The truth about Allama Iqbal

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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On Allama Iqbal's birth anniversary 9th November

The truth about Allama Iqbal
 The truth about Allama Iqbal

By Justice Markandey Katju

Many people hail Iqbal as not only a great poet, and a patriot, but also as a great thinker and philosopher.

In my opinion, while he was a good poet, he became a shameless British agent, for which he deserves to be condemned. Let me explain.

I intensely dislike Iqbal for his communalism and strong support for dividing India on religious lines and creating an Islamic state, Pakistan, which was nothing but a British swindle.

Some people say that Iqbal wrote ‘Saare jahaan se achcha Hindustan Hamara‘, which proves his secularism Such people particularly quote the the sixth stanza of Saare Jahaan Se Achcha (1904), as proof of Iqbal’s secular outlook:

Maẕhab nahin sikhaata aapas mein bair rakhna

Hindi haiṉ hum, wat̤an hai Hindustaṉ hamaara


Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves

We are of Hind; our homeland is Hindustan.

Noble sentiments indeed, and many people say that this proves that Iqbal was patriotic, nationalist, and secular, and never wanted Partition of India. But what is the truth?

The truth is that the then 27-year-old Iqbal at that time viewed Hindustani society as a pluralistic and composite Hindu-Muslim culture. However, this poem was written in 1904, when Iqbal was only 27 years old, and his later highly communal views had not developed. and he had a complete somersault subsequently. Thus, in Tarana-e-Milli written in 1910 he writes

Cheen o-Arab hamaara, Hindustaṉ hamaara

Muslim haiṉ hum, wat̤an hai saara jahaaṉ hamara


Central Asia and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours

We are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland.

Iqbal’s world view had now changed; it had become pan Islamic. Instead of singing of Hindustan, “our homeland,” the new song proclaimed that ‘We are Muslims, and the whole world belongs to us ‘ (See also his poems ‘Shikwa’ and ‘Jawab-e-Shikwa).

How did this complete transformation happen? How did a patriotic, nationalist, secular person in 1904 become a hardline Islamic person in 1910, who instead of being a nationalist start talking of pan-Islamic nonsense?

This total transformation happened after Iqbal went to England to study in 1905 in Cambridge University, and returned sometime in 1908 or 1909 as an Islamic fundamentalist with a narrow worldview and intolerant of Hindus.

The only reasonable conjecture is that while in England he was accosted by some British intelligence agents who warned him that if he continues on the dangerous path of nationalism he would face severe adverse consequences and penalties at the hands of the British authorities, but if he becomes a British agent, and supports the British policy of divide and rule, he would be amply rewarded.

This conjecture is supported by the fact that when Iqbal returned to India he was totally transformed, and was not the Iqbal who had written ‘Saare jahaan se achcha”.

Thus in 1910, he wrote the ‘Tarana-e-Milli’ (song of the community) which was a total repudiation of the sentiments expressed in ‘Tarana-e-Hind’.

The first stanza of ‘Tarana-e-Milli’, composed in the same metre and rhyme scheme as ‘Sare Jahan Se Achchha’, reads:

”Chin-o-Arab hamaara, Hindustan hamaara, Muslim hain hum, watan hain sara jahaan hamaara” (China and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours, we are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland).

This can hardly be called secular; in fact, Iqbal is lionized in Pakistan today for expressing precisely such hardline Islamic sentiments. Our history books mention only the ‘Tarana-e-Hind’ and conveniently ignore ‘Tarana-e-Milli’, ‘Shikwa’, and ‘Jawab-e-Shikwa’.

Gradually, Iqbal became a strong supporter of partitioning India on religious lines and creating Pakistan, a separate homeland for Muslims.

Thus, in his presidential address to the Muslim League annual conference in Allahabad on 29th December 1930, Iqbal strongly supported a separate nation-state in the Muslim majority areas of the sub-continent, an idea that inspired the creation of Pakistan.

In this address Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India:

“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated Northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India”.

Iqbal continually preached that Hindus and Muslims are “two separate nations” and cannot live together. He said this in almost all his writings, whose primary focus was to remind Muslims of the sub-continent of the past glory of Islamic civilization and promoting pure Islam as a source of sociopolitical liberation and greatness.

His ultimate dream was to get Muslim nations to rise above their political divisions and forge a global Muslim community, the Ummah. This was of course day dreaming and sheer humbug.

Iqbal was hardly the liberal that he is portrayed by some. In his six English lecture series first published from Lahore in 1930 and then by Oxford University Press in a book titled 'The Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam' in 1934, Iqbal strongly opposed secularism, and expressed deep fears of secularism weakening the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society and of India’s Hindus crowding out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence.

Iqbal constantly propagated that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot live together. He said this in almost all his writings after his return from England, whose primary focus was to remind Muslims of the sub-continent of the past glory of Islamic civilization and promoting pure Islam as a source of sociopolitical liberation and greatness.

Iqbal was also instrumental in coaxing and cajoling Muhammad Ali Jinnah to not only assume leadership of the Muslims of the sub-continent, but also embrace the two-nation theory and voice the demand for partition of India. At the time Iqbal first articulated this theory, Jinnah was still engaged in negotiations with the Indian National Congress (Iqbal frequently termed the Congress a ‘Hindu nationalist party’). Iqbal was instrumental in convincing Jinnah to end his self-imposed exile in London and return to India (Jinnah, disgusted with squabbles with Congress leaders, had left for London in 1930 and settled down to practice law there).

One of his many letters to Jinnah beseeching him to return reads:

“You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community looks up to for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North West India and, perhaps, the whole of India”.

The point here is that while India’s left-liberal community would like to portray Iqbal as a secular leader, the fact is that Iqbal’s only concern was the political future of Muslims. He had no qualms in stating this in as many words. No wonder, then, that he is regarded in Pakistan as the spiritual founder of that country. He is officially known there as ‘Mufakkir-e-Pakistan’ (thinker of Pakistan) and ‘Hakeem-ul-Ummat’ (Sage of the Ummah).

Iqbal, commenting on the future of Muslims in India, wrote in Tolu-e-Islam (a politico-religious-social journal of Muslims):

“Muslims should strengthen Jinnah’s hands and join the Muslim League. The Indian question can be countered by our (Muslims’) united front against both the Hindus and the English”.

To him, both Hindus and the British were enemies bent on shackling the Muslims.

Iqbal wrote to Jinnah on June 21, 1937:

“A separate federation of Muslim provinces is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from domination by 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?”

On some occasions, Iqbal was also critical of Jinnah for associating with leaders like Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan of Punjab (a liberal Muslim) who Iqbal felt was “not fully committed to Islam as his core political philosophy”. Iqbal was also critical of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as the ‘frontier Gandhi’, for being a liberal.

Iqbal’s premise that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist as one nation has been proved utterly wrong by India’s Muslims. The two-nation theory that he advocated was proved hollow in 1971 when Bangladesh became an independent country.

How, then, can Iqbal be praised? How can he be called secular? How can he be called an advocate of Hindu-Muslim harmony? How can a person who relentlessly advocated the bogus two nation theory that resulted in so much suffering and bloodshed in 1947 be called great?

And ultimately, how can a person whose theory has proved to be such an utter failure be elevated to a pedestal?

Iqbal, in the final analysis, may have written a lovely poem when he was a young lad of 27 in 1904, but for the majority of his adult life ( after he returned from England in 1909 till he died at the age of 61 in 1938) he was primarily a shameless, reactionary, narrow-minded Islamist who was responsible, perhaps more than Jinnah, for the partition of India in 1947 and all the misery it caused, and is still causing.

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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