An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Introducing Children to Poetry

In Education, poetry on March 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

“A poet’s nature is a quest from the beginning to the end. He shapes and nurtures love and desires. A poet is like a heart; without him, the body of a nation is but a mass of dust. The world is made up of pain and desire, and therefore without them poetry is merely mourning. But poetry aimed at civilizing a people is in fact heir to the mission of the prophets.”

Iqbal, Javid Nama

My five year old daughter took my by surprise the other day. I heard her bathroom singing while she was taking her tub bath. What surprised me was that she was singing in Urdu. Although she understands what’s being spoken in Urdu, she speaks very little herself.  A sentence she enjoyed quoting is “aaj Urdu day hay” or “today is Urdu day” – something we say to her at the breakfast table on the weekends. My wife and I consciously decided to stick with English during her developmental years for reasons I’ll leave for another time. Now we’re looking to cultivate her Urdu. I see learning rhymed songs for children which they can carry with them in their journey as one approach. One of my passing gifts to my children that I, God willing, intend to give them is an appreciation of Urdu language and literature. For me just knowing how to speak Urdu is pretty dull compared to having an appreciation of the vast treasures of wisdom and beauty that lay hidden within it’s poetic tradition. Yes, it is a language of the poets – not more than 300 years old may be, developed through a combination of Arabic, Persian and Hindi, it is a very refined language. Anyway, my daughter was singing the opening lines from a children’s poem by Iqbal; lab par aathi hay dua ba kar tamana meri. What I found surprising was I had only sat down with her may be two to three times a month ago with a clip from you tube and got her to sing along. This was my introduction to Iqbal for her.

Lab pe aati hai dua banke tamanna meri
Zindagi shama ki surat ho khudaya meri

Door duniya ka mere dam andhera no jaaye
Har jagah mere chamakane se ujaala ho jaaye

Ho mere dam se yoon hi mere watan ki zeenat
Jis tarah phool se hoti hai chaman ki zeenat

Zindagi ho meri parwaane ki surat ya rab
Ilm ki shama se ho mujhko mohabbat ya rab

Ho mera kaam garibon ki himaayat karna
Dard-mandon se zaiifon se mohabbat karna

Mere allaah buraai se bachaanaa mujhko
Nek jo raah ho us raah pe chalaanaa mujhko


My longing comes to my lips as supplication of mine O God!
May like the candle be the life of mine!

May the world’s darkness disappear through the life of mine!
May every place light up with the sparkling light of mine!

May my homeland through me attain elegance
As the garden through flowers attains elegance

May my life like that of the moth be, O Lord!
May I love the lamp of knowledge, O Lord!

May supportive of the poor my life’s way be
May loving the old, the suffering my way be

O God! Protect me from the evil ways
Show me the path leading to the good ways

Over the coming months and years I intend to work with her so she can memorise all of it and then internalise it through it’s meanings. I am hoping this will lead her to discovering Iqbal for herself someday which can also become an opening to Rumi and the Qur’an as it has done for countless people. She may choose a totally different path but the least I can give her is an appreciation of the beauty of the language and the vision presented by her poets. Needless to say it is in many ways a journey of self-discovery; verses of Iqbal are often quoted by Urdu speaking people and at times even from the pulpit during the Friday prayers by Imams but to what extent the poetic vision has been grasped and it’s meanings have been internalised is another question altogether.  I was just wondering how wonderful it is that a seer and visionary as Iqbal also wrote a number of poems for children which contain stories filled with wisdom and teachings. Another beautiful poem for children Iqbal wrote was on Umar deciding to compete with Abu Bakr one day. That’s second on my list.

There is however another point why I’m interested in poetry and why it can help us to become people of depth or more soulful people. That is how do we adults read poetry? Recently I was doing an ecourse on Iqbal and my only criticism would be the questions used in the exercises were ones asking us of our opinion. This to me is very different to sitting with a poem, internalising it, processing it and allowing it meanings to flower over time. I have been reading Rumi for over ten years and reflecting more seriously on his verses for about four years. Yet, it was only a month ago that I felt I was totally resonating with the opening lines of the masnavi.  Prof Omid Safi in a recently talk on Rumi (which I have linked on the facebook group) explains how Rumi’s disciples had to write a further book on how the Mathnawi should be read because people thought it was just tales with no the application to their inner lives. What I find interesting is the Qur’an already does that for us. It tells us how it should be read by constantly inviting us refection (tafakkur), contemplation (tadabbur) and reading of signs (tawassum). The irony is students can go through an ‘Islamic’ education without cultivating these ways of approaching the Qur’an or even just classical poetry.

Often the meanings of contemplation, reflection and reading of signs/deep pondeting converge in translation, but the Qur’an is very specific in it’s use of words as Jeremy explains

“With regard to tafakkur, the root FKR occurs in the verb form TAFAKKARA (to reflect) in Qur’an 2:219, 2:266, 3:191, 6:50, 7:176, 7:184, 10:24, 13:3, 16:11, 16:44, 16:69, 30:8, 30:21, 34:46, 39:42, 45:13, and 59:21.  It nearly always refers to reflecting on the ‘signs’ (ayat) and ‘parables’ (amthal) afforded to us through the Creation. Malik Badri has written a useful book entitled Contemplation: An Islamic Psychospiritual  Study (IIIT, 2000) in which he explores the faculty of tafakkur, describing it  as “a cognitive spiritual acivity in which the rational mind, emotion and spirit are combined”. As such, it is an aspect of ‘aql , which is not simply the rational faculty but is a composite faculty of cognitive, ethical and spiritual intelligence.

The DBR root occurs in various forms in the Qur’an, but the verb TADABBARA  (to ponder, meditate upon, consider) occurs 4 times, in 4:82, 23:68, 38:29, and 47:24. One of these instances refers to ‘pondering the signs’, and two refer to pondering the Qur’an – and, of course, the Qur’an is itself a book of  ‘signs’ (ayat).

The WSM root occurs in the form TAWASSAMA (one who understands by marks or tokens) only once in the Qur’an, at 15:75: “Verily, in all thsi there are messages indeed for those who can read the signs” – Muhammad Asad notes that the term mutawassim  (according to Zamakhshari and Razi) denotes ‘one who applies his mind to the study of the outward appearances of a thing with a view to understanding its real nature and its inner characteristics”

In sohbet (spiritual discourse) we often read a poem and share our insights or reflections in a state of presence. In my experience a poem really opens it’s wings when such a space is created through reflection and contemplation; allowing one to internalise the vision of the poet or writer. Such reflections are often themed around questions such as ‘how does this apply to me, here and now, in my/our souls journey’.

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