Two sides of Iqbal

It is unclear from the latest compilation of his poetry that there ever was opposition to what he represented.

Intezar Hussain April 10, 2011
April, on account of his death anniversary, has been Iqbal’s month for us. Too much has been written and published on Iqbal over the decades for me to say something comprehensive about it here. The Iqbal Academy and the Academy of Letters have produced the voluminous Iqbaliat kay sau saal (One hundred years of Iqbal studies), but if you expect it to represent the gist of all that has been written on the subject over the decades you’ll be disappointed. In fact, let me warn you of a failing up front.

But first let me mention another anthology that attempts to do a similar job. After critically examining a selection of writings about Faiz published by the National Language Authority, a friend told me the book was anti-Faiz. “How come?” I asked.

He said it included a very harsh article critical of Faiz. “You know what brother,” I said, “the very article may have saved the book from being branded an argued eulogy.”

Whenever there arrives on the literary scene a writer with fresh thought, whenever there is a major revolt against the tradition and whenever a new style is introduced, the literary establishment feels challenged. This prompts a lot of meaningless name calling but some relevant and valid questions too get asked. Once the storm is over – the writer’s contributions towards content and style have been accepted – and the entire body of his work is available, it is time to examine all that was written for and against him. That is the only way to fully appreciate the context.

The compilers of Iqbaliat kay sau saal have managed, however, to keep out all that would allow the reader to realise the kind of reaction that had greeted Iqbal’s revolutionary thought and reformist passion.

In fact it is not at all clear from the book whether or not there ever was an opposition to what he represented.

The precautions taken by the editors notwithstanding, there is at least one article in the collection that provides a glimpse of the opposition. The essay by Dr Yousaf Hussain talks about the storm caused by Iqbal’s criticism of Hafiz in his masnavi.

The times were after all different.The Persian literary tradition was still an integral part of what was regarded as Muslim culture so that Saadi and Hafiz were inevitably referred to as a matter of routine. Hafiz, in particular, was not just read as a poet but also revered as a sufi saint and regarded prophetic. His verses were routinely consulted to glean omens and to solve mysteries.

Dr Yousaf explains that Iqbal’s objection to Hafiz was that his poetry tended to promote fatalism.

The ideological differences apart, Hafiz was among Iqbal’s acknowledged literary influences. So much so that he is reported to have told Dr Khalifa Abdul Hakim he sometimes felt possessed by Hafiz’s spirit. Amongst Hafiz’s advocates in the debate Khwaja Hassan Nizami was at the forefront. Akbar Allahabadi is reported to have told him to engage, not fight, the young poet.

This was jut one stormy debate. There were objections to Iqbal’s poetry on other accounts as well. One such storm is mentioned in an interview with Faiz, who remembered being forced to walk out of a Progressive Writers’ meeting over the tone and tenor of criticism of Iqbal.

The collection features an essay by Majnu Gorakhpuri but I would have liked to see his earlier writing also included. This would allow the readers to see how some very eminent critics eventually had to shift their stance on Iqbal.

An adequate understanding of the context is vital to a full appreciation of the significance of Iqbal’s poetry.

*Translated from Urdu

Published in The Express Tribune.
Intezar Hussain An eminent Urdu fiction writer who writes short stories and novels, and also columns for newspapers in English.
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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