Diasporic Identity

Finding resonance in Iqbal’s poetry

It’s 2009. I am Kashmiri but I’ve never heard of Dr Allama Iqbal.

I’ve been taught daughters are lesser than sons, that choice in marriage is rebellion, and honour upheld solely through submission. But things that would’ve built my character, intellect or faith were not deemed important…so, I’ve never heard of Iqbal.

Being the product of a broken home means exactly this. At every significant point of your life you’re faced with this gawping chasm of neglect. Either you can fill it, or it will fill you. But I digress, let’s start over.


It’s 2009.

I’m a final year student and for the first time in a lifetime of studying literature, I’m learning something I love; something that is relevant to me. We’ve been discussing post colonial literature and theory as well as the colonisation of Africa and India. It’s a topic that consumes me, so much so that I look forward to weekend visits home only because I can interview my Nani about her childhood. What do you remember? What was it like? How were your family members affected by the Empire, by it’s shameful flight?

Richard – the lecturer – wants us to apply a theory to a text and he encourages us to look into works written in other languages as these texts often host postcolonial angst. I shamefully wish my ability to read Urdu was better. I was never formally taught (I self-taught and got by) but that doesn’t deter me. I do my research and come across ‘The Complaint’ by Allama Iqbal. It’s opening lines steal my heart.

Why must I forever be destructive, oblivious to gain?
Why must I not think about the future, remain occupied in yesterday’s problems?
Why must I hear the wails of the nightingale, and remain completely silent?
O companion, am I some flower, that I must stay silent?
But the strength of my poetry is encouraging me
Dust be in my mouth! For my shikwa is against God.

Despite all the self-doubt and agonising over translation and accuracy, I pass with a first. I learn the lesson that 21 years of education failed to teach me: intellect alone is redundant if your heart is not connected to what you do.

Guzar ja akal se aage ke ye noor
Chiragh-e-rah hai, manzil nahin hai
Renounce the path of reason and intellect. It is but a light
That brightens your way; it is not your final goal.


2012. Ten months into my first teaching post and I’m already bored senseless.

I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet for the umpteenth time because it’s the only text my Head of Department (a business graduate) knows well enough. So we are all forced to teach it on loop. I wouldn’t mind but it’s not even my favourite Shakespeare play.

I slog 16 hours a day on about 4 to 5 hours of sleep. I’m mentally exhausted and physically drained, and contrary to the perception out there about teachers, I (like others) never stop working through weekends and holidays. I have no life aside from work. But, again like all teachers, I persevere because I want the best for my children. And I still live in the bubble I created for myself as a child: that all the hardships will one day lead to ease. This is my ease.

My final NQT observation is coming up and I have a meeting with the deputy principal. I have a year’s worth of outstanding lesson observations: I’m good at what I do and we both know it. But it turns out even the education system isn’t excluded from corruption. My department are like the in-laws from hell; the tactics they use would put any Star Plus bahu to shame.

He lays it out clearly although not in these exact words: passing or not passing the NQT year, the chance of promotion, recognition, or any kind of autonomy in the future all rest on one thing: the systematic bullying of a colleague. Just like that, my ease becomes my test.

It doesn’t surprise me when I am passed as a ‘satisfactory’ teacher, but it comes as a huge surprise for them to receive my resignation. I refuse to sell my soul for a measly pat on the back: my rizq is from Allah (swt), not in the hands of any man. And anyway, to hell with living in bubbles: it’s boring, more boring than teaching the same Shakespeare play on repeat.

Ay Tair-e-lahooti! Us rizq se maut achi
Jis rizq se aati ho parwaz mein kotahi
O Bird, who flies to the Throne of God, You must keep this truth in sight,
To suffer death is far nobler than the bread that clogs your upward flight.



The bombings in Kashmir have fired up. Some houses in my husband’s village have been bombed. No-one is injured but the cattle and animals, and all forms of livelihood have been destroyed. Other villages haven’t been so lucky.

Mainstream media won’t report the truth. Even social media flares up every now and again only to return to its preoccupation with other gossip. Many of us have no idea of what may be happening around the world: in Yemen, Kashmir, Syria, and the list goes on. It breaks my heart. I am reminded once again of the first poem I ever read by Iqbal. I am reminded that the plight of the Ummah today is still what it was for Iqbal.

There are other nations, among them are sinners also
There are modest people and arrogant ones too,
Among them are sluggish, indolent as well as clever people
There are also hundreds who are disgusted with Your name,

Your graces descend on other people’s abodes,
Lightning of Your rage strikes only the poor Muslims’ abodes.

The idols in temples shout ‘The Muslims are gone’
They are glad that the Ka’bah’s guardians are gone,
From the world’s stage the hudi singers are gone
They, with the Qur’an in their arm pits, are gone.
Infidelity is mocking with laughter, are You deaf, or indifferent?
Do You have any regard for Your own Tawhid or not?*

*Please read Jawab-e-Shikwa in conjunction with this to avoid misunderstanding the poet’s message.*

I don’t find my words particularly special, nor do I think myself worthy of even writing about Hazrat Dr Allama Iqbal (r.a). My post won’t add anything to the mass of information out there about him but as it is Iqbal Day, I felt it necessary to write these reflections. For me, his poetry and his philosophy have repeatedly played the role of mentor over the years.

If you don’t know about him, then read about him. Today, in the wake of what is happening around the world, we should know Iqbal the way he ought to be known. We need his words now more than ever. And learning about him is just the tip of the iceberg because while we learn, the chasm of neglect that we have inflicted on ourselves as a people continues to grow.



You are neither for the earth nor for the heaven:
The world is for you, and not you for the world.

5 thoughts on “Finding resonance in Iqbal’s poetry”

  1. Couple of things- resigning when you feel you are being screwed over requires levels of strength I’m not sure I will ever attain so I take my hijab off to you. Well, I would but gunnah 😂 Also, my sister wrote a comparison between Romeo & Juliet yesterday. Her essay included the sentence; Romeo mopes about frequently. I had to explain that she can’t really use the word “mope” in a formal essay….

    Liked by 1 person

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