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Iqbal Day

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Iqbal Day

#IqbalDay #AllamaIqbal #9thNov #Pakistan #QOTD #PoetoftheEast #MessageOfIqbal #RIP

We are taught that Iqbal’s poetry jolted the Muslims of the Sub-Continent from their slumber, with not much detail about the process itself
How do you interpret the plot of the poem ‘Iblees and Gibrael’? asked my professor in the Urdu literature and language class at New York University (NYU). I don’t know if we are reading Iqbal this month as a result of coincidence or the palimpsest nostalgia of overseas Pakistanis, regardless it is a provocative experience for me.
I am afraid to say that after reading this poem I think of Iblees as the ultimate lover who refused to share the love of his beloved. Was this when love was discovered to be possessive in nature? Was Iblees’ banishment from the skies the first exile this universe witnessed? And was it the first admonition for the mankind to be careful about their choices and actions? All of these questions wracked my brain when I read it this time.


Obviously, every text is subjected to diverse interpretations. Professor Tahira Naqvi proposed it to be a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ trope which is at the heart of the majority of the stories ever written, read and discussed. She added that this is a conversation between ‘virtuous’ and ‘evil’ but there is much more to be explored in each dialogue here. Iqbal is not easy to read for many reasons one of which is the reader’s limited knowledge of the diverse contexts his poetry revolves around.
No doubt, Iqbal’s poetry encapsulates so much in the totality of this universe that one needs to be familiar not only with the world’s history but also with the history of humanity itself. In continuation to this we kept on thinking about Iqbal as a person, an intellectual, a religious scholar, and a nationalist poet which is the most convenient introduction of Iqbal that we get from our history text books. Who was Iqbal? Where he was born and when? When did Iqbal die and where is he buried? These are few essential questions that we are supposed to learn by heart, in order to register ourselves to be good citizens of Pakistan, at the age when it is impossible for us to grapple with the significance of Iqbal for Pakistan.
#IqbalDay #AllamaIqbal #9thNov #Pakistan #QOTD #PoetoftheEast #MessageOfIqbal #RIP


My first exposure to Iqbal’s poetry was through PTV. I am a 90’s kid who grew up with PTV as the only entertainment channel. Therefore, I never missed Iqbal’s couplets telecasted in the ten-minute interval between the 8:00 PM primetime drama and the 9:00 PM news which were a ‘must watch’ for my parents and I. Iqbal’s vocabulary was not comprehendible to me at that time. However, because of the redundancy of a few chosen couplets that were telecasted on that particular time I was able to memorise them. Occasionally ‘her lehza hai momin’ sung by Madam Noor Jahan was also telecasted for Iqbal day, Independence Day, and Defence day.
In spite of the fact that we recited ‘lab pe ati hai dua bun ke tamana meri’ every day in the morning assembly, but it was in the third grade that I learned that Iqbal’s Urdu is the same as that of ours when I read ‘Jugnu aur Bulbul’ in my text book and then I started getting comfortable with Iqbal being Pakistan’s national poet. ‘Aik makra our makhi’ and ‘Aik gaey or bakri’ are also among those that we read in our primary school textbooks. Therefore, the Iqbal of primary school textbook was a humanitarian, nature lover and moralist who taught us a lesson like the ones in Disney stories
Meanwhile, we were also taught that Iqbal’s poetry jolted the Muslims of the Sub-continent from their slumber, with not much detail about the process itself but just to emphasise Iqbal’s role. Once in the school’s debating competition, a boy addressed the audience as ‘Iqbal kay shaheeno’ followed by a phrase which was utterly disturbing to me ‘Shaheen ka jahan or hai gargus ka jahan aur’. My little mind was perplexed for why did our national poet chose to compare us with such an ugly looking bird and why did he chose to mention another bird from the age of dinosaurs as I had never heard of gargus before.
A few years later our secondary school text books introduced us to Iqbal the Islamic revivalist through ‘Tulu-e-Islam’ and Iqbal emerged as a reformist in my imagination when I read sections of ‘Jawab-e-shikwa’ in my college years. In addition to that our history books made sure that we know enough about Iqbal’s letters to Jinnah which he wrote to convince Jinnah to come back from London and lead Indian Muslims.
Ironically, at the time when the country is fighting a war against terrorists and is facing challenges in protecting the living, we choose to spend resources protecting the dead
Later in university, I got to know Iqbal as a philosopher reading ‘Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam’ which was in the recommended booklist for CSS exams. However, my actual romance with Iqbal started very recently when I visited the beautiful town of Heidelberg in Germany this summer where frequent encounters with Iqbal provoked me to re-think and re-explore him in my own way.
Walking down a street named after Iqbal, I noticed a plaque which pointed out Iqbal’s residence in Heidelberg. It was here that I realised how shameful our ignorance about Iqbal and Iqbal’s work is. The Iqbal chair at Heidelberg University has been vacant since 2014 and this shows how concerned our academics are about this matter.
I have seen Iqbal’s portraits hung in many government and academic offices as a symbol of admiration. This admiration is not enough to inspire us to engage with Iqbal’s work. This is another Iqbal who is present in performance but absent in practice as his poetry has served its purpose in the freedom struggle and now all we need to do is to respect him for his contributions.
We don’t want to brainstorm on his ideas but only to proudly claim him as ‘our’ national poet. Pakistan honors him every year in a guard changing ceremony at his tomb in Lahore.  Ironically, at the time when the country is fighting a war against terrorists and is facing challenges in protecting the living, we choose to spend resources protecting the ‘dead’. Nasira Javed once said in a conversation that people have remembered Iqbal but forgotten his work. Hence, it is not the case that we don’t honor him enough but the problem is that we don’t understand him enough. Iqbal academy Lahore is a ray of hope in keeping Iqbal’s work alive in Pakistan especially when Iqbal’s inclusion in Pakistani educational text is so limited, selective and categorised that it is unable to do justice to the vast horizons of Iqbal’s work. Iqbal’s glorification as Pakistan’s national poet has unfortunately caused the downfall of his intellectual contributions. We as a nation have reduced him to a glorified figure with whom we love to attach our national prestige however we don’t have time to pay attention to his work which is the reason for him being our national poet.
It is the valor of Iqbal’s poetry that his dream remains the frame of reference for the creation of Pakistan, regardless of our present disconnectedness with his work. There are a lot of debates about Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan which somehow rests upon Iqbal’s dream according to our textbook understanding of history. However, this selective and categorical understanding of Iqbal, which fails to accommodate ‘Iblees and Jibreel’ and ‘Kabhi aye Haqeeqat-e-muntazir’ together, and excludes “Saray Jahan se acha Hindustan hamara’ for its anachronistic nature, is completely contrary Iqbal’s resplendent scholarship.
 The writer graduated from Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan in spring 2016 with double majors in history and political science and a minor in sociology. She aims to pursue a doctorate to pursue her interests in Punjab in the context of decolonisation and the comparative study of south Asia and other post colonial states

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