Atiya Fyzee, Shibli, and Iqbal: English as a Social Butterfly

  • Iftikhar Shaf


Taking an ‘analogical’ approach to the issue, this study reads the saga of Atiya Fyzee’s relationship with Shibli Nomani and Allama Iqbal as a plausible allegory of the transforming cultural relationship of the Muslims of the subcontinent with English (in what this term comes to mean as a language, as a discipline of studies, and as a synecdoche of Western culture). The history of this cultural interaction since the British colonization I have divided into three broad phases: the initial, the middle, and the present. The initial phase I earlier dealt with by exploiting Sheikh Muhammad Ikram’s analogy, later employed by Nasir Abbas Nayyar, that Shibli’s attitude towards English was the same as his attitude towards his step-mother at home. English, in other words, was a stepmother for Shibli, and for the generations represented through his figure in this early phase of cultural interaction of the Muslims of the subcontinent with the language. The present paper focuses on how one can analogically read in the personal histories of the representative figures of this culture the stories of how in the subcontinent the larger cultural reception of English gradually changed from being treated as a ‘step-mother’(and hence forging with her a relationship of cultural exchange) to being treated as a ‘social butterfly’ or a ‘social sweetheart’, as a symbol of liberal humanist high culture, and how such terms of cultural engagement with English were unacceptable to both Shibli and Iqbal. The paper closes on how even this image of English as high culture gradually dissolved with the cultural disintegration wrought by an ever-increasing and relentless consumerist culture in the postcolonial times.