Three Poems By Iqbal IV: Dialogue Between God And Man

By Dr. Ali Hashmi

Muhawaraa Maa Bain Khuda-o-Insan (Dialogue between God and Man):

 The third poem in this selection, ‘Muhawaraa maa bain Khuda-o-Insaan’ features one of Iqbal’s favorite styles, a dialogue or interplay between earthly and celestial figures. It also employs one of Iqbal’s favored poetical styles, the Socratic Method (or Socratic Debate), named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate rational thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another. One of the most famous examples of this genre is Iqbal’s lengthy poem ‘Shikwah’ or ‘Reproach’ in which Man(representing the Muslim faith) complains to God about the shabby treatment meted out to Muslims by God inspite of the sacrifices that Muslims have made on God’s behalf. The poem, which caused quite a stir when first read by Iqbal in public, is a bold criticism of God’s indifference to a people who feel they deserve better:

‘Ae Khuda, shikwah-e-arbaab-e-wafa bhi sun lay

Khoogar-e-hamd say thoda saa gilaa bhi sun lay’

‘O God, listen to this remonstrance from your faithful

Listen to the lament of those who forever praise you’

Many people were scandalized in those conservative days of the British Raj when Iqbal dared to address God in so brazen a manner and eventually, Iqbal ended up writing a ‘Jawab-e-Shikwah’ or ‘Reply to Reproach’ in which God takes Man (Muslims) to task for daring to complain while failing miserably in all manner of things practical.

‘Dialogue’ is just such a poem. It is brief, a mere six verses, three each allowed to God and Man with, tellingly, the last word by Man. It is in Persian, Iqbal’s favored language and flows in his typical style.

God starts first, remarking to man:

‘Jahan raaz yak aab-o-gil aafridum

Tu Iran-o-tataar-o-zang aafridi

Man az khaak polaad naab aafridum

Tu shamsheer-o-teer-o-tafang aafridi

Tabar aafridi nihal-e-chaman ra

Qafas sakhtee tair-e-naghma zan ra’

‘I created this world from the same water and earth

You created Iran, Tartaria and Nubia

I forged from dust, iron’s pristine ore

You fashioned the sword, arrow and gun

To fell the garden tree, you made the axe

You fashioned the cage to imprison the singing bird’

Man replies:

‘Tu shab aafridi, chiragh aafridum

Safaal aafridi, ayaagh aafridum

Bayabaan-o-kohsaar-o-raagh aafridi

Khayabaan-o-gulzar-o-bagh aafridum

Man aanam kay az sang aaina saazum

Man aanam kay az zehr noshinaa sazum’

‘You created night, I the lamp

You created clay, and I the cup

You-desert, mountain peak and valley

I-flower bed, park and orchard

It is I who grind a mirror out of stone

And brew elixir from poison’

The striking thing about this exchange, other than its lyrical flow (lost in translation somewhat) is the insolent nature of Man’s response. It is all the more surprising considering that Iqbal is revered throughout Pakistan as a champion of the Muslims and a staunch defender, till his last days of the somewhat problematic concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’, the notion that all Muslims, all over the world are one ‘Ummah’ or brotherhood. This has been a rallying cry of poets, writers, reformers and leaders through the ages although there has never been an effective political event that came close to realizing the dream. This would seem to demonstrate the idea’s inherent weakness i.e. the difficulty that any new faith has always had taking strong root in a new land unless it adapts and incorporates local traditions, customs and beliefs. In spite of exhortations to the contrary, the banner of faith has never been able to unite disparate nationalities, ethnicities and languages simply because loyalties to family, community, ethnicity and nation (in the broadest sense of the word) predate religion by thousands of years.

Man’s response in the poem is also a good example of one of Iqbal’s central poetical themes, that of ‘Khudi’ or ‘self hood’, the ‘sense of evolution and history through advance and struggle, of the development of a dynamic individual personality developed through practical activity in the world as against the lingering Sufi ideal of passive contemplation and mystic absorption’ according to Kiernan.

The poem’s chief strength appears to be Man’s declaration of supreme confidence in his abilities to face any challenge, rise to overcome any obstacle, even one thrown up by the Almighty. It also points to another important psychological turning point, particularly in a man’s life: the struggle, beginning according to Freud at a young age, and continuing throughout life to overcome and surpass the legacy of a dominant father. Freud termed this the ‘Oedipus complex’ after the mythical Greek king, Oedipus, who, unknowingly, kills his father and marries his mother, an act which is expressly forbidden in all major religions on pain of eternal damnation.  In this poem, Man, the defiant son, challenges his heavenly Father and proudly defends his accomplishments while God benevolently (and perhaps ironically) looks on and chooses to allow Man to have the last word.

This belief in struggle and the resulting development of self-hood is a favorite theme in Iqbal’s work. Kiernan pointed out that Iqbal could never reconcile the Materialist and Metaphysical aspects of his personality and this is evident in his poetry.

There is no evidence that Iqbal ever wanted to reconcile his two opposing natures, his poetry seems to lean now one way, now the other, and, as with all great poets, everyone can find in it what they are looking for. Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Iqbal’s ‘spiritual successor’, whose progressive, anti-Imperialist poetry remains widely popular on both sides of the Indo-Pak divide, deeply admired Iqbal’s poetry (while remaining sceptical of Pan-Islamism). It is often thought that Faiz, being a socialist and humanist, did not care much for Iqbal’s poetry. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only was Faiz an admirer of Iqbal’s poetry, Faiz’s father and Iqbal were contemporaries and friends from their days at Cambridge Law School. Iqbal presented Faiz with one of his first awards for winning a poetry competition when Faiz was still a teenager and later wrote a letter of recommendation for Faiz’ admission to Government College, Lahore. Upon Iqbal’s death, a sorrowful Faiz wrote a moving elegy titled ‘Iqbal’:

‘Aaya hamare des main ek khush nawa faqeer

Aaya aur apni dhun main ghazal khwaan guzar gaya

Sunsaan rahen khalq say aabad ho gayin

Veeraan maikadon kaa naseeba sanwar gaya

Ab door jaa chuka hai woh shah-e-gadaa numa

Aur phir say apnay des kee rahen udaas hain

Par uss kaa geet sab kay dilon main muqeem hai

Aur uss kee ley say sainkaron lazzat shanaas hain

Yeh geet misle-shola-e-jawwala tundo-o-tez

Iss kee lapak say baad-e-fana kaa jigar gudaaz

Jaise chiragh wehshat-e-sar sar say bekhabar

Ya shama bazme-subh kee aamad say bekhabar’

‘A sweet singing saint arrived in our land

Sang his songs and moved on

Desolate pathways and deserted taverns came alive

Far away is he now, that regal beggar

And forlorn once again are the streets of our land

His song remains in our hearts

And enlivens countless souls with its sweetness

The song, like a fiery flame

Dispels even the wind of Death

Like the lamp, fearless of the blowing gale

Or the candle-flame, unaware of the coming morn’

 Of Iqbal’s place in Pakistan, Kiernan wrote ‘In the new State that now had to find its place in the world, Iqbal was canonized as a founding father. That dead poets should molder in government shrines while living poets molder in government jails is a not unfamiliar irony of history. (However) A poet’s influence is Protean. Among those numerous Hindus and Muslims who in the nightmare days of 1947 saved the lives of members of the other community at the risk to their own, there must have been many who had breathed Iqbal’s verses with their native air. It was, after all, his lifelong teaching that the spirit is more than the letter, that religion must always be on guard against the dogmatist and the charlatan and that a people must go forward or die’.

 At its best, Iqbal’s poetry is a magnificent call to action against all forms of injustice, tyranny and oppression, a call that is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.

Concluded

The author is a Psychiatrist practicing in Arkansas, USA.

 * First Published By The Friday Times, Lahore.

Bibliography (Entire Series):

1. Kiernan, V.G. Poems from Iqbal; Translated by V.G.Kiernan. Oxford University Press, 2004.

2. (Aasan) Kulliyaat-i-Iqbal,Urdu. Alhamra Publishing, Islamabad, 2004.

3. Kanda K.C. Allama Iqbal Selected Poetry; New Dawn Press, 2006

4. Vassilyeva, Ludmilla. Parvarish-e-Lauh-o-Qalam; Translated by Osama Farooqui and    Ludmilla Vassilyeva. Oxford University Press, 2004.

5. A Desertful of Roses. The Urdu Ghazals of Mirza Asadullah Khan “Ghalib”; available at http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ghalib/

6. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi (Author), Dick Davis (Translator), Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc, 2006.

7. “The October Revolution”; writings of members of the Party that made the October 1917 Revolution in Russia., available online at http://marxists.org/history/ussr/events/revolution/index.htm

8. Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed, 1st published by BONI & Liveright, Inc. for International Publishers, 1919. Available online at http://marxists.org/archive/reed/1919/10days/10days/index.htm

9 Comments

Filed under Partition, Philosophy, poetry

9 responses to “Three Poems By Iqbal IV: Dialogue Between God And Man

  1. Milind Kher

    “Many people were scandalized in those conservative days of the British Raj when Iqbal dared to address God in so brazen a manner and eventually, Iqbal ended up writing a ‘Jawab-e-Shikwah’ or ‘Reply to Reproach’ in which God takes Man (Muslims) to task for daring to complain while failing miserably in all manner of things practical.”

    From the above one can see that Allama Iqbal through shikhwa struck out a brave new path, but ultimately, under severe pressure, had to revert to a more conservative viewpoint.

    Much of the angst against God comes from our expecting Him to do what we want Him to do because through prayer and fasting we believe that we have obliged Him. The reality is that He does for us a number of things that we are not grateful enough for.

    Let us also not forget that we live in a Universe whose radius is 46 billion light years! In that, it is a little presumptious to assume that only we are worthy of His favor.

  2. PMA

    “Iqbal is revered throughout Pakistan as a champion of the Muslims and a staunch defender, till his last days of the somewhat problematic concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’, the notion that all Muslims, all over the world are one ‘Ummah’ or brotherhood.”

    Iqbal’s concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’ needs to be examined and understood for what it is. Iqbal does not advocate a ‘Pan-Islamic State’ or a ‘Pan-Islamic Nation’ in the modern concept of ‘Nation-State’. Nor he advocates a ‘Pan-Islamic Khilafat’. His ‘Pan-Islamism’ is more of spiritual in nature. A comming together of people who hold similar values and believes. A brotherhood of mankind. His Pan-Islamism also must be viewed in the political

  3. PMA

    “Iqbal is revered throughout Pakistan as a champion of the Muslims and a staunch defender, till his last days of the somewhat problematic concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’, the notion that all Muslims, all over the world are one ‘Ummah’ or brotherhood.”

    Iqbal’s concept of ‘Pan-Islamism’ needs to be examined and understood for what it is. Iqbal does not advocate a ‘Pan-Islamic State’ or a ‘Pan-Islamic Nation’ in the modern concept of ‘Nation-State’. Nor he advocates a ‘Pan-Islamic Khilafat’. His ‘Pan-Islamism’ is more of spiritual and practical nature; coming together of people who hold similar values and believes – brotherhood of mankind. Also his Pan-Islamism must be viewed in the political background of the first half of the twentieth century where most of the Muslim world was under colonial rule. Many of his ideas were accepted and put to practice in the second half of the twentieth century in the post colonial period. If all the nations of the world can join hands to work together to address world problems under United Nation. If Europe could form a European Union, then what is wrong with Muslim States from Nile to Indus coming together to form a Common Wealth of Muslim States for the betterment of their citizens.

  4. Dharmik

    Abrahamic religions are tools in the hands of exploiters and imperialistic folks. Their Dos and Donts are mainly for disenfrachised, exploited and ensalved people. They are crowd oriented. They ask new converts to give up his languange, dress, culture and history. Look what happened to Africas, Americas, Austrelias and to a large extent to Indian subcontinent.

    Dharmik religions are individual oriented. Dharmas propose Giani way of Patanjali, Buddha, Mahavir and many sages such as Kashyap of Kashmir. This way does not create a separate “other” entity called Bhagwan, Ishwar or God. At best they use Ishwar as a Lakshya for Dhyan, as Patnjali does in his Ashtanga Yoga methodology. This path asks the follower to constantly filter out unreal from the real and reach to the destination where one sees every thing in ONE. All creation is Bramha or God. Ahum BrmhaSmi. Anahul Haq! There are no Two. Adwait.

    Dharmas also propose Bhakti Marg for the people for whom Dnyan or Gyan marg is difficult. In this “I” is supposed to be dissolved in the “other You” the Bhagwan or God. With this surrender a person becomes free of bondage and since “I” is dissoved YOU also stops existing. You achieve Adwait.

    Islama and Paulian christianity has created more divisions in the name of religions, Pagans Vs Christians, Kafirs Vs Momeens.

  5. YLH

    Iqbal is best forgotten.

  6. Gorki

    Since times immemorial, philosophers and philosophies have tried hard to isolate something, anything, that can be taken as real; matter, spirit, self, God, but there is no agreement because unlike science, once can only speculate and a definite proof is missing.
    Schopenhauer, a German philosopher who rejected Christianity in favor of Buddhism and Hinduism felt one thing real was ‘will’ with the ultimate purpose of will was the extinction of everything; which he claimed was Nirvana. Though he meant it in the mystical sense, but it is a short step from celebration of nihilism and destruction of everything.
    G.K. Chesterton wrote a chilling satire ‘The Swami’s secret’ in which the protagonist, an amoral character says: ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want nothing.
    The emphasis shifts from ‘I’ to ‘want’ to ‘nothing’ to signify a slide from egotism, to will, to nihilism.

    Regards.

  7. Bloody Civilian

    To G. Vishwas:

    you had already been warned. your latest post has been deleted because it adds nothing whatsoever to what you have repeated ad nauseum, already. you’ll not be allowed to spam the board. most of your older posts, with all the repition, are still there for any one to read. but unless you have something new to say, all future posts will be deleted… whether or not they have been responded to.

  8. Milind Kher

    A Commonwealth of Muslim states can be feasible only after Muslims learn to live in peace with each other.

    Give up on takfir and sectarianism. Unite the Ummah. This unity too, should be for progress and positive thinking.

  9. F.C

    what exactly does it mean to be on guard against the dogmatist and the charlatan?to be more considerate about the spirit than the letter?does it mean to renounce and to rebel against all sorts of well-established religious doctrines and make a new set of them, as suits evry individual’s convenience, based on ‘creative interpretation’?