The Complaint and The Answer

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Charcoal Drawing based on The Complaint and The Answer by Iqbal

“The Complaint” and “The Answer” are complementary poems written by Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal that act, respectively, as the voices of a Muslim and of God speaking to one another. In “The Complaint,” an unsatisfied Muslim asks God why he is not being rewarded for all of the devotion he has given. He wants riches in return for his prayers and he complains that he has not yet been adequately compensated for his efforts in piety. God responds in “The Answer,” explaining to the Muslim that one should not expect direct rewards for submission. God says that Muslims these days are focusing on the wrong things, like material wealth. He tells his follower to stop “sitting snug” and waiting, and instead find an art and do something. He points out the many exceptions people make from religious obligations, and then asks the follower how he could think that was devotion. He also says that even if Muslims do everything right, they might not be rewarded because rewards happen in the after life of eternity.

In my charcoal drawing based on these poems, I tried to highlight several of my favorite images and use images to explain some of the meaning of the text. I found, at points, that the text wasn’t entirely easy to understand, so I hoped my images would help clarify the poet’s words. The dominating image in the piece is the pair of the nightingale and the rose in the lower portion of the drawing. The rose and nightingale imagery is repeated throughout South Asia literature, and often signifies the lover-beloved pair. The nightingale sings and laments to the silent and slightly mean (thorny) rose. This image was brought in at the beginning of the poem, and is later scattered throughout. Though it is not entirely clear, it seems as though Iqbal wants to portray the complainer as nightingale, constantly hoping for some reward from the rose. In my portrayal of the pair, I made the nightingale quite large and further up on the page than one might expect. Usually the nightingale is seen as deferring and looking up to the rose, but in the poem, the Muslim is simultaneously begging for God’s attention and telling God what he is doing wrong. I tried to make the bird look sad at not being recognized by God (in the eye), yet happy in his singing (enjoying complaining).

Another image I drew is that of a Muslim submitting to God. The Muslim is engaged in one of the daily prayers, and he faces Mecca’s Ka’aba (the black box on the left). This submission is on the rose side of the drawing because it is representing what God wishes all Muslims would do (be more devoted). I added a spin to my depiction of the Ka’aba, however, by drawing money pouring into it as if it were a piggy bank. This is meant to represent that the Muslim who is submitting is also really interested in wealth and is unsure where to draw the line between religious and personal gain (like the complainer in the text). I also drew the graveyard that God said Muslims might be willing to sell, even though it contains their fathers. I also drew the planets that are in “The Answer” because I loved the image of the celestial bodies discussing God. Finally, I drew a wrinkled pear inside the outline of a ripe pear. This represents the dichotomy in the way that God and the complainer view the complainer’s actions. The complainer thinks he has done enough and should be rewarded, but God sees his effort as weak and incomplete.




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