Is ‘Lab pe aati hai dua…’ a religious poem?

Hyderabad: The poem Lab pe aati hai dua… written by Allama Iqbal, made headlines recently when in a bizarre turn of event the headmaster of a government school in Uttar Pradesh’s Pilibhit village, was suspended for making the students recite it.

The school took action against the headmaster following a complaint by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that he was making students recite an Urdu ‘prayer’ which they alleged was recited at madrassas (religious schools). The action against the headmaster Furkan Ali was taken on October 14. Later, the suspension was temporarily revoked on humanitarian grounds.

The poem in question was written by the ‘Poet of the East’ Mohammed Iqbal in 1902. It has been part of the Urdu syllabus in UP and many other states in the country. The poem essentially teaches young students humanity and patriotism. At one place it says, Ho merey dam say yunhi merey watan key zeenat/ Jis tarah phool say hoti hai chaman ki zeenat. (May my homeland through me attain elegance ….. As the garden through flowers attains elegance). Allama Iqbal is the same poet who also wrote India’s well-known national song Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara. He was born in 1877 and passed away in 1938.

The suspension of the headmaster has evoked strong reactions in India and abroad. Condemning it, veteran teacher of journalism and a noted scribe R Akhileshwari wondered how we can be so narrow-minded? “I want to know what is wrong in that poem,” she asked.

Some forces are bent upon dividing the people on the basis of religion. That is the reason they would find fault with anything. “I don’t have words to describe the kind of horrible message the people in power in the country are conveying… This is going to destroy our society and country,” she warned.

Talking about the poem Akhileshwari asked, “Where does religion come into it? You are praying to your maker whom we have given different names like ‘Deva, Ram, Khuda, Rabb and so on.”. She noted that with great pride the Indians sing the song of the same poet, Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara

Commenting on the controversy writer Oudesh Rani Bawa said that the poem is for anyone who feels ‘Indianness’ within him/her. She pointed out, ‘If you want to say you shouldn’t use the word ‘khuda’ then you should know that Brij Narayan Chakbast had also used the word ‘khuda’ in verse ‘ruḳhsat huā vo baap se le kar ḳhudā kā naam … rāh-e-vafā kī manzil-e-avval huī tamām’, while describing the scene of Ram Chandraji leaving for Banbaas.

Rani said, “Poet or writer doesn’t belong to any country or religion. He or she represents the entire humanity. When we describe Saare jahan se achha Hindustan hamara, our second national song, then why we are prejudiced against ‘Lab pe aati hai dua…,” she asked.

Dr Oudesh Rani reveals that recently she taught Lab pe aati hai dua…to her grandson to prepare him for a competition. Speaking about the controversy, she said it was a move aimed against Urdu. She asserted that Urdu was not the language of Muslims alone. “Urdu is the language of every Indian. It was born here…Urdu literature doesn’t talk against any religion. It rather adopts all religions,” she noted.

When asked whether Lab pe aati hai dua…is a religious song and should not be sung in schools, Khalid Mubashir Uz Zafar, Professor and Head department of Translation Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU) says, “It is not a religious song. It is a prayer for all children.” He maintained that Islamophobia in India had gone to such an absurd extent that every element of ‘Muslimness’ is being presented as a symbol of danger. “Today the communalists are calling Iqbal’s poem as communal, tomorrow it could be Ghalib or Faiz,” he said.

Dr Amena Tahseen, in-charge Centre for Women Studies (CWS), MANUU said, “If one ponders over every verse of the poem one will find that it does not refer to any religion.”

She said that the whole poem was a longing of a child in the form of a prayer. “Giving it a religious tint is deplorable,” she said. If a word like ‘khudaya’ has been used in the poem, it doesn’t become a prayer of a Muslim. Giving an example, she said word ‘Rabb’ is used for God by Muslims as well as Punjabi. In Indian culture a single word was used by many communities, there were a lot of such examples.

Speaking about the controversy, Mohammed Abdul Sattar, an academic, said that there are a growing number of people who are bent upon raking up non-issues and critical issues. Lab pe aati hai dua…is a prayer to God, nothing more than that. In the poem, the child is asking for knowledge and guidance from the Lord.

Following is the poem with English and translation:

Lab pe aati hai dua ban kay tamanna meri

Zindagi sham’a key surat ho Khudaya meri

May longing comes to my lips as supplication of mine!

O God! May like the candle be the life of mine!

Door dunya ka merey dam say andhera ho jaye!

Har jagah merey chamaknay say ujala ho jaye!

May the world’s darkness disappear through the life of mine!

May every place light up with the sparkling light of mine!

Ho merey dam say yunhi merey watan key zeenat

Jis tarah phool say hoti hai chaman ki zeenat

May my homeland through me attain elegance

As the garden through flowers attains elegance

Zindgi ho meri parwanay key surat Ya Rab!

Ilm ki sham’a say ho mujhko muhabbat Ya Rab!

May my life like that of the moth be, O Lord!

May I love the lamp of knowledge, O Lord!

Ho mera kaam ghareebaun ki himayat karna

Dard mandaun say za’ieefaun say muhabbat karna

May supportive of the poor my life’s way be

May loving the old, the suffering my way be

Merey Allah! burai say bachana mujhko

Naik jo rah ho us reh pay chalana mujh ko

O Allah! Protect me from the evil ways

Show me the path leading to the good ways

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