Allama Muhammad Iqbal was one of the greatest thinkers and poets of the Muslim world. He was not only a sage, a revolutionary poet-philosopher, an extraordinary scholar and harbinger of Islamic renaissance but also a political thinker and seer of Pakistan. From the outset he took keen interest in the political situation of India and in 1908 while he was still in England, he was selected as a member of the executive council of the newly-established British branch of the Indian Muslim League. In 1931 and 1932 he represented the Muslims of India in the Round Table Conferences held in England to discuss the issue of the political future of the Indian Muslims.
A brilliant intellect from the beginning, Allama Iqbal’s devotion to knowledge and intellect verily attributed to his academic achievements:
Bachelor’s degree from the Government College Lahore, then another Bachelor’s from the Cambridge University, Master’s degree from the Punjab University, Law degree from the Lincoln’s Inn London, and a PhD from the University of Munich. In recognition to his remarkable scholastic work and extraordinary poetry, the British Crown knighted him in 1922. His works and inspirations cover a wide range of topics, e.g., Religion, Islam, Quran, Philosophy, Metaphysics, Art, Politics, Law, Economics, Universal brotherhood, the Revival of Muslim glory. The Encyclopedia Britannica appropriately entitled him as “the greatest Urdu poet of the century.”
Iqbal was immensely inspired with political wisdom and divinely insight. He was deadly against atheism and materialism and discarded the European concept of religion as the private faith of an individual having nothing to do with his temporal life. In his view, the biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. His prophecy that he had made in the following verse of a ghazal written in March 1907:
Your civilization will commit suicide with its own dagger
Because a nest built on a frail bough cannot be durable
came absolutely true in 1914 when the European war broke out because of the European nations blunder of separating the Church from the State. In the same ghazal he had also said:
I will take out my worn out caravan in the pitch darkness of night
Lo! My sighs shall emit sparks and my breath will produce flames.
This again proved to be a wonderful foresight as in a Presidential Address delivered at the annual session of the all-India Muslim League on December 29, 1930, Iqbal demanded in the best interests of India as well as Islam the creation of a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims. Let us delve into this monumental and historic document of great importance, which like Rousseau Social Contract is most widely quoted but rarely studied in full. Expressing his views as a student of Islam, its laws and polity, its culture, its history and its literature, Iqbal believed that Islam was the major formative factor in the life history of Indian Muslims; it adequately furnished those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups and finally transform them into a well-defined people, possessing a moral consciousness of their own. He maintained: Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam, God and the Universe, spirit and matter, church and state are organic to each other. For such a group of people, the concept of an Indian nationhood and the construction of a polity on national lines amounted to a negation of the Islamic principles of solidarity and, therefore, not acceptable to Muslims. Iqbal had no hesitation in saying if the principle that the Indian Muslims is entitled to full and free development on the lines of his own culture and tradition in his own Indian homeland is recognized as the basis of a permanent communal settlement, he will be ready to stake all for the freedom of India. He added: The life of Islam in this country very largely depends on its centralization in a specific territory and thereby posed a question: Is it possible to retain Islam as an ethical ideal and reject it as a polity in favor of national politics in which religious attitude is not permitted to play any part. If the answer to this question was in the negative, it was impossible for the Muslims of India to stay within a secularized and unified political structure.
Iqbal further argued: The principle that each group is entitled to free development on its own lines is not inspired by any feeling of narrow communalism. There are communalisms and communalisms. A community which is inspired by feeling of ill will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teaching of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship if need be. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of my life and behavior; and which has formed what I am by giving me its religion, its thought, its culture and thereby recreating its whole past, as a living operative factor, in my present consciousness. The religious ideal is organically related to the social order which it has created. The rejection of the one will eventually involve the rejection of the other. Therefore, the construction of a polity on national lines if it means the displacement of the Islamic principles of solidarity is simply unthinkable to a Muslim. This is a matter which at the present moment directly concerns the Muslims of India.
Taking a broader view of the tedious problem, Iqbal explained: India is Asia in miniature. Part of her people have cultural affinities with nations in the East and part with nations in the middle and West of Asia. If an effective principle of co-operation is discovered in India, it will bring peace and mutual good will to this ancient land which has suffered so long, more because of her situation in historic space than because of her inherent incapacity of her people. And it will, at the same time, solve the entire political problems of Asia. Iqbal was cognizant of the fact that: To base a constitution on the conception of a homogenous India or to apply to India the principles dictated by democratic sentiments is unwittingly to prepare her for a civil war. Being a poet of peace, love, tranquility and fraternity, Iqbal despised the very idea of a civil war. Hence he was obliged to propound:
Self-government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. The formation of the consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of the North-West India. I, therefore, demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim State in the best interests of India and Islam. For India it means security and peace resulting for an internal balance of power; for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that the Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its laws, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times.
It is apparent from the above that the purpose for the creation of a separate Muslim state was two-fold. It was to end the Hindu-Muslim conflict and also to enable Islam to play its vital role as a cultural force. In the context of the Indian sub-continent commitment to Islam could only be fulfilled by the creation of a separate Muslim state. Iqbal address came at the time when Indian Muslims were passing through a great crisis. To be or not to be was the only question left before the desperate Muslim nation. Muslim leadership was utterly isolated and demoralized. And the British and Hindus had agreed upon a sinister scheme of constitutional amendments and establishing Hindu Raj under the aegis of the British. Therefore, according to Allama Iqbal the future of Islam as a moral and political force not only in India but in the whole of Asia rested on the organization of the Muslims of India led by the Quaid-i Azam.
It is noteworthy that Iqbal proposal for a separate homeland or the Indian Muslims was a bombshell for the British as well as Hindus. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was highly displeased with the views expressed by Iqbal. British and Indian circles in the Round Table Conference expressed resentment and termed it as an assault against the idea of an all India constitution being worked out. The Tribune of Lahore viewed that Iqbal had torpedoed all chances for a communal settlement. The Hindu Press carried out maligned and raging campaign against him. They used all sorts of abusive epithets like fanatic, mischievous, dangerously prejudiced, venomous, narrow-minded, mean, and a dangerous Muslim of Northern India.
It was Inqilab of Lahore that came to his rescue and wrote a number of articles and editorials in his favor. Here is an excerpt from an editorial entitled Iqbal Victorious March against Hindu Raj published in its issue on March 17, 1931:
The truth stands declared. The untruth lies prostate. Hindu machinations have been exposed. Long live the personality that showed light to a Millat that was lost in the magic of deceptive slogans of nationalism and democracy. God willing, this light would remain a constant companion of the Muslims of India till they reach their destination.
The sentiment of separate entity had its foundations not only in religion and culture but also in history because Muslims had identified themselves as inheritors of the traditions of Muslim supremacy for a millennium. The Hindus who constituted the majority community developed under the banner of the Indian National Congress the concept of composite nationalism supposed to embrace all religious communities, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and the rest. However, the mass of Muslim community could not accept the concept of composite Indian nationalism. Iqbal was singularly the major influence in sharpening and delineating the feeling of Muslim identity and separateness on the basis of religion, history, tradition and culture. He gave his community a message of faith, hope and struggle. He believed in a dynamic rather than static view of life. Self-awareness, which was the corner stone of Iqbal’s philosophical thinking, profoundly motivated the rising middle class of the Muslim Community.
Since Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar had expired in January 1931 and Quaid-i-Azam had stayed behind in London, the responsibility of providing a proper lead to the Indian Muslims had fallen on his shoulders till Quaid-i-Azam returned to the sub-continent in 1935. He had to assume the role of a jealous guardian of his nation also because the League and the Muslim Conference had no organization in the provinces and their leaders had lost confidence of and contact with the masses.
During the Third Round-Table Conference, Iqbal was invited by the London National League where he addressed an audience which included among others, foreign diplomats, members of the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords and Muslim members of the R.T.C. delegation. In that gathering he dilated upon the situation of the Indian Muslims. He explained why he wanted the communal settlement first and then the constitutional reforms. He stressed the need for provincial autonomy because autonomy gave the Muslim majority provinces some power to safeguard their rights, cultural traditions and religion. Under the central Government the Muslims were bound to lose their cultural and religious entity at the hands of the overwhelming Hindu majority. He referred to what he had said at Allah bad in 1930 and reiterated his belief based on cogent reason.
There are some critics within Pakistan and without, who insist that Allama Iqbal never meant a sovereign Muslim country outside India. Rather he desired a Muslim State within the Indian Union: A State within a State. This is absolutely wrong. What he meant was vividly understood by his Muslim compatriots as well as the non-Muslim contemporaries till Quaid-i-Azam returned to the sub-continent in 1935. Nehru and others who knew what Iqbal meant had then tried to refute the idea of Muslim nationalism had no basis at all. Nehru, in particular, observed:
This idea of a Muslim nation is the figment of a few imaginations only, and, but for the publicity given to it by the Press few people would have heard of it. And even if many people believed in it, it would still vanish at the touch of reality.
In Iqbal poetry, we find a significant symbol, “Deeda-war” (visionary), who may be deemed as Iqbal himself. He could foresee what others could not. A visionary sees the problems or critical phenomena in a long term perspective and develops some sort of cosmic sense. Such individuals, although very rare, change the course of history forever, as indeed Iqbal did. Pakistan owes its existence to Allama Iqbal and the people of Pakistan owe a great deal of gratitude to his extraordinary vision. After the disaster following the Balkan War of 1912, the fall of the caliphate in Turkey, and many anti-Muslim incessant provocations and actions against Muslims in India and elsewhere by the intellectuals and so called secular minded leaders, Allama Iqbal suggested a separate state for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent so that they can express the vitality and veracity of Islam to the utmost.
After delivering the Allahbad Address the idea of a Muslim State always remained alive in his mind. He was sure that the Muslims of sub-continent were going to achieve for themselves an independent homeland. On 21st March, 1932, in the Presidential address at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference at Lahore, Allama Iqbal stressed his view regarding nationalism in India and commented on the plight of the Muslims under the circumstances prevailing in the sub-continent. Having attended the Second Round Table Conference in September, 1931 in London, he was keenly aware of the deep-seated Hindu and Sikh prejudice and unaccommodating attitude. He had observed the mind of the British Government. Hence he reiterated his apprehensions and suggested safeguards in respect of the Indian Muslims:
In the present address I propose, among other things, to help you, in the first place, in arriving at a correct view of the situation as it emerged from a rather hesitating behavior of our delegation the final stages of the Round-Table Conference. In the second place, I shall try, according to my lights to show how far it is desirable to construct a fresh policy now that the Premier’s announcement at the last London Conference has again necessitated a careful survey of the whole situation.
On June 21, 1937, only ten months before his death, Iqbal wrote in a letter to the Quaid-i-Azam:
A separate federation of Muslim Provinces is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of Non-Muslims. Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are?
During the Third Round-Table Conference, Iqbal was invited by the London National League. Addressing huge audience including foreign diplomats, members of the House of Commons, Members of the House of Lords and Muslim members of the R.T.C. delegation, he dilated upon the situation of the Indian Muslims. He explained why he wanted the communal settlement first and then the constitutional reforms. He again stressed the need for provincial autonomy because autonomy gave the Muslim majority provinces some power to safeguard their rights, cultural traditions and religion. Under the central Government the Muslims were bound to lose their cultural and religious entity at the hands of the overwhelming Hindu majority. He referred to what he had said at Allahabad in 1930 and reiterated his belief that before long people were bound to come round to his viewpoint based on cogent reason.
In his dialogue with Dr. Ambedkar, the leader of the Harijans, Allama Iqbal expressed his desire to see Indian provinces as autonomous units under the direct control of the British Government and with no central Indian Government. He envisaged autonomous Muslim Provinces in India. Under one Indian union he feared Muslims would suffer in many respects especially with regard to their separate entity as Muslims. On the issue of fourteen points, Gandhi offered to accept all the Muslim demands laid therein provided their representatives including Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Iqbal opposed the demands of the Depressed Classes for separate electorates. But it stands to the credit of the great Muslim community that they refused to betray the Depressed Classes and go back upon their signature as remarked by M. Mondal.
Allama Iqbal’s statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the Round-Table Conference issued in December, 1933 was a retort to Jawaharlal Nehru who had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on “reactionarism.” Iqbal summed up his statement in these words:
In conclusion I must put a straight question to Pundit Jawaharlal, how is India’s problem to be solved if the majority community will neither concede the minimum safeguards necessary for the protection of a minority of 80 million people, nor accept the award of a third party; but continue to talk of a kind of nationalism which works out only to its own benefit? This position can admit of only two alternatives. Either the Indian majority community will have to accept for itself the permanent position of an agent of British imperialism in the East, or the country will have to be redistributed on a basis of religious, historical and cultural affinities so as to do away with the question of electorates and the communal problem in its present form.
Allama Iqbal’s apprehensions were validated by the Hindu Congress ministries established in Hindu majority province under the Act of 1935. Muslims in those provinces were given baleful and dastardly treatment. In his letters to the Quaid-i Azam written in 1936 and in 1937 he referred to an independent Muslim State comprising North-Western and Eastern Muslim majority zones. Now it was not only the North-Western zones only as alluded to in the Allah bad Address.
It was Allama Iqbal who called upon Quaid-i Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to lead the Muslims of India to their cherished goal. He preferred the Quaid to other more experienced and well-known Muslim leaders such as Sir Aga Khan, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Nawab Muhammad Ismail Khan, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Nawab Hamid Ullah Khan of Bhopal, Sir Ali Imam, Maulvi Tameez ud-Din Khan, Allama al-Mashriqi and others. But Allama Iqbal had his own reasons. He had explored all the salient features of true leadership in the personality of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was destined to guide the Indian Muslims to their goal of freedom. In a convincing tone Allama Iqbal addressed his Khizr-i-Rah:
I know you are a busy man but I do hope you won’t mind my writing to you often, as you are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India, and perhaps to the whole of India. Similar sentiments were expressed by him about three months before his death. Sayyid Nazir Niazi in his book Iqbal Ke Huzur, has stated that the future of the Indian Muslims was being discussed and a tenor of pessimism was visible from what his friends said. At this Allama Iqbal observed:
There is only one way out. Muslim should strengthen Jinnah’s hands. They should join the Muslim League. Indian question, as is now being solved, can be countered by our united front against both the Hindus and the English. Without it our demands are not going to be accepted. People say our demands smack of communalism. This is sheer propaganda. These demands relate to the defense of our national existence. He continued:
The united front can be formed under the leadership of the Muslim League. And the Muslim League can succeed only on account of Jinnah. Now none but Jinnah is capable of leading the Muslims. His fervent zeal and unbounded enthusiasm of Islam fired the imagination of Muslim youth. With a firm conviction in Islam is itself destiny and will not suffer destiny, Allama Iqbal in his letter of March 29, 1937 to the Quaid-i Azam had said:
While we are ready to cooperate with other progressive parties in the country, we must not ignore the fact that the whole future of Islam as a moral and political force in Asia rests very largely on a complete organization of Indian Muslims.
After Allama Iqbal death in April, 1938, the Quaid acknowledged his debt to the great philosopher in the following words:
His views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions as a result of careful examination and study of the constitutional problems facing India and found expression in due course in the united will of Muslim India as adumbrated in the Lahore Resolution of the All-India Muslim League popularly known as the “Pakistan Resolution” passed on 23rd March, 1940. Matlub ul-Hasan Sayyid stated that after the Lahore Resolution was passed on March 23, 1940, the Quaid-i Azam said to him:
Iqbal is no more amongst us, but had he been alive he would have been happy to know that we did exactly what he wanted us to do. Iqbal was an ailing man when he assumed the leadership of the Punjab Provincial Muslim League in the mid thirties. He operated from his sick-bed. This again is a proof of his intense feeling for his community and his deep involvement in its affairs. The most notable thing about the last two years of Iqbal’s life, 1936-1938, as brought out and emphasized by an eminent historian of the period. Dr. Ashiq Hussein Batalvi, is how Iqbal fought against the domination of the feudal landlords in the Provincial Muslim League. He represented the rising middle-class and in fact the mass of the Muslim community. He was acutely conscious of their problems. The Great Depression of the 1930’s had its terrible impact on the people of the sub-continent. It is, therefore, not surprising to observe that Iqbal was perhaps the first Muslim leader to draw attention to the economic problem of Muslims as a community. In his letter to Jinnah, Iqbal highlighted his concern for the problem on more than one occasion. In his letter of May 28, 1937, he says. “The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute. The question, therefore, is how is it possible to solve the problem of Muslim poverty? And the whole future of the league depends on the League’s ability to solve this question. If the League can give no such promises I am sure the Muslim masses will remain indifferent to it as before.” Having posed the question in such candid terms Iqbal goes on to observe: “After a long and careful study of Islamic Law, I have come to the conclusion that if this system of Law is properly understood and applied, at least the right to subsistence is secured to everybody. But the enforcement and development of the Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state of states. This has been my honest conviction for many years and I still believe this to be the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as secure a peaceful India”.
Iqbal issued numerous statements pertaining to the burning topics of the day relating to various aspects of social, religious, cultural and political problems of India, Europe and the world of Islam. He remained thoughtful about the Muslim Ummah as a whole. He was so eager and anxious for amelioration and liberation of the downtrodden people of Kashmir. It is poignant to observe that an ailing Iqbal, barely six months before his death, was prepared to go to jail on an issue which he thought was a menace both to his religion and his country, and was distressed over the Palestine question:
“The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims. We have a very fine opportunity for mass contact for the purposes of the League. I have no doubt that the league will pass a strong resolution on this question and also by holding a private conference of the leaders decide on some sort of a positive action in which masses may share in large numbers. This will at once popularize the League and may help the Palestine Arabs. Personally I would not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India. The formation of a Western base on the very gates of the East is a menace to both”.
In short, Iqbal was the man behind the idea of Pakistan. His contributions to the Muslim world as one of the greatest thinkers of Islam also stand unparalleled. In his writings, he exhorted people, particularly the youth, to stand up and face the various challenges bravely like an eagle. The central theme and main source of his message was the Qur’an that is a source of foundational principles upon which the infrastructure of an organization must be built as a coherent system of life. According to Iqbal, the only system of life that could be implemented as a living and cultural force is ISLAM because it is based on permanent and absolute values given in the Qur’an. Jinnah, for whom Iqbal evinced a great deal of respect and admiration, was so eloquent in his praise of the great Muslim poet. He will live, said Jinnah, as long as Islam will live. His noble poetry interprets the true aspirations of the Muslims of India. It will remain an inspiration for us and for generations after us.
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