Iqbal’s concept of pan-Islamism
By Prof. Sharif al Mujahid
BY the very nature of his avocation, a poet is obliged to mirror the prevailing milieu, the people’s hopes and fears, their ambitions and aspirations, their travails and dilemmas. This obligation makes him sensitive to his environment, to the diverse currents of thought and ideas around him and those affecting society he lives in. Iqbal was, of course, both a thinker and a poet, but since he chose to convey his thoughts through the medium of poetry, he would, naturally, be assessed and appreciated as a poet.
Being alive to the diverse currents of thought abroad, it is not too surprising that Iqbal, during his poetic career, spanning some four decades, had imbibed a great many ideas — ideas which were setting the pace for a wide spectrum of philosophic, social and political life.
This explains why at one time or another he commended or denounced nationalism; he had propagated pan-Islamism and world Muslim unity; he criticized the West for its materialism, for its cut-throat competition and for its values while applauding the East for its humanity and spiritualism and its concern for the soul; he condemned capitalism while preaching “a kind of vague socialism”.
But what is remarkable is that despite this contradiction, he was finally able to resolve the intrinsic conflict between nationalism — the prime basis of twentieth century politics — and inter-state relationship; between pan-Islamism, the enthralling concept which the Muslims had aspired to actualize for centuries, and nationalism as a motive force for struggle for independence from alien colonial rule.
As for pan-Islamism, for some twenty-five years, he eloquently and passionately preached his by trying to synthesize it with an improvised concept of Muslim nationalism.
On the one hand, Iqbal steadfastly stood for “the freedom of ijtihad with a view to rebuild the law of Shari’at in the light of modern thought and experience”, and had even attempted to reinterpret the doctrines of Islam in the light of the twentieth century requirements. On the other hand, he also defended the orthodox position and the conservatism of Islam on some counts. Though “inescapably entangled in the net of Sufi thought”, he considered popular mysticism or “the kind of mysticism which blinked actualities, enervated the people and kept them steeped in all kinds of superstitions” as one of the primary causes of Muslim decline and downfall.
Even so, there was yet one underlying theme in his thought and action throughout his active life. This theme held together his thoughts and ideas, diverse though they were: the rehabilitation of the Muslims in the contemporary world. Indeed, it was this goal that had led him to develop the passion for Islam, goading him to work and yearn for an Islamic resurgence in the twentieth century. His espousal of this higher ideal indicated beyond doubt his explicit recognition of the fact that Muslim regeneration could be accomplished but within an Islamic framework, and it could be accomplished only through an Islamic resurgence.
From then on, he began perceiving the current Muslim dilemmas and travails in a new perspective, even considering them as the harbinger of a new dawn. For instance, consider his comment on the defeat and desolation of the Ottomans in the First World War: What does it matter — if a thousand calamities befell the Ottomans? After all, out of the destruction of a hundred thousand stars does the dawn emerge!
In any case, it was his devotion to the cause of Muslim regeneration that led him to adopt various political philosophies at various stages in his life. Without attempting to identify the numerous currents and cross-currents, one may still pinpoint three important bench-marks, each representing a distinct phase and philosophy but not merging into one another. For reasons of clarity, these may be termed as the nationalistic, pan-Islamic and Muslim-nationalism phases.
It is common knowledge that Iqbal had entered the corridor of fame as a nationalist poet. In this phase, he was profoundly influenced by the spirit of nationalism abroad, and gave eloquent expression to feelings of patriotism. He sang of India, its rivers, its mountains, its countryside as well as its glorious past and its cultural heritage.
But this phase came to an abrupt end after Iqbal’s visit to Europe (1905-08). For now, his grounding in western philosophy, his initiation into modern western thought and his close contact with life in Europe seemed to have acted as a catalyst, enabling him to perceive things in a wider perspective and in more precise terms.
From the vantage point of a European base, Iqbal could easily see that the onward march of nationalism had bred racialism in several Muslim countries. It had disfigured the Islamic concept of ummah, enfeebling the Muslim world and, in consequence, laying it all the more open to western designs and exploitation. What, then, was the remedy? To Iqbal, it lay in Muslims holding together within the fold of pan-Islam.
To his utter dismay, Iqbal found that not only had the Muslim peoples, become a convenient target of western designs but that mundane Islam itself had also reached its nadir. Hence, his chastisement of Muslims for becoming race-conscious and race-oriented, his exhortation for the building up of a single millat or ummah, and his clarion call for forging unity among Muslims from the banks of the Nile to the frontiers of Kashgar for the defence of Baitul Haram.
Iqbal was a keen and insightful observer of Muslim affairs. Hence, over a period of time, he realized the harsh fact that his panacea of pan-Islam in its idealistic and classical form was not propitious or relevant to the contemporary Muslim societies of the 1920s. For one thing, several Muslim countries had opted for nationalism and for politics based on asabiyat — racial and/or linguistic unity. For another, they were seeking nationalist solutions to their problems. Indeed, nationalism had become a fact of life in almost all the Muslim countries.
Iqbal could not have possibly ignored all this — and much more. “True statesmanship”, he told his audience at the Allahabad (1930) Muslim League session, “cannot ignore facts, however unpleasant they may be. The only practical course is not to assume the existence of a state of things which does not exist, but to recognize facts as they are, and to exploit them to our greatest advantage”.
Hence it seems but logical that deeply concerned as Iqbal was to see the Muslim people remain firmly anchored in their pristine Islamic legacy and heritage, he tried to resolve the conflict between nationalism — the fact of life — and pan-Islamism — the ideal towards which he would like to see them strive. Thus, Iqbal, like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-96), arrived at the concept of “Islamic” — but, more accurately, Muslim — nationalism.
Islamic or Muslim nationalism is a via media between unadulterated pan-Islamism and unalloyed nationalism. A blend of these two competing ideologies, Muslim nationalism, while recognizing the multiplicity of nations within Islam, strives to promote the solidarity, identity of outlook and close cooperation between the various Muslim nations on the basis of their religious and cultural affinity.
The ideologue who had diagnosed the malaise of the Muslim world in his famous Reconstruction speeches, Iqbal came to the conclusion that “for the present every Muslim nation must sink into her own deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone, until all are strong and powerful to form a living family of republics. A true and living unity, according to the nationalist thinkers, is not so easy as to be achieved by a merely symbolical overlordship. It is truly manifested in a multiplicity of free independent units whose racial rivalries are adjusted and harmonized by the unifying bond of a common spiritual aspiration. It seems to me that Islam is neither Nationalism nor Imperialism but a League of Nations which recognizes artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility of reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members”.
Extremely important was this paradigmatic shift from a universal, indivisible caliphate to a ‘multi-national neo-pan-Islamism’. It would enable Iqbal to advocate the amalgamation of the four provinces in north-western India ‘into a single state’, in his Allahabad address (1930), so that the Indian Muslims, though currently designated as a mere ‘minority’ in the larger subcontinental context, could still become, in good time, an integral part of the living family of Muslim republics.
Iqbal and Pakistan Movement
Although his main interests were scholarly, Iqbal was not unconcerned with the political situation of the, country and the political fortunes of the Muslim community of India. Already in 1908, while in England, he had been chosen 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 India. And in a 1930 lecture Iqbal suggested the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Iqbal died (1938) before the creation of Pakistan (1947), but it was his teaching that "spiritually ... has been the chief force behind the creation of Pakistan."2 He is the national poet of Pakistan.
Iqbal joined the London branch of the All India Muslim League while he was studying Law and Philosophy in England. It was in London when he had a mystical experience. The ghazal containing those divinations is the only one whose year and month of composition is expressly mentioned. It is March 1907. No other ghazal, before or after it has been given such importance. Some verses of that ghazal are:
At last the silent tongue of Hijaz has announced to the ardent ear the tiding
That the covenant which had been given to the desert-dwelles is going to be renewed vigorously:
The lion who had emerged from the desert and had toppled the Roman Empire is
As I am told by the angels, about to get up again (from his slumbers.)
You the dwelles of the West, should know that the world of God is not a shop (of yours).
Your imagined pure gold is about to lose it standard value (as fixed by you).
Your civilization will commit suicide with its own daggers.
A nest built on a frail bough cannot be durable.
The caravan of feeble ants will take the rose petal for a boat
And inspite of all blasts of waves, it shall cross the river.
I will take out may worn-out caravan in the pitch darkness of night.
My sighs will emit sparks and my breath will produce flames.
For Iqbal it was a divinely inspired insight. He disclosed this to his listeners in December 1931, when he was invited to Cambridge to address the students. Iqbal was in London, participating in the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. At Cambridge, he referred to what he had proclaimed in 1906:
I would like to offer a few pieces of advice to the youngmen who are at present studying at Cambridge ...... I advise you to guard against atheism and materialism. The biggest blunder made by Europe was the separation of Church and State. This deprived their culture of moral soul and diverted it to the atheistic materialism. I had twenty-five years ago seen through the drawbacks of this civilization and therefore had made some prophecies. They had been delivered by my tongue although I did not quite understand them. This happened in 1907..... After six or seven years, my prophecies came true, word by word. The European war of 1914 was an outcome of the aforesaid mistakes made by the European nations in the separation of the Church and the State.
It should be stressed that Iqbal felt he had received a spiritual message in 1907 which even to him was, at that juncture, not clear. Its full import dawned on him later. The verses quoted above show that Iqbal had taken a bold decision about himself as well. Keeping in view that contemporary circumstances, he had decided to give a lead to the Muslim ummah and bring it out of the dark dungeon of slavery to the shining vasts of Independence. This theme was repeated later in poems such as "Abdul Qadir Ke Nam," "Sham-o-Sha'ir," "Javab-i Shikwa," "Khizr-i Rah," "Tulu-e Islam" etc. He never lost heart. His first and foremost concern, naturally, were the Indian Muslims. He was certain that the day of Islamic resurgence was about to dawn and the Muslims of the South Asian subcontinent were destined to play a prominent role in it.
Iqbal, confident in Allah's grand scheme and His aid, created a new world and imparted a new life to our being. Building upon Sir Sayyid Ahmed's two-nation theory, absorbing the teaching of Shibli, Ameer Ali, Hasrat Mohani and other great Indian Muslim thinkers and politicians, listening to Hindu and British voices, and watching the fermenting Indian scene closely for approximately 60 years, he knew and ultimately convinced his people and their leaders, particularly Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah that:
"We both are exiles in this land. Both longing for our dear home's sight!"
"That dear home is Pakistan, on which he harpened like a flute-player, but whose birth he did not witness."
Many verses in Iqbal's poetry are prompted by a similar impulse. A random example, a ghazal from Zabur-i Ajam published in 1927 illustrates his deepseated belief:
The Guide of the Era is about to appear from a corner of the desert of Hijaz.
The carvan is about to move out from this far flung valley.
I have observed the kingly majesty on the faces of the slaves.
Mahmud's splendour is visible in the dust of Ayaz.
Life laments for ages both in the Ka'bah and the idol-house.
So that a person who knows the secret may appear.
The laments that burst forth from the breasts of the earnestly devoted people. Are going
to initiate a new principle in the conscience of the world.
Take this harp from my hand. I am done for. My laments have turned into blood and that
blood is going to trickle from the strings of the harp.
The five couplets quoted above are prophetic. In the first couplet Allama Iqbal indicates that the appearance of the Guide of the Era was just round the corner and the Caravan is about to start and emerge from "this" valley. Iqbal does not say that the awaited Guide has to emerge from the centre of Hijaz. He says he is going to appear from a far flung valley. For the poet the desert of Hijaz, at times, serves as a symbol for the Muslim ummah. This means that Muslims of the Indian sub-continent are about to have a man who is destined to guide them to the goal of victory and that victory is to initiate the resurgence of Islam.
In the second couplet, he breaks the news of the dawn which is at hand. the slaves are turning into magnificent masters. In the third couplet he stresses the point that the Seers come to the world of man after centuries. He himself was one of those Seers. In the fourth couplet he refers to some ideology or principle quite new to the world which would effect the conscience of all humanity. And what else could it be, if it were not the right of self-determination for which the Muslims of the sub-continent were about to struggle. After the emergence of Pakistan this right became a powerful reference. It served as the advent of a new principle and continues to provide impetus to Muslims in minority in other parts of the world such as in the Philippines, Thailand and North America.
In the fifth couplet Iqbal indicates that he would die before the advent of freedom. He was sure that his verses which epitomized his most earnest sentiments would stand in good stead in exhorting the Muslims of the sub-continent to the goal of freedom.
Iqbal and Politics
These thoughts crystallised at Allahabad Session (December, 1930) of the All India Muslim League, when Iqbal in the Presidential Address, forwarded the idea of a Muslim State in India:
I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Provinces, Sind and Baluchistan into a single State. Self-Government within the British Empire or without the British Empire. 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.
The seed sown, the idea began to evolve and take root. It soon assumed the shape of Muslim state or states in the western and eastern Muslim majority zones as is obvious from the following lines of Iqbal's letter, of June 21, 1937, to the Quaid-i Azam, only ten months before the former's death:
A separate federation of Muslim Provinces, reformed on the lines I have suggested above, 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 entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are.
There are some critics of Allama Iqbal who assume that after delivering the Allahbad Address he had slept over the idea of a Muslim State. Nothing is farther from the truth. The idea remained always alive in his mind. It had naturally to mature and hence, had to take time. He was sure that the Muslims of sub-continent were going to achieve an independent homeland for themselves. On 21st March, 1932, Allama Iqbal delivered the Presidential address at Lahore at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference. In that address too he 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 so far then as the fundamentals of our policy are concerned, I have got nothing fresh to offer. Regarding these I have already expressed my views in my address to the All India Muslim League. 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.
It must be kept in mind that since Maulana Muhammad Ali had died in Jan. 1931 and Quaid-i Azam had stayed behind in London, the responsibility of providing a proper lead to the Indian Muslims had fallen on him alone. He had to assume the role of a jealous guardian of his nation till Quaid-i Azam returned to the sub-continent in 1935.
The League and the Muslim Conference had become the play-thing of petty leaders, who would not resign office, even after a vote of non-confidence! And, of course, they had no organization in the provinces and no influence 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 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 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 for Muslims, who would suffer in many respects especially with regard to their existentially separate entity as Muslims.
Allama Iqbal's statement explaining the attitude of Muslim delegates to the Round-Table Conference issued in December, 1933 was a rejoinder to Jawahar Lal Nehru's statement. Nehru had said that the attitude of the Muslim delegation was based on "reactionarism." Iqbal concluded his rejoinder with:
In conclusion I must put a straight question to punadi Jawhar Lal, 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 borne out by the Hindu Congress ministries established in Hindu majority province under the Act of 1935. Muslims in those provinces were given dastardly treatment. This deplorable phenomenon added to Allama Iqbal's misgivings regarding the future of Indian Muslims in case India remained united. 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 alluded to in the Allahabad Address.
There are some 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 understood very vividly by his Muslim compatriots as well as the non-Muslims. Why Nehru and others had then tried to show that the idea of Muslim nationalism had no basis at all. Nehru stated:
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.
Iqbal and the Quaid-i Azam
Who could understand Allama Iqbal better than the Quaid-i Azam himself, who was his awaited "Guide of the Era"? The Quaid-i Azam in the Introduction to Allama Iqbal's lettes addressed to him, admitted that he had agreed with Allama Iqbal regarding a State for Indian Muslims before the latters death in April, 1938. The Quaid stated:
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.
Furthermore, 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 Muslim leaders such as Sir Aga Khan, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Nawab Muhammad Isma il Khan, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Nawab Hamid Ullah Khan of Bhopal, Sir Ali Imam, Maulvi Tameez ud-Din Khan, Maulana Abul Kalam, Allama al-Mashriqi and others. But Allama Iqbal had his own reasons. He had found his "Khizr-i Rah", the veiled guide in Quaid-i Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was destined to lead the Indian branch of the Muslim Ummah to their goal of freedom. Allama Iqbal stated:
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 defence of our national existence.
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.
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.
But the matter does not end here. 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.
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.
The "Guide of the Era" Iqbal had envisaged in 1926, was found in the person of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The "Guide" organized the Muslims of India under the banner of the Muslim League and offered determined resistance to both the Hindu and the English designs for a united Hindu-dominated India. Through their united efforts under the able guidance of Quaid-I Azam Muslims succeeded in dividing India into Pakistan and Bharat and achieving their independent homeland. As observed above, in Allama Iqbal's view, the organization of Indian Muslims which achieved Pakistan would also have to defend other Muslim societies in Asia. The carvan of the resurgence of Islam has to start and come out of this Valley, far off from the centre of the ummah. Let us see how and when, Pakistan prepares itself to shoulder this august responsibility. It is Allama Iqbal's prevision.
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