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Iran is a country with 5,000 years old history, an astonishing heritage and rich culture. Iranians have a rich knowledge base in almost every field ranging a wide variety of subjects. Their libraries are full of original books and journals all written in Persian. This is a priceless treasure accumulated over centuries and well preserved by Iranian scholars and researchers.

Iran has one of the world’s oldest as well as most advanced knowledge bank and its people are not dependent on any other nation for acquiring knowledge. Iran is the land of Maulana Rumi, Firdausi, Hafiz Shirazi and Omar Khayyam, whose classic work has been, and is, a source of inspiration for centuries.

Pakistan is also known as the land of the Shaer-i-Mashriq Dr Allama Iqbal, a world famous poet and maestro of inspirational poetry and change philosophy. This article narrates a stunning discovery made in Iran about the deep-rooted relationship of Dr Allama Iqbal’s work in Persian with the common people of Iran.

While living in Iran for an extended period of time as a part of work there was an ample opportunity for us to travel extensively in the country and mingle with both the Iranian intelligentsia and commoners. It came as a pleasant surprise during this interaction that our national poet Dr Allama Iqbal is very popular and well known in every strata of Iranian society. Almost everyone, from children to grown ups, from a taxi driver to an office executive, all know some of Allama Iqbal’s verses in Persian. It was a surprise to find that in Mashhad there is an Eghbal-i-Lahuri Institute of Higher Studies functioning under the patronage of the Iranian Government offering degrees in social sciences and engineering. In Iran, Dr Allama Iqbal is commonly known as “Eghbal-i-Lahuri”.

While talking to scholars in Tehran University it was discovered that Iqbal’s poetic work like “Az Zabur-i-Ajam” was a major source of inspiration and motivation for many young people taking part in the 1979 Inqelab. They recalled that it was a common thing during the revolution days to see people gathering in a park or corner to listen to someone reciting Iqbal’s blood-warming Persian poetry.

Iqbal’s “Asrare-i-Khudi” and famous “Bal-i-Jibreel” enjoy mass popularity in Iran and are taken as a way of life. The scholars in Firdausi University of Mashhad were of the view that both the Pakistani people and government have no idea what an asset they have in the form of Iqbal’s preserved poetic works.

It is unfortunate to see how we in Pakistan have carried forward the legacy of our national poet. How many of us remember any verse from his poetry? Iqbal’s philosophy and its imbedded message is virtually unknown to our youth and common people. The main reason for it is that no one in Pakistan has bothered to translate and communicate Iqbal’s philosophical thoughts in a simple and easy to understand language.

Unfortunately, we have paved way for fundamentalism, sectarianism and dividing people in faith and practice by not being able to comprehend the true essence of Iqbal’s message. Realistically speaking, the common people only know Iqbal as more of a revolutionary poet whereas the intellectual people know another version of Iqbal—the poet, philosopher and  mystic.

This compartmentalisation has become so strong in Pakistani society that it has divided us into two opposing factions, both of which are intolerant of the existence of the other. What is the probable reason of this dilemma? Did we deliberately block the promotion of Iqbal’s vision in favour of promoting right-winged politics? Or was it that Iqbal’s vision was too far ahead of its time and many of our academicians and politicians have not yet reached the level of intellectual evolution that would enable us to promote it for the desired change in society?

We are a classical example of a country where the philosophy of Iqbal is being interpreted and used for all the wrong reasons. It is due to this that the country today is in dire straits and heading towards destruction which seems to be its only destiny.

Perhaps Allama Iqbal was also cognizant of the fact that his philosophy will be best understood by people knowing classic Persian and by doing so they will be able to relate it to its genuine roots as well; therefore, he recorded his wisdom in Persian. All intellectuals and critics agree that Iqbal’s best work is in Persian, and not in Urdu. His Urdu poetry is either a reflection of the classic readings he did in western knowledge or eastern knowledge or it is a summary of his ideas. Now the challenge of whether or not we would choose to comprehend Iqbal in the context of intellectuals and accept him as a proactive thinker and philosopher who gave us the remedy of all of our ills rather than taking him as a regressive theologian responsible for all our ills lies before us. Because not understanding the vision of Iqbal, many people even start questioning the aim of Pakistan.

But who will take up that challenge? What responsibility lies on the shoulders of the school and college teachers and university professors regardless of the discipline they teach? Is Iqbal the sole property of the linguists, who will keep on producing lifeless research? It is lifeless, because words are just a body, whereas the meanings are the soul. Who will introduce us to the spirit of Iqbal that would inspire life in a dead nation?

Experts responsible for designing school to university level curriculums have not done full justice to Allama Iqbal’s work. The teachers who are responsible to deliver that syllabus themselves have no idea on how to interpret or where to integrate Iqbal’s vision in their courses.

As explained before that Iqbal in our country has unfortunately been cornered gradually while being perceived as the property of linguistics only. A lot is written in appreciation on his asloob-i-biyaan, imagery, literally content and figurative language. But no one seems bothered to interpret the true meaning of Iqbal’s poetic work in terms of touching people’s heart and changing their lives. It is evident from the fact that Iqbal’s work is missing from all kinds of educational programme road maps. For example, his book Ilm-ul-Iqtasiad (1903), which is his only book on Economics written in Urdu, has never been considered by our curriculum planners.

It was not the job of the government to promote Iqbal’s vision but the job of a literate society. Unfortunately our writers, journalists and philosophers choose to limit themselves to write on topics which can sell well in the market. For example, most top line writers are for years churning out books on romantic poetry, memoirs, and travelogues; their contribution in spreading Iqbal’s vision and philosophy is next to nothing. In a similar fashion the electronic media, performing arts and singers all pursue their commercial interests while choosing from Iqbal’s poetry.

It is sad to conclude that Iranian people are more influenced by Allama Iqbal’s vision than we are here in Pakistan. They place Allama Iqbal in the same category as Rumi or Shirazi. In Pakistan we hardly see anyone even trying to groom one’s life according to Iqbal’s teachings. Iqbal’s vision is not a part of our daily professional and personal lives. We hardly talk about his philosophy in intellectual gatherings and academic conferences.

Had we been able to create such role models, it would have been easier for us to promote such vision. Who is ready to become such a torch bearer? Iqbal’s main concern was the youth, the future torch bearers. Do we have that kind of spirit in our youth today? Are we the nation that our great leader Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah predicted as a “dream nation”? If we are unable to take such a lead in the future as well, Iqbal will no longer be remembered as Eghbal-i-Lahuri. He will be followed as Eghbal-i-Farsi or Irani!

The writers are faculty members/researchers at University of Central Punjab, Lahore nasir.riaz@ucp.edu.pk darif00@yahoo.com