intoxication of lost migrations

he was the eternally detested

he was a canker in the eye of the throne of arrogance and deceit

he had stopped at negation but embodied the beauty of divinity[5]


Who knows what came to pass here today

why the one who enlightened me crossed the limit

he was refined by sleep

as if he were the poem of the long-suffering, patient one

Someone has crossed beyond the limits of time

I too have no idea

But I do know this

how full of deceit he was


Who knows

in his cold grave

how it will pass for my handsome youth till tomorrow

who just now slept with me in the bed of passion

how impatient were his tongue and hands and arms

he encircled escape

From the dead evenings of this place

from its common celebrations

he would seek refuge

from its customs, its feasts

Who knows if he now seeks to run away

where he went with such desire

There too he suffers the restlessness of dream

there too he prefers the snake’s wine

even though he is in the lap of the beloved

Who knows if there too now he is not happy

Someone say

But you have no idea

what the stature of the origin and the beloved is

why he desired to distraction her intimacy

Is this perhaps not that dark grave

where he was once imprisoned

in the existence before now

Is this perhaps not that earth in which he was once a seed

the same earth on which I too was once grass[6]


Who knows

Who knows


Who knows why the one who enlightened me crossed the limit

he was refined in sleep

I too was to blame in this

this was an impossible act of daring

Or it was all his beauty, this was all his loving


Who knows


Who knows

I wonder if this time around

he will be at peace in waiting

if in the enchantment of the disenchanted world

he remains happily enchanted


Translated by Nauman Naqvi 



[1] Munkir and Nakir are angels in the Islamic eschatological tradition who arrive in the grave and ask questions to test the faith of the departed.

[2] Also known as Majnun, Qais is a legendary, paradigmatic lover-poet in the Muslim tradition.

[3] Abdur Rahman bin Awf was one of the earliest converts to Islam remembered for his business acumen and wealth.

[4] A poet who defamed the Prophet Muhammad in his own lifetime.

[5] The reference is to the first part of the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, which negates the existence of any divinity – before the second part asserts the sole Divinity: There is no divinity – except the Divinity.

[6] The voice here, in Urdu, is feminine and would appear to indicate that the entire poem is spoken by a woman.