Remembering Khalil Gibran Khalil
.. by Mir Wazir Khan
Khalil Gibran Khalil (for Muslim) and Kahlil Gibran Kahlil (for Christian) is perhaps the most widely read author of the early 20th century.? Gibran was born on January 6, 1883 in the village of Bsharri in Mount Lebanon in a Maronite Christian family. Gibran attained universal fame at a relatively young age through his artistic, philosophical and literary works which few have achieved in history.
Gibran was an artist, mystic, author and poet-philosopher acclaimed and applauded in all continents of the world and by people of all major faiths and races. He was an ecumenical poet and philosopher who believed in the universality of humanity and vehemently taught love, compassion and cooperation among humanity.? Gibran lived in an age when the Arab world in the greater Middle East was in disarray. The Ottoman Empire ruled over different Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa as provinces of the Ottoman Empire.? A wave of Arab nationalism and a desire for liberation from the Ottoman rule was brewing in different strata of Arab societies. Gibran considered Syria as the centre of the Arab world and the surrounding regions and countries as part of greater Syria. Philosophers and writers such as Gibran were in the forefront to foment tempo of nationalism and the desire for freedom in the Arab world through their thoughts and writings.
Gibran was a universal non-partisan and non-denominational figure of his times recognized and revered by people of all faiths and denominations. Muslims considered Gibran as Muslim while Christian believed him to be a Christian. Gibran was much impressed from Islam and particularly its mystic strand. He had great reverence for the?? Prophet of Islam and referred to him in his writings as al-Mustafa. The aim of Gibran had been to unite all Arabs irrespective of their religious affiliation for the freedom of the Arab world and for the establishment of better and progressive societies.
Gibran immigrated to the United States in 1895 along with his family. The purpose of his emigration was to pursue his artistic and literary pursuits in an environment of freedom and liberty. It was almost impossible for Gibran to write and publish books and articles in Lebanon in the same way as he did in the United States. Gibran spent most of his time rotating between Boston and New York. To quench his thirst for arts, he travelled to the leading cities of the Western world including Paris and Rome. Gibran produced around 700 artistic works on different themes and subjects including Nature, Love, Life and Eternity. However, Gibran got lasting fame through his thoughts and writing which emphasized on oneness and universality of humanity. His writings were highly appealing to readers from different backgrounds.
Gibran?s stay in the United States really provided him enabling environment to pursue his artistic and literary passions. In addition to the 700 works of art, Gibran also wrote several books of lasting fame. The Prophet is considered to be his master piece work which was first published in the United Stated in 1923. The Prophet is believed to be the best- selling book of all times which has been translated into more than 100 languages. ?The Garden of the Prophet, The Madman, The Broken Wings and Sand and Foam are some of his other writings. Gibran believed in the ever-lasting nature of the soul. He developed sickness and his ailment gradually deteriorated. Physical weakness and other bodily symptoms alerted Gibran to the fallibility of human life. ?Therefore, some months before his dead he expressed to his close friends his desire that the epitaph he wished to be written at his tomb should read as follows:
?I am alive, like you. And I now stand beside you. Close your eyes and look around and you will see me in front of you?.
Gibran breathed his last in New York in a calm and peaceful condition on April 10, 1931 at the age of 48. A magnificent mausoleum was established in his native village of Bsharri and his suggested words were engraved at the gate of the mausoleum. Many countries recognized and remembered Gibran and his literary, philosophical and artistic services to humanity by erecting monuments and statues in his honor. Gibran lived at 14 Avenue du Maine in Paris from 1908 to 1910. The French government erected a plague there in his memory which is significant for any Third World personality. The United States, Brazil, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Chile, Morocco, Romania, Venezuela and Lebanon honored his memory through establishment of gardens, libraries, statues, busts and roads. Here again, the Muslim and Arab world lagged behind in commemorating the great Arab and Middle Eastern figure sufficiently and appropriately as he deserved.
Gibran wrote on many themes and topics of importance of his times which are also relevant to our times and well into the future. He wrote about ethics and morals, universal love and peace with all or sulh-e-kul and spiritual and societal awakenings. His aim in his writings and art-works mostly remained his desire to remind humanity that humans are the noblest creation of God on Earth and a microcosm on the face of visible macrocosm. He always strived, through his writings, to awaken the nobility, elites and peoples in positions of leadership towards betterment of their societies and polities so that people at large can live their lives in peace, dignity and sufficiency. Below is a paragraph taken from his book ?The Garden of Prophet? in which he pities a nation or society which has chronic and fundamental flaws in their thinking, attitudes and behaviors and which are likely to ruin the nation or society:
?My friends and road-fellows pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that does not discern nobility from villainy
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest and drinks a wine?? that flows not from its own wine-press.
Pity the nation that acclaim a bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror as bountiful.
Pity the nation that despises a passion in his dreams, yet submits in its awakening.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boast not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when his neck is laid between the sword and the block.
Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.
Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strongmen are yet in the cradle.
Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.?
The above quotes from Gibran and the vices and weaknesses it portraits, to a greater extent, depicts shortcomings in which our society or societies are immersed and engulfed. We mostly respect those who wields and project power. In our social relations we struggle to be connected, at all cost, with those who are powerful and resourceful. We love dominant professions. ?Key and essential professions of teachers, preachers, nurses, engineers, technicians, craftsmen and such others who make the society run are seldom liked. Accumulation of wealth and upward mobility in society, by all means, are the only determinants of one?s success in life. Truth and falsehood and right and wrong are all relative and societies are built on Relativism. Gibran rightly considered the above vices and short-comings in societies, particularly among elites and dominant classes of the societies, as dangerous portents for the progress of nations. Contemporary societies and particularly societies in Muslim-majority countries are still rampant with the moral and ethical flaws which Khalil Gibran decried a century ago. The existence of these defects are dangerous, but the most dangerous aspect of the matter is that a century after ?Gibran, these vices or defects are not considered as vices or defects but rather these are taken to be an integral part of life, social organization, social status, social mobility and for attainment of ?power fame and reputation. .. Mir Wazir Khan, Awi, Chitral 10 Apr 2020 (April 10, Death Anniversary of Khalil Gibran Khalil)