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Asia

Faiz's poetry 'a counter-narrative to extremism'

Known in the West as the 'Neruda of Urdu poetry', Faiz wrote romantic lyrics with a different touch - he fused it with contemporary social issues. Progressive Pakistanis have commemorated his 29th death anniversary.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a progressive Pakistani poet, has inspired almost three generations of Pakistanis who believe in secular and liberal values. A proclaimed Marxist, Faiz received the Lenin Peace Prize from the then Soviet Union in 1962. The poet was also involved in many political struggles and was jailed by Pakistani rulers a number of times.

S. Nomanul Haq, a professor of Humanities and a scholar in Islamic history and philosophy, tells DW in an interview how Faiz's poetry can serve as a counter-narrative to dominant extremist ideologies in Pakistan and other Muslim countries.

DW: What makes Faiz's poetry so important even three decades after his death?

S. Nomanul Haq, a professor of Humanities and a scholar in Islamic history and philosophy from Karachi, Pakistan (Photo: Shams/DW)

Haq: 'Good poetry can always be used as an agent for awareness'

S. Nomanul Haq: In terms of the quality of his poetry and his poetical expressions, he is unparalleled in the whole history of Urdu poetry. His metaphors, the string of nouns that he uses, the rhythm and the structure, will never go stale. Faiz will remain relevant mostly because of his themes - he wrote extensively about human misery, inequality and injustice. These are timeless issues. These are universal issues and are not restricted to a country, or a group.

Faiz is known for the political nature of his poetry. What impact has it had on the public discourse in Pakistan?

Good poetry can always be used as an agent for awareness, but Faiz is more relevant in this context because he speaks in contemporary idiom. But let me be clear that Faiz is no exception. Great poets like Meer, Ghalib and Hafiz make us open-minded, they make us appreciate and cherish the diversity and differences that we have in the world.

Faiz weeps over problems in Africa and talks about the Palestine issue. The great thing about poetry is that it makes us feel the pain of others. Indeed, Faiz's poetry serves as a counter-narrative to extreme Islamist ideologies.

Faiz is often compared to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. What are the similarities?

Faiz and Neruda both belonged to the 'Third World'. The conditions he was dealing with during his life, the colonial hangover, was something Neruda also faced in his country. Faiz talks about the concrete realities around him and not only about some imaginative issues. This is also true of Neruda. They both deal with real issues, of bread and butter, of peace and security. Not only the sensibilities of the two poets are similar, but also the socio-political conditions they lived under.

Faiz was believed to have been inspired by German literature. What were the major influences?

German poetry and fiction have had their influence on Urdu literature. German literature has inspired countless Urdu writers and poets. Its influence was starker during the 20th century. Faiz was not only inspired by German writers and philosophers, but also by European literature as a whole.

The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.

S. Nomanul Haq is currently teaching at the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. He is also associated with the University of Pennsylvania and is known for his publications and research work on the history and philosophy of science, postmodern philosophy, history of religion, history of art and history of literature.