To be or not to be a holiday: The only reason we remember Allama Iqbal?

There has been far greater discussion about the national poet in these few days than is done over the entire year.

Afia Salam November 09, 2015
Many people had been ranting about our shair-e-mashriq (poet of the East) Allama Iqbal rolling in his grave at the (mis)treatment due to the ‘controversy’ over how to celebrate/commemorate/observe his birth anniversary. I, on the other hand, had another vision flitting through my mind’s eye.

No, it wasn’t of him holding a pansy in his hand, muttering ‘Pakistan loves me, loves me not’, while plucking at each petal. I could envision him sitting calmly in his chair, legs neatly folded, with a hint of a smug smile on his face, saying,
“So you thought you could forget me, eh?”

There has been far greater discussion and awareness about the national poet and philosopher in these few days than is done over the entire year. People were arguing whether Iqbal Day should or should not be a public holiday. Within those arguments, selections from his poetry and essays were peppered for good measure. This was done across the pro and anti-holiday divide, so in my opinion, the benefit still accrued. But really, did we need the confusion about the public holiday to gain so much traction?

It’s true that the prospects of a long weekend have always been very enticing, but the needless controversy that erupted over whether or not schools and offices would be open gave the people more anguish than relief. Parents were especially stressed by the dithering between yes and no on part of the government officials.

Social media exploded with memes on the topic and then of course, the politicians, always looking to spark controversy to assert their importance, jumped into the fray. The one-upmanship, of the show of ‘more loyal to Iqbal than you’ spectacle also resulted in the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) announcing a holiday on November 9th, despite the fact that it had been taken out from the list of gazette holidays.

We had separate announcements about some departments declaring a holiday while others did not.

Some educational institutes kept the parents on tenterhooks till the last moment. Did all this serve any purpose? What was the idea of suddenly starting to protest for its restitution on the eve of the day itself? The list of gazetted holidays is issued at the start of the year. Why didn’t anyone speak up at that time if they had a problem with it being declared a working day? At least then there would have plenty of time to hash the issue out and come to a decision.

We must also see whether these ‘holidays’ serve any purpose? Are we really commemorating them with a purpose in mind? Or do we just need to know well in advance whether to stock up on DVDs or book farm-houses and beach huts in advance?

This doesn’t even work in a half and half situation where schools are closed and offices are not, as that presents a bigger problem for parents to manage the children in their absence, unless they too have to miss work per force. All in all, a pretty complicated situation.

Surely, all those clamouring for a holiday were not planning to have ‘lub pey aatee hai dua’ recitals, were they? So what is it that has suddenly made cancellation of Iqbal Day as a public holiday the cause of so much heartburn?

How much of Iqbal’s philosophy did we imbibe when we did get the day off? What happens on all the holidays that are given to commemorate different eminent personalities?

How many of us think about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan on December 25th and think of a personal or national course correction?

Do we know more about Shah Abdul Latif’s beautiful teachings or the universal message of Rahman Baba or Data Ganj Baksh because they too have their ‘days’?

Do we really know the significance of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, whose death anniversary also used to be a partial public holiday?

Maybe the only way that holidays would have any meaning attached to these personalities would be if they were not a holiday, like when Independence Day used to be celebrated in schools. The parents may have had an off, but they had to dress the children in the national dress and drop them to school for special assemblies, programmes and celebrations because of which the school children learnt of the significance of the day.

Maybe more than a commemoration, we need a dedication of that day to the personality. Iqbal Day could be also be commemorated through activities dedicated to talking about his thoughts and his poetry.

How does a mere holiday honour such personalities?

After all, what Iqbal wrote about is still relevant to the Pakistan of today. He needs to be talked about. People need to think about what he wrote. That can only happen if concerted, conscious efforts are made to bring the discussion in the mainstream, not by giving people an extra day to sleep in late.
Afia Salam A freelance journalist, with an experience of print, electronic and web media. She writes, and trains media on climate change, gender and labour issues, as well as media ethics. She blogs at (
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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Parvez | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend This should never have been declared as a holiday......playing petty politics with an important issue such as public holiday's was another minus 3 for Imran Khan.
Sialkoti | 4 years ago | Reply | Recommend It makes no difference to Allama . He will remain what he is; a tall figure in the philosophical and literary world. We all know why such a discussion has started and by who!
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