Arsip untuk Juli, 2008

An Arab Surrealist

THE NATION (January 3, 2005)

by Robert Irwin


An Arab Surrealist

The Springs of Adonis (now also known as the River Ibrahim) run through the Byblos region of Lebanon down through steep gorges to the Mediterranean. Iron ore deposits stain its waters red at times of flood. The cult of Adonis used to be celebrated in a temple close by. The beautiful youth Adonis, who was loved by the goddess Astarte, went out hunting despite her warnings and was gored to death by a boar. But after long supplications, Astarte succeeded in securing his release from the underworld for half the year. The rituals of Adonis, of resurrection and the return of spring, were observed in Greater Syria for millennia. It seems that even in medieval Islamic times the return of Adonis to this world was still being celebrated in remote villages. Legends concerning Adonis and other figures from pagan Syrian lore were to figure largely in the quasi-mystical rhetoric of Syrian nationalism in the 1940s and ’50s.

The poet ‘Ali Ahmad Sa’id, who was later to assume the pen-name Adonis, was born in 1930 and grew up in the Latakia region of Syria in a remote little village called Qasibin, some 150 miles to the north of the ancient cultic center of the rites of Adonis. The area around Qasibin was and mostly still is agricultural, impoverished, largely illiterate and remote from centers of urban civilization. Until he was 12, the boy who was to grow up to become a globe-trotting poet on the Nobel short list never saw a car or a radio. Reflecting on his origins inIdentité Inachevée (“Unrealized Identity”), a collection of interviews, Adonis remarks that he never had a childhood, since from an early age he was put to work in the fields. But in the evenings his father recited poetry, much of it mystical, and kept the boy at work memorizing this poetry. In the daytime, in the hills, the boy began to compose poetry of his own.

Then one day he heard that Shukri al-Quwatli, who in 1947 had become the first president of Syria after it gained its independence from France, was visiting a town in the Latakia region to perform an official ceremony of some sort. The boy, determined to impress the president with his poetry, walked miles over the hills but arrived late at the official function. Nevertheless, he successfully begged to be allowed to read his poem to the president. When the boy had finished, the president, impressed, asked him what he would like as a reward. “I want an education,” the boy replied. Thereafter he went to school in Latakia, where he began to sign his poems under the name Adonis, and then to university in Damascus, where he produced a thesis on Sufi mysticism. In Damascus he became involved with Antun Sa’ada and his Syrian National Party. This party put Syria and its legends and history before pan-Arabism or Islamism. The charismatic Sa’ada put forward quasi-fascistic arguments for the future destiny of a Greater Syria (so great that it was to include Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus and even Iraq, which was to be redesignated Eastern Syria). After a failed attempt at a coup in Lebanon, Sa’ada was executed in 1949. In 1956 Adonis himself ran afoul of the Syrian government and went into exile in Beirut, where a year later he founded the magazine Shi’r (“Poetry”) with the Syro-Lebanese poet Yusuf al-Khal, another former follower of Sa’ada. In the 1980s, the civil war in Lebanon would in turn drive him into a second exile, in Paris. It is not surprising that the theme of exile pervades his poetry.

Once he had moved to Beirut, Adonis abandoned the cause of a Greater Syria and turned instead to pan-Arabism. But from then on, conventional politics ceased to play such a large part in his thoughts. At university in Damascus, he had discovered the Surrealists and the French literary ancestors of the Surrealists. This in turn led him back to the Arab poetical heritage. As Adonis noted in his brilliant Introduction to Arab Poetics (originally published in 1985 and available in an English translation), it

was reading Baudelaire which changed my understanding of Abu Nuwas and revealed his particular poetical quality and modernity, and Mallarmé’s work which explained to me the mysteries of Abu Tammam’s poetic language and the modern dimension in it. My reading of Rimbaud, Nerval and Breton led me to discover the poetry of the mystic writers in all its uniqueness and splendour.

Although Persian literature has a rich heritage of mystical poetry, by Hafiz, Rumi, al-‘Attar and others, most of medieval Arabic mystical poetry is pietistic, cliché-bound and frankly dreary. But “that divine madman,” al-Niffari, a somewhat obscure tenth-century Iraqi mystic, is an exceptional figure in the history of Arabic literature and mysticism. The mystically inclined British Orientalist A.J. Arberry (1905-69), who was the first to translate al-Niffari, wrote somewhat speculatively about the mystic’s life in the vicinity of the ancient town of Niffar:

And at night, in the desert, when the stars hung low, and the bright belt of Orion recalled legends of that giant who overreached ambition, this lonely wanderer, whose writings like his ashes have fallen upon unfrequented ways, found strength and consolation in the vision of the one true God Whose love and service atone for every lovely perishable thing that this uncertain world possesses.

Adonis’s appreciation of al-Niffari has been more literary, though no less passionate. Al-Niffari’s accounts of his encounters with the Divine are full of fierce energy, paradox and strange metaphors. His language became a tool for exploring a weird universe. Since his visions made him blind to social and literary conventions, he became a Surrealist poet avant la lettre: “The knowledge of the sea is an unreachable lustre, and its depths an unfathomable darkness, and between the two are fishes which may not be trusted.”

Other, more secular poets also form part of Adonis’s private pantheon of poètes maudits. Abu Nuwas, the louche ninth-century court poet of the Abbasid caliphs, a bisexual, a hard drinker and a poetical innovator, is in this pantheon. So is al-Ma’arri, the eleventh-century misanthropic skeptic and satirist. Perhaps even more important in shaping Adonis’s self-image as poet is the greatest of the poets of pre-Islamic Arabia, Imru’l-Qays, the sixth-century prince who roamed in exile until, it is said, he was murdered with a poisoned shirt that he was given. His most famous poem, his Mu’allaqa, is steeped in nostalgia and eroticism and rich with vivid imagery. In the essay “Poetry and the Desert” Adonis has written admiringly of the bleakness, sensuality and grim sense of destiny in pre-Islamic poetry and of the poets’ use of the Arabic language as a vehicle for magic and ritual. In Adonis’s eyes, modernity is not the monopoly of modern times.

Although he has a thorough knowledge of the classical canons of Arab poetry, which were first established by the pre-Islamic poets of Arabia, Adonis is emphatic that those canons should not constrain today’s poetry. Since the 1950s he has been one of the pioneers of free verse, prose poems and other forms of experimentation.

While Adonis is a prolific writer of both prose and poetry, only small selections translated by various hands have so far appeared in English. More of his work has been translated into French (and, in general, the French have shown a much greater interest in Arabic literature than either the Americans or the British). Anne Wade Minkowski has been his chief French translator. Not only has Adonis worked closely with her translations of his poetry, but they have cooperated in the reverse process, as Minkowski has assisted Adonis in his translations into French of the poets al-Ma’arri and Kahlil Gibran. Jean-Yves Masson in the introduction to the most recent selection of Minkowski’s translations of Adonis, Toucher la lumière, quotes Octavio Paz to the effect that poets have no biographies. In one sense, that hardly seems appropriate for Adonis, whose strange trajectory from peasant to illustrious writer threads its way through three-quarters of a century of political, religious and cultural upheaval in the Middle East. And, indeed, I believe that Adonis is currently working on his autobiography. Yet, in another sense, Paz’s observation seems most appropriate when considering the poetry of Adonis. The poems translated in Toucher la lumière are personal in the sense that only he can be sure what they mean, yet impersonal in the sense that he allows the reader no window into his private concerns. He is known to despise personal or psychologically revelatory poems.

Adonis’s universe is the theater of a solipsistic visionary. What he has to say is oracular and difficult. The poet has something of the Mahdi (the redeemer at the end of history) about him, but in his strange apocalypse it is not clear who is going to be saved and who damned. Damascus is the notional subject and setting for many of the poems, but it is a city of history, legend and above all strange Surrealist metaphors, rather than the congested, noisy, dickering place that is familiar to those who have actually visited it. The poet’s universe is constructed from emblematic things: the city, the sea, the mirror, the wind, the tree and the dream. There is something eerily childlike in the way objects are animated and given new meanings. In Toucher la lumière, the wind is a child that sits and cries on his shoulders. The dream advances toward infancy as one gets older. In one of these poems, words are defined as “wings for birds which take dreams as nests.” This whole selection can be read as a great Surrealist dictionary.

In 1992 Adonis published al-Sufiyya wa’l-Surriyaliyya (of which an English translation, Sufism and Surrealism, is forthcoming with Saqi Books in London next year). In that extended essay he argued that Sufism and Surrealism drew on common areas of the psyche and shared a language and goals. He presented Surrealism as a godless form of mysticism and argued that Sufism did not entail faith in traditional religion. Surrealism and Sufism both dealt in things that issue from a hidden world and that are unseen, unspoken and incomprehensible. Adonis drew heavily upon André Breton, al-Niffari and, above all, Rimbaud, whom he described as an “oriental Sufi.” Rimbaud’s father translated the Koran and Rimbaud himself studied Arabic. Sanguinary sultans and djinns stalk through his poetry. In A Season in Hell, he addressed European philosophers in the following terms: “You are in the West, but free to live in your East, as old as you wish it–and to live there well. Do not be one of the defeated.” Adonis portrays Rimbaud as a product of a culture that has been infiltrated by Oriental literature, via translations of The Thousand and One Nights and al-‘Attar’s mystical verses.

Al-Sufiyya w’al-Surriyaliyya‘s chapter on “Love” is almost entirely devoted to an exposition of the thought of Ibn al-‘Arabi, the thirteenth-century Andalusian mystic, who proclaimed that “to see God in the form of a beautiful woman is the most perfect vision of all.” Women feature prominently in the poetic universe of Adonis. They are not the sort of women one is likely to meet in Beirut or Paris but are, rather, the most powerful of the emblems in the emblematic universe of cities, seas and mirrors that the poet inhabits. Indeed, in some poems a woman appears to constitute the whole of an intensely eroticized universe. If Only the Sea Could Sleep, a selection of his love poems, takes its title from one of his most striking images: “If only the sea could sleep I would make its bed beside me.” In this strange landscape a grieving seashell lectures the poet on the nature of Woman and the poet speaks of wearing a woman and of her wearing him. This last metaphor may remind Western readers of Breton’s declaration: “I wish I could change my sex as easily as I change my shirt”; but Arab readers are more likely to think of the Koran’s declaration: “Women are your garments and you are theirs.”

In the interviews in Identité Inachevée, Adonis sets out his ideas on political, social and religious issues. The poet is a prophet and poetry is a force for social change and liberation. The poet-prophet fights on two fronts. First he opposes the dead weight of institutional Islam and the backward-looking and patriarchal nature of Arab culture. Society needs to be feminized. Second, Western materialism, globalization and a culture of dependency in the Middle East must be combated. In a sense, this struggle is another aspect of the first one, for he argues that it is the West that keeps corrupt, patriarchal Arab politicians in power and that the West prefers to cut deals with Islamic fundamentalists rather than oppose them. He singles out sports, computers, comic books, photography and, above all, the Internet as elements of a sinister new mode of Western existence that allows no space for the visionary. The Arab world cannot achieve modernity in terms set by the West. In one of his best-known poems, “A Tomb for New York,” he has written of the Statue of Liberty “lifting in one hand a rag called liberty,” while with the other it throttles the earth. Elsewhere, he has written of “Europe’s worm-eaten corpse.”

Yet Adonis’s attitude toward the West is always ambivalent. “A Tomb for New York” also apostrophizes Walt Whitman, and Adonis continues to argue that much of Western culture is really Oriental culture in disguise, noting that it was the dream of the Orient that shaped Romanticism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In one of his earlier essays, he suggested that the true religion of the West is a worship of the future. But Adonis prefers to turn back to the fertility rituals of ancient Syria, the bleak poetry of pre-Islamic Arabia and Sufic prefigurations of Surrealism. The best manifestations of modernity, he believes, are found in centuries past.

Adonis (Ali Ahmed Said) (1930- ) Imprimir Correo


[This biography is written by Kamal Abu-Deeb, in J. S. Meisami & P. Starkey (eds.), Encyclopedia of Arabic literature, (Routledge, 1998).]

Syrian poet and literary critic (‘Ali Ahmad Sa’id). Born in Qassabin, Adonis studied philosophy at Damascus University and at St Joseph University in Beirut, where he obtained his Doctorat d’Etat in 1973. After his arbitrary imprisonment for six months in 1955 for political activities and membership of the Syrian National Socialist Party, he settled in Lebanon in 1956, later becoming a Lebanese national. He received a scholarship to study in Paris in 1960-1. From 1970 to 1985 he was professor of Arabic literature at the Lebanese University; in 1976 he held a visiting professorship at Damascus University, and in 1980-1 was professor of Arabic at the Sorbonne (Paris III). He has also taught and lectured in a number of other Western universities. He returned to Paris to live in 1985.

Adonis’s formative years were strongly influenced by the teachings of Antun Sa’ada, and by the new poetic sensibility which had been developed by such poets as Jubran Khahlil Jubran, Ilyas Abu Shabaka, Sa’id ‘Aql and Salah Labaki; he had also been educated in the classical traditions of Arabic literature by his father, a learned man steeped in ancient Arab culture and Islamic theology. Until the late 1950s, his poetry represented an attempt to fuse these early sources, as he tried also to give poetic expression to his political and social beliefs – specifically, the quest for national identity and the drive to achieve the ‘great leap forward’ of Arab society. It is to Sa’ada rather than T.S. Eliot that he owes his awareness of the importance for poetry of myth and history – poetry being seen by Adonis and many of his contemporaries as having a vital role in the response to the challenge of the West. Particularly after the loss of Palestine in 1948, the ‘new poetry’ began its ascendance, taking the form initially of a rebellion against traditional rhythmic and prosodic forms. Adonis’s role in the evolution of free verse was crucial; at the same time, he wanted to maintain for poetry an autonomous space and a refined language that refused to descend to the level of daily speech. The turning-point, both for Adonis and for modern Arabic poetry as a whole, came with Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi (1961), in which he achieved a balance between poetry’s Socio-political role and the demands of a symbolic ‘language of absence’ which poetry, as he saw it, required. Although his subsequent poetry has become richer and more experimental, in the view of many it has never surpassed Mihyar. His most complex work, the 400-page Mufrad bi-Sighat al-jam’ is a dazzling piece of writing, but one which has remained closed world to the majority of readers.

Both as a poet and a theorist on poetry, and as a thinker with a radical vision of Arab culture, Adonis has exercised a powerful influence both on his contemporaries and on younger generations of Arab poets. His name has become synonymous with the Hadatha (modernism) which his poetry embodies. Critical works such as Zaman al-shi r (1972) are landmarks in the history of literary criticism in the Arab world. His role in providing platforms for modernist literature has also been significant. In 1957 he joined Yusuf al-Khal in founding the avant-garde journal Shi’r and in 1968 established the equally influential, though more culturally and politically orientated, journal Mawaqif.

Adonis’s critical statements on poetry lack the controlled tone of academic criticism, but possess the power and missionary-spirit of a pioneer and visionary. Well-acquainted with |Western literary traditions, he has produced some fine and influential translations of European (mainly French) poetry and drama. Of particular importance are his translations (or, more accurately, renderings) of the poetry of St John Perse and the dramatic works of Georges Schehadeh. His most lasting work, however, will undoubtedly be his own poetry, at the heart of which lies a desire to change the world and to bring about a fundamental transformation of language; these two realms in Adonis’s vision are so intertwined that changing the one without the other is impossible. The impulse behind both is the same: his sense of the stagnation of his society and its culture – including language and poetry – and his vision of history as a corpse, a burden which has to be shed by a spirit searching for a creative role for man in history. This theme manifests itself in a varied range of imagery, finding one of its most vivid embodiments in an early poem entitled ‘al-Ba’th wa-al ramad’.

At times, Adonis’s poetry is both revolutionary and anarchic; at other times, it approaches the mystical. His mysticism derives essentially from the writings of the Sufi poets. Here he aspires to reveal the underlying unity between the contradictory aspects of man’s existence and the fundamental similarity of the outwardly dissimilar elements of the universe. But although his poetry appears to be polarized between the mystical and the revolutionary, it often dissolves these two poles into a single harmonized vision, which gives his work its distinctive character. His struggle to invent a new poetic language and his aspiration to change Socio-political realities often fuse to produce a new poetics- a poetics which asserts the power of human creativity to reveal the hidden (al-batin) enshrouded by the manifest (al-zahir). In this respect, his upbringing within t he Shi’ite tradition has had a decisive influence on his work. It is these aspects of his poetry which often bring it close to the poetry I of the French symbolists and to European surrealism; indeed, he has argued (e.g. in al-sufiyya wa-al-suryaliyya, 1992) that the deeper sources from which symbolism and surrealism flow are identical to those of Sufism.

The lucidity, elegance, and the opulence of the rhythmic structure of some of Adonis’s early poetry contrast sharply with the complexity and L absence of regular rhythmic patterning of some of his later poems. He is a poet of paradoxes and extremes, who seems to transcend himself in every new work. Recently, he advocated ‘writing’ as opposed to ‘poetry’, suggesting that a poetic text should go beyond the traditional concept of genre to become a total poem incorporating a multiplicity of levels, languages, forms and rhythmic structures.

In everything he has produced, Adonis reveals his mastery of language and the power to structure a text in the manner of a skilful architect. Some of his more recent poetry has lost the abstractness of his work of the 1970s; it has also lost the lyricism of, for example, Aghani Mihyar al-Dimashqi, in which he uses the figure of Mihyar the Damascene as a poetic persona through which to articulate his vision of the world. He has also displayed a new fondness for the ‘poetry of place’, in contrast to the ‘poetry of time’ which dominated his earlier work: in his later texts, places like Marrakech, Fez, Cairo and Sana’a occur more often as specific places with their own powerful material presence and distinct personalities. Above all, what distinguishes his poetry is a tone of quest and a refusal to accept present reality: he is the master of the incomplete, one of his recent volumes consisting of a series of poems, the title of each of which contains the phrase ‘awwalu al-…’ (‘The beginning of . . .’). Adonis has remained uncompromisingly adventurous well into his sixties. His al-Kitab (1995) – invoking the name of the holy Koran – has a complex structure dividing the page into four sections of texts and margins, each representing a different aspect of Arab history and employing a different voice, centred on the personality and experience of al Mutanabbii. This spirit of adventure has kept his work at the forefront of the modernist movement and rendered his poetry uniquely relevant to the work of younger generations.

Text editions

The Blood of Adonis, S. Hazo (trans.), Pittsburgh (1971).

An Introduction to Arab Poetics, C. Cobham (trans.), London (1990).

M, A. al-Udhari (trans.), London (1976). Orof Desire, K. Abu-Deeb (trans.), Newcastle (1998).

Transformations of the Lover, S. Hazo (trans.), Ohio (1983).

Victims of a Map, A. al-Udhari (trans.), London (1984).

Further reading

Abu-Deeb, K., ‘The perplexity of the all-knowing’, Mundus Artium, I/x, Houston (1977).


Songs of Mihyar the Damamscene
A voice

Mihyar is a face
betrayed by its lovers.
Mihyar is bells
without chinning

Mihyar is inscribed upon the faces,
a song which visits us secretly
on white, exiled roads.

Mihyar is bells of wanderers
in this Galilean land.

A Vision /1

put on the mask of burnt wood,
0, Babel of fire and mysteries.
I await the god who comes
draped in flames,
adorned with pearls
stolen from oysters
out of the lung of the sea.,
l await the god who feels perplexed
rages, weeps, bows and glows.
your face, 0, Mihyar,
heralds the coming god


A king is Mihyar
A king-
the dream is his palace
and gardens of fire.

And today,
a dying voice complained about him
to words.
A king is Mihyar.
In the kingdom of the wind he lives, and in the land of mysteries he reigns.

The Adoring Rock

The wandering is over,
and the road
is an adoring rock.

Here we are,
burying the corpse of the day,
draped in the winds of tragedy.

But tomorrow we shall shake
The trunks of the forest of palms.
And tomorrow we shall wash
the body of the slender god
with the blood of the thunderbolt,
and construct the tenuous lines
between our eyelids and the road.

The Two Corpses

I buried in your subservient entrails,
in the head, the hands and eyes,
a minaret;
I buried two corpses,
the Earth and the sky.

0, tribe,
0, womb of wasps,
and null of the wind.


but staying still.
0, sun,
how do I attain the skill
of your footsteps?

I Said Unto You

I said unto you:
I listened to the seas
reading to me their verses
I listened to the bells
slumbering inside the oyster shells.
I said unto you:
I sang my songs
at Satans wedding
and the feast of the fable.
I said unto you:
I beheld,
in the rain of history
and the glow of the distance
a fairy and a dwelling.
Because I sail in my eyes,
I said unto you, I beheld
in the first step of the distance.


We die unless we create the gods.
We die unless we murder the gods.
0, kingdom of the bewildered rock.

A Land Of No Return

Even if you return, 0, Odysseus;
even if spaces close around you,
and the guide is burnt to ashes
in your bereaved face
or your friendly terror,
you will remain a history of wandering,
you will remain in a land of no promise,
you will remain in a land of no return.
Even if you return,
0, Odysseus;

A Homeland

To faces which wither under the mask of melancholy,
I bow.
To roads on which I forgot my tears,
to a father who died as green as a cloud
with a sail upon his face,
I bow
And to a child who is sold
in order to pray and polish shoes,
(in my country, we all pray and polish shoes),
and to rocks upon which I carved with my hunger
that they were lightning and rain
rolling under my eyelids,
and to a house whose soil I carried in my wanderings,
I bow.
All these are my homeland
Not Damascus.

King Of The Winds

My banner is an end.
it neither fraternizes
nor meets half-way.
An end are my songs.
Here I am,
amassing the flowers,
alerting the trees,
erecting the sky as a colonnade,
loving, living and getting born
in my words.
Here I am,
gathering the butterflies
under the morning’s banner,
nurturing the fruits,
and dwelling with rain
in the clouds and their bells,
in the seas.
Here I am,
sailing the stars
and anchoring them,
and crowning myself
king of the winds.


0, bliss of treason
0, world which stretches in my footsteps
as an abyss and pools of fire
0, ancient corpse
0, world which I betrayed
and still betray.
I am that drowning figure
whose eyelids pray
to the roar of the waters.
And I am that god
who blesses the land of crime.
I am a traitor,
I sell my life
to the Satanic path.
I am the lord of treachery.

The Flood /2

Go, pigeon, go.
We do not want you to return.
They have surrendered their flesh to the rocks,
and I – here I am
sliding towards the deepest point,
entangled in the Ark’s sails.
Our flood is a planet
that does not revolve,
ravaging and ancient –
In it we might scent
the god of buried centuries.
So, go, pigeon, go.
We do not want you to return.


We bade you farewell years ago,
we bade you the repenting elegy,
0, halo of dead angels,
0, language of fugitive locusts.

The words are packed with mud.
The words have adorned themselves
with labor pains.

Our absent wombs return to us.
And here are the rains, here are the floods.
0, language of debris and ruins,
0, halo of dead angels.

You Have No Choice

What? Then you destroy the face of the Earth
and carve for it another face.
What? Then you have no choice
but the path of fire
and the hell of rejection,
when the Earth is no more
a guillotine or a god.
Today I have my Language
I have destroyed my kingdom,
destroyed my throne, my courts and colonnades.
And, borned over my lung,
I roamed in quest,
teaching the seas my rains, granting them
my fire and incense-burner,
and writing the time to come
on my lips.
And today I have my language,
my frontiers, my land and indelible mark,
and I have my peoples,
who nurture me on their uncertainty
and find their light
in my ruins and wings.


0, Phoenix, I pray
that you remain in the ashes,
that you don’t glimpse the light or rise.
We’ve neither experienced your night
nor sailed across the darkness.
0, Phoenix, I pray
that the magic die,
that our rendezvous be in
the fire and the ashes.
0, Phoenix, I pray
that madness be our guide.

Between Your Eyes and Mine

When I drown my eyes in your eyes,
I glimpse the deepest dawning
and see the ancient times;
I see what I do not comprehend
and feel the universe flowing
between your eyes and none.


Who are you? Whom do you choose, 0, Mihyar?
Wherever you go, there is God or Satan’s abyss
an abyss coming, an abyss going.
And the world is choice.
I choose neither God nor Satan.
Each is a wall.
Each closes my eyes.
Why replace one wall by another,
when my perplexity is the perplexity of the
the perplexity of the all-knowing?

An Elegy for Al-Hallaj

Your green poisonous plume,
your plume whose veins are filled with flames,
with the star rising from Baghdad,
is our history and imminent resurrection
in our land – in our repeated death.
Time lay upon your hands.
And the fire in your eyes
is sweeping, reaching the sky.
0, star rising from Baghdad,
laden with poetry and new birth,
0, poisonous green plume.
Nothing is left
for those coming from afar
with the echo and death and ice
in this land of resurrection.
Nothing is left but you and the presence.
0, you the language of Galilean thunder
in this land of discarded skins.
You, poet of the roots and mysteries.

The Fall

I live between the plague and the fire
with my language,
with these speechless worlds.
I live in heaven and gardens of apples,
in the first ecstasy and despair,
between the hands of Eve –
Lord of that accursed Tree,
and lord of the fruits.
I live between the clouds and sparks.
in a stone that grows and grows,
in a book that teaches
the secrets and the Fall.

The Language Of Sin

I burn my inheritance, I say:
“My land is virgin, and no graves in my youth.”
I transcend both God and Satan
(my path goes beyond the paths of God and Satan).
I go across in my book,
in the procession of the luminous thunderbolt,
the procession of the green thunderbolt,
“After me there’s no Paradise, no Fall,”
and abolishing the language of sin.


A lover rolling in the darkness of Hell
like a stone, I am.
But I shine.
I have a date with the priestesses
in the bed of the ancient god.
My words are tempests that rattle life,
and sparks are my songs.
I am a language for a god to come,
I am the sorcerer of dust.

To Sisyphus

I vowed to write upon water,
I vowed to bear with Sisyphus
his speechless rock.
I vowed to stay with Sisyphus
suffering the fevers and the sparks,
and seeking in blind eyes
a last plume
that writes for autumn and grass
the poem of dust.
I vowed to live with Sisyphus.

The Face Of A Woman

I dwell in the face of a woman
who dwells in a wave
flung by the tide
to a shore that has lost it s harbor
in its shells.
I live in the face of a woman
who murders me,
who desires to be
a dead beacon
in my blood sailing
to the very end of madness.

The Lantern

In the midday sun
he carries his lantern,
searching for a human soul.
No sand in his eyes,
wearing the sandals of dust.
He walks in a barrel,
Ws hands are his quilt.
– And you, what?
– I have no eyes.
Between me and my brothers uses Cain.
Between me and the Other roars the flood.
When night and daylight fall asleep,
I steal by the blood-thirsty butcher.
I walk –
dust walking behind me
but I carry no lantern.


– ‘Who are you? From what peaks have you
0, virgin language, which only you understand.
What’s your name? What banner
have you carried or discarded?”

Asks Alkenos,
desiring to unveil the face of the dead man.
She asks from what peaks I have descended,
asks about my name –
My name is Odysseus.
I come from a land with no bounds,
carried on people’s backs.
I was lost here, was lost there,
with my verses.
And here I am, in the terror and withering,
knowing neither how to stay
nor how to return.

Translated by Kamal Abu-Deeb

Dakwah Sayap Kanan
Oleh: Zacky Khairul Umam

Banyak orang mengutuk kekerasan 1 Juni di Monas, Jakarta. Atas nama apa pun, kekerasan dilarang. Apalagi atas nama agama dan Tuhan yang disembah. Demikian halnya, doktrin amar makruf nahi munkar (memerintah yang baik dan melarang yang buruk) tidak serta-merta digunakan sebagai kilah untuk berbuat sesuatu yang merusak dan merugikan orang lain. Kekerasan yang dianggap sebagai “iman paling kuat” (dan “iman yang lemah” itu adalah diam) salah kaprah sejak dari niat dan pemikirannya. Apa pun dalihnya, kekerasan merupakan tindakan kriminal.

Namun, ada polemik yang beredar di masyarakat. Kemudian ada sebagian orang atau pihak yang tidak prihatin dengan korban kekerasan, justru malah berpaling secara simpatik kepada pelaku kekerasan. Ternyata isu Ahmadiyah, yang dibawa dalam aksi damai Aliansi Kebangsaan untuk Kebebasan Beragama dan Berkeyakinan (AKKBB) itu, yang menyulut sumbu “emosi keberagamaan”. Para pelaku kekerasan menyebutnya sebagai “provokasi”, sementara mereka sendiri hendak merebut massa umat Islam yang tidak sama keyakinannya dengan Ahmadiyah. Lalu tindakan kekerasan yang dilakukan untuk membela akidah Islam dianggap benar. Pertanyaannya, apakah benar sesuatu yang bertujuan baik tapi dilaksanakan dengan tindakan yang tidak baik?

Nah, para pelaku kekerasan itu juga mendapat dukungan yang melimpah dari beberapa tokoh, partai politik, dan lembaga keagamaan. Belakangan, pentolan Front Pembela Islam (FPI), yang sedang menjalani proses hukum, dikunjungi dan dibela oleh banyak tokoh keagamaan dan politik nasional. Di sisi lain, simpati terus membubung bersamaan dengan maraknya “demo tandingan” anti-Ahmadiyah hingga beleid pemerintah, yakni surat keputusan bersama (SKB), keluar sebagai barter dengan kelompok kekerasan. Munarman secara heroik menyerahkan diri setelah SKB keluar, seolah-olah dia kartu truf atas sikap pemerintah itu, yang sebelumnya hilang entah ke mana.

Rentetan peristiwa tersebut memberi ruang yang cukup luas bagi kelompok radikal yang sebetulnya secuil jumlahnya. Hanya, mereka bersuara sangat vokal dan pintar untuk menggugah emosi keagamaan. Kendati mereka tetap menjalani proses hukum, kehadirannya cukup terasa di hati umat Islam yang, terutama, anti terhadap ajaran-ajaran Ahmadiyah. Di sela-sela simpati atas mereka, datanglah para tokoh politik dan keagamaan yang memanfaatkan isu ini sebagai umpan untuk meraih dukungan suara di masa mendatang. Untuk meraih massa, tokoh-tokoh yang memberi dukungan dan bantuan advokasi hukum itu tidak seratus persen demi membela akidah agamanya. Bagi pihak ini, yang ada adalah kepentingan untuk memulai mencari celah baru dalam merebut massa. Pihak tersebut berupaya mendulang emas dan mencuri kesempatan di atas tindak kekerasan yang sebetulnya cacat niatnya dan inkonsitusional.

Politik dakwah
Jika diperhatikan, dakwah yang menjadi tren belakangan ini dibungkus dengan penyederhanaan masalah agama. Untuk menjadi penganut agama yang baik, umat yang patuh tidak membutuhkan kesadaran yang tinggi dan penalaran yang berliku-liku. Cukup dengan praktis melaksanakan ritual, membela agama, sekaligus menggunakan simbol-simbol berbau agama, otomatis akan dianggap saleh. Termasuk, misalnya, memilih partai yang berafiliasi dengan simbol keagamaan. Dakwah semacam ini terus menguat dengan munculnya pemeriahan yang berbunga-bunga atas “syariahisasi”.

Bangunan dakwah mereka didirikan dengan upaya meraih massa. Penyederhanaan terjadi dalam praktek keagamaan, yaitu meraih surga dan menghindari neraka, sekaligus tetap bahagia di dunia dan akhirat. Karena itu, metode yang berkembang ialah jauh dari intelektualisasi yang membutuhkan nalar dan jam terbang pemahaman yang tinggi. Aktor-aktor intelektual dakwah semacam ini bergerak dengan mengerucutkan permasalahan dan doktrin-doktrin agama menjadi nilai yang sangat praktis dilakukan, memberikan manfaat, dan menyebarkan efek plasebo yang menyuntikkan imajinasi kebenaran dan kejahatan dalam diri mereka. Secara sederhana mereka, misalnya, menyuntikkan pemahaman “membela agama dan menolak kejahatan”–baca: membela Islam dan mengutuk kekafiran–untuk digunakan sebagai pemantik bagi eksistensi kelompoknya. Di sini, Islam digunakan sebagai simbol dalam cara dakwah mereka. Padahal, siapa yang tahu Islam sebagai ajaran Tuhan berpihak kepada mereka? Mereka hanya berpikir bahwa mereka bagian dari “jihadis” dan tentara Tuhan, karena itu, wajar mendirikan gerakan paramiliter beserta susunan komando yang ada. Kekerasan bahkan bisa dibenarkan.

Dalam pengaruh suntikan ini, massa digiring ke arah “kebenaran” dan pemihakan terhadap radikalisme dan fundamentalisme. Metode penyederhanaan dakwah merupakan cara yang ampuh untuk menggaet massa demi penyebarluasan ajaran-ajaran Islam praktis, menggugah simpati dan emosi, sekaligus bisa menggerakkan dorongan atau motif politik. Kini, penyederhanaan itu bahkan telah mencapai akar rumput persoalan, yakni berusaha meyakinkan masyarakat untuk membangun masyarakat yang bersih, ekonomi yang adil, sekaligus sejahtera. Karena itu, banyak tokoh dan lembaga yang memanfaatkan isu seputar kejadian Monas itu sebagai umpan yang baik untuk mendapatkan partisipan. Kapitalisasi dan politisasi rentan mengikat hal ini dan umat banyak yang tidak menyadarinya sebagai manuver dan manipulasi.

Nah, pemerintah, yang setengah hati ingin bersikap moderat dengan keluarnya SKB, ternyata jatuh pada sikap yang medioker. Bagaimana? Bukannya mendapat berkah dukungan, pemerintah juga akan kebingungan menghadapi tuntutan konstitusional dan hasutan massa. Sementara kelompok Islam tertentu sedang membangun kekuatan massa melalui metode dakwah yang ampuh, pemerintah masih berpikir pada simpul ideologis Islam yang sebetulnya gagap untuk meraih simpatisan. Rakyat butuh kenyamanan, perlindungan, dan kesejahteraan, sekaligus ketegasan. Di sini, pemerintah (Yudhoyono-Kalla) kalah memetakan kekuatan. Kelompok Islam politik semakin besar. Fokus pemerintah memperbaiki kesejahteraan pun tak kunjung membaik. Jelas sudah bahwa ayat-ayat keyakinan lebih penting bagi pemerintah ketimbang ayat-ayat konstitusi.

Zacky Khairul Umam
Penulis, tinggal di Jakarta

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