By Azad Iqbal
Samiya, Pakistan

In his preface to his new collection of poetry, Daana-i-Raaz [One Who Knows the Secret], Azad Iqbal declares that his aim is to spread the message of his grandfather, Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Making the Allama’s influence his strength and not his anxiety, Azad — poet, barrister and accomplished singer and musician — achieves his objectives of interpreting, teaching, preaching and praising Iqbal via poems that are impeccably composed in the classical style.

But, as American poet T.S. Eliot had said, “last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.” Thus Azad — while still using a classical style — incorporates current vocabulary to recontextualise Iqbal and better reflect contemporary realities. This new idiom also comes with new subjects and Azad’s original thoughts on them, but Iqbal remains the overarching protagonist throughout the book.

Daana-i-Raaz successfully highlights the universality of Iqbal’s ideas. Re-employing the Poet of the East’s thoughts in novel linguistic, cultural and scientific contexts, the collection underscores their timelessness.

The verses of Allama Iqbal’s grandson achieve his objectives of interpreting, teaching, preaching and praising Iqbal via poems that are impeccably composed in the classical style

For instance, in a ghazal from Baal-i-Jibrail [Gabriel’s Wing] Iqbal had said:

Sitaaron se aagay jahaan aur bhi hain
Abhi ishq ke imtihaan aur bhi hain

[Beyond the stars, exist more worlds
Our deep love is to go through more tests]

Azad’s own Khwaab-i-Ghaflat [The Slumber of Heedlessness], goes:

Khula raaz jab khwaab-i-ghaflat se jaagay
Jahaan aur bhi hain sitaaron se aagay

[The secret was unveiled when the slumber of heedlessness broke
More worlds exist beyond the stars]

Azad is hinting at the discovery of thousands of new galaxies and exoplanets, far beyond the Milky Way. Thanks to powerful space telescopes such as the Hubble and the James Webb, scientists can now see ‘toddler’ and ‘baby’ galaxies 12-15 billion light years away from us. While a scientific mission requires billions of dollars to explore the universe and reach the truth, a poet needs the gift of imagination to inspire generations to do so.

This comparison, however, does not mean any criticism of scientific enquiry. Multiple poems in Danaa-i-Raaz encourage us to use reason and avoid blind discipleship:

Imkaan hai ke aqal madad teri kar sakay
Taqleed ki waba se nikalnay ka waqt hai

[Reason has potential to help you
It’s time to get rid of the epidemic of blind conformity]


Timtima kar mashwara deta hai har najm-i-falak
Dekhnay ka khaas aik andaaz hona chahiyay

[Every star in the sky twinkles to suggest
One only needs to have a keen eye to observe]

Through these and several other verses on the importance of rationalism, Azad reminds us of the first-ever philosophical novel, Hayy Ibn Yaqzan [Alive, Son of Awake] by Ibn Tufail. In this, a child left alone on an island discovers truth on his own as he grows up and conducts scientific experiments.

The poems in Azad’s collection lament the decline of Muslim civilisation in general, and Pakistani society in particular. One reason pointed out is our failure to translate Allama Iqbal’s philosophy into practice, as Azad says:

Jis khudi ki yaad taaza ki lab-i-Iqbal ne
Aaj ke Muslim ke rukh par woh khudi dekhi nahin

[The selfhood that Iqbal’s pen reawakened in us
I haven’t seen that on the faces of present-day Muslims]

For Azad, it is important to adopt Iqbal’s message, as this alone can save us from falling prey to imperialism:

Rehnuma apna bana le hikmat-i-Iqbal ko
Tu na aaey ga kabhi phir raahzan ke daam mein

[Make Iqbal’s wisdom your guide
You will never again be trapped by the plunderer]

Iqbal’s theorisation of khudi [self] is an effective decolonial strategy for Azad, if followed to the letter and in spirit. This is informed by an awareness that our socio-economic systems, as well as our minds, are still colonised. The only way to liberate ourselves is to harbour the lines of postcolonial resistance:

Tu aakay josh mein azad kiyun nahin hota?
Rahay gi ghair ki mehkoom zindagi kab tak?

[Why don’t you rise up and win your freedom?
Till when will your life remain enchained by the other?]

Owing to its frequent interpretations of, and favourable poetic commentary on, the national poet’s thoughts, Daana-i-Raaz is prescriptive in tone. Azad is not only conscious, but also assertive about it:

Dars-i-islaah-i-amal qaum ko de kar shaayer
Qasr-i-umeed ki taameer kia karta hai

[By teaching reforms of action to the nation
The poet builds a basilica of hope]

Azad’s palace of hope stands on his firm faith in the power of will. He also sees the present times to be the most ripe to invest in the growth of a strong determination:

Azad ko yaqeen hai agar azm ho jawaan
Har aik shikasta pa ke sambhalnay ka
waqt hai

[Azad believes that if the will is spirited
Now is the time for all the powerless to
rise up]

Following in Iqbal’s footsteps — and like our contemporary literary giant Iftikhar Arif — Azad’s poetry draws heavily on the Islamic framework and is peppered with frequent religious metaphors and messages:

Dunyaavi zindagi pe bhi rakhta hai woh nazar
Karta hai aakhirat ke bhi samaan aadmi

[Man keeps an eye on the worldly life
And prepares for the hereafter as well]

In addition to the Iqbalisms, Daana-i-Raaz includes verses that value diversity, patriotism and humanism, discourage groupism, inaction, exploitation and pretentiousness, etc. The poems range from the philosophical to the socio-realistic, from historical to the comparative, biographical, romantic, travel narratives and complaint — Sawaal-i-Banda, Jawaab-i-Khuda [Man’s Question, God’s Reply] reminds us of poet Raza Ali Hasan’s book 67 Mogul Miniatures, which is an update of Iqbal’s poem ‘Shikwa’ [Complaint] in English.

With Danaa-i-Raaz, Azad Iqbal proves himself a true heir of Allama Iqbal’s pen. His book should be of interest to students and scholars of Iqbal Studies and to anyone interested in good poetry.

The reviewer heads the Centre for Language Teaching at the International Islamic University, Islamabad. His most recent book is Lisaaniyat: Aik Jaame Taaruf and he tweets @SheerazDasti

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 21st, 2022


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