Shikwa and Jawab-i-Shikwa: Iqbal’s Dialogue With Allah by Muhammad Iqbal

Translated from Urdu by Khushwant Singh.

(First published 1981)

This is a rendition of Allamah Muhammad Iqbal’s two long poems Shikwa (Complaint) and Jawab-i-Shikwa (Answer to the Complaint).

In Shikwa the poet complains to Allah about the downfall of world Muslims and their continuing and humiliating defeats at the hands of the forces of infidels. Jawab-i-Shikwa is an imagined reply of Allah to the “complaint” of the poet. They were written, respectively, in 1909 & 1913.

For orthodox Muslims Shikwa was seen bold and provocative – even bordering on blasphemy, in the way Iqbal addresses Allah and in the use of certain terms and phrases (like calling Allah harjai – unfaithful). Some mullahs even declared Iqbal an apostate for daring to write Shikwa. He was obviously perturbed and wrote ‘Jawab’ four years later.

In the first poem, Iqbal comes out as a frustrated spokesman for the beleaguered and battered Muslim community which has lost power and prestige in its own lands. The complainant blames Allah for forsaking the upholders of His message and for their continuing defeats and humiliation at the hands of the foreign powers. It was the time when most Muslim political power was lost and nearly all Muslim lands were under the direct grip of European colonialism.

The second poem, written as if by God in first-person, argues with the first poem and holds Muslim responsible for their own downfall. In their essence, the poems carry a strong emotion that harks back to the Golden Times in search of hope and inspiration to find solutions to the state of defeated and enslaved Muslim nation – a sentiment that pervades the whole poetical oeuvre of Iqbal.

The literary merits of the original Urdu poems are apparent to one and all. These are fine examples of the craft of Iqbal. Rhythmic, flowing, strong and beautifully strung verses balanced on established poetic metres. The edition I read was bilingual and I could read both the original and translation for comparative purposes.

Khushwant Singh is recognised as a skilled translator of Urdu and Punjabi (Gormukhi) verse, especially the religious verse. He has done a wonderful job at translating these two difficult Urdu poems. What is refreshing is that he shuns old and obsolete English terms which some translators dealing with old poetry still use.

However, his attempts to rhyme each stanza to give it a semblance of metered English poem sometimes carry an air of artificiality. Some rhymes are almost forced into place at the cost of meaning and loss of eloquence of the Urdu original. But then a freer translation of metered Urdu verse also has problems as it doesn’t convey the rhythm and musicality of the original.

Translating poetry, especially between languages that don’t have a common parentage, is indeed a tough job.

My book rating. 4/5. Here is the AMAZON LINK.

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