Shikwa (Urdu: شکوہ) (Complaint) and Jawab-e-Shikwa (Urdu: جواب شکوہ) (Response to the Complaint) are poems written by well known Urdu language poet Muhammad Iqbal, which were later published in his book Kulliat-e-Iqbal. “Shikwa” is an Urdu word which translates to “complaint” in English.
Though much of his best poetry is written in Persian, he was also a poet of stature in Urdu. Shikwa (1909) and Jawab-i-Shikwa (1913) extol the legacy of Islam and its civilising role in history, bemoan the fate of Muslims everywhere, and squarely confront the dilemmas of Islam in modern times. Shikwa is thus, in the form of a complaint to Allah for having let down the Muslims and Jawab-i-Shikwa is Allah’s reply.
When the first part of these poems, Shikwa (1909), was published it created a big confusion amongst Muslim scholars who thought that Iqbal is being rude and harsh in his words when talking to God in his book and being unthankful of the blessings of God, since the second part of his poem (Jawab-e-Shikwa) was not announced with the publication of the first one. But later when Jawab-e-Shikwa (1913) was published all the problems went away and everyone praised Iqbal for his contribution to Urdu Poetry and making a difference in Islamic literature.
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 identity as a nation. They had become the most oppressed community in British ruled India. A little before Iqbal, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) had realised that the major cause of Indian Muslims’ misfortune was their illiteracy and the lack of knowledge. After a long struggle and much hardship he succeeded in establishing an Anglo Oriental College at Aligarh which later on became a university. Presently this university is a big place of learning and research in India. This university became a source of self-awareness among a negligible portion of Muslim minority in India. However, the masses of the community remained deprived of education and ultimately remained suffering in all parts of life. Due to poverty and lack of resources they were unable to educate their children. Among those who were lucky and got education remained unable to get a job. They remained jobless as all the fields of life and key posts were occupied and dominated by non-Muslims and the British. Such a situation gave birth to the persons like Altaf Husain Hali, Shibli Nomani, Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, Ali Brethren, and others who worked in their respective fields to fight for the rights of Muslims. All of them were contemporaries of Iqbal and were among the front-line fighters for freedom. However Iqbal stood alone with his powerful poetic way to waken self-confidence in the people of his community. He and his contemporaries (named above) were able to move the masses and carried them forward on the road to get rid of the British rule. Iqbal nurtured the minds of the people and changed the direction of the society through his melodious voice reciting his own songs in a touching way reminding them of their past glory. He was the person who discovered a leader like Muhammad Ali Jinnah and convinced him to lead the nation under whose banner Muslims of India were united and marched towards independence till the world saw a new country “Pakistan” emerged on the world map with the rising sun of the morning of August 14, 1947.
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 “Shakwa” is a unique example of a complaint to God. We have used English translation from Dr. M.A.K. Khalil’s Call of the Marching Bell, which is English rendering of Iqbal’s Bang-i Dara.
In the first stage of this poem Iqbal counts the chivalrous deeds of the Muslims reminding them of their past glory when they happened to be the leaders and teachers of mankind. They implemented the rule of God on the earth and brought revolutionary reforms in the states under their control where justice prevailed. Hereunder I quote three stanzas from this part of “Shakwa”: