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  • Critical Thinking - Iqbal’s Shikwa

    by Shariq
    21st March, 2006 at 12:39 am    

    I’ve just finished reading the first part of Muhammad ‘Allama’ Iqbal’s classic ‘dialogue’ with Allah. Shikwa, or ‘Complaint’, first published in 1909 is a breathtaking piece of poetry. Seeing the plight of Muslims across the World, Iqbal passionately questions Allah on why he allowed such a situation to develop.

    Not suprisingly the idea that God could wrong his people and was not carrying out his plans justly caused quite a stir. Despite the inevitable response of many traditionalists, Iqbal’s ideas have lived on and he is revered in Pakistan as her national poet.

    I am not advocating that people read Shikwa and hold its text as sacred, or something which can not be questioned. There are some elements to do with conversion and Muslim superiority to which my reaction is somewhere, deeply uncomfortable and profound disagreement.

    However to use this a stick with which to attack Iqbal completely misses the point. He was at once both a man of his times and ahead of his times. Above all it was his ability to think freely and outside of the traditional mold while contributing to the discourse of his times which made him great. The fact that his ideas were expressed in aesthetic and powerful poetry simply add to his greatness.

    I’ll post on God’s response to Iqbal soon.

                  Post to

    Filed in: Culture,Pakistan,Religion

    17 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 1:08 am  

      Nal bulbul kee sunon aur hama tan gosh rahaon?
      Hamnawa main bhi koi gul hoon, keh khamosh rahoon?

      (Oh my friend! I am not a flower in the garden that stays quiet, after listening to heartbreaking song of the bird)

      An understanding of Urdu and a bit of Muslim history, and Iqbal’s poetry is MAGIC.
      And it was only Iqbal who could call Allah a friend? Could talk to him, be upset at him, and in fact dare to question him!
      Interesting that maulvis of that time labelled him a stooge, non Muslim and KAFIR, (groan, what else did you expect).
      But Iqbal was the first one who placed the idea in young Muslims minds that God could indeed be our friend.
      Before him, Muslim God was something to be feared, followed blindly and never the one to talk to.
      He made God, a human concept.
      Also, Iqbal was the first one and sadly the last political Muslim in the sub-continent who stressed the need of “Ijtehad” in Islam. It’s an Islamic concept which means reform. He could see it a hundered years ago that Islam needed reformation. If only someone had followed his dream, maybe we would have been spared the humiliation of facing the suicide bomber generation.

    2. Jay Singh — on 21st March, 2006 at 1:13 am  

      Iqbal wrote poems about Guru Nanak and Lord Ram as well as about Muslim themes.

    3. Sunny — on 21st March, 2006 at 5:46 am  

      I’m sooooo lame on poetry. :(

    4. thabet — on 21st March, 2006 at 6:25 am  

      See Iqbal’s inspiration for Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

      Iqbal’s relationship with (conservative) Pakistan is an oddity, to say the least.

    5. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 10:30 am  

      See Iqbal’s inspiration for Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa: John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.

      Is it? I could never make the connection. But no doubt if there ever was a god of poetry, it would be Milton.

      What did he say:
      “Hell is but a STATE of mind”

      But i think Milton was too Biblical. Iqbal on the other hand hardly quotes from Quran but more from the history in Shikwa.
      Also, Milton finds it hard breaking away from the traditional text:

      Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
      Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste
      Brought death into the World, and all our woe

      But yes, the more I think of it, shikwa /jawab shikwa could have been inspired by Milton’s Paradise lost/regained.
      But why do people love controversey more? I know shikwa and Paradise lost are both more popular than the jawab and paradise regained.
      Do poetry lovers like to get bad news?

    6. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 10:31 am  

      Dear Reformist Muslim

      Thank you so much for this post. It’s after such a loooooooong time I got in touch with my poetry-loving side.

    7. Reformist Muslim — on 21st March, 2006 at 11:44 am  

      You’re welcome Fe’reeha - I was thinking that after not posting for so long I should make it good. Ironically I’m not into poetry that much.

      However there is something about Iqbal’s poetry, probably because of its religious/political theme which makes it great. When I was reading it, someone recommended that I should read Ghalib and while that is probably more aesthetically pleasing I’m not sure if I would enjoy it as much.

      Thabet thanks for the comment about Milton. It’s one of those things which I’ve thought about reading but never gotten down to - may try to do so over the summer.

      I think Iqbal’s relationship with Pakistan is very similar to Jinnah’s. Their nationalism trumping any religious sentiment. Its one of the reasons why I think Khilafat sentiment has never taken hold in independent Pakistan. Even the religious parties have only enjoyed political success recently.

    8. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 12:23 pm  

      Well Iqbal’s and Jinnah’s Pakistan was quite simple really.
      A secular state where Muslims could live. Far cry from HuT sentiments of a khilafat.

    9. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 12:33 pm  

      hmmm Ghalib. Totally different style than Iqbal’s, but probably you will find Ghalib simpler for there are too many historical references and Persian echoes in Iqbal’s poetry as compared to that of Ghalib’s.
      Also for reading Ghalib, you need to be a romantic. It’s impossbile to enjoy it otherwise.
      The best thing about Ghalib is his ability to smile and make others smile at his pain, and his logic.
      For instance he says, clearly to the critics of his drink:
      “Hai kambakht, tu nay pee hee nahee”
      (Unfortunate man, you never had a taste of it, so who are you to judge?”

      Na tha kuch, to khuda tha, na hota kuch to khuda hota
      Daboya mujh ko honay nay na hota main to kia hota?

      (God ws there, when there was noone else, He would be there, where there would be nothing else, ….)

    10. Fe'reeha — on 21st March, 2006 at 12:35 pm  

      I’m sooooo lame on poetry.

      Don’t worry Sunny. My father says the same about me.

    11. Jay Singh — on 21st March, 2006 at 12:57 pm  

      Interesting post and thread by the way, I have learnt a lot!

    12. Jai — on 21st March, 2006 at 1:24 pm  


      I second Jay Singh — very educational thread.

      If you’re looking for an outlet for your poetic urges, the Sepia Mutiny blog frequently has a “55Friday” theme. The aim is to write a short piece of “nanofiction” no more than 55 words long, but one can use it to write something poetic too.

      Check it out if you haven’t done so already — the latest “theme” is still on SM’s main page.

    13. Sunny — on 21st March, 2006 at 2:25 pm  

      My father says the same about me.

      Heh, that is some consolation but not much. I think the word ‘useless’ in this case applies to totally different states of understanding poetry.

    14. Sanjeev — on 21st March, 2006 at 2:31 pm  

      Just say ‘Wah, Wah’… thats what they do in Bollywood. I do not appreciate Indian poetry or in general, its an art lost on me.


      Wah, Wah though and everyone’s happy.

    15. Bikhair — on 21st March, 2006 at 3:44 pm  

      Poetry: When its good its really good, when its bad, its a crime.

      Iqbal hasnt been keeping with the study of the Quran. Muslims bring it on themselves. Purify yourselves and Allah (azawajal) will make a way. InshaAllah.

    16. Reformist Muslim — on 21st March, 2006 at 4:24 pm  

      Another point about Pakistan. The revisionist history of partition is that Jinnah and Iqbal’s true aim was to have a ‘Pakistan’ as part of a united Indian federation.

      Partition took place because Congress was willing to let the muslim provinces break away if it allowed them to have a strong central government.

      Won’t go into more detail here but would recommend Ayesha Jalal’s, The Sole Spokesman. Btw this isn’t a fringe theory and has replaced the traditional history in most academic circles, even though it hasn’t filtered out to the general public.

    17. Sajn — on 25th March, 2006 at 10:59 pm  

      “Even the religious parties have only enjoyed political success recently.”

      Only through blatant favouritism and vote rigging. In any relatively fair elections the so-called religious parties have been comprehensively rejected.

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