Allama Iqbal’s Perspective on Literature and Fine Arts By Dr. Umneea Ahmad Khan

Mojza-e-fun key hai khoon-e- jigar say namood: Allama Iqbal’s Perspective on Literature and Fine Arts

Dr. Umneea Ahmad Khan
The University of Western Australia

Member of Iqbal Academy Scandinavia

“Art for the sake of art is not enough”, is Allama Iqbal’s message to artists, poets, writers and the like. He expresses his appreciation of various forms of art throughout his poetry. In his ever famous poem, Masjid-e-Qurtaba, he not only appreciates the architecture of the magnificent mosque but also reminisces the time of its construction and the might of the glorious Muslim Empire. Thus, highlighting the fact that each piece of art, be that Masjid-e-Qurtaba, Paris key Masjid, or Ahram-e-Misar (the pyramids), reflects more than just artistry.

Kiss hath nay khainchee abadee’at key yeh tasweer, he says admiringly to the Eygptian Pyramids. According to Allama Iqbal, any real piece of art is a holistic expression of history and culture; it depicts the true inner Self of the artist as well as shows aspirations of the people of that era. Each piece of art thus echoes the entire age of its creation.

In his book Zarb-e-Kaleem, Allama Iqbal has dedicated an entire section, “Literature and Fine Arts” to the appreciation of different forms of art – poetry, literature, architecture, fine arts, music and dance. Before trying to understand his message in entirety, it is important to acknowledge that Allama Iqbal’s ideology evolved at the time when Imperialism ruled supreme – weaker nations were being exploited and subjugated through violence and oppression. Allama Iqbal believes that the main reason for the tragic state of affairs is ignorance of the masses, sense of hopelessness, and lack of self belief, determination and will. He therefore, believes that intellectuals, artists, poets and writers have a role to play for the revival of lost values and spirit among the masses. To achieve this end, they need to use their talent as a medium of expression. The excessive preoccupation of his contemporaries with female form and figure, however, compelled him to say:

Hind kay shair o, surat gar o, afsana nawees
Ah, baicharon kay asaab pey aurat hai sawar!

(Meaning: Alas, woman is on the nerves of the poets, musicians and novelists of India. Their works are dominated by the appreciation and quest of a female figure).
Nonetheless, he hopes that this limited expression of worldly love and admiration of woman could change with direction and guidance. Allama Iqbal strongly opposes the idea of producing work for the sake of personal or popular gains (i.e., wealth and popularity) which are usually temporary and short-lived. According to him artists should not compromise their talent or imitate others, rather they should create by their own genius so as to reflect novelty, creativity, passion and the true inner Self. Allama Iqbal says conclusively:

Shair key nawa ho kay mughani ka nafas,
Jiss say chaman afsurda ho wo baad-e-sabaa kaya,
Bay mojza duniya main ubhatri nahi qaumain,
Jo zarb-e-kaleemi nahi rakhta who hunar kaya? (Fanon-e- latifa, Zarb-e- Kaleem)

(Meaning: May it be a poet’s verse, a creation of a musician’s intellect, or a morning breeze – all are useless if these cause sadness and despair. No nation can ever advance without miracles of hard work and struggle. A talent that does not have the ability to bring a miraculous change is a waste).

What is exclusive to Allama Iqbal’s works is that he does not criticize for the sake of criticism rather he also provides an alternative, a solution and a way of achieving the ultimate goal of the development of Khudi (Self). Four aspects of Allama Iqbal’s poetry specifically distinguish him from his predecessors. That is,  i) he identifies the issues and problems both at individual and collective levels,  ii) he then provides a solution/s to eradicate the problem/s, iii) he doesn’t let his readers lose hope but on the contrary gives hope, and v) he provides a clear guidance for the development of Khudi (Self).

Allama Iqbal suggests that a good piece of art, poetry or literature is more than just an expression of an individual’s inner feelings. It is genuine and innovative, and shows honesty of purpose and purity of thought. For instance, he distinguishes between halal (allowed) music (one that enlightens the heart and refreshes the mind) and haram (forbidden) music (one that saddens the heart and depresses the mind). This distinction of halal and haram can be extended to other forms of art as well.

Furthermore, he also identifies characteristics of an artist (poet, writer, architect, musician etc) which ultimately help to develop Khudi (Self) – the primary goal of life. Some of these characteristics are discussed here, albeit briefly:

Ishq and Janoon (Love and Passion)

For Allama Iqbal, Ishq and Janoon (love and passion) are primary for the development of khudi (Self). Passion is the main driving force. It is the energy that keeps an individual energized to work tirelessly and produce outstanding work. As he says,

Kissay khabar kay janoon main kamal aur bhee hain
Karain agar issay koh o Kamar sey baigana (Junoon, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

(Meaning: Few people understand that passion is more than just roaming around in the deserts. We will understand this more if we ignore the usual tradition).

And more importantly,

Rang ho ya khisht o sang, chang ho ya harf o saut

MoSjza-e-funn key hai khoon-e-jigar sey namood!!

 (Masjid-e-Qurtaba, Baal-e-Jibreel)

(Meaning: For any form of art (fine arts, architecture, music or poetry), the true miracle of talent is only evident through passion and hard work of the artist).

Purity of thought and honesty of character

Purity of thought and honesty of character are essential characteristics of a real Man (Mard-e-Momin). These characteristics help individuals to excel by keeping them focused on the main purpose. Consequently, such individuals produce exceptional works. Admiring the architecture of Masjid e Qurtaba Allama Iqbal says,

Hai magar is naqsh main rang sabat-e-dawam

Jiss ko keeya ho kissi mard-e-khuda ney tamam (Masjid e Qurtaba, Baal-e-Jibreel).

(Meaning: A piece that is completed by Mard-e-Khuda is ever Eternal).

Struggle and Hard work

Continued hard work and struggle is a unique characteristic of a true Muslim (Mard-e-Momin/ Mard-e-Khuda). Nothing is achievable without hard work. Individual and collective struggle is necessary to leave a significant mark in history. Allama Iqbal says,

Aisee koee duniya nahi aflaak kay neechay

Bay ma’arka hath aayae jahan takht-e-Jam o Kay (Shair, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

(Meaning: No such nation has ever existed, who could acquire great glory of empires without hard work and struggle).

Further stressing the significance of hard work he also says,

Khoon-e- raag-e-maimaar key garmi say hai ta’ameer

Maikhana-e-Hafiz ho kay butkhana-e-behzaad (Ejad e Ma’ani, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

 (Meaning: It is the hard work of a mason /worker that creates marvels; be that the creation of Behzad or Hafiz)

Hope and Internal Strength

None of the aforesaid characteristics are achievable without “hope”. Allama Iqbal’s works give a strong message of hope and optimism. Hope gives an individual inner strength to strive despite several hardships. Using a fountain as a symbol, he says,

Udher na daikh, idher daikh aye jawan-e-aziz,

Buland zor-e-daroon say hua hai favvara (Fawwara, Zarb-e-kaleem).

(Meaning: Dear young man, don’t miss the point by looking here and there. The fountain goes high by its internal force).

He also says, nahi hai zakham kha kar ah karna shaan e darwaishi, stressing that complaining is not becoming of a Dervesh. And also,

Muqabla to zamanay ka khoob karta hoon,

Agarcheh main na sapahi hoon na ameer e junood (Umeed, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

(Meaning: I face hardships of the world very well, even though I am neither a soldier nor a commander in a battle).

Development of Khudi (Self)

Actualization of Self or Khudi is the over-arching message of Allama Iqbal’s poetry. Art helps to develop as well as reveal Khudi (Self) of the artist. Each piece of art depicts the attitudes, beliefs and aspirations of the artist. He/ she can use art to bring out his/ her best inner Self whilst inspiring others to develop theirs. He says:

Fitrat ko dikhaya bhe hai, daikha bhee hai tu nay,

Aina-e-fitrat main dikha apni khudi bhee!! (Mussavir, Zarb-e-Kaleem)

(Meaning: You have seen the wonders of nature and you have also shown your own creativity. Now it’s time to show your khudi through your art/ talent).

Stressing further on the importance of the development of Khudi (Self) Allama Iqbal says,

Sarood o shair o siyasat, kitaab o deen o hunar,

Gohar hain inn ki girah main tamam yak daanah,

Agar khudi ki hifazat karain to ain e hiyaat,

Na kar sakain to sarapa fasoon-o-afsana (Deen-o-Hunar, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

(Meaning: Music, poetry, literature and art are all priceless gems if they protect your Self. If not, then mere enchantment and fiction).

Hence in Allama Iqbal’s ideal world, every piece of art is created for a much greater purpose than mere personal exhibition or for gaining popularity. It is only through the above mentioned characteristics that each form of art can achieve eternity and cause miracles. As he says:

Qatra e khoon e jigar sill ko banata hai dil,

Khoon-e- jigar say sada soz-o-soroor-o-sarood!

(Masjid e Qurtaba, Zarb-e-Kaleem).


Naqsh hain sabb na tamam khoon-e-jigar kay baghair,

Naghma hai sauda e khaam, khoon-e-jigar kay baghair!

(Masjid e Qurtaba, Zarb-e-Kaleem).

(Meaning: All creative works are incomplete without the lifeblood (toil, sweat and blood) of the creator. A melody is a complete waste without the lifeblood of the maestro).


My thanks to Prof S M Baqa who encouraged me to write this article.

I also wish to acknowledge the valuable feedback of respected Ghulam Sabir Sahib, which helped me to further refine this article.

Also Published at 
Daily Ausaf London
Universal Urdu
 South Asian Pulse


23 Jun 2015

Afkare Taza: Urdu Columns and Articles (Urdu Edition)

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