Before Sunrise and After Sunset (Muslim Devotionals)

We are in the Islamic holy month of Ramzan right now, a time when most Muslims offer more prayers and do more good deeds than at any other time. It is in this month that the holy Quran was revealed. It is the month—of 29 or 30 days—when believers must generally not do things which are considered sinful, and from dawn to dusk must not eat or drink anything. Religion apart, the benefits of such an approach can be rewarding, improving both our patience and our anatomy.

Not a bad time too to visit Muslim devotional songs today. Plurality is a wonderful thing, and just as other faiths have their religious songs called hymns, bhajans, and gurbaanis, Muslims have hamds and naats. In these, a hamd is a poem in praise of Allah, while naat poetry praises Prophet Muhammad, and there is actually a category of specialists who sing naats. They are called Sana Khawaans or Naat Khawaans. But the idea of praise has been stretched to appeals (fariyaads) too, and since some poems praise or send appeals to both Allah and Prophet Muhammad, quite often this kind of writing is clubbed together under the devotional umbrella called Hamd-o-Naat.

Here is an example of what is only a naat: Bekas pe karam keejiye sarkaar-e-Madina is a plaintive cry to Prophet Muhammad by a shackled Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). This has clear reference to the prophet who migrated from Mecca to Madina. And here is a pure hamd: Aye mere maalik mere parwar digaar, hai mere toote dil ki pukaar, which is an appeal to the Almighty by Nimmi in Sohni Mahiwal (1958). Both are plaintive appeals, and both musical wonders were created by the collective art of Shakeel, Naushad and Lata.

Before we think of such holy songs however, we need to factor in a twist. Besides these poems, there is also the qawwali, which has a fundamentally Islamic undertone but which official Islam looks down upon. That’s because a qawwali may praise Allah and his many prophets, but it also frequently speaks of love and longing, of friendship and separation, of alcohol and intoxication, of nok-jhonk between the sexes and much more. Sometimes in fact it may ask inconvenient questions about His wisdom or presence. Na baba na, religion won’t touch it! Moreover, the qawwali is often rendered at the tombs (mazaars) of elevated saints, shrines which are called dargahs. Here love and oneness is the theme, and many people try to experience God via intermediaries too, which is another strong reason the high-priests despise it.

This challenging of religious tenets is of course the reason many Islamists discouraged Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf from visiting the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer, when their leader came to India. The President of course ignored that advisory gracefully.

No harm in recalling a few qawwalis that have dotted our landscape for decades, those that praise some or the other saint. Jholi bharo hamaari, Ajmer waale khwaaja is a Mahendra Kapoor non-film offering, praising Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer. Piya Haji Ali (Fiza, 2009) celebrates Syed Peer Haji Ali of Mumbai, and Damadam mast Qalandar (many non-film versions) is an ode to Hazrat Lal Shahbaz Qalandar from Sindh, now in Pakistan.

And now let’s look at a few only hamd-o-naats now, even if found in qawwalis.

  • Jidhar dekhta hoon udhar tu hi tu hai (Durrani/Nayi Duniya, 1942)
  • Ghareebon ki duniya hai tere hawaale (Saigal, Suraiya/Tadbeer, 1945)
  • Ik tera sahaara (Suraiya/Shama, 1946)
  • Beech bhanwar mein aan phasa hai, dil ka safeena, shah-e-Madina (Suraiya/Dard, 1947)
  • Bulbul mein hain naghme tere (Khan Mastana, Rafi/Laila Majnu, 1953)
  • Ye jaan ye imaan bas Allah ke liye hai (Shamshad/Laila Majnu, 1953)
  • Sakhi sarkaar hai teri (Bande Hasan, Rafi/Mirza Ghalib, 1954)
  • Tu hi bharosa tu hi sahaara (Suraiya/Shama Parwana, 1954)
  • Tera hi aasra hai donon jahaan waale (Hemant/Arab Ka Saudagar, 1956)
  • Parwar digaar-e-aalam tera hi hai sahaara (Rafi/Hatimtai, 1956)
  • Tere karam ko kahegi duniya (Geeta/Heer, 1956)
  • Aankhon mein tumhaare jalwe hain (Rafi/Shirin Farhad, 1956)
  • Bigdi hai baat bana de (Suman, Manna Dey/Al-Hilal, 1958)
  • Mera bichhda yaar mila de, sadqa Rasool ka (Lata/Sohni Mahiwal, 1958)
  • Allah ki rehmat ka aye dil jis ko bhi sahaara mil jaaye (Rafi, Balbir, Chandbala/Mehndi, 1958)
  • Bedard zamaana tera dushman hai to kya hai (Hemant, Lata/Mehndi, 1958)
  • Ilaahi tu sun le hamaali dua (Rafi/Chhote Nawaab, 1961)
  • Ye zindagi kya hai (Mahendra/Razia Sultana, 1961)
  • Salle ala zulf kaali-kaali (Rafi/Kabli Khan, 1963)
  • Khuda-e-bartar teri zameen par (Lata/Taj Mahal, 1963)
  • Banaaye ja bigaade ja, bigaade ja banaaye ja (Rafi/Alibaba Aur Chaalis Chor, 1966)
  • Aye Khuda ret ke sehra ko samundar kar de (Jagjit Singh, Non-film)
  • Durood tum par salaam tum par (Talat/Non-film)
  • Karo humsafeero Madine ki baaten (Begum Akhtar/Non-film)
  • Aye Khuda har faisla tera mujhe manzoor hai (Kishore/Abdullah, 1980)
  • Phoolon mein tu zarron mein tu (Rafi, Lata/Love And God, 1986)

Songs which just name God, as in offering a dua or otherwise mentioning Him in do not always become devotionals. For example, Khuda nigehbaan ho tumhaara (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960), or Khuda khair kare…aayi zanjeer ki jhankaar (Razia Sultana, 1982). Allah bachaaye naujawaanon se (Mere Mehboob, 1963), same thing. Screenplay and song writers have long known the power of the name.


(Photos: Top, Khuda-e-bartar teri zameen par, and above, Bekas pe karam keejiye sarkaar-e-Madina)

Originally published: 6th July 2014)


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