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Iqbal`s Shikwa revisited

October 17, 2010

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“Why must I forever lose, forever forgo profit that is my due,

Sunk in the gloom of evening past, no plans for the morrow pursue.

Why must I all attentive be to the nightingale's lament,

Friend, am I as dumb as a flower? Must I remain silent?

My theme makes me bold, makes my tongue more eloquent.

Dust in my mouth, against Allah I make complaint.”

The complaints that ensue in Allama Iqbal's well-known poem “Shikwa” are long and heartfelt, traversing the history of the Muslim world in an attempt to understand why they continue to suffer despite being the ardent followers of God's favoured religion Islam and His beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Jawab-e-Shikwa is the imagined voice of God, which the poet uses to elucidate the maladies which have brought the Muslims to the sorry state they are in, and offers insight and inspiration. Written a century ago, it still rings true in many ways and point out to the shortcomings and evils the “ummah” continues to be saddled with.

A recent rendition of selected portions of Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa by singer Tina Sani at a fund raiser for the flood victims organised by The Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (CCP) in collaboration with Avari Lahore proved to be a memorable experience. Tina is a mature and accomplished artist and her cultured and intelligent rendering of the poetry kept the audience engaged and quite enthralled till the end. She sang from the heart and the lyrics were rather upbeat, so while the theme was serious, it still was entertaining. CCP also presented donors with a beautifully printed copy of the poetry with an English translation by Khushwant Singh, (printed free of cost for the occasion by HY enterprises) so that the meaning of the verses would be clear and this proved most useful, especially for the students and younger members of the audience.

Jawab-i-Shikwa has many verses which invoke soul searching and in many ways also reaffirm our own critical views on why we are where we are. Iqbal, for instance, reminds us of our 'idle hands' with which we “sit awaiting the dawn of a better day”, of the factions, divisions and castes amongst which we are divided, and of our hearts which have no passion and of our souls that are bereft of spirit. He points out that the rich have forgotten God and are 'drunk with the wine of wealth while 'the enlightened community survives because of the poor man's breath'. More criticism ensues as he compares the earliest Muslims with those of the present; “You quarrel among yourselves; they were kind and understanding,

You do evil deeds, find faults in others; they covered others sins and were forgiving.

To live atop the Pleiades is the heart's wish of everyone of you;

First produce a discerning soul who can make the dream come true.”

It is ironic that now in the 21st century Muslims appear even more bigoted and rent asunder by internal strife and misguided notions of piety than they were in the days when Iqbal wrote the aforementioned verses. But perhaps there is hope for the future as one does see many people getting together to make a difference and to work for the oppressed and downtrodden. Let us hope that collectively, many “discerning souls” amongst us will usher in a better, more peaceful and just environment, both at home and the world at large.