Faiz’s notion of a revolution

November 17, 2019

Malik explores the underlying allusion to Islam in Faiz’s popular poetry and how the idea of exclusivity of Pakistani culture still exists


All good critics develop their own hermeneutics over the course of time. Apart from gaze and perspective, a hermeneutic provides them with a set of methods and strategies to interpret — and sometimes manipulate — literary texts. Pakistaniat lies at the very roots of the hermeneutic. Fateh Muhammad Malik employs in his critical writings. Whatever is penned by Malik seems to mill around the idea — and ideology — of Pakistaniat. Urdu, Islam, Quaid-i-Azam, Allama Iqbal, Muslim League, Millat-i-Islamia are main ingredients of his idea of Pakistaniat. However, he rejects mulla’yat (religious theocracy) and favours — a version of Islamic socialism.

In his recently published book, Faiz ka Tasawur-i-Inqalab (Faiz’s Notion of Revolution), Malik resorts, once again, to his ideological stance that every big, Pakistani Urdu writer corroborates the idea of Pakistaniat. He goes on to assert that it was Allama Iqbal who dreamed of Pakistan while it was Faiz Ahmad Faiz who dreamed of a true Islamic revolution. So, the poetry of Faiz lends itself to the Islamic ambience of Iqbal’s poetry. Malik claims that Faiz not only shared Iqbal’s compassion for the downtrodden but also the disillusionment caused by socialism’s failure.

This assertion that Faiz had a vision of Islamic revolution appears not just queer and distressing, but something that cannot be easily assimilated by those used to reading Faiz’s poetry as necessarily having a progressive slant. At first glance, it seems to be an act of appropriation of an open-ended literary text into closed, ideological writing. But Malik has reasons to lay such a big claim and seek to subvert the commonly held view about Faiz and his poetry.

Malik argues that in the beginning Faiz had a firm belief in the efficacy of socialist humanism and he used to interpret society, poetry and politics in terms of Marxism. But with the passage of time he got disappointed by the whole gamut of historical changes Soviet Russia and Socialist China underwent. Malik seems to suggest that Faiz’s disenchantment with socialist humanism led to reinforcement of his belief in Islamic humanism. In critical parlance, the vacuum created by disbelief in the secular ideology of emancipation was filled up by the revival of a belief in religious deliverance.

Malik quotes a passage from Agha Nasir’s book on Faiz titled Ham Jeetay Ji Masroof Rahay (We stayed busy as long as we lived) where Faiz is said to have passionately praised the Islamic revolution of Iran. In Faiz’s words, the peculiarity of the Irani revolution lies in the fact that commonality stood against the army and defeated it while in all other revolutions including the French and Soviets ones, armies fought on both sides. Dauntless defiance and persistence on the part of the common people against oppressors seem to be the basis of the idea of Islamic revolution Malik aims to draw out of Faiz’s poetry.

In this regard he particularly quotes from Faiz’s poem titled (Only God lives forever), which is popularly known as (Of course we will see). Malik asserts that not only the title but most of the meanings of this poem are borrowed from the Holy Quran. Malik refers to the first six lines of the Sura al-Waqia’h (The Inevitable) to strengthen his point. He is of the view that the idea of revolution Faiz believed in and versified in the said poem is taken from this Sura in its entirety. Malik complains that progressive and secular critics try not to mention the actual Qur’anic title of the poem: another instance of appropriation of the literary text.

In reality, the idea of Islamic revolution is extremely problematic as far as Faiz’s poetry is concerned. Before heading further, we need to have a look at the central theme of the poem which is subsumed in the following lines:

Uthay ga Analhaq ka Naara / Jo Main bhi Hun aur Tumbhi ho / Aur Raaj karay gi khalq-e-Khuda/Jo main bhi hun aur tum bhi ho (There will rise one cheer — I am the Truth/ which is I, as well as you/And the common man will reign/Which is I, and you as well)

While it is true that the central theme and a few lines of Faiz’s poem seem to have been taken from Sura al-Waqi’ah, the question is whether Faiz was only foretelling the turning over of all symbols of oppression at the hands of the oppressed, or was he also calling for the establishment of an Islamic system of government? An answer to this question has not been furnished in clear terms in the book under review.

Firstly, al-Waqia’h is about the inevitability of qiyamat (doomsday) when each and everything — the whole universe — will be overturned, the earth will be shaken, mountains crushed and crumbled and scattered like dust – a cosmic revolution will occur. It seems that Faiz was inspired by a qiyamat-like idea of a social revolution to throw away all crowns and for the reign of the common man. But what kind of system of government — Islamic, socialist, democratic or any other — will be chosen by the commoners, remains unattended in the poem. History of revolutions reveals that “Raaj karay gi Khalq-e-Khuda” (the common man will rule) is more of a politically poetic or poetically political yell.

Moreover, though not directly, the above-mentioned question seems to have been reflected upon by Faiz in his discussions about Pakistani culture. Some of which has been referred to by Malik in the book under review. The whole debate about Pakistani culture revolves around two prongs: exclusivity and inclusivity. Belief in the exclusivity of Pakistani culture denies room for non-Islamic influences while the idea of inclusiveness provides ample space to ‘other’ and ‘different’ cultural traditions.

Islamists have been staunch supporters of the idea of exclusivity of Pakistani culture. Since that day Muslims of India have been struggling to build an exclusive culture in line with Islamic teachings which culminated into the creation of Pakistan. As for Faiz’s notion of Pakistani culture, he unwaveringly favoured inclusiveness. The inclusive notion of culture is quintessentially plural, yielding to multiple histories and traditions exploring possibilities of dialogue and inter-cultural harmony. While Faiz was at the helm of the Pakistani cultural policy in the early seventies, he presented a revolutionary idea of setting up of a Buddhist university at Taxila.

Malik has narrated the story of this idea in his book; how Faiz conceived it and put it before the authorities concerned with the help of Ahmad Hasan Dani and Prof Qudrat Ullah Kazmi arguing that: “The setting up of such an institute is an essential prerequisite for the discovery of Pakistan’s history before the coming of Islam” and how the idea was put into dust bin. Interestingly, the proposal for Buddhist university, stressed that the “pre-Islamic history of Pakistan is mainly Buddhist history — and not Hindu as it is wrongly presumed”.

It seems that we have not moved forward an inch. This is obvious from the setting up of a Baba Guru Nanak University at Nankana Sahib for which the foundation stone has been laid recently. Though this must be celebrated as a move towards accelerating slow — yet selective — process of inter-cultural harmony, we cannot close our eyes to another fact. It is glaringly evident that we are still entangled in a notion of a Pakistani nation where pre-Islamic and non-Islamic traditions qualify and deserve to be accommodated and in some cases celebrated with the exception of Hindu tradition. So, ‘selective inclusive notion’of culture has political underpinnings. When Faiz says Goonjay ga Ana al Haq ka nara/Jo men bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho (There will rise one cheer — I am the Truth/ which is I, as well as you) he advocates the inclusive notion of redemption; I and you stand beyond all politically or culturally constructed identities.

The writer is a Lahore-based critic and short story writer and author of Urdu Adab ki Tashkeel-i-jadeed, Nazm Kaisay Parhain (criticism) and Rakh say Likhi Gai Kitab(short story)

Faiz ka Tasawur-e-Inqalab

Author: Fateh

Muhammad Malik

Publisher: Sang-e-Meel Publications, Lahore

Pages: 125

Price: Rs400

Pakistani culture and Faiz’s notion of a revolution