Collection of Poems: Message from the East



Payam-i-Mashriq [Message from the East] is a collection of poems in Persian and Urdu by the twentieth-century Muslim poet and intellectual Mohammed Iqbal. Published in 1921, the collection was modelled after the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe's Western Divan. While the preface shows the central impulses of the volume, the poem quoted above is reminiscent of the satirical wit of the anticolonial Indian poet Akbar Illahabadi (1846-1921). In the poem, Iqbal draws on the devastation on the Western front to indict what he perceives as the cause of the war - the technological and materialist civilisation of the West.


Mohammed Iqbal is widely considered one of the greatest Muslim poets and intellectuals of the twentieth century. He is one of the very few South Asian thinkers who undertook graduate work in European philosophy and wrestled with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German thought; traces of Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel, Bergson, and Wordsworth can be detected in his tract The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1927). An anti-imperialist as well an ardent believer in the superiority of Islam as a religion and moral polity, he argued that ‘it was Islam and Islam alone which, for the first time, gave the message to mankind that religion was neither national and racial, nor individual and private, but purely human’. Referring to the First World War, he noted that ‘The storm of the West has made the Muslim into a real Muslim’. Yet, who is a ‘real’ Muslim or what is Islam, for him, is a process of philosophical enquiry rather than a doctrine nor does it exist in simple opposition to a monolithic ‘West'. Published in 1923, Payam-i-Mashriq [Message from the East] was Iqbal's response to the horrors of the First World War and an effort to forge an East-West dialogue. As early as 1919, he had written to his friend 'At present, I am writing a reply to the Divan of a Western poet (i.e. Goethe) and about half of it has been completed. Some poems will be in Persian and some in Urdu'. Both the preface and the poem are informed by the post-War disenchantment with and critique of the West and belief in the redemptive potential of the 'East'.