Mirza Ghalib was an iconoclastic believer
'Bandagi mein bhi woh aazaad-o-khudbeen hain ke hum/Ulte phir aayein dar-e-Ka'aba agar waa na hua' (Even in worship, I'm so free and emancipated that I'll come back if the doors of Ka'aba don't open for me!). Yaas Yagana Changezi, Ghalib's bitterest critic and himself a poet of great repute, termed Ghalib's aforementioned couplet as his only worthwhile couplet that remarkably illustrated the maverick poet's 'audacious faith' (gustaakh aqeeda). Ghalib wasn't a believer in the usual sense of the word. He was an iconoclast, but certainly not an atheist. Altaaf Hussain Haali Panipati, who was Ghalib's shaagird (student) and later his friend, wrote in his biography of Ghalib, 'Yaadgaar-e-Ghalib' that he (Ghalib) completely repudiated the idea of tasawwuf (spirituality, particularly, Islamic mysticism) as 'dimaghi futoor' (an idiosyncrasy of the mind). In one of his Persian couplets, Ghalib dared ask Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz Shirazi, two stalwarts of Persian mysticism, 'Your brand of spirituality is delusional/Step out of your ivory towers and experience god, if at all god does exist.'
Elsewhere Ghalib wrote an Urdu quatrain:
Jul pe jul diye jaa rahe hain Khud ko bahla rahe hain Koi poochhe inse kahaan hai khuda Ye log kise bahka rahe hain
(Deception after deception/They're deluding themselves/Ask them where's god? Who're these mystics deceiving?).
God was a deception to Ghalib and faith was 'a conditioned comfort zone':
Hum bhi jaante hain jannat ki haqeeqat lekin Dil ke bahlane ko Ghalib ye khyaal achchha hai
(Though we all know the reality of Paradise/It's a good idea to deceive oneself once in a while)
This couplet of Ghalib resonates with the English rationalistic saying, 'Who has deceived thee as often as thyself?'
To understand the religious beliefs of Ghalib, one must refer to his Persian notes and letters in his roznaamcha (diary), Dastambu ('bouquet' in Persian). It's worthwhile to mention that Ghalib claimed to think in Persian and proudly, nay flippantly, said, 'Farsi mein saadiq hoon/Urdu toh zabaan-e-diljama’ee hai' (I'm true to myself when it comes to Persian/I use Urdu just to please people!).
In one of his letters to Nawab Shefta of Rampur, who was his patron and also a very good poet, Ghalib wrote that he went beyond monotheism and polytheism and belief or unbelief didn't appeal to him any longer. To quote him in Urdu, 'Ishrat-e-qatrah hai dariya mein fana ho jaana....' (the glory of a drop is to merge itself in the vastness of the river). But towards the fag end of his life, Ghalib said, 'Khud ko bekhudi se bhi aage le gaya hoon/Khud hi khud mein nihaan ho gaya hoon' (I've gone beyond the state of self-immersion/I'm lost in myself). This he wrote in a letter to his coeval poet Ibrahim Zauq, who was the ustaad (teacher) of the emperor Bahadurshah Zafar.
To encapsulate, Ghalib was a radical believer who went beyond the precincts of faith and worshipped, if he ever did, Allah in his own inimitable and impudent manner. To quote Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpuri,'Apna hi aqeeda, apna hi andaaz tha uska/Ghalib kabhi mohtaaj-e-khuda na hua' (He had his own faith and own style/Ghalib never needed any god). He indeed never required any god. Just before his death, he wrote a letter to Haali and there was only one line in it: Darkaar-e-khuda nahin/Ghalib ko baawar hai khud pe' (I'm not in need of god/I've faith in myself).
Ghalib was born on this day in 1797.