Dr. Stephen Gill Urfan-e-Salib (A collection of poems in Urdu) by Allama Griffin Jones Sharar.Jodat Publications, Gulberg 111, Lahore, Pakistan. 1997. Hc., Price 225 Rupees, pages 223.

In 1996, I had the pleasure of sharing several hours with Allama Sharar in England after the World University Conference, where I had presented a paper. Those hours are still alive in the caves of my memory. I still remember enjoying delicious foods in a cosy atmosphere with a hospitable family. That was my first major meeting with a major Christian poet of Urdu.

We talked about his books, his friends, his honours, the Christian press, and the plight of Christians in Pakistan until late in the night over cups of tea. His concerns for Panjabi Christians were deep and obvious. Often he quoted from his poems to support his views and to provide colour to our conversation that grew more interesting and intense with every moment. The years and stroke had failed to weaken his spirit to share his feelings and experiences with me. The ability and desire of Allama Sharar were the most commendable features of his personality which touched me at that time and which have continued to touch me ever since. Mr. Sharar's these same features I often find in several Christian publications where he appears regularly. He is the first who attracts my attention and the first whom I like to read more than once.

I enjoyed reading Allama Jones Sharar's latest effort Urfan-e-Salib which I received through the courtesy of Mr. Umar Hayat. For non-Urdu readers I should add that in English the word Urfan is wisdom or philosophy and salib is the cross. It might also help to those who do not know Urdu that the word Allama is given to the poet as a title by a literary organization. Allama means scholar or the one who is versed in literature. Another title that has been given to him is Saraj-e-Sukhan which means a lamp or sun of the words.

Sharar, meaning sparks, is the poet's pen name. Sometimes, his full name appears as Saraj-e-Sukhan Allama Griffin Jones Sharar and sometimes as Allama Griffin Jones Sharar Gujranalvi. The last word is an adjective which refers to the city in which he was born. The poet has received several awards-- one of the noticeable is from Bihar Urdu Academy (India). He was born in the province of Panjab and has been living in England for years.

The bulk of the poems, like the ones in his previous collections, are either personal or about his Christian convictions. No matter what he says, the spring of his poetry is essentially the Bible and Cross is the centre-- that is a symbol of hope and love to him. The poet is so much permeated with the amazing truth of the resurrection that he begins nearly all his collections with the word cross, salib in Urdu.

The Christian influence of his childhood, his education and personal observations, have shaped his poetry. The source of his imagery is traditional Urdu poetry which he skilfully mixes with Biblical allusions to convey his message. This combination produces a charm that is different and unique.

No matter what he says and how he says it, Allama Sharar is always a moralist-- often direct. Obviously, for him message is more important than anything else. He employs different devices for this purpose, maintaining a good balance between his form and material. Readers will find that his pen has not grown weak with age; rather it has grown much stronger to be used effectively for lashing again and again at hypocrisies and lukewarm followers of the Prince of Peace. To get across his message of the Cross further and in a more practical way, he formed the Pakistan Christian Welfare Organization for the United Kingdom in England in 1973.

Urfan-e-Salib contains five introductory articles. Three of them, by Mr. Umar Hayat Umer, Dr. Samuel V. Bhajjan Talib and Mr. Harish Massey, are in Urdu. They evaluate Allama Sharar's poetry in their own powerful way. Mr. Umer, who provides the preface, edits a monthly magazine from Pakistan, titled Jodat International. He is a poet, playwright and journalist. Dr. Bhajjan from India is an outstanding veteran of Urdu and Persian poetry. Mr. Harish Massey from England is also an outstanding writer. What these three critics do in Urdu, Mr. Walter Washington does in English towards the end of the book. He compares Allama Sharar with Sir Mohammad Iqbal, a prominent Urdu poet, from different angles.

Another writer, appearing towards the end of the book, is Mr. James Shera, ex-Mayor of Rugby, England, who is the only contributor who talks extensively about the personal life of the poet. Whether it is Allama Sharar's poetry or personal life, all the contributors say that the poet's love for Jesus is exemplified in his writing as well as in his practical life. I support their convictions.

The poems are tastefully presented. Several coloured pictures add to the beauty of the book. Urfan-e-Salib is a valuable addition to my personal library and I am sure it will be to the library of every reader who appreciates good Christian Urdu poetry. Considering his output, diction, thematic sincerity, thoughts and his use of symbols and imagery, I will say with confidence that Allama Sharar is a major Christian poet of India and Pakistan in Urdu literature.Allama Sharar is a productive vinedresser of Christian Urdu poetry. It is a pleasure to walk in the greenery of the pages of his books.

Allama Sharar died on December 27, 1999 in England.
(Above article appeared in a couple of publications when the poet was still alive)

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