Guess Who Is Reading Iqbal

By Mohammed Ayub Khan

More than seven decades after his death Allamah Iqbal, the poet of the east, continues to inspire people in unexpected corners of the world. While his legacy is currently a subject of debate in Pakistan –partly due its hijacking by reactionary elements-he has managed to strike a chord in distant Canada. One would be surprised to know that a collection titled Poems from Iqbal occupies the pride of place at the desk of premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty.

McGuinty’s interest in Iqbal’s poetry first came to light in 2009 when a reporter for the Globe and Mail while describing the no-frills working style of the premier wrote: “he reads from a yellow pad on his desk-adjacent to a dog-eared copy of Poems from Iqbal…” The casual mention would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the Canada based Pakistani scholar Khalid bin Sayeed. Despite suffering from Alzheimer’s and other ailments Khalid bin Sayeed, who passed away at the age of 84 last year, was alert enough to write to McGuinty and enquire about his interest in Iqbal. The response, which was unearthed recently by the Dr. Sayeed’s family, tells a great deal of the relevance of Iqbal in myriad of ways in contemporary times.

McGuinty writes: “I had the good fortune to learn about Iqbal’s poetry during preparations for our government’s 2007 trade mission to Pakistan. It was a discovery that greatly enhanced my understanding of Pakistan’s culture and history—and ultimately made my visit a more meaningful one. My late father, professor of romantic poetry, instilled in me his love of verse, and I remain a firm believer in the power of poetry to inspire and to give voice to the human experience.”

At a time when Iqbal’s poetry is equally glorified, misused, and reviled by sectional interests it is heartening to know that the voice of east is being heard in distant lands. While lamenting the slaughter of his vision in his own homeland it should be of some comfort to the great Allama that he continues to inspire people in the West.


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