One afternoon in Chicago with my aunt—likely providing her company while she organized her room—we stumbled across the bookshelf in the basement, and she pulled out a book of Allama Iqbal’s works. A poet, a philosopher, a politician, he had been well before that particular afternoon of mine. But it would be several years of exposure to his work before I would even begin to understand what my aunt read to me that day: Iqbal’s Shikwa and Jawaab.
Over the next few years I came across bits of his work that stayed with me, and turned the way I saw life. But it was earlier this year when a beloved Pakistani singer by the name of Amjad Sabri, son of one of the most renowned Qawwali singers in the Indian subcontinent (Ghulam Farid Sabri) passed away, that I got back to Shikwa and Jawaab. I admittedly knew little about Amjad Sabri and the icon he too had become for Pakistan until after he passed away in a tragic killing this past June. Afterwards, while looking at what he sang, one day I came across a recitation of Shikwa and Jawaab. Both he and the other singer conveyed Allama Iqbal’s words so beautifully, giving them a voice that became unavoidable for me.
It quickly became an astonishing time. The month of Dhul Hijjah was in full swing and I had been learning about Prophet Ibrahim’s life, which was already resonating deeply. Parts of Shikwa and Jawab talk about Prophet Ibrahim too, and the messages all started weaving together.
Iqbal’s style of writing employs a heavy use of Farsi and is layered with meaning that conveys strong messages addressed to humans. Shikwa, or ‘Complaint’ was recited by Iqbal in 1912, after a couple years of particular difficulty that Muslims faced in many nations around the world, including India, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey. The poem is bold as it is written from the perspective of a Muslim appealing to God in distress, declaring the loyalty he and other Muslims have toward God, and asking why then is there so much difficulty. In Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher, and Politician, Zafar Anjum describes the scene after Shikwa is recited for the first time:
The audience is spellbound when he recites the poem. They shower flowers on him. An old man shouts, ‘Illallah!’ and comes to stand in the middle of the assembly, tears streaming from his eyes. There is not a single soul in the audience whose heart is not howling listening to Iqbal’s complaint to God. Iqbal’s father is also in the audience, his eyes moist at his son’s success as a poet as well as at his poignant message to the Muslims of the world. (1)
Some of the conservative scholars did not approve as exuberantly, feeling that the tone of Shikwa was disrespectful to God, although Anjum points out that the poem is actually “a prayer in spirit that celebrates the ‘bonding between the human soul and the Creator.'”(2)
Nonetheless Iqbal writes Jawab-e-Shikwa (Response to the Complaint) in 1913 which is met with universal acclamation. It is intended to be God’s response to the complaint issued by man in Shikwa. Many would argue it is even stronger than Shikwa itself was, perhaps also because it physically demonstrates—as a conversation—the originally intended message of the bond between man and God.
After many months of attempting but being daunted away again by the task, I’ve tried to explain the first three verses of Shikwa and the first three of Jawaab-e-Shikwa. In all the texts I’ve had a chance to read, Shikwa and Jawab display some of the strongest introductory messages I have ever come across.
I’ve organized the verses by presenting the words in Roman Urdu first, and then with an English translation. The translation for Shikwa was taken from iqbaliyat.blogspot.com and the translation for Jawab-e-Shikwa is from iqbalurdu.blogspot.com. The text below the translation is called ‘tashreeh’ in Urdu, or analysis. It is an explanation of the verse, completed with gracious assistance from my mum, the most significant influence of poetry, Urdu, and all language that I have been blessed with.
First however, is the audio recitation by the late Amjad Sabri and Naeem Abbas Rofi, with high recommendation:
First Three Verses of Shikwa (The Complaint):
“Kyun Ziyaankar Banoon, Sood Faramosh Rahoon?
Fiqr-e-Farda Na Karoon, Mehev-e-Gham-e-Dosh Rahoon?”
Why should I be destructive and remain reckless of betterment?
Think not of the future, remain occupied in today’s problems?
Ziyaankar is ‘one who harms himself’. He asks should he be one who is self destructive? Sood is the word for monetary interest, and faramosh means ‘one who forgets’. Ahsaan Faramosh is a common urdu term. With ahsaan meaning ‘favor’, it denotes one who has been ungrateful, or has forgotten another’s favor. The poet has beautifully chosen the word sood faramosh to denote one who does not look at his own profit.
Fiqr is the term for ‘worry’ and Farda means ‘future’. He asks, should he not worry about the future, about what’s to come? Mehev means to be immersed in something. Gham means ‘sorrow’. Gham-e-dosh refers to other people’s worries and sorrows. He asks should he stay immersed in others’ problems instead of his own?
“Naal-e-Bulbul Ke Sunoon, Aur Hamatan Gosh Rahoon?
Humnawa, Main Bhi Koi Gul Hoon Ke Khamosh Rahoon?”
Should I hear nightingale’s wails and remain completely mute?
O companion! Am I some flower so that I may remain silent?
The word naala refers to a wailing or complaint and bulbul here refers to a nightingale. Hamatan gosh means listening with full, undivided attention. He then describes the scene of a silent garden and addresses the reader as humnawa, or companion/friend. The word hum in urdu means ‘we’ or the majestic plural for ‘I’. When a word is attached to the prefix hum, it denotes someone who is close to me in something. So humdard (me + pain) is he who is close to me in pain, ie ‘sympathizer.’ Humraaz (me + secret) is he who is close to me in my secret, ie ‘confidante.’ Humnaam (me + name) is he who is close to me in my name, ie ‘namesake.’ Here, humnawa (me+speech) means he who is close to me in speech, thought, views etc., ie ’empathizer.’
Iqbal paints the scene of a garden and places himself in comparison to a gul, or flower. He asks us, is he a silent bud in a garden, who says nothing of its own complaint but simply listens on to the nightingale’s wails? Shall he continue to just listen to others’ problems and complaints and say nothing of his own?
“Jurrat Aamoz Meri Taab-e-Sukhan Hai Mujhko!
Shikwa Allah Se, Khakam Badhan Hai Mujhko!”
The strength of my poetry is encouraging to me..
My complaint is against God! Woe be to me!
Aamoz refers to something that is learned and jurrat is dare and deliberation; Taab-e-sukhan is the strength and power of speech. The poet is saying: ‘the strength of the message within my words has granted me the dare to assert it out loud.’
Shikwa, the title of this poem translates as ‘complaint’. The poet is saying: ‘Look at me, I’m complaining to God Almighty!’ While he is complaining he is also ashamed, and curses himself by saying a farsi original of a common urdu phrase: ‘mere muu mei khaak’, meaning ‘let there be dust/sand in my mouth’. This phrase refers to someone who has said something of ill-omen or blasphemous nature. He says Khakam Badhan. Khaak translates as sand and badhan means ‘in my mouth’: ‘may there be sand in my mouth’, or in other words, ‘woe be to me’.
First Three Verses of Jawab-e-Shikwa (Response to the Complaint):
“Dil Se Jo Baat Nikalti Hai, Asar Rakhti Hai
Par Nahin, Taaqat-e-Parwaaz Magar Rakhti Hai”
When passion streaming from the heart turns human lips to lyres,
Some magic wings man’s music then, his song with soul inspires;
Dil means ‘heart’ and the closest meaning of baat in this context would be ‘plea.’ The writer has arranged the Urdu to place the word ‘heart’ first, so it reads as: ‘from the heart, the plea that escapes.’ He places emphasis on the heart by using it as the very first word and subject. This sets the tone of the work highlighting the core message that God hears the genuine plea of hearts that no man, no technology can even hear, even if a person were to declare it out loud. That silent outcry, Allah hears. Asar refers to ‘effect.’ This verse introduces Allah’s response, saying: ‘the plea that comes from within the heart, certainly has effect.’
Par refers to ‘wing’ and nahin is a simple negation. Both words together mean ‘no wings.’ The entire line however completes itself as a heavy statement. Taaqat is ‘strength,’ and parwaaz means flight or escalation. The word magar means ‘however’. The entire line talks about the plea from the heart saying that the plea has no wings, yet it possesses the ability of flight.
“Qudsi-Ul-Asal Hai, Riffat Pe Nazar Rakhti Hai
Khaak Se Uthti Hai, Gardoon Pe Guzar Rakhti Hai”
Man’s words are sacred then, they soar, The ears of heaven they seek,
From dust those mortal accents rise, Immortals hear them speak;
Quds means ‘pure’ and asal comes from the word asli which means ‘true.’ Qudsi-ul-asal translates as ‘purer than pure.’ Riffat is another for word bulandi which means height, or a higher place. Nazar means ‘gaze.’ This verse talks about the plea of the heart—that it is purer than pure, truer than true. Its gaze rests on a higher place.
Khaak means sand or dust, perhaps referring to the dust man was created from, or perhaps describing the earth where man lives. Gardoon means aasmaan or arsh, ‘the skies or heavens above.’ Guzar means passing or visitation. The line reads that the plea from the heart rises from khaak (man himself or the earth he lives on) yet it is able to travel through the heavens.
“Ishq Tha Fitna Gar-o-Sarkash-o-Chalaak Mera
Aasmaan Cheer Gaya, Naala-e-Bebaak Mera”
So wild and wayward was my Love, such tumult raised its sighs,
Before its daring swiftly fell the ramparts of the skies.
This is where Iqbal speaks again from the human’s accord. Ishq means an extreme love. Man here describes his love as fitna-gar. Fitna means trial or affliction. Fitna gar is that which spreads fitna. He also describes his love as sarkash, ‘headstrong’ (sar means head), and chalaak, meaning rapid and swift or something that has its wings spread and is flying. My interpretation is that he is in the highest level of astonishment he has ever known, and is now reflecting on what has happened.
He says that his love—which may be love for his own needs, or it may refer to the plea itself—was so troublesome, and it was so uncontrollable and rapid that the aasmaan (skies) were split open. Cheer means to slit something. Again Iqbal starts with the word ‘sky’ to emphasize the effect of what is being described. The sky is a grand ordeal. It is stacked with heaven upon heaven and described as an enormous entity especially in Islamic learning. It is this sky’s grandeur that we are shown first. Naala means ‘complaint,’ and bebaak means something that has no boundaries or regard.
Man says in awe: ‘the plea I made (with such boldness ) that issued from my heart, pierced the heavens toward God Himself. He heard me.’
Anjum, Zafar. Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher, and Politician. Haryana, India: Random House India, 2014. London, United Kingdom: Random House Group Limited, 2014. p.105.
2. Anjum, Zafar. Iqbal: The Life of a Poet, Philosopher, and Politician. Haryana, India: Random House India, 2014. London, United Kingdom: Random House Group Limited, 2014. p.104.
The prescribed period of grief we are often told of is three days. It’s taken three days to even recognize grief when it comes to Junaid Jamshed though. Many stand where I stand, among those who grew up and lived with the vitality of his music, songs that were beautiful for their simplicity and embrace. Many of us have been in the cars full of energetic youth that roam Karachi roads, with one of his songs blasting as high as the volume will go. And where it won’t go higher is made up for with all of us singing the lyrics at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down, the wind meeting our faces with mutual glee.
His songs never lost appeal—they were full of promise and timeless familiarity. He experienced an amazing journey during his career, in which he left singing for the sake of God, and his voice carried us with him. His recitation of the Qaseeda Burda-Shareef is probably one of the most memorable ones that exist today. Junaid Jamshed was the star on Pakistan’s flag. And without it, our nation all over the world is confused about how to deal with his sudden departure.
The night before he passed away, I was doing something I have often done. When things seem really dim, really helpless, really alone, when life doesn’t make much sense at all anymore, I turn to one of Junaid Jamshed’s songs and it provides a mountain of faith again. It isn’t one of his naats, but a song from the very first album released when he was a part of the band Vital Signs, called Do Pal Ka Jeevan. It’s a song that explains with that same simple beauty, that we are still living and breathing, that it will be okay. It teaches you to stand up again after falling a thousand times. It reminds you that life is thriving with movement and things will not collapse just because a few moments may feel as such. It’s a song that feels spiritual, practical, a blessing from God because of the way it cuts through darkness. And many of his songs did that.
That night I felt better like always and listened to a few more things by him that reminded me of wonderful days in Karachi, of my cousins, of times we had together, of what that era felt like. That’s what his voice did I suppose—it enabled you to feel, instantly. The next morning I woke up to facebook saying Junaid Jamshed had passed away.
For three days, tributes and news ran on our TV channels about his death, about the plane crash, about the black box, the make of the plane, the DNA tests that will take a week for verification. I glazed over it. I was praying for him, for his family, but I hadn’t realized it. It was confusing until today when I heard him over the radio on the way to Jum’ah and the news finally made its journey to my senses. My mom had been saying even less, not watching any of the shows about him, not even commenting on any statuses. Three days later today, as footage of his visit to Australia came on TV today and a naat of his played, we both watched, and I saw her looking at the screen for what felt like the first time in the past three days. As I watched the silence in her eyes, I fully recognized what had been going on with both of us these few days. I saw the face of grief.
I’ve never stopped listening to Junaid Jamshed, through both parts of his career. Some of his songs are so tied to my time visiting Pakistan that the feeling that comes from listening to them is simply reflex now. Some of his songs remind me of my home in Saudi Arabia, some of dreams and aspirations, some of the deepest truths of life like the jungle line from Aitebaar. Even his romantic songs had so much depth and purity. When u heard them, you could feel the love felt inside a person’s heart.
Every part of life is marked by some voice of his, whether it’s in the message of a song, a naat, or a program during Ramadan. Both before and after his transformation, for me his voice has always carried spirituality. His conveyances have lifted me back up, made me cry for Allah, have helped keep my most cherished memories in tact, taught me how to love, and now forever, will stand as a reminder of what we’re here to remember in the first place: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
Found this today. I tried googling the words to see if someone else wrote it, but found nothing. Must have written it a few months back:
I am as a grain of larger grain,
on a shore beyond my realm
all the banks that pass thru my heart
You’ve made homes for me
and yet Your Grace, that myself
you made a ship at sea
Its September 27, 2016. Today’s the day Elon Musk has proposed his plan to colonize Mars, proposing that the first person will be put on Mars by 2025.
I talked it over with my friend, agreeing that while we personally wouldn’t want to live on Mars (yet), it’s nice to know there are people thinking that far into the future on how to handle population growth.
And then I wondered—is that the reason? Would we really fill the earth entirely and have to expand habitation to another planet? Would it be because of space? Could there be another reason? Is it pollution and the like that would bar us from using all of the space we have here?
Ultimately my string of questions led to one inward question: while innovators like Musk are thinking about what to do in the future, what are we doing now in the present, for the planet we already have?
I’ve thought about this matter in the past, and thinking has never been the challenge. But lately I’ve tried acting, and it’s been a cathartic experience.
One of the terrible things about social media is that people speak their minds. Among the great things about social media is that people speak their minds. And once in a while someone’s speaking has great benefit and that’s how it all started.
When I first saw some of my friend Paul’s posts and pictures about people being insensitive to their surroundings, it would make me laugh and I’d admire his ability to see and speak about absurdity. He was so perceptive to people’s bad habits. But it wasn’t critical, just true.
As time went on, between his shots of nature, architecture and food, I saw more and more of what he took issue with, and resonation started traveling from my brain to my heart.
I started refusing plastic bags at Walgreens if I was buying a bar of soap. It wasn’t overnight and I wasn’t perfect, which only spoke to how much work was still needed—but it was something.
As I read more and more of his posts I began to realize how neglectful we are of what we’ve been given, yet we continue wanting all the more in life. When I saw a dolphin dead because of plastic bag, or a duck suffocating from a 6-pack ring, it really hurt.
I know this is obvious news but I’m going to state it anyway: plastic does not decompose. Not in your own lifetime anyway. And how much plastic do we use in our lives? It isn’t one plastic bag or plastic fork per lifespan. It’s much more.
Our existence is not disjointed from the rest of the living world. Everything is connected. When one thing gets hurt, undoubtedly everything else will too very soon, including us.
Of course it’s not easy in 2016 to switch back to cloth diapers (which is unfortunate because they decompose the slowest), but there are small things we can all do. It’s less about reversing an entire lifestyle and more about a minor internal audit. Where do I see excess of something in my own routine? What could be improved? What could I do or not do?
One of the things that stood out first for me was retail bags. A bag from Charming Charlie or Forever 21 or Zara—bags that are designed to hold 1-2 articles of folded clothing and can’t really be used for much else. They don’t fit waste baskets. I won’t use them to give someone else something in. They are totally useless after they come home. And so now I have a tote that I try to take to the mall with me, and I don’t have to bother with those store bags. It’s quite the relief.
Plastic bags I’ve already mentioned. There is simply no need for a bag if I’m buying a pack of gum. In grocery stores what is rarely of any use again is a produce bag. If the fruit or vegetable in question is super sensitive, or wet, then maybe you have to have one. I thought about how I wished grocery carts had built-in compartments for the sensitive stuff but then found flaw with that idea really fast. I mentioned my thought process to Paul and he casually stated how it’s best to just take your own paper bag to the store for fruits and vegetables. And of course then it was all so obvious. If there can be a tote bag for the mall why not one (or more) for groceries?
So now I’ve got a tote bag.
Here’s where it gets personal. Like myself, if you aren’t even used to being environmentally awake, it can be so easy to continue neglecting specific-to-yourself excesses. I’m not a coffee or on-the-go tea drinker. So I’ve never had the need for a portable cup. I mentioned one day that Houston has a lot of Boba (bubble tea) places and because of the weather I’m always going to them. To that, Paul very kindly dropped a reminder: “Just remember to bring your own mug!!! ;-)”
I was stunned—how did I not realize that? So many plastic cups go to that. The people at Boba places can easily transfer the mixture from the blender into my own cup, were I to bring one. It took no more than a couple minutes of research. A 20 oz tumbler would work great. I haven’t been able to find anything with a solid plastic boba straw or a hole big enough for even the disposable ones they have—but a little engineering with dad can address that.
Honestly, it’s all very fun—because it requires some creative problem solving. And you’re helping the world at the same time by doing very little. My next endeavor is to try and conserve a little water by investing in a bucket for old-school showers. Maybe once a week at least. We still do that in Pakistan and it actually cleanses better because you’re forced to use the water.
So what’s my point? Am I bragging about saving the earth? Not at all. My point is that truth and passion both go a long way. It’s always so remarkable that a person’s sentiments are strong enough to change another’s.
Consciousness for good has long been built into us. I’ve run into a lot of people that are alert about what the truth of things around us are. My friend Annan took a vow this year to not buy any new clothing, in light of all the poorly paid and treated labor that actually makes the things we wear. My friend Imene told me a long story in high school about dying fish whose ultimate lesson was not to waste tap water. My dad has always been super careful about not wasting paper towels.
They’re there—the people that help us just wake up a little more. But ultimately we have to choose to be awake, each person. And like the Arabs say: the first of the flood, is just a drop.
Thanks Paul—means the world. Literally 🙂
I woke up at 4-5am from jetlag, usually right in time for the Fajr adhaan outside my window. If it wasn’t the adhaan then it was the full-on congregation standing up for salah at the local mosque.
Al-Fatiha seeped steadily through the glass and blinds and the beige, lace curtains my mom had sewn decades ago. After praying I would think about food. As my stomach participated in jetlag with me, I had the leftover Chinese my mom had made for my arrival a few hours ago. The gray pigeons hooted their rhythmic song that had come to be the sound of home, their webbed feet visible on the atrium’s canvas top. As yellow light flooded in, I made rounds of the kitchen, tried to sleep again, went back on my laptop talking to those who were still hours behind. In some time my mom woke up, made me french toast, and we had tea while I flipped through the satellite channels—several Pakistani dramas, several Indian, loud news channels, the live Makkah channel, the live Madinah, the variety of MBC options, some showing English movies, some showing Arab documentaries.
My mom would show me the new scarves she got me from her last trip to Makkah or Madinah, new clothes she’d acquired from Dammam or her last trip to Karachi. Sometimes my dad would appear at home for 10 minutes in the morning hours to drop off za’tar for me, and leave back to work again.
By the time he came home for lunch, I was drowning in sleep but had to stay awake to pray dhuhr first. I remember everything. The sound of how the front door closed when he came in. The scent of the bread and vegetables my mom had made, how the heat felt in the atrium as I sat and read the new AramcoWorld or Arab News that my dad had just brought. Either one was always warm from sitting in his car for the few minutes it had. Even the heat in Saudi Arabia felt good. Its extremity made it real. When you came here, you became part of it right away. The heat wasn’t out to get you, it welcomed you into an embrace, and you knew that everywhere else other than here, you are but a traveler.
My brother wrote to our family this morning, around 5am my time. He sent 20 pictures of our home that we left last year, that now sits in renovation ruins. These were his words:
We expect for what we know and cherish to remain the same, to remain preserved. It’s ours so why is that expectation so illogical. But then we’re reminded so what we thought to be ours, never really was. The only things that remains ours are the memories. That no one can take from us. Everything else…time is the owner. And with that I present our house of 29 years where most of our childhood and a decent portion of our adulthood were spent. Where new relations were formed and where new generations opened their eyes. Where there were ups and downs and the countless tales to accompany them. Where tireless and endless efforts from Ammi and Abbu yielded such fruitful experiences and the memories that will forever remain.
I haven’t really written about this and thought maybe I could, but I still don’t feel words can hold it. I’m certain my family feels the same. It can’t even be put into the ‘one-of-the-most-difficult-things-I’ve-ever-done’ category. Leaving our home lives in a realm on its own.
The pictures were, to say the least, horribly painful. We had one of the oldest-plan houses in the community. I believe management no longer even carried some of the parts used in it. Naturally its facelift after we left has led to entire walls behind knocked down, all carpet torn out and replaced with unfriendly tiles, counters gone, walls stripped to reveal the framework—I couldn’t even recognize some parts. I don’t know how to imagine what my brother feels like going back and walking through all of that, when a few months ago the same house was live and standing on a 29-year presence.
I’m not here to write very long, because I’ll get lost. I started this post on a simple thought about angles. There’s something interesting about the pictures my brother sent. Many of them were the exact same places in our house that I took pictures of on my last trip home, except from a 180-degree difference. The two sets of images exist in what feels like a mirror. The ones I took were from when we were still living in the house. In a way they were taken from within. The ones now are still in the house but the truth that all of us are outside it now seeps through the pictures.
In the many years past, I’ve lived in different places, but the only place that I ever thought of as home is Saudi Arabia. In a sense, what Aramco does is teach you very directly that the whole world is an ocean, the whole world is a desert. Things are temporary and movement is built into the universe. A world that’s essentially been created ends up teaching us one of the biggest lessons of life. We grew up knowing that the option of staying in this place forever does not exist, yet it becomes our home.
Our house has changed completely since we left it. It’s almost comforting in a way: only we lived in our home, because now it’s a different place altogether. And like my brother said, no one can take that away. Even when we leave it, it doesn’t leave us. We are born into the desert—we are like the bedouin, who step out of their tents into one solid truth. All the desert is their home, and all the world their desert.
Different angles present us today with two sides of the same thing. It’s layered, and promising. Somewhere in some dimension that we maybe are too limited to see right now, our home exists, in forms we’ve not even seen yet. And I pray we find it in its very best, very soon.
Allah is greater, always.
Rivers have this say:
dip into flowing waters—
And rest. More will flow.
We live seasons
of friends and fruit
between us two
You send patches of violet to me
and I, iris blues to you
that your eyes may feel
as happy mine
all at once, in one time
that we may live together, apart
We whisper what our minds see
and learn, back and forth
my right side paints worlds for you
your left opens paths for me
‘neath passing clouds
that cover my skies
then drift up to you
sending many water kinds
Yet how peculiar that all things
in time do not run alike
I see rain one day before
but the sun rises, sets
where you are first
And when Sirius rises, twinkles icy blue
its sits the same about your window sill
for some distances are larger than ours
worlds stand high beyond the stars
And from that point it becomes so clear
we both lie under a larger plane
where past, present, beyond
are all in one
where we live together
under highest Grace