For this project, I decided to focus on specific lines from Muhammad Iqbal’s Complaint and Answer (translated by A.J. Arberry) that described Islam in the metaphor of a tree:
“There are nations in Life’s garden that have gathered in their fruit,
Others are 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 immense vitality.” (Iqbal 63)
Even though the poem is rich with many metaphors, I appreciated this one and it stood out to me because I think it captured an important essence of what Iqbal was trying to communicate to the reader. I found that in this section, God is responding to the speaker of the poem, saying that throughout history (Life’s garden), different nations have benefited and been successful and have received “fruits,” meaning success and dominance. These nations are the ones in power, just how the Muslims were once in power in India. And then God says that there have also been nations that have “withered” and have not had the same success. This is what the speaker believes is the current state of the Muslims now. However, God states that it is again possible for the tree of Islam to once again “achieve immense vitality.” This vitality is made possible by returning to Islam and to correct practice. For earlier in the text, God rebukes the speaker and states, “Are you Muslims? What, is this the way Islam would have you tread?…What relationship of spirit links you to your dead? For the fact that they were Muslims they were honoured in their day: You, who have abandoned the Quran, are spurned and cast away” (Iqbal 56). However, even after admonishing the Muslims in modern day India, there is a possibility for them to regain their previous grandeur if they obey God and follow God the way that it was ordained. God tells them to proclaim that “God is Greatest” and to be faithful to the path of Muhammad (Iqbal 72). Only then will their tree be able to regrow and become strong and fruitful.
In the work that I did, we see an outline of India (Pre-Partition, the time when Iqbal wrote Complaint and Answer) because it is the land that the speaker (Iqbal) is crying out about and complaining to God about losing power in. Then in the forefront, there is a tree. The tree is created out of Arabic words, the main branches of the tree say “La ilaha illallah muhammadur rasulullah (There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger)” and the leaves say “Islam.” I chose the shahada because it is the Muslim statement of faith and Iqbal implies throughout the whole work that it is of utmost important for Muslims of India to go back to following the path of God and the Prophet Muhammad. And if Muslims go back to this belief, they will be able to cultivate the Islam of their ancestors that they have turned away from, hence why the leaves that are beginning to grow are Islam. The “tree of Islam” is in front of India because God promises the speaker if Muslims begin to follow Islam properly again, that they will once again reach the splendor they once had during the Mughal empire.