What would Iqbal think?

Iqbal believed that unity was our greatest gift from Islam. Today, we use that very religion to kill others.

Butool Hisam August 13, 2014
On the southern bank of the River Neckar in Heidelberg, Germany, is the Iqbal-Ufer. This street, running parallel to the river, was named in honour of Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher from India. It was here that the poet was granted his PhD in philosophy.

As I glance at the images of this breathtaking city, I can understand Iqbal’s appreciation for beauty. What amazes me, however, is the depth his poetry plunges into when describing the despairing state of Muslims in India. An eye that is accustomed to beauty, a voice that thrills with eloquence, would shun despair and disillusionment. Yet these conflicting emotions are present in his poetry and perhaps most in two famous poems, Shikwa (complaint) and Jawab-e-Shikwa (reply to the complaint).

With Independence Day coming our way, I am drawn to reading them again, for some reason. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that this August 14 gives us little to celebrate and much to mourn. We mourn the state of our nation, its politics, its crumbling affairs of law and order but what we mourn most, albeit unconsciously, is the loss of our own identity. We are constantly looking back. We are questioning what the father of our nation wanted us to be.

While chanting the need for unity, we have created so many social divides that one can only wonder if we will ever be united. We have shunned our religious identities, consoling ourselves that it is a ‘private’ aspect of our lives… almost as if something we ought to be ashamed of. We blame everything on extremism but fail to look at ourselves.

In short, we are not unlike the Muslims of India, whose Shikwa Iqbal wrote so expressively, who appear to be blaming God for their social decline.
“Thy graces descend on the other people’s abodes

Lightning strikes only the poor Muslims’ abodes”

“Why, among Muslims, is material wealth unobtainable?

Your power is such that it has no limit, nor accounting”

I will not spend much time on the Shikwa but would like to linger more over its answer, Jawab-e-Shikwa, in which Iqbal imagines the voice of God answering the lamenter’s complaint.

Some of the most moving lines of the poem include:
“We are inclined to mercy, but there is no one to implore

Whom can we show the way? There is no wayfarer to the destination

Jewel polishing is common but there is no proper jewel

There is no clay capable of being moulded into Adam

We confer the glory of Kai on the deserving

We confer even a whole new world on those who search

“They were surely your ancestors, but what are you?

Sitting in idleness, waiting for tomorrow are you!”

Hundreds of pages have been written to explain and dissect the metaphors in both these poems. But we have only to look to our own hearts and minds to understand what Iqbal meant. We are cursed only by our own disillusionment. There are divides amongst us that cut us deeper than sectarianism. There appears to be a continuous struggle between ‘liberals’, ‘moderates’, ‘secularists’ and ‘fundamentalists’ that is only dividing up our nation further.

Before we divide ourselves into any category or ideology, why don’t we look at what Islam has to say?

No, I am not trying to wax religious here but if we are all so interested in following so many ideologies, let us look at the one thing that may unite us; the one that truly gives rights to all of mankind regardless of race, religion, cast or creed.

In 1930, while addressing the Muslim League, Iqbal stated that ‘homogenity’ (unity) was something, “that Islam has given you (Muslims) as a free gift”. Seventeen years later, it was Iqbal’s dream that Jinnah managed to turn into a reality. It is now that we, in the context of re-defining our identity, can really understand the profundity of this statement, if we wish to.

Clearly, Jinnah who once stated that “his (Iqbal’s) views were substantially in consonance with my own” understood that it was only this unity that would lead us to being one nation. But he seemed to have presumed too much; we are perhaps more divided now than ever and our minorities are persecuted every day in the name of religion – the same religion that condemns such acts. Perhaps now is the time to go back and wonder at what it is that unites us, for it may be the only thing that can hold us together.
Butool Hisam A medical student aspiring to be a trauma surgeon. She blogs at: http://labyrinthine916.blogspot.com/ and tweets @ButoolHisam (https://twitter.com/ButoolHisam)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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نائلہ | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend Who said commenting on ET is hatred? Questioning, Interacting, talking on a website is not hatred. What you say is 98% of the time is NOT hatred. Otherwise, why would I even bother talking to you? But you do not know the comments from your people to me, which are not passed through. I could say the same things back, I know how to type. But I wont do that. Why? Because that's not how you treat a fellow human being! Teach some of that to your WB. And you know what I still haven't figured out yet? Who are we hated for being, Muslims or Pakistanis? Regardless, neither is going to change, so get used to it. Its been 67 years. And you cant be serious- your people are very welcome and are treated well in the "streets of Pakistan".
Prashant | 5 years ago Streets of Pakistan- You do not come across an Indian version of Kasab, that is what I meant. I have no problems with Muslims that does not mean I cannot question when I see some of them being hypocrites just like I have "n" no of complains with my own community. You know how difficult it is Naila to keep yourself sane and not respond with the same hatred that you are being treated with. ET does not let the all the hatred appear over here as they seem to have very responsible moderators. Just look around and there is so much shit all around.
Prashant | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend I can't speak for WB but Iqbal and Jinnah would go down in the history as Indian poet and statesmen respectively. You may or may not agree with them but their legacy cannot be forgotten for both good and bad.
نائلہ | 5 years ago "India just cannot afford another who believe in dividing their own motherland." Division of your "motherland" is an old story. I suggest you get over it; maybe that will decrease the amount of hatred harboured by your fellow countrymen.
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