Iqbal wrote the two poems, “Shikwa” and “Jawab-i Shikwa” (Complaint to God and its Response), in early twentieth century. It was the prime time of his poetic revelation, which is called his third period that began in 1908 and ended at his death in 1938. During that time Muslims in India had almost lost their entity as a nation. They had become the most oppressed community in British ruled India.
Iqbal’s poem “Shikwa” was one of his most thrilling poems, which he recited personally in the month of April 1911 at the annual session of Anjuman Himayat-i Islam held in the compound of Islamia College, Lahore. It was largely applauded and subsequently published in the magazines and journals of the country. This poem consists of 31 stanzas having six verses each. In the poem Iqbal has highlighted Islam’s living traditions in such a way that it strikes the very heart of a person. The carefully selected and well-knit words of the poem were immensely effective. They filled the hearts of a deprived nation with new life, courage and enthusiasm. The poem “Shikwa” is a unique example of a complaint to God.
Why should I abet the loss, why forget the gain,
Why forfiet the future, bemoan the past in vain?
Hear the wail of nightingale, and remain unstirred,
Am I a flower insensate that will not say a word?
The power of speech emboldens me to speak out my heart,
I’ll sure be damned, I know, if fault my God.
Hear, O Lord, from the faithful ones this sad lament,
From those used to hymn a praise, a word of discontent.
Enternally were you present, Lord, eternally omniscent,
The flower hung upon the tree, but without incense.
Be Thou fair, tell us true, O fountsin head of grace,
How could the scent spread without the breeze apace?
The world presented a queer sight ere we took the stage,
Stones and plants in your stead were worshipped in that age.
Man, being inured to senses, couldn’t accept a thing unseen,
How could a formless God impress his senses keen?
Tell me, Lord, if anyone ever invoked Thy name,
The strength of Muslim arm alone restored Thy fame.
There was no dearth of peoples on this earth before,
Turkish tribes and Persian clans lived in days of yore;
The Greeks and the Chinese both bred and throve,
Christians as well as the Jews on this planet roved.
But who in Thy holy name raised his valiant sword,
Who set the things right, resolved the rigmarole?
We were the warrior bands battling for Thy cause,
Now on land, now on water, we the crusades fought.
Now in Europe’s synods did we loudly pray,
Now in African deserts made a bold foray.
Not for territorial greed did we wield the sword,
Not for pelf and power did we suffer the blows.
Had we been temped by the greed of glittering gold,
Instead of breaking idols, would have idols sold.
We impressed on every heart the oneness of our mighty Lord,
Even under the threat of sword, bold and clever was our call.
Who conquered, tell us Thou, the fearful Khyber pass?
Who vanquished the Imperial Rome, who made it fall?
Who broke the idols of the primitive folks?
Who fought the kafirs, massacred their hordes?
If the prayer time arrived right amid the war,
With their faces turned to Kaaba, knelt down the brave Hejaz.
Mahmud and Ayaz stood together in the same flank,
The ruler and the ruled forget the difference in their rank.
The rich and poor, Lord and slave, all were levelled down,
All became brethern in love, with Thy grace crowned.
We roamed the world through, visited every place,
Did our rounds like the cup, serving sacred ale.
Forget about the forests, we spared not the seas,
Into the dark, unfathomed ocean, we pushed our steeds.
We removed falsehood from the earth’s face,
We broke the shackles of the human race.
We reclaimed your Kaaba with our kneeling brows,
We pressed the sacred Quran to our heart and soul.
Even then you grumble, we are false, untrue,
If you call us faithless, tell us what are you?
You reserve your favours for men of other shades,
While you hurl your bolts on the Muslim race.
This is not our complaint that such alone are blesse,
Who do not know the etiquette, nor even can converse.
The tragedy is while kafirs are with houries actually blest,
On vague hopes of houries in heaven the Muslim race is made to rest!
Poverty, taunts, ignominy stare us in the face,
Is humiliation the sole reward of our suffering race?
To perpetuate Thy name is our sole concern,
Deprived of the saqi’s aid can the cup revolve and turn?
Gone is your assemblage, off your lovers have sailed,
The midnight sights are no more heard, nor the morning wails;
They pledged their hearts to you, what is their return?
Hardly had they stepped inside, when they were externed.
Thy lovers came and went away, fed on hopes of future grace,
Search them now with the lamp of your glowing face.
Unassuaged is Laila’s ache, unquenched is Qais’s thirst,
In the wilderness of Nejd, the wild deer are still berserk.
The same passion thrills the hearts, enchanting still is beauty’s gaze,
You are the same as before, same too is the Prophet’s race.
Why then this indifference, without a cause or fault?
Why with your threatening looks dost thou break our heart?
Accepted that the flame of love burneth low and dim,
We do not, as in your, dance attendance on your whims;
But you too, pardon us, possess a coquettish heart,
Now on us, now on others, alight your amorous darts.
The spring has now taken leave, broken lies the lyre string,
The birds that chirped among the leaves have also taken wing;
A single nightingale is left singing on the tree,
A flood of song in her breast is longing for release.
From atop the firs and pines the doves have flown away,
The floral petals lie scattered all along the way.
Desolate lie the garden paths, once dressed and neat,
Leafless hang the branches on the naked trees.
The nightingale is unconcerned with the season’s range,
Would that someone in the grove appreciates her wail.
May the nightingale’s wail pierce the listeners’ hearts,
May the clinking caravan awaken slumbering thoughts!
Let the hearts pledge anew their faith to you, O Lord,
Let’s re-charge our cups from the taverns of the past.
Through I hold a Persian cup, the wine is pure Hejaz,
Thought I sing an Indian song, the turn is of the Arabian cast
The word springing from the heart surely carries weight,
Though notendowed with wings, it yet can fly in space.
Pureand spiritual in its essence, it pegs its gaze on high,
Rising from the lowly dust, grazes past the skies.
Keen, defiant, and querulous was my passion crazed,
It pierced through the skies, my audacious wail.
“Someone is there,” thus spoke the heaven’s warder old,
the planets said, “From above proceeds this voice so bold.”
“No, no,” the moon said,” “tis someone on the earth below,”
Butted in the milky way: “The voice is hereabouts, I trow.”
Ruzwan alone, if at all, understood aright,
He knew it was the man, from heaven once exiled.
Even the angles wondered who raised this cry,
All the celestial denizens looked about surprised.
Does man possess the might to scale empyreal heights?
Has this mere pinch of dust learnt the knack to fly?
What are these earthly folks? Careless of all respect,
How bold and impudent, the lowly dwellers of the earth!
Extremely rude and insolent, cross even with God,
Is it the same Adam whom angels once did laud?
Steeped in bliss, man is of wisdom’s lore possessed,
Nonetheless, he’s alien to humility’s sterling worth.
Man feels proud of the power of his speech,
But the fool doesn’t know how and what to speak.
You narrate a woeful tale, thus the voice arose,
Your heart is boiling overwith tears uncontrolled.
You have delivered your plaint with perfect skill and art,
You have brought the humans in contact with God.
We are inclined to grant, but none deserves our grace,
None treads the righteous path, whom to show the way?
Our school is open to all, but talent there is none,
Where is that soil fertile to breed the human gems?
We reward the deserving folks with splendid meed,
We grant newer worlds to those who strive and seek.
Arms have been drained of strength, hearts have gone astray,
The Muslim race is a blot on the Prophet’s face.
Idol-breakers have left the scene, idol-makers remain,
Aazar has inherited Abraham’s glorious name.
Wine, flask, and drinkers-all are new and changed,
A different Kaaba, different idols now your worship claim.
Therewas a time when you were respected far and wide,
Once this desert bloom was the season’s wealth and pride.
Every Muslim then was a lover profound of God,
Your sole beloved once was the all-embracing Lord.
Who removed falsehood from the earth’s face?
Who broke the shackles of the human race?
Who reclaimed our Kaaba with their kneeling brows?
Who presses the sacred Quran to their heart and soul?
True, they were your forbears, but what are you, I say?
Idle sitting, statue-like you dream away your days.
What did you say? Muslims are with hopes of houries consoled,
Even if your plaint is false, your words should be controlled.
Justice is the law supreme, operative on this globe,
Muslims can’t expect the houries, if they follow the kafir’s code.
None of you is, infact, deserving of the “hoor”,
A Moses is but hard to fin, burneth still the Tur.
Common to the race entire is their gain or loss,
Common is their faith and creed, common too the Rasul of God;
One Kaaba, one Allah, and one Quran inspire their heart,
Why can’t the Muslims then behave like a single lot?
Cast, creed and factions have disjointed this race,
Is this way to forge ahead, to flourish in the present age?
It’s the poor who visit the mosque, join the kneeling rows,
The poor alone observe the fasts, practise self-control.
If someone repeats our name, it’s the poor again,
The devout poor hide your sins, preserve your vaunted name.
Drunk with the wine of wealth, the rich are unconcerned with God,
The Muslim race owes its life to the poor, indigent lot.
“Muslims have vanished from earth,” this is what we hear,
but we ask, ” Were the Muslims ever the Jewish sects.
You are Nisars by your looks, but Hindus by conduct,
Your culture puts to shame even the Jewish sects.
If the son is alien to his learned father’s traits,
How can he then claim his father’s heritage?
All of you love to lead a soft, luxurious life,
Are you a Muslim indeed? Is this the Muslim style?
All of you desire to be invested with the crown,
You should first produce a heart worthy of renown.
The new age is the lighting blast, it will set your barns on fire,
It can’t produce in groves or deserts the Old Sinai’s burning spire.
The new fire consumes for fuel the blood of nations old,
The clothes of the Prophet’s race are incinerated in its folds.
Don’t be depressed, gardener, by the present scene,
The starry buds are about to burst with a brilliant sheen.
The garden will soon be rid of its thorns and weeds,
The martyr’s blood will bring to bloom all the dormant seeds.
Mark how the sky reflects its orange purple hues,
The rising sun will flush the sky with its rays anew.
Islamic tree exemplifies cultivation long and hard,
A fruit of arduous gardening over centuries past.
Your caravan needn’t fear the perils of the path,
But for the call of bells you own no wealth at all.
You are the plant of light, the burning wick that never fails,
With the power of your thought you can incinerate the veil.
We’ll love you as our own, if you follow the Prophet’s ways,
The world is but a paltry thing, you’ll command the pen and pag