Iqbal made simple

Damadam Ravan Hai Yam-i-Zindagi‘There is much more to this biography than what Khurram Ali Shafique had initially led us to expect,’ writes Dr. M. Reza Kazmi in Dawn Books & Authors, April 4, 2004, reviewing Damadam Ravan Hai Yam-i-Zindagi by Shafique. The book has since then been reissued in a revised and enlarged edition as Iqbal: Ibtidai Daur.

Iqbal Made Simple

By Dr. M. Reza Kazmi

DAWN Books & Authors, April 4, 2004

Iqbal wrote poems for children; Iqbal wrote epics for sages. It follows that the works of Iqbal call for different levels of understanding. We have works in which the poems of Iqbal have been interpreted for school children as well as those where the highest philosophical engagements of Iqbal have been discussed. What Khurram Ali Shafique has produced belongs to that very rare genre: a simple introduction to Iqbal written by an author capable of interpreting and evaluating the highest level of Iqbal’s thought.

Khurram Ali Shafique has the gift of bringing to the popular level intricate lessons of history and in the present case he has used this gift most dedicatedly. The volume under review covers Iqbal’s life only uptil 1904 — a hundred years before, otherwise it is holistic. Khurram Ali Shafique has not used the classical format of Urdu biography but used a step-by-step, paragraph-by-paragraph format to trace the life of Iqbal.

It is fascinating for not being a unilinear biography. Parallel strands of information are presented setting the biography in context. Literary, political and social events are mentioned: the family history of Iqbal, that of Sialkot, the religious tendencies of his class that is all the formative influences on Iqbal are given here, given moreover with refreshing contour thereby portraying both the man and his age most realistically.

One of the methods adapted to this end is to give a count of the books read by Iqbal as a student and his inscription on those books. He lists his friends and acquaintances like Sir Fazl-i-Husain and Ghulam Bheek Nairang. He takes us to the Lahore of Arshad Gorganvi and Nazim Lucknawi and in doing so gives us the sense of whether the events took place under a lantern, a gaslight or an electric light.

Khurram Ali Shafique traces three major influences on Iqbal; his father Shaikh Nur Muhammad, his mentor Moulvi Mir Hasan and his friend and teacher T.W. Arnold. Iqbal recalled a night when he had seen a halo around his father’s head and his mother had barred his approach to his room. Later Iqbal learnt that his father, following a vision, had accosted a stranded caravan and cured a terminally ill patient. The author concedes that Iqbal’s imagination may have been at play; nevertheless the incident exercised a hold on Iqbal’s mind. Iqbal’s father enjoined on him to serve Islam. This is akin to Mir’s father enjoining love on him. Mir had called love to be religion and Iqbal had made love the centerpiece of his own message.

More important than all these were the recitation in Iqbal’s house of Ibn Arabi’s Fusus ul Hakam. It was Ibn Arabi who laid the foundation for Iqbal’s veneration of Rumi. Only in one aspect had Iqbal differed from Ibn Arabi. Ibn Arabi held that the perfect and complete vision of God could be obtained by seeing a woman. Not only did Iqbal refuse to become a feminist (p203) he was an ardent advocate of seclusion and he lampooned writers and artists for being obsessed with women.

Mir Hasan, though a Wahabi, was paradoxically responsible for instilling in Iqbal veneration for Imam Ali and the Ahl-i-Bayt. It was Mir Hasan who shielded him from the advances of the Qadiani creed even when some members of Iqbal’s family had succumbed to it. How spiritually supportive to Iqbal was Mir Hasan’s influence could be gathered from a conversation Iqbal had with his third mentor, T.W. Arnold. Once asking Iqbal the reason for his morose mood, Arnold discovered that Iqbal was perturbed over a false statement issued by an alim he had held in great esteem. Arnold consoled him by saying that such things were a part of life (p146).

T.W. Arnold set Iqbal on the path of translating from English into Urdu, poems for children. Iqbal complied by translating Matilda Betham’s “A child’s hymn” (Bachhay ki dua) (p168) and Samuel Roger’s “A wish” (Ek arzoo) (p206). The translations far outstrip the original.

Khurram Ali Shafique encompasses also the intellectual occupation of Iqbal. He recounts the arguments for the existence of God given by Descartes and Kant but curiously, does not link it to the second lecture of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. He partly redeems this by recalling Iqbal’s affinity to Al Jeeli, who transcended the riddle of time and causality by stressing the importance of names and their cognitive connotation (p164). Khurram Ali Shafique shows his mettle as a literary critic when he demonstrates that Shelley’s influence on Iqbal’s depiction of Satan was more profound than Goethe’s (pp 137-39).

In the same vein, the author outlines the literary aspiration of Iqbal. Although Iqbal was a pupil of Dagh, he was more inclined to Amir Meenai. He had intended to write in English a life of Amir Meenai. Iqbal also told Ghulam Bhik Nairang that he wanted to depict the tragedy of Karbala in the form of a Miltonian epic. Although he lauded the Lucknow marsia as the apogee of literary perfection, but he was seeking a different form for projecting the battle of Karbala. He did not find an epic for this purpose but focused strongly on the ideological stand of Imam Hussain. Instead of marsia, Iqbal wrote epigrammatic verses on the mission of Imam Hussain. In this he also mirrors Mir Taqi Mir, who despite his devotion was unable to compose a marsia worthy of his genius but depicted the tragedy pointedly and poignantly in his ghazal verses.

There is much more to this biography than what Khurram Ali Shafique had initially led us to expect. He has not shied away from mentioning even the most sensitive or banal aspects of Iqbal’s life. He ends this volume with an interview of Amir Begum, reputedly Iqbal’s old flame. This is a dramatic end relating to both Iqbal the poet and Iqbal the man. Khurram Ali Shafique has followed his poet home with the result that we eagerly await the next volume of his work.

Damadam Rawan Hai Yam-i-Zindagi: Hayat-i-Iqbal ka Pahla Daur 1904 Tak
By Khurram Ali Shafique
Alhamra Publishing, Saudi Pak Tower, Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad Tel: 051-2800248, 2800253.
ISBN 969-516-100-6
289pp. Rs250

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