Iqbal and Faiz

By Aamir Butt



All humans go through various phases during their lives, their thoughts, ideas and philosophy changes according to which phase they are in. It is not uncommon what our thoughts were at 20 are much different from what we have at 40 or 60 and so on. Philosophers and writers are also human and go through similar changes. The difference is that for the majority when they change their ideas people have often forgotten what they were like, and what they said 10 or 20 years ago but for those who write and publish, they create a permanent record of their thoughts. And after they die anyone can pick those parts of their writings that suites them and use it to support their own ideas. Iqbal is a classic example for Iqbal went through various phases and his writings reflect this. So someone can use what Iqbal wrote at say 30 to support a certain argument regarding the philosophy of Iqbal even if what Iqbal may have written at 60 can be quite different.  In my personal opinion  people mature with age and what Iqbal has written in his twilight years may well be the real conclusions on life he would have reached. In this context his lectures delivered at Madras and Aligarh latter published as Madras Papers and then as a book called ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ are of paramount importance. Interestingly instead of Urdu or Farsi Iqbal wrote these in English. Perhaps this was an attempt to aim them at a restricted audience and free himself from inserting populist slogans and verse. However he has made them real hard work to understand. I have tried to read this book a few times and have had to give up after a few pages. Still one of my favourite passages from it is:

Thus, wholly overshadowed by the results of his intellectual activity, the modern man has ceased to live soulfully, i.e. from within. In the domain of thought he is living in open conflict with himself; and in the domain of economic and political life he is living in open conflict with others. He finds himself unable to control his ruthless egoism and his infinite gold-hunger which is gradually killing all higher strivings in him and bringing him nothing but life-weariness. Absorbed in the ‘fact’, that is to say, the optically present source of sensation, he is entirely cut off from the unplumbed depths of his own being. In the wake of his systematic materialism has at last come that paralysis of energy which Huxley apprehended and deplored. The condition of things in the East is no better. The technique of mysticism by which religious life, in its higher manifestations, developed itself both in the East and in the West has now practically failed. And in the Muslim East it has, perhaps, done far greater havoc then anywhere else. Far from reintegrating the forces of average man’s inner life, and thus preparing him for participation in the march of history, it has taught him a false reunification and made him perfectly contented with his ignorance and spiritual thraldom. No wonder then that the modern Muslim in Turkey, Egypt and Persia is led to seek fresh sources of energy in the creation of new loyalties, such as patriotism and nationalism which Nietzsche describes as ‘sickness and unreason’ and ‘the strongest forces against culture’.

Disappointed of a purely religious method of spiritual renewal which alone brings us into touch with the everlasting fountain of life and power by expanding our thoughts and emotions, the modern Muslim fondly hopes to unlock fresh sources of energy by narrowing down his thought and emotion. Modern atheistic socialism, which possesses all the fervour of a new religion, has a broader outlook; but having received its philosophical basis from the Hegelians of the left wing, it rises in revolt against the very source which could have given it strength and purpose. Both nationalism and atheistic socialism, at least in the present state of human adjustment, must draw upon the psychological forces of hate, suspicion and resentment which tend to impoverish the soul if man and close up his hidden sources of spiritual energy. 

Neither the technique of medieval mysticism, nor nationalism, nor aesthetic socialism can cure the ills of a despairing humanity. Surely the present moment is one of a great crisis in the history of modern culture. The modern world stands in need of biological renewal. And religion, which in its higher manifestations is neither dogma, nor priesthood, nor ritual, can alone ethically prepare the modern man for the burden of the great responsibility which the advancement of modern science necessarily involves, and restore to him that attitude of faith which makes him capable of winning a personality here and retaining it hereafter. It is only by rising to a fresh vision of his origin and future, his whence and whither, that man will eventually triumph over a society motivated by an inhuman competition, and a civilization which has lost its spiritual unity by its inner conflict of religious and political values.

I wonder how many of Iqbal’s followers would accept an Islam with no rituals like namaz, Haj and roza, no dogma like the book and sharia and no maulvies /aalims etc.?


Personally I can’t recall exactly when I became interested in Faiz Sahib’s poetry. Like Faiz Sahib both of my parents are from Sialkot. My maternal grandfather, a writer and scholar himself, was a devotee of Iqbal and Rumi. So during my childhood I had a lot of exposure to Iqbal’s poetry but I can’t recall my grandfather ever quoting or mentioning Faiz.

My first and so far only personal contact with Faiz Sahib’s family was when I was a pre-med student at Sir Syed College Rawalpindi and owned a Yamaha motorbike. I used to visit a mechanic in Sadar bazar where Mr Shoaib Hashmi used to come as well with his Honda motorcycle, so I had a chance to chat with him a few times as we waited for our bikes to be tuned and serviced. For me this was exciting as I was talking to a celebrity. However, Mr Hashmi’s celebrity status for me was not as the son in law of Faiz Sahib but as the brain behind the TV satire Tal Matol and the lucky man married to the beautiful Salima. Certainly we never discussed Faiz or his poetry.

Most likely I became interested in Faiz Sahib during the times of Zia martial law when his poems were used as an channel of protest and defiance against prevalent oppression. The 1985 performance by Iqbal Bano in Lahore clad in a black sari (Sari had just been banned by Zia as un-Islamic) caused the thousands present to become ecstatic as she declared:

Hum deekhain gay
Woh din kay jiss ka waada hai
Jab zulm o sitam kay koh a gra
Roi key tarah urr jayeen gay
Hum mehkoomo kay paon talay
Jab dhartry dhar dhar dharkay gey
Aur Ahlay Hakam kay sarr oopar
Jab bijli kar kar karkay gey

I was not fortunate to be among the audience but met some who were and it made quite an impression on me. Since then my interest in Faiz as a person and as a poet has kept on increasing with time.

No doubt Faiz was a great Urdu poet yet some critics may not agree and consider his poetry to be average or even mediocre. Well that can be argued but no one can argue that as a person he was universally loved, even by his critics.

Faiz himself writes: ‘Our poets have always complained of the indifference suffered at the hands of their contemporaries; in fact, this has been a perennial theme in our poetry. As far as I am concerned, it is the other way round. I have had such kindness and love showered on me-by friends, acquaintances and, even virtual strangers-that I often feel that I do not deserve it. The little what I have done, does not measure up to what I have received.’

It is not hard to guess why he was thought worthy of so much love, for Faiz always retained his humility and humbleness. He never retaliated when insulted and attacked. In all his works and writings you will not see any bitterness towards those who criticized him, such as when he wrote ‘Dagh Dagh Ujala’ on the bloody birth of Pakistan or when in reply to everyone asking for a jingoistic patriotic song during 1965 war he wrote’ Spahey ka Merseya’ an elegy for the thousands of young men from both sides of the border who died in a senseless war that achieved nothing. Each time he was crucified by so called patriots but he never retaliated. There is not even any resentment towards those who arrested him, sometimes without giving any reason or forced him to leave his beloved city of light Lahore and Pakistan!

Faiz Sahib had a tranquil and calm nature but a sharp wit and sense of humour. TV actor  Arshad Mahmood narrates that he once asked Faiz Sahib how come despite that he has similar qualifications and attributes yet has not achieved the same respect and acclimation . Faiz Sahib replied: ‘Bhae hum mein ur tum mein aik buniyadi farq hai’ Salman persisted ‘Kya farq hai Faiz Sahib?’ and Faiz Sahib replied: Bhae humaray ustad Pitras Bukhari thay, aur tumharay Shoaib Hashmi’ (Pitras and Hashmi both taught at Government College Lahore in different eras).
In another incident famous actress Shabani Azmi remembers a mushaira at the house of her father poet Kafi Azmi who was a great friend of Faiz. Generally Faiz was known as not good at reciting his own poetry, although if you listen to him he has an individual style and grace. Anyway an upstart poet at the mushaira said: ‘Kya khoob hoota kay Faiz Sahib jitna acha likhtay hai utna he acha sunatay bhee’ In his typical demure style Faiz Sahib replied:’Bhae abb sub kuch hum hein karayen, kuch tum bhee tu karo na’ . Apparently the poet did not open his mouth for the rest of the evening.

Faiz rejects art for art’s sake and believes in striving through his poetry to bring about a change for the better in the condition of the poor and downtrodden people regardless of where they live, what language they speak and what religion, if any, they follow.

Even his romantic poetry is not without this element. The poem ‘Mujh say pehli see mohabat’ of which Faiz used to say is not his anymore as it now belongs to Noor Jehan, is an example everyone is aware of.

Another of his beautiful poems is ‘Raqeeb Say (To The Rival in Love)’ also heavenly sung by Noor Jehan. In Urdu poetry the rival for beloved’s affection is a loathsome subhuman character insulted at every opportunity. However in typical Faiz style he has only kindness and compassion for the man to whom he has lost his first love!:

Tu ne Dekhi Hai Wo Peeshaani, Wo Ruskhsar,Wo Hont
Zindgi Jin Ke Tasawwar Main Luta Di Hum Ne
Tujh Pe Uthi Hain Wo Khoi Hui Saahar Aankhain
Tujh Ko Maaloom Hai Kiyoon Umr Gunwa Di Hum Ne

Till this point it is an example of a lover losing in love telling the victor how lucky he is and accepting it with good grace, but then there is a twist:

Hum Pe Mushtarka Hain Ahsaan Gham E Ulfat Ke  
Itnay Ahsaan Ke Ginwaoon Tu Ginwaa Na Sakoon
Hum Ne Iss Ishq Main Kya Khoya Hai,Kya Seekha Hai
Juz Teray Aur Ko Samjhaoon Tu Samjha Na Sakoon

Somehow Faiz suggests that the loser (himself) has also gained, but how is that possible?:

Well the song ends here and we are left wondering what Faiz has learnt and gained but the poem continues and the next set of verses gives us the answer:

Aajzi Seekhi,Ghareebon Ki Himayat Seekhi
Yaas O Harmaan Ke,Dukh Dard Ke Maani Seekhay
Zer Daston Key Musahib Ko Sumjhna Seekha
Sard Ahon Ke,Rukhe Zard Ke Maani Seekhay

Once again Faiz Sahib has changed his defeat in love to something positive, something that makes him sensitive so he can feel the pain of the poor and helpless, he has expanded something personal to something universal. Such was his talent and passion.

And throughout his work there is always hope. Hope for a better future no matter how bad things are and how dark the night is.

Garr aaj tujh say juda hain tu kall baham hoon gay
Yeh raat bhar key judai tu koi baat nehien
Garr aaj aooj pay hai taalaye raqeeb tu kya
Yeah chaar din key khudai tu koi baat nehien

Faiz was a man of many talents, poet, writer, editor, teacher, social worker, film maker etc. but above all he was a humanist and his philosophy is eloquently paraphrased in his acceptance speech for the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962:

Human ingenuity, science and industry have made it possible to provide each one of us everything we need to be comfortable provided these boundless treasures of nature and production are not declared the property of a greedy few but are used for the benefit of all of humanity… However, this is only possible if the foundations of human society are based not on greed, exploitation and ownership but on justice, equality, freedom and the welfare of everyone… I believe that humanity which has never been defeated by its enemies will, after all, be successful; at long last, instead of wars, hatred and cruelty, the foundation of humankind will rest on the message of the great Persian poet Hafez Shiraz: ‘Every foundation you see is faulty, except that of Love, which is faultless…. 

Agha Nasir in his book ‘Hum Jeetay Jee Masroof Rahay’, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the context of Faiz Sahib’s poetry writes that Faiz Sahib considered his poetry as his Ishq and his social and humanitarian activities as his kaam. And to quote from one of his poems:

Woh loog bohat khush kismat thay
Jo ishq ko kaam samajtay thay
Ya kaam say ashiqi kertay thay
Hum jeetay jee musroof rahay
Kuch Ishq keeya,kuch kaam keeya
Kaam Ishq kay aaray aata raha
Aur kaam say Ishq ulajhta raha
Phir aakhir tang aa ker hum nay
Donoon ko adhura choor deeya

Blessed were those whose work was their devotion(Ishq)
While we lived we kept ourselves busy
Spent some time in devotion and some in work
Work kept hindering devotion
And they kept quarrelling with each other
So at the end getting tired of all this tussle
We left both tasks unfinished
Well Faiz Sahib you may have left the world without finishing your work and we are deprived of any more of your Ishq ( (I could not find an equivalent of Ishq in English) but the world no doubt is a better place because of you, God bless you, and may you rest in peace. (Faiz Ahmad Faiz فیض احمد فیض , born 13 February 1911 – 20 November 1984 MBE, NI)



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