Home articles Remembering Iqbal

Remembering Iqbal

Shahid M Amin

ALLAMA Muhammad Iqbal died on 21 April 1938 when he was only sixty years old. But he had already won world fame early in his life. He was a product of the best in Oriental and European knowledge. He obtained Masters’ degrees in Arabic and Persian from Lahore and then went to England where he secured BA Degree from Cambridge University and Law Degree from University of London. Next, he proceeded to Germany and got a PhD degree from University of Munich. He also spent some time in Heidelberg. His doctorate thesis was “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia”. Iqbal was greatly influenced by European philosophers like Goethe, Nietzsche and Bergson. However, the deepest influence on Iqbal was the poetry and philosophy of Maulana Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet who lived in Turkey. From childhood, Iqbal was deeply grounded in religion and concentrated on the study of Islam, its history and culture. His works focused on the past glories of Islamic civilization and Islam as a source for socio-political liberation of Muslims. Iqbal denounced political divisions within and amongst Muslim nations, and stressed the global Muslim community or Ummah. Iqbal wrote mostly in Persian, though it is his Urdu poetry that made the greatest impact on Muslims of the subcontinent.
Iqbal’s works have been translated in many European languages, including English by his teachers Nicholson and Arberry. Iqbal went through different phases in his political thought. He began as a believer in Indian nationalism and his poem “Saray jehan say achcha Hindostan hamara” remains the finest poem written in praise of India. Iqbal was impressed in 1917 by the egalitarian message of the Russian Communist Revolution. No one has written a better poem in its praise than his “Uththo meri dunya kay ghareebon ko jaga do”. However, it was around 1910 that the Islamic phase of his poetry began that stirred Muslims of the subcontinent –as also Afghanistan, Iran and beyond— by his unmatched thought, passion and lyricism. His poems were a clarion call to Muslims to rise from slumber to secure their rightful place in the world. Iqbal played the greatest role in revival of Muslims and gave them a new confidence to achieve heights in all spheres. His poems continue to inspire millions in Pakistan, in particular, where he is treated as the national poet. But it remarkable that Iqbal was also an inspiration for the Iranian Islamic Revolution, whose spiritual founder Ali Shariati was deeply influenced by Iqbal. Iran’s present supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenai told a Pakistani delegation, when he was President of Iran in 1984, that he had himself written a book on ‘Iqbal Lahori’.
The general belief in our country is that Iqbal was the first to lay out the vision of Pakistan in his Allahabad Address of 1930, notably in his statement that “the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.” However, earlier in this address, Iqbal said that the “Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is perfectly justified.” He later denied in writing more than once that he had ever demanded the partition of India. It was Chaudhri Rehmat Ali who came up in 1933 with the Pakistan demand as an Independent State, but he explained in his pamphlet “Now or Never” that his demand was “basically different from the suggestion put forward by Sir Muhammad Iqbal in his Allahabad Address who had proposed the amalgamation of these provinces into a single State forming a unit of the All-India Federation.” This particular interpretation was confirmed by Iqbal in his letter to Professor Thompson dated 4 March 1934. Thompson had earlier asserted that Iqbal was a protagonist of the scheme called Pakistan. Iqbal replied in his letter: “Now Pakistan is not my scheme. The one that I suggested in my address is the creation of a Muslim province i.e. a province having an overwhelming population of Muslims in the North-West of India. This new province would be, according to my scheme, a part of the proposed Indian Federation.” In the light of this categorical explanation, it is difficult to understand why the narrative in Pakistan still remains that Iqbal had made a demand in his Allahabad Address for an independent Muslim State in the North-West ie today’s Pakistan.
However, by the latter part of 1930s, Indian Muslims had lost all hope of fair play by Hindus in an Independent India. They feared that even the Muslim way of life was under a threat. This finally led Muslim League leaders like Jinnah and Iqbal to consider the partition of India. In a letter to Jinnah dated 21 June 1937, Iqbal said, “Why should not the Muslims in the North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are?” Iqbal died in 1938, two years before the Pakistan demand was made in the Lahore Resolution. But it is notable that after the Resolution was passed, Jinnah reportedly said: “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.” Though nearly eighty years have passed since the death of Iqbal, he remains today, as before, the greatest inspiration in the political revival of the Muslims in contemporary times.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.