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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Iqbal day, 2010

Growing up in Pakistani educational system in the eighties, I was made aware of Allama Iqbal from the first day when I heard "lab pe aati hay dua" being recited in the school. The poem is prayer by a child that God may make his life a guiding light for others. Iqbal teaches the child that he must stand by the poor and help those in need. To be honset, children at school assembley just followed the tune. We had no idea what it meant. This was a generation which will grow up to live the democracy of post-Zia era and post-democracy Musharraf times. And now post-Musharraf democracy. We learnt that our collective lives were not a glowing beacon for people to follow, neither were we a generation to help our nation's poor and downtrodden. Iqbal's first dream is being broken every single day in Pakistan.We have seen enough carnage of racial, sectarian violence, a war in Kashmir, an insurgency in Baluchistan, a mutiny in tribal areas and the rise and further rise of terrorism. We have suffered natural calamaties of Biblical proprotions. Iqbal's prayer, recited by millions of Pakistani children remains unanswered.
During my middle school years, I was told that Iqbal was the person who saw the vision of Pakistan and Quaid e Azam fulfilled his dream. I imagined Iqbal, the wise sage, waking up from his dream in his candle-lit quarters, looking for a piece of paper to write down the description of this Divinely inspired vision. It turned out that this "dream" was a well thought out speech in a political conference, and later explained in a letter to the Daily Times, London. In these days, I became fond of Iqbal and borrowed his poetry books from the library and tried to memorize many of his poems. His Shaheen Momin was my hero, my ideal. His rhetoric of superiority of a praciticing Muslim and his message of revolution was very appeasing to me. At that time, I was also a keen reader of Naseem Hijazi, Barbara Cartland of urdu literature. Except for he was a man, and wrote novels around the glorious Muslim conquests in Middle-East and Europe. The comparison with Barbara Cartland is due to his fixation with just one era and with one aspect of history.
Iqbal's portrait appears in many offices across Pakistan. In many of his protraits, he appears in a contemplative pose with an eagle soaring in the background. The eagle or falcon represents a true Muslim. A soldier of Islam who is proud of his Islamic heritage and superior understanding of the world around him. To us, Iqbal was one of these super-Muslims. How bravely did he stand up to the British and Hindus to guide the Muslims to find their pride and recover their prestige. And Muslims of India did just that by creating Pakistan. I read about Captain Sarwar, Major Aziz Bhatti etc. and thought of them as personifications of Iqbal’s Shaheen. In the 80s, Gen. Zia’s american Jihad was taught in school books. India was always evil, Israel a mortal enemy and Russian was the official language in Hell. Iqbal’s selective poetry in school books, and many religious sunni teachers, no wonder Pakistanis have such a one-sided view of Iqbal.
Then I found Ghalib and Meer. Iqbal’s poetry did not seem as brilliant when I compared them. I discovered in college, that to consider Ghalib better than Iqbal was to confess that you preferred wine and women over your faith. But Ghalib’s poetry agreed with my thoughts more than Iqbal. Ghalib’s honesty and humour had much more to offer than Iqbal’s dry slogans. But when it came to politics, I was still in agreement with Iqbal. Muslims needed the strength of character, the military advantage to win their place in the world. Ghalib was always busy ruing his bad luck and failures. Meer was crying himself to sleep. But Iqbal was challenging the accursed satan himself. He even went as far as questioning God's Wisdom on why Muslims were in decline.
But then I found Faiz. Ghalib had a match. Iqbal was No. 3 in the list. Faiz teaches us to be stubborn in the face of adversity, but he also keeps one foot in the dreamland. He trusts God's Wisdom and accepts that pain and persecution is all a part of our collective experience. He may have been a communist, but his metaphors are more closely connected to the Holy Scriptures than Iqbal's.
What was my reason to demote Iqbal from my list of literary heroes? (He still is on the list.. but somewhere at number 25 or below). I read a comment once that Ghalib resorted to writing Qaseedahs for the British Monarch. I also found a lament Iqbal wrote at the death of Queen Victoria, where he equated the day of her death to Muharram. I have no problems with people writing praises for the Kings and Queens. Both did what they though was right. But Iqbal’s deep study of Greek and modern European philosophy had an impact on his own thinking. He was a student of history, but was not such a great revolutionary as portrayed in the books. He himself denied in a letter that he never wanted a separate homeland for muslims, but was only throwing options to ensure peace in India. I think muslims in India made Iqbal into a celebrity too soon. As soon as he returned after his overseas education, he was treated like a leader. His poetry was lauded as the best in the whole country. But was his phiolsophy as sound as his linguisitic abilities? I find that today, everyone claims Iqbal to be one of them. Secularists love him because he condemned the mullah. Mullah quotes him as he was a Jihadist. Scholars like Ghulam Ahmad Pervez (of Tolu-e-Islam) claim that Iqbal was a rationalist like Sir Syed. Indians revere him, Pakistanis claim the ownership over Iqbal. What was Iqbal? I think, he was a poet, who could never make up his mind.
A freethinker like he was, Iqbal dismissed orthodoxy for most of his life, until he required guidance (or was pushed to seek it) by the Ahrar. In 1935, just three years before his death, Dr. Iqbal felt the urge to oppose the Ahmadiyya Sect, despite his four decades long active relationship with them. His close relatives were Ahmadis. His eldest son, Aftab Iqbal was sent to Qadian to study in the Ahmadiyya boarding school. These last three years of his life, gave Iqbal the popularity among the ultra-orthodox Ahrar, and later Jamaat e Islami and other deobad and even salafi-wahabi movements.
I would like to believe that Iqbal’s vision was a federation of fucntioning muslim provinces who followed rationalist Islamic ideology like his. But who can tell? Our Jihadis find the ailing, angry and vindictive Iqbal more agreeable.

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