Unshackling thought


Should not be a thing of blasphemy

One of the greatest tragedies of our modern-day society in Pakistan, and specifically that of our youth, is its ‘disconnection’ with the poetry of the ages! We no longer live in the embrace of passionate verses. The society no longer reads, or associates with, the love, pain and rebellion of transcendental poetry. Iqbal and Faiz have become nothing more than a chapter in the matriculation curriculum, or the name of an airport. Spending time with them, trying to understand their passion, has become the realm of a few outcasts – the blessed few who find themselves living solitary lives of interrupted dreams, in an otherwise crowded world.

One of the gravest consequences of this severed societal bond with poetry is the resultant death of idealism, and absence of the belief that we – each one of us – have the ability (even destiny) to change the world. As Iqbal once famously put:

Pare hai charkh-e-neeli-faam se manzil Musalmaa’n ki

Sitaray jiss ki gard-e-raah ho’n, who karwaa’n tu hai

Destiny of a Muslim lies beyond the grips of the Milky-Way

The celestial stars are the dust beneath the feet of your caravan

The unshackling of our thought, the breaking free of our desires, to embrace the full potential of our humanity, has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness. And as a result of this vanquished passion, our society has ignominiously surrendered to the forces if intolerance, extremism and even religious fanaticism. We have accepted life for what it is, instead of what it could be. Or perhaps as Iqbal would argue, what we could make it to be.

The students in our universities no longer challenge the banning of subjects and academic discourse. Discussing ideas that challenge the social and cultural taboos – such as reform of blasphemy law, separation of religion and state, role of army in our political dispensation, the dream of an ideal democracy and restructuring of our judicial dispensation – has become a perilous endeavor. Pushing the frontiers of thought beyond the gates of conventionality – in fields such as literature, philosophy and development of Fiqh – has become the fabled memory of a forgotten past. The development and study of sciences, untamed by the reigns of religion and culture – in the fields of evolution, molecular biology, space exploration and the genesis of the ‘God particle’ – is a thing of blasphemy.

And through this caging of human intellect, the status quo citadels of religious and political power are perpetuating their monopoly on the development and growth of society.

The solution lies in the poetic verses of intellectual giants. As Faiz sahib once famously said:

Abb rasm-e-sitam hikmat-e-khasaan-e-zameen hai

Ta’eed-e-sitam maslihat-e-muftae-dee’n hai

Abb sadiyo’n ke israar-e-ata’at ko badalne

Lazim hai, keh inkaar ka farma’n koi utrey

The practice of injustice is the strategy of the privileged

And adherence to this strategy serves the interest of religious junta

To change this centuries-old obedience to this practice

It is necessary that a new book of defiance descends (from the heavens)

The first step, on this road to reconstruction of our intellectual and moral edifice, as Faiz Sahib points out, is to say a resounding ‘No’ to practices of the present.

A ‘No’ to intellectual censorship. A ‘No’ to social taboos. A ‘No’ to cultural curtailments. A ‘No’ to the bearded hegemony. A ‘No’ to religious bigotry. A ‘No’ to sectarian superiorities. A ‘No’ to khaki bravados. A ‘No’ to bureaucratic incompetence. A ‘No’ to hereditary political entitlement. A ‘No’ to legislative discrimination. And a ‘No’ to the threat of contempt.

Sadly, the generation that is in a position of power at the moment – the generation that grew up in the shadows of Iqbal, and in the company of Faiz – has not paid heed to the lessons of their poetry. And thus, it falls upon a new generation, one that is just now coming of age, to answer the call of these great minds. It is upon us now to read the poetry of the past, apply it to our present, in order to better serve our future. And this process cannot wait till tomorrow.

It is time for students in our universities today to break free of the dogmatic regulations placed upon their development of thought. It is time they demanded to read literature that has been withheld from the academic curriculums. It is time that we demand our equality at the altar of intellect. Question the contours of Fiqh. Debate the merits of plurality. View the bureaucrats as public servants. Demand that army exit the political dialogue. Question the conduct of judges. And raise our voices in support of reformation of our religious thought.

This challenging of conventionality is not only necessary but also virtuous. Let us be reminded that poetry teaches us that being young and idealistic is a noble (almost sanctimonious) privilege. It allows us to not be anchored to the gravity of experience, and instead, float in the ethereal space of idealism. It was Iqbal himself, who once said:

Khirad ko ghulami se azaad kar

Jawano’n ko peero’n ka ustaad kar

Free the spirit of thought from the bounds of slavery

Allow the young to be the master of the old

Poetry has the insuppressible ability to lift us out of our darkness, propelling us into the light of actualization. It is the Dast-e-Esa (Hand of Jesus) that can bring to life our limitless promise. It is in times like these that we must live our poetry.


Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: [email protected], or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool


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