Muhammad Iqbal: A Poet For All Ages

Aims And Objectives of Islamic Education
March 5, 2023
The Mosque of Cordova
March 5, 2023

– Ziya Us Salam

Obtrusively, India walks away from Muhammad Iqbal, the man who penned Tarana-i-Hindi, ‘Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara’. It may not be a crime yet to sing his Bachche ki Dua (A Child’s Prayer) but it is close as proved by a recent incident in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh where a principal and a shiksha mitr were booked for asking children in the school assembly to sing, “Lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamanna meri”.

We live in times when patriotism is considered the exclusive privilege of a few. The usage of words such as Rab, Khuda-ra and Allah in the poem upset a Vishwa Hindu Parishad functionary so much that he lodged a first information report (FIR) with the police. The principal herself was either so frightened or ignorant that instead of defending the lines of the poem, she claimed to be on leave from school on the day the alleged crime of singing the nazm took place. Neither the complainant nor the police or even the accused knew much about the poem.

Incidentally, words like Rab And Khuda are uniquely Indian, and transcend the boundaries of religion. Not just Muslims but also Sikhs and some Hindus in North India use Rab Almighty. Same with Khuda, an expression freely used for God in Urdu literature.

‘Lab Pe Aati Hai Dua’ was penned in 1902 and was inspired by Matilda Edwards’ ‘A Child’s Prayer’. It has been sung in schools for almost a hundred years in North India. It did not change with the adoption of Muhammad Iqbal as the poet of the nation by Pakistan.

For many government schools, where children are not comfortable with English, this poem was part of the morning ritual. As unlike a Saraswati Vandana, a Biblical hymn, an Islamic surah, it was not a religious address. No parent objected to a child reciting ‘Lab pe aati hai dua’. Who could possible raise objections to a child singing, “Make my life like a moth, O Lord / May I love the candle of wisdom / May my work be the protection of the poor / May I love the kindred and the elderly / My Lord! Save me from unrighteousness / Help me walk on the path of the good”?

Poet-translator Mustansir Dalvi has written Iqbal: Taking issue and Allah’s answer, “Being Indian and of India inspired many of Iqbal’s poems.” Iqbal was the one who called Ram as Imam-e-Hind. He wrote in praise of Nanak, calling him Mard-e-Kamil or the perfect man. He had the width of vision and depth of knowledge to translate the Gayatri Mantra into Urdu as Aftab (The sun). In Naya Shivala (New Temple), he defied the nation. He loved India to an extent that he raised it higher to any place in the world, including Arabia with its places of worship.

Iqbal wrote, “Saare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara”, decades before V.D. Savarkar coined his Pitrabhu (fatherland) and Punyabhu (holy land) theory to distinguish between those whose birth land and the sacred land were within the confines of India, and those whose sacred land was abroad. Iqbal was above such demarcation and denomination. 

‘Two-nation theory’

Not that he did not have his critics when he was alive, or even after his death. When he penned Shikwa (Taking Issue) in 1909, a large section of Ulema was upset with his lament to God. The provocation was followed by pacification with Jawab-e-Shikwa (Allah’s Answer) where God answers Iqbal’s prayer. That was all in the world of the Millat and Ummat (community and universal brotherhood based on Islam). The larger Indian society often saw him through the prism of the two-nation theory, under which he believed, unlike Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and very much like Savarkar, Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations.

Yet, there was much more to Iqbal. He chose his audience with care. When he was in Lahore, he used to recite his Kalam freely. When in Sialkot, he would never give a hint of being a Shayar or take part in poetic soirees. In Europe, after initial years when he found great scientific and economic progress and, in his mind, found the Muslim society lagging in comparison, he worried for Western society’s streak of materialism.  Before he became wedded to the idea of ummah’s   internationalism, Iqbal was a staunch patriot who celebrated India’s rivers and mountains, called its citizens bulbulein (singing birds) and the country his garden. ‘Saare Jahan Se Accha’ extolled wataniyat or love for nation.

All that is consigned to the yellowed pages of history. Like his audience, then, what Iqbal needs today from the prism of pre-1905 when he went to Europe, or post-1909, when he came back. This may not be possible at a time when he is increasingly becoming a victim of ‘we’ and ‘they’ politics- sort of a collateral consequence of bigotry. Just as ‘Saare Jahan Se Accha’ is being heard less and less on public platforms, and in danger of being confined to Urdu medium schools, his other works including ‘Himala’, where he praises the mountain chain guarding India, are being forgotten. It is however, better than the irresponsible accusation that followed the singing of “Lab pe aati hai dua” in Bareilly.

“Time is hard on writers, particularly after the causes they fought for have been won, lost or were overtaken by events,” noted author-critic Sham Lal more than a couple of decades ago. For Iqbal, the hard time could be now. Reduced to being a prisoner of posterity, Iqbal stands forsaken by the nation in whose every speck he founds a whiff of divinity. As he once wrote, “Khak-e-watan ka mujhko har zara devta hai” (Each dust particle of my motherland is God to me). n

(The Hindu- 5 –1-2023)

The Mosque of Cordova

In Iqbal’s view the Mosque of Cordova, in the totality of its appearance and effectiveness, is a material manifestation of the Momin. In its beauty and elegance, height and width, gracefulness and solidity, fineness and strength it is his exact replica. Its imposing pillars remind Iqbal of the oases of Arabia and in its balconies and latticed windows he sees the gleams of Heavenly effulgence. He regards its towering minarets to be the descending points of Divine mercy and the halting places of the angels. Overcome with emotion he cries out: “The Muslim is imperishable, he shall not die, because he is the bearer of the message of Abraham and Moses and of all the Divine Apostles.”

Iqbal asserts that the Mosque of Cordova is a true symbol of the beliers, thoughts and aspirations of the Muslim Millet, and just as the Muslim Millet is free from all the narrow and unnatural concepts of race and nationality it, too, represents a  marvellous synthesis of Arab and Persian cultures and typifies a remarkable supra-national fraternity. The Muslim is above territorial limitations and his world is boundless. The beauty and warmth of his message is all-pervading. The Tigris and the Euphrates of Iraq, the Ganges and the Jumna of India, the Danube of Europe and the Nile of Egypt are but a wave in his shore-less sea. His achievements are unequalled in history. It was the Muslim Millet that gave the command to the outworn ages to depart and ushered in the modern world.

Members of the Islamic Millet arc the torch-bearers of compassion and fellow-feeling and true specimens of faith and fraternisation. The tongue of the Momin is like a gem-showering cloud and his scimitar is well-tempered. He is contended at heart and persevering in action. Even on the battlefield and under the shadow of swords he is the upholder of Monotheism and Apostleship and the pursuer of the path of piety and righteousness. In the struggle between truth and falsehood faith is his weapon and reliance upon God his armour.

Thou, in beauty and dignity, man of God’s witness,

He is beautiful and dignified, thou art beautiful and dignified.

Firm are thy foundations, numberless are thy pillars,

Soaring like ranks of palms over the Syrian desert.

Light of the Valley of Peace gleams on thy walls and roof,

On thy minaret’s height Gabriel stands in glory.

The Muslim shall not perish for by his Azan,

The secret of Moses and Abraham is revealed.

Limitless in his world, boundless his long horizon,

Tigris and Danube and Nile but a wave in his sea.

His times are wondrous, his legends are strange,

To the ages outworn he gave the command to depart.

Saqi of men of taste, horseman of the realm of desire,

Pure and unmixed his wine, tempered and glittering his steel.

Warrior armed in the mail of La Ilah,

Under the shadow of swords succoured by La Ilah.

The poet, again, says to the Mosque that ‘ ‘you are the interpretation of the Momin’s dream in the world, the exposition of his high-mindedness and the exemplification of his soul in brick and mortar.

“The hand of the Momin, in power and dominance, in the dispersal of difficulties and the fulfilment of needs, is the Hand of God and an instrument of Providence. Apparently, he is born of clay but, in reality, he has the nature of Light. There is the reflection of Divine Attributes in his being. He is indifferent to the allurements of the world. His desires are few, but his aims are high. He is the embodiment of grace and strength, love and sternness. He is gentle of speech, but warm in quest. In peace he is soft like silk, but in war hard as steel.

“The faith of the Believer is the pivot on which the world turns. His existence is the essence of creation and all the rest an illusion. In him thought and intellect and faith and love find their highest expression. Strength and felicity in life and beauty and elegance in the world owe their presence to him. He is the end and object of the pilgrimage of love and the heart and soul of the universe.”

Behold in thy stones are all the Believer’s secrets,

Fire: of passionate days, rapture of melting nights.

High is his station and great are his thoughts.,

Ecstasy, burning desire, self-abasement and pride.

The hand of the Momin is the Hand of Allah-

Dominant, resourceful, creative, ensuring success.

Fashioned or dust and light, slave with the Master’s attributes,

His heart is indifferent to the riches of the worlds.

His earthly hopes are few, his aims are high,

Courtesy in his mien, gaining all hearts with his glance;

He is soft of speech but fierce in the hour of pursuit,

In war and in peace pure in thought and in act.

The point of God’s great compass the Believer’s firm faith,

All this universe else—shadow, illusion, deceit.

He is the goal of love, he is the end of Love,

He, in the circle of the firmament, sets all spirits a glow.

Iqbal proceeds to pay a tribute of never-fading charm to the Mosque. “Thou art the Mecca of the seekers of Art”, he says, “the place of pilgrimage for the devotees of love and the symbol of the glory of Islam. Thanks to thee, the soil of Cordova is vying for sacredness and elevation with the heavens. If anything can compare with thee it is the heart of the true Believer.” Here Iqbal loses control of his feelings. He looks at the distant past and centuries roll back in his imagination. He begins to live in the period of Muslim ascendency in Spain. Combining romanticism with classicism he asks, “Where are the Moorish horsemen, the men of virtue, the embodiments of faith and the champions of truth? Where has their unrelenting caravan stopped? Where have the Arab rulers, the precursors of European Renaissance, gone whose government was another name for social justice and public welfare?”

   (To be continued)