November 9 is celebrated as “Iqbal Day” to pay tribute to Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, a great poet, philosopher, and politician. Allama Iqbal, whom Sarojini Naidu called “Poet laureate of Asia”, was not only a poet of Islam nor was his message only for Muslims; it has a universal appeal.
Iqbal was born at a time when millions of Indians, both Hindus and Muslims, and people of other regions were tied by the chains of British imperialism. In such times of despair and dishonour, Iqbal’s poetry imbibed a new spirit in the people and he himself played a significant role in the struggle for independence of the subcontinent. “It is difficult to find a poet or thinker of Iqbal’s calibre who has championed the cause of justice for the oppressed and wronged people of the world as passionately as he did,” Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, writes in his autobiography. The uncertainty of the fate of Muslims in India and the continuous fragmentation of the Muslim lands immensely saddened Iqbal in his lifetime, inspiring him to compose poems to awaken the Muslim masses from their sloth and slumber under colonial subjugation. Allama’s poetry also influenced the Islamic revolution of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran was “the embodiment of Iqbal’s dream,” said Iran’s supreme leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei in 1986.
It is generally believed that Iqbal throughout his life practically disassociated himself from political struggle. But this is not true. He understood the political developments of his time in their true perspective. Iqbal’s politics was his response to his immediate circumstances. He championed the cause of justice for the oppressed. He was primarily a poet, philosopher and thinker, but he took an active part in scholarly politics as well as expressing his views on politics. From a political point of view, Iqbal’s view had always been that life, politics and religion cannot be seen in isolation.
In December 1908 when All India Muhammedan Educational Conference was held in Amritsar and presided over by Khawaja Salimullah Khan, the Nawab of Dhaka, Iqbal met him as part of a Kashmiri Muslim delegation. Allama read out a memorandum to lobby with the government to declare Kashmiri farmers as landowners and to increase their effective representation in the armed forces. By 1911 Muslims all over the world faced a situation of despair, subjugation and humiliation at the hands of European imperialistic powers. The partition of Bengal which was announced in 1905 and carried out in 1911 was a setback for Muslims of Bengal. Russian forces bombarded Mashad and with British forces they occupied Iran. Ottoman Turkey also went through a crisis. Iqbal was moved to such extent by the changing fortunes of Muslims in India and abroad that he penned one of his most famous poems, Shikwa (The Complaint).
In the First World War, Turkey decided to ally with Germany in November 1914. In October 1918 Turkey was defeated at the hands of the Allies and was asked to make a peace deal. As Muslims realised that the Allies were going to dismember Turkey and put an end to the Caliphate, they launched what is known as the Khilafat Movement. Gandhi declared that the Hindus of India supported the demand for Khilafat unconditionally. Iqbal initially supported the Khilafat movement as it represented his own idea of universal Muslim brotherhood. When the movement started, Iqbal became the secretary of the Punjab Khilafat committee. With time Iqbal realised that the country’s Hindu leaders were organizing themselves behind the facade of the Khilafat movement as a means to achieve their own ends. He resigned from his position as the secretary of the Punjab Khilafat Committee and became indifferent to the movement.
In 1923 some of Iqbal’s friends suggested that he should represent the people of Lahore in the Punjab Legislative Assembly. Iqbal declined on the grounds that he was basically a poet and his temperament was not political. When re-election was about to take place in 1925, his friends insisted again and Iqbal agreed to take part in the election. 1926 was a watershed year for Iqbal. An active observer of politics now turned into an active participant. He was not politically inclined, but now he felt that participating in the elections was also a requirement for the goodwill of the Ummah.
On this occasion Allama said in a statement, “Muslims know that so far I have been completely detached from this kind of occupation, simply because other people were doing it and I had chosen another realm for myself, but now the troubles of the nation (especially of Muslims) are forcing me. It may broaden my circle of action a little, and perhaps my insignificant existence will prove more useful to this nation”. Iqbal’s purpose was the welfare of the masses. On December 26, 1929, Iqbal won the election and he remained a member of Punjab Legislative Assembly from 1927 to 1930. During his term as elected representative, Iqbal made significant proposals that fell on deaf ears. Some of the proposals he made were to improve the economy of Punjab, grants in aid to the poor, grants for Muslim educational institutions, medical care for women, and compulsory elementary education.
In March 1927 Iqbal opposed the idea of having joint electorates for Hindus and Muslims when Muhammad Ali Jannah, president of the All India Muslim League, published the Delhi Proposals. Iqbal feared that in case of joint electorates Hindus would not let Muslims be elected, especially those Muslim candidates dedicated to protecting Muslim interests. Allama’s attitude towards joint electorate was changed by two incidents which occurred during this time. In one incident, riots broke out in Lahore when a Sikh and Hindu mob entered a Muslim mohalla and attacked Muslims with sticks and swords. In the other incident, two Hindus wrote two separate blasphemous books against the Prophet. The accused of both these incidents were let free by the courts. When the Simon Commission visited India in December 1927, both Muslim league and Congress resolved to boycott the Commission. Iqbal along with Sir Muhammad Shafi and Maulana Hasrat Mohani wished to cooperate with it. “The boycott of the commission would damage the country’s interests in general and Muslim interests in particular,” Iqbal said in a statement on November 13. For Iqbal, nothing was more important than securing the protection of Muslims.
On July 13, 1930, the Muslim League decided to invite Iqbal to be the president of the annual meeting at Allahabad. When they contacted him with the proposal, he agreed. In his Allahabad presidential address, Iqbal defined the Muslims of India as a nation and suggested that there could be no possibility of peace in the country unless and until they were recognised as a nation and under a federal system the Muslim majority regions were given the same privileges which were to be given to the Hindu majority ones. It was the only way in which both the Muslims and the Hindus could prosper in accordance with their respective cultural values. As a permanent solution to the Hindu-Muslim problem, Iqbal proposed that Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Sindh should be converted into one province. He further said that India was a continent of human groups belonging to different races, speaking different languages, and professing different religions. Their behaviour was not at all determined by a common race consciousness. Even the Hindus did not form a homogeneous group. The principle of European democracy could not be hence applied to India. The Muslim demand for the creation of a separate nation was therefore perfectly justified.
The greatest historical significance of Iqbal’s Allahabad address was that it washed all political confusions from the minds of the Muslims, thus enabling them to determine their own destiny. The national spirit which Iqbal fused among the Muslims of India later developed into the ideological base of Pakistan.
Kashmir was close to Iqbal’s heart. In 1925, a memorandum was presented to the Viceroy of India on the advice of Iqbal regarding the plight of Kashmiris. On 13 July 1931, Dogra forces gunned down 22 unarmed Muslims at Srinagar Central Jail. The incident wounded his heart badly but strengthened his engagement with Kashmir. In Punjab there was widespread outrage against the Dogra rulers, an outrage that Iqbal shared. Kashmir Day was celebrated on August 14, 1931, and Iqbal delivered its presidential address. After the July carnage, Iqbal not only helped raise donations for the victims but also persuaded some lawyers to visit Kashmir to provide legal aid to those who were languishing in jails. It was because of Iqbal’s efforts that the British government conducted an investigation into the July 1931 massacre, which resulted in the formation of the Glancy Commission. In July 1933 Iqbal sent a letter to the Viceroy of India expressing concern over the deteriorating situation in Kashmir and urged the Dogra government to refrain from coercion.
Iqbal also participated in the Second and Third Round Table Conferences as a delegate of the Muslim League. During these conferences one of the most important persons that Iqbal met in London was Jinnah. Iqbal urged Jinnah to “terminate his self-imposed exile in London and return home”. Iqbal knew that Jinnah possessed the best qualities to lead the Muslims of India. He persuaded Jinnah to adopt for the Muslim League a new national objective, that of a separate Muslim state.
In the last years of his life, despite his ill health and financial difficulties, Iqbal remained politically active and creatively productive. Iqbal, who had been calling himself a qalandar in his poetry, did not wish to live longer than the Prophet (pbuh). Iqbal breathed his last on 21 April 1938 and was buried in the compound of the grand Badshahi Masjid in Lahore.
The writer did his master’s from department of History, University of Kashmir. [email protected]