“There are nations in Life’s garden that
have gathered in their fruit.
Others shared not in the harvest, and
are swept by autumn’s gales;
Multitudes of trees there stand, some
green, some withered to the root,
Myriads as yet lie hidden in the womb
that never fails;
After centuries of tending soars Islam,
a mighty tree,
Fruitful yet, a splendid symbol of
Thou a Muslim art, and Destiny thy
edict must obey,
Be thou faithful to Muhammad, and
We yield Ourself to thee;
Not this world alone—the Tablet and
the Pen thy prize shall be.”
– Iqbal, Jawab-i-shikwa
Iqbal’s poems Shikwa and Jawab-i-shikwa (Complaint and Answer) grapple with issues concerning Islam in the early twentieth century and the idea that the fall in global influence and power of Islamic regions of the world is a sign that Muslims have somehow fallen from God’s grace. In Shikwa Iqbal writes from the point of view of a modern-day Muslim who questions why God does not reward him and his people as he did their ancestors, claiming that they have done so much in his name over the years.
In Jawab-i-shikwa, Iqbal writes God’s response to this complaint. God claims to be pleased with the historical practice of Islam in all the ways described in shikwa, and expresses this through many metaphors such as the one above, in which Islam is depicted as an old and majestic tree among smaller, less impressive plants. However, God also argues that modern-day Muslims do not practice Islam as devoutly as their ancestors, and therefore do not merit the same rewards. At the end of the poem, God encourages Muslims to remain faithful and assures them that even if their devotion does not yield rewards in this life, there are greater rewards that they will earn, namely the “Tablet and the Pen.” This is a reference to the Umm al-kitab (mother of the book), which is the heavenly prototype of all sacred scriptures. By this phrase Iqbal is saying that faith does not necessarily result in immediate or tangible rewards, but will merit greater rewards in heaven after death.
The metaphor of Islam as a great tree stood out to me, so I decided to take a picture of a tree reaching up into the sky. On the tree I placed a pen and tablet (the tablet I made out of cardboard that I painted and then bound together with the stems of a dead vine) to symbolize that the ultimate reward for Muslims—for which they contribute their faith as part of the tree of Islam—lies in heaven.