Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa - a contemporary translation

Published: May 29, 2014
The translation was launched Monday evening, with a symposium chaired by journalist Syed Talat Hussain and a qawwali performance by the Hussain brothers. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY

The translation was launched Monday evening, with a symposium chaired by journalist Syed Talat Hussain and a qawwali performance by the Hussain brothers. PHOTOS: PUBLICITY


Fans of the great poet Allama Iqbal in London were in store for a rare treat when Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa – a contemporary translation’ by Professor Muhammad Sharif Baqa was launched on Monday evening. With a symposium chaired by journalist Syed Talat Hussain and a qawwali performance by the Hussain brothers.

The two poems were written in 1909 and 1913 respectively. Shikwa, consisting of 31 stanzas, was presented by Iqbal in April 1911 to the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-i Islam held at Islamia College, Lahore. Jawab-e-Shikwa consists of 36 stanzas which Iqbal recited at a public gathering in 1913 outside Mochi Gate, Lahore.

The translation of both poems took over a year to complete and effort was put into retaining the poetic rhythm and nuances of the Urdu language.

Broadcaster Durdana Ansari OBE, the host of the show, recited poetry and sang Khudi Ka Sirr-e-Nihan.

The event was organised by Lafz Media and the Canadian-based International Iqbal society. The CEO of Lafzz Ahmad Nawaz said Iqbal has always been an inspiration; his ideals, if followed, can lead to a just and moral society, something those who envisaged Pakistan wanted.

He said he found the negative portrayal of Pakistan becoming intolerable and wanted to highlight the country’s contributions, reflect on its shortcomings and celebrate and share its rich culture, which is how Lafz came to be.

He said Lafz believes education is the only sustainable foundation for the betterment of the country and has set up a school in Chakwal, serving nine villages and 400 students in hopes of churning out “future Iqbals”. The organisation is currently collecting funds to open an Iqbal wing.

Imran Mirza, the acting high commissioner to the UK and the chief guest of the event said: “Today, Pakistan is faced with multifaceted challenges. The spirit of Islam and its message have been distorted by the religious extremists. There is an urgent need for reverting to Iqbal’s teachings and philosophy more than ever before.”

He said Iqbal united the Muslims of India at a time when they had lost their identity; they were divided and dejected. His poetry awoke them from their slumber and gave them a common vision to work towards.

“He was the philosopher of the East who learnt from his experiences in the West and shaped his ideas,” concluded Mirza.

The preface to the book has been written by Professor Katherine Schimmel of Harvard University. The foreword is written by former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and the introduction is by anthropologist Professor Akbar S Ahmed.

Schimmel was part of the symposium that discussed the great poet, along with Dr. Kamran Tahir, Iqbal’s fellow at Cambridge, Dr. Halima Krausen from Hamburg and Professor Baqa, the translator.

Journalist, Syed Talat Hussain flew from Pakistan just to hold a 20-minute-long symposium, something he said he would do “only for Iqbal”.

Hussain said he equated Iqbal’s poetry with the country’s national anthem – something its citizens recite often but don’t really understand.

“We must understand the evolution of his thought,” said Hussain. “He was a man of great dynamism. He didn’t believe in religion that did not empower.”

His thoughts were “deliciously contradictory”, he said. He wanted to build a house in Europe, yet he did not like the way the West conducted itself. He loved Sufism, yet he spoke of the importance of oneself – something Sufism seeks to negate, explained the journalist

Professor Katherine Schimmel, who considers herself an avid student of the poet, said: “Iqbal is about self-awareness, growing, becoming more illuminated – peeling back layers to get to the essence – the one true reality which is an endless struggle, and an awakening of the spirit.”

“It took me a long time to understand him. When I heard him for the first time, his verses were so profound and beautiful – I nearly fell backwards.”

According to Professor Baqa, “when Iqbal saw the achievements in the West he had the burning desire to revolutionise the lives of his own countrymen.” When he emphasised knowing the ‘self’, he did not want us to glorify the self, nor kill it, said the professor. Rather, he wanted us to be self-aware so that we can perfect our own personalities and benefit society as a whole. “He wanted to create unique human beings”.

Hussain ended the symposium by saying that we have much to learn from Iqbal. “You can’t change the nation by merely tweeting, there is a world out there that beckons you,” concluded Hussain. 

This is evident in Shikwa

Kyun Ziyaan Kaar Banun, Sood Framosh Rahun

Fikr-e-Farda Na Karun, Mahw-e-Ghum-e-Dosh Rahun

Naale Bulbul Ke Sunoon, Aur Hama Tan Gosh Rahun

Humwana Main Bhi Koi Gul Hun Ke Khamosh Rahun

Jurrat Aamoz Miri Taab-e-Sakhun Hai
Mujh Ko Shikwah Allah Se Khakam Badahan
Hai Mujh Ko


Why should I waste my poetic talent,

In lamenting my glorious past, yet ignoring my bright future?

How can I be indifferent to the doleful cries of my nation?

O my dear friend, I cannot be tongue-tied like a flower.

It is truly my poetic ability that gives me the courage to express my feelings,

May I be cursed should I ever complain to God!

Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Asad Khan
    May 29, 2014 - 9:29PM

    ET full marks you to for covering this wonderful and commendable event.

    Neatly written report, Graceful event.



  • Ahmed
    May 30, 2014 - 2:59AM

    Find a very neatly done english translation and reading of Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa


  • ZS
    May 30, 2014 - 7:05AM

    For an entire article devoted to praising a new translation of Iqbal, the actual translation of the opening verses of Shikwa, provided at the bottom of the article, is so poor so as to make one question the point of the entire exercise.


  • GS@Y
    May 30, 2014 - 7:07AM

    This is a great effort, but seriously, that translation of a few couplets at the end is unimpressive at best. I am not at all confident that the “poetic rhythm and nuances of the Urdu language” were “retained.”


  • maryam
    May 30, 2014 - 2:47PM

    I purchased a copy of the book. We need to keep mindful that this book has been translated for a Western mindset. Of course it’s not going to be the same as Urdu. It is nonetheless a very good translation that should be supported. We need to as Pakistanis bring Iqbal to a new audience.


  • Imran
    May 30, 2014 - 3:52PM

    I don’t understand Urdu but I have heard of Iqbal. Any translation of his poems into the English language should be done so in a contemporary context as language in nature adapts and changes. The aim of any translation should be to educate and introduce. English as a language is a complicated one. Translations should be easy to follow.


  • GS@Y
    May 30, 2014 - 8:36PM

    Again, not sure this translation is going to be very good. For instance, the line “Shikwah Allah Se Khakam Badahan Hai Mujh Ko” does not mean “May I be cursed should I ever complain to God!”. Instead, literally translated, it means something like “May there be dust in my mouth, but my complaint is against God himself”. Khakim-ba’dahan is a Persian phrase used as a hedge before one says something one considers to be a grave transgression.


  • maryam
    May 31, 2014 - 1:24PM

    ‘May there be dust in my mouth’ makes no sense at all in the English language. Surely you cannot take a literal translation of the Urdu or Farsi when you translate words. ‘Dust be in my mouth’ or ‘may I be cursed?’ The latter has much better fluidity. Remember this is a contemporary translation for a English audience.


  • GS@Y
    Jun 1, 2014 - 5:24AM

    I understand that, and that’s why I wrote “literally translated” in my comment. The idea of course is to get the meaning of the line across in the translation, not to translate it literally. The meaning is lost if you say ” “May I be cursed should I ever complain to God!”, when what you mean to say is “My complaint, “Khakim-ba’dahan,” is against God himself”. Do you see how the latter means something entirely different than the former?


  • maryam
    Jun 1, 2014 - 12:56PM

    Look English is my first language and let me tell you English is all about flow. “My complaint is against God Himself” does not flow at all.
    It is important to remember that this is a translation and any translation is down to interpretation.


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