Youth needs to understand message of self-realisation in Iqbal’s poetry, say scholars

Bilal Ahmed
Friday, Dec 02, 2022

Allama Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, was the subject of the only discussion that took place on the first day of the Annual Urdu Conference after the inauguration ceremony.

For some strange reasons, it is not often that Iqbal finds dedicated sessions during literary festivals and conferences of Karachi, many of which have become an annual tradition. Due to this, the discussion was a pleasant experience for the lovers of the poet. It featured talks by expert on Iqbal Muhammad Suheyl Umar, scholar Dr Nomanul Haq, linguist Dr Tahseen Firaqi and Justice (retd) Nasira Javed Iqbal.

Umar said the title of the session, ‘Iqbal Aur Qaum’, was too broad and one could approach it from various dimensions. However, he called that when he served at the Iqbal Academy, he was invited to various talks on Iqbal, all of which were themed around the place of Iqbal in the current era or the relevance of Iqbal for the Pakistani nation.

He said that repeatedly asking what relevance Iqbal held for us meant that we were sceptic about the role Iqbal could play for our progress, and it was something dangerous.

He said Iqbal was relevant to the Pakistani nation for three reasons. Firstly, his reaction to the Western thought that he considered to be in direct contradiction to our philosophy. The speaker said that Iqbal’s prose works should be studied to understand how he tacked that issue.

Secondly, Umar said, Iqbal explained the answers to the fundamental questions of one’s being with a literary grandeur in his Urdu and Persian poetry.

Thirdly, the poet was also a political leader and reformist, and the role he played for us during the colonial era was also something that would remain relevant for us, the speaker maintained.

According to Umar, before the colonial era, the Muslim world had never faced such a powerful attack on its thought and belief system. He added that although the Mongols and Tatars had ravaged the Muslim empires before, they never posed any threat to the Muslim world on the ideological front.

He said Iqbal presented the case that the ideological grounds of the Muslim world must not be that weak because the Muslim world had earlier led the West for several centuries. The speaker added that Iqbal answered the fundamental questions of life through the perspective of the Islamic metaphysics that was based on Tauheed.

Later, Dr Haq refused to comment on the political role of Iqbal. He said he could only discuss the poetic stature of Iqbal and the enormous command he had over the language.

He said Iqbal was a poet before any other role that he had undertaken and it was not wise to extract a comprehensive philosophical system out of poetry as poets frequently contradicted themselves.

He said Iqbal had composed verses in favour of both the regressive and progressive attitudes as well as Marxism. To explain his point, he said Iqbal would often call for abandoning old ways but in ‘Zauq-o-Shauq’, which was one of his greatest literary achievements, he called for returning to the past such as in this couplet, “Main Keh Meri Ghazal Mein Hai Aatash-e-Rafta Ka Suragh/ Meri Tamaam Sarguzasht, Khoye Huon Ki Justuju [One can trace our fiery past through my lyrics/ My entire endeavour has been to find our lost heritage]”.

Dr Haq said it was unfortunate that most of our young generation was not in touch with Iqbal and they even could not read the poems written for children in Bang-e-Dara. In the end, the speaker recited some verses by Iqbal describing the role of an individual in the collective sphere of life.

Dr Firaqi bemoaned the fact that we had stopped learning Persian. He said two thirds of Iqbal’s poetry was in the Persian language and most of us could not understand them due to not knowing Persian. He said that in order to study Iqbal from a holistic approach, it was necessary to learn Persian.

He said Iqbal’s fundamental message was of self-realisation and self-actualisation. Had we remembered that message, we would not have been begging everywhere in the world for the fear that we could go bankrupt, the speaker remarked.

Dr Firaqi was of the view that conscious efforts had been made to make people forget Iqbal such as omitting lessons about him from school textbooks.

Justice (retd) Nasira, who is Iqbal’s daughter-in-law, shared how close Iqbal was to the Quaid-e-Azam. She said the poet should remain relevant to our nation, especially the youth, who should get inspiration from his poetry.

The session was followed by reading of selected Urdu prose pieces and poems by the legendary Zia Muhyeddin. He started the session by reading out a speech of Ghulam Ahmed Pervez on Iqbal.

Other literary pieces that he read included memoirs on Faiz Ahmed Faiz by Jamila Khatoon, humour writings by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, Ibne Insha and Shanul Haq Haqqee, and poems by Zehra Nigah, Shaikh Ayaz and Akhtarul Iman.

The conference’s first day ended with a Qawwali show.