‘Zamana kharab hai’ – How true study of Iqbal’s poetry can address many of our societal predicaments

Apne kirdar pe daal ke parda Iqbal
Har shakhs keh raha hai zamana kharab hai

Iqbal’s verses are a reflection of the present and future at the same time. The depth with which he understood the societal patterns, interweaving them into the frames of poetic expression, reflected upon his willingness to revive the vanished glories of Islamic teachings. He complained about how brotherhood amongst the Ummah was eroding and thus there existed the urgency for reform. He called for unity, under the banner of Islam, realizing that today’s ignorance could turn into tomorrow’s demise.

The reality revolves around the facts we were ignorant towards even as the soil of his grave was still fresh. Our ability to exercise self-control and acceptance of the idea that everyone is answerable to God only, never cultivated itself beyond that of our text books. We do read and understand his poetic verses during our Urdu lessons at school yet fail to apply his teachings beyond the boundaries that restrict us. I chose to write about Iqbal, not because he is a celebrated Islamic poet but due to his work being universally acknowledged and academically taught in all levels of education. Yet, these very schools turn out to be the arenas of chaos and unimaginable cruelty where student’s gun down principals and teacher’s beat their students to death.

A grade 12 student at a private college in Charsadda shot his principal after being censured for skipping school. Upon his arrest, he justified the murder by accusing him of blasphemy. Later, he was heard boasting about his braveness, sacrificing in the name of Islam. Did Iqbal ask us to unify under the banner of Islam by resorting to violence? He put forward for us his Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa not simply to express his grief but to tackle the hallucinations of extremism he saw taking form in the roots of society. We complain how a lack of education and low literacy rates in Pakistan pave the way for such acts. But this incident is an eye opener for us; forget the uneducated, narrow the focus upon those acquiring credits for taking Urdu classes, the humans of Bacha Khan University or individuals such as the teacher at a Karachi madrassah who beat Hussain to death.

Such incidents leave us in no position to blame the illiterate, or the wider ‘zamana’ itself. It reflects upon our inability to gain insight into our own souls, rather than of those around us. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, corporal punishment, extremism or any other kind of unjustifiable act roots back to this inability. Consider, for example, the reasons behind the murder and rape of young Zainab that left us speechless and disconcerted. The society mourns for her loss while blaming the culprit and demanding to hang him down. But this very society fails to accept its own role; its responsibility to protect and educate children. This is what Iqbal emphasized upon; the ‘zamana‘ would itself revolutionize, only if one begins with himself.

Why do our textbooks fail to preach the true meaning of Iqbal’s verses? This failure is the failure of our education system, where even a small fraction is unable to appreciate the encapsulated totality of this universe hidden in his verses. We hang his portrait in our offices as a symbol of admiration. However, just as his teachings are a necessary part of our syllabus content, the hanging too is reflective of empty patriotic formality. In this ‘zamana‘, we have limited ourselves to materialistic fortune while ignoring the precious pieces of advice that can potentially contribute to social welfare of our society.
The nine year old Hussain will continue to be beaten as intolerance as well as extremism is on the rise. When we take the responsibility of judging actions into our own hands while ignoring the greater responsibility of selfhood, we often trespass the red line Iqbal drew for us. Therefore, along with stressing the importance of a change in syllabus to address such issues, we must advocate for a change in teaching methodologies; a comprehensive interpretation can revitalize our conceptual understanding of lessons in our textbooks. Because this age is truly turning out be a playground for extremist ideologies, intolerance and violence which is silently fueled by our ‘kirdars’.


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  1. Salman Sheedi says

    Iqbal is one Indian poet forced on Pakistan for no reason and this unfortunate reinforcement of an idiot hypocrite, playboy poet has only harmed the country beyond repair …He has no role in the struggle of Pakistan and if had any would be remembered when Pakistan resolution was presented in Lahore in 1940 at the place his grave was 5 minutes away….. He was forced by mullahs because he is their favorite poet, not to mention socialist loved him too….. This confusion and Lota style poetry is one behind the stupidities of Pakistan today…. It is time to get rid of him, his stupid ideologies and give it back to India..

    1. Q says

      Salman Sheedi
      What is your lota style party or ideology? You may be coming from a certain minority with the same cliche.

    2. Amima says

      We interpret everything to suit us and our motives be it the Quran or Iqbal.I wish schools taught us to love Urdu literature and understand it in its true essence.

      1. Amima Khan says

        This was so well written, a great read!

  2. Zafar Khan says

    Thought-provoking, verily.
    Iqbal has not been comprehended in his true sense. He has only been employed to shape traditipnal discourse regarding defense. Rest is story.

  3. Q says

    A good read.

  4. Aali says

    Can someone tell me from which poem is that couplet??

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