- Faiz's work is widely considered the backbone of Pakistan’s literature
Celebrated Pakistani poet and author, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, passed away on November 20, 1984, following a struggle with lung and heart disease.
Born in February 13, 1911 in Punjab’s Sialkot District during the British rule, his work is widely considered the backbone of Pakistan’s literature, arts and poetry. Along with Allama Iqbal, Faiz is often referred to as the ‘Poet of the East’.
Faiz studied at Government College and Oriental College before serving in the British Indian Army.
In 1926, he attained his BA with Honors in Arabic, from Government College, Lahore and in 1932, he obtained an MA in English literature, writing his master’s thesis on the poetry of English poet and playwright Robert Browning.
In addition to Urdu, English, and Arabic, Faiz was also fluent in French and Persian.
After the partition of India, Faiz served as editor-in-chief of two major newspapers — the English language daily Pakistan Times and the Urdu daily Imroze.
After the downfall of Ayub Khan’s government, and the separation of Bangladesh, he worked as an aide to former president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, but exiled himself to Beirut after Bhutto’s execution.
In 1941, Faiz married Alys Faiz, a British national and a member of the Communist Party of the United Kingdom. They had two daughters, Salima Hashmi and Muneeza Hashmi.
Socialist and religious views
Faiz was a well-known Marxist and is said to have been “a progressive who remained faithful to Marxism.”
His writings are considered new verse form in Urdu poetry based on Western models.
It has been noted that while Faiz was influenced by the works of Iqbal and Mirza Ghalib, he believed socialism was the only solution of country’s problems. During his life, Faiz was concerned with more broader socialists ideas, using Urdu poetry for the cause and expansion of socialism in the country.
His poetry and ghazals reflected political themes and he consistently faced political persecution for his revolutionary views and ideologies.
Critics have noted that Faiz took the tenets of Marxism and relayed it to a younger generation of Muslims who were considered more open to change, more receptive to egalitarianism, and had a greater concern for the poor.
Literary critic Fateh Muhammad Malik argued that while initially Faiz was more of a secular Marxist he eventually subscribed to Islamic socialism as his life progressed, as was demonstrated by his poems getting more religious in tone over the years, even suggesting that Faiz ultimately aimed for an Islamic revolution, having endorsed the 1979 Iranian revolution.
During an interview with a local newspaper, Faiz was asked whether he was a communist. He replied, “No I am not. A communist is a person who is a card carrying member of the Communist party ever made. The party is banned in our country. So how can I be a communist?…”.
Representation in pop culture
Faiz’s poetic compositions have been featured regularly on the platform Coke Studio Pakistan.
His poem ‘Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere’ was performed by Shafqat Amanat Ali on Season 10.
Season 11 featured Faiz’s well-known revolutionary song ‘Hum Dekhenge’ while season 12 featured the songs ‘Gulon Main Rang’ (performed by Ali Sethi) and ‘Aaye Kuch Abr’ (performed by Atif Aslam).
The Faiz Foundation Pakistan holds the Faiz Mela or Festival every year in Lahore. Its 7th iteration took place in February earlier this year.
Faiz was the first Asian poet to be awarded the Lenin Peace Prize (1962) by the Soviet Union, as well as the Lotus Prize for Literature in 1976.
He was also nominated for the Nobel Prize shortly before his death in 1984.
At the Lenin Peace Prize ceremony held in the Kremlin hall in Moscow, Faiz thanked the Soviet government for conferring the honor, and delivered an acceptance speech, which appeared as a brief preface to his collection ‘Dast-Tah-e-Sang’ (Hand Under the Rock).
Faiz’s poetry has been translated into many languages including English and Russian.
He was posthumously also awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz in 1990.