Allama Iqbal and Muslim Nationalism in South Asia

Allama Iqbal and Muslim Nationalism in South Asia

Islamabad : Pakistan | Apr 28, 2012 at 11:28 AM PDT
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The Dreamer

The emergence of Pakistan on world map has the special feature of having an ideological base in its background. A process of politico-constitutional developments coupled with a determined struggle characterizes the movement for Pakistan in a unique fashion. Its ideological essence can be traced back in the centuries-old-history of the Indian sub-continent. Yet the formal and the most forceful expression of the feelings of the Muslim separatism is rightly attributed to the poet-philosopher Dr Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938). This is done with special reference to Iqbal’s address as President of the All India Muslim League session on December 29, 1930. The extract commonly quoted in this context is: “I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier province, Sindh and Balochistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India.”
It certainly was not an outpouring of a poet’s emotional mind, but had a concrete and solid basis in its framework. The idea that he presented, and the ‘guess’ that he made had firm foundations in the development and maturity of his political thought. It was certainly not due to Iqbal’s position as the president of the AIML session or a sudden thought that occurred to him, but was a result of his careful study of the currents and cross-currents of history. This write-up deals with the development of Iqbal’s political thought patterns and the ultimate shape that they took by the end of his life. This word, of course, brings into its fold a brief sketch of his political career as well.
The general impression regarding Iqbal’s life is that he was merely a political philosopher and thinker who was not much attracted to the active phenomenon of practical politics. This argument gains further strength through his humble remarks at the outset of his presidential address. Iqbal had said: “I lead no party. I follow no leader. I have given the best part of my life to a careful study of Islam, its laws and policy, its culture, its history, and its literature.” But this, he himself confirms, does not either undermine his privilege to lead the nation and determine the general character of their future decisions or does it lessen the gigantic contribution that he made, through years, in leading the Muslims of India, both in ideological and practical politics.
Iqbal’s formal participation in the political activity affecting the Indian Muslims seems to have begun in 1906, when he started taking active part in the affairs of a committee formed by Syed Ameer Ali in England. The committee aimed at educating the British politicians and the British public on the status and role of the Muslims in the politics of India. It also brought to the notice and consideration of the British, the Muslim point of view and expectations as regards the possible introduction of constitutional reforms in India. To the same end, the leaders of Muslim political opinion in India had already taken the initiative through their address presented to the Viceroy Lord Minto at Simla in October 1906 and had later formed the AIML in December 1906.
It was in May 1908 that a regular branch of the Muslim League was formed in London. Iqbal was elected a member of the committee of this branch and made valuable contributions towards its firm beginning and development. On his return to India in the same year, Iqbal started taking active part in the affairs of the Muslim League branch in Punjab.
By 1909, iqbal had formed his political ideals and goals for the Muslims for India. He had by then convinced himself that “The vision of a common nationhood for India has a poetic appeal, but looking at the present conditions and the unconscious trends of the two communities (Hindus and Muslims), appears incapable of fulfillment. (Iqbal, Stray Reflections, p. 21) Riaz hussain, while referring to a ‘fragmentary piece of Iqbal’s writing ‘maintains that “Iqbal had urged the formation of a separate Muslim state in India as the only guarantee for the preservation of Muslim religion and civilization is the subcontinent as early as 1911.” (Riaz Hussain, The Politics of Iqbal, p. 22).
By this time, Iqbal appears to have been deeply influenced by the pan-Islamic ideals as put forth by Jamlud Din Afghani. It was at this stage that Iqbal created a blend of the ideas of pan-Islamism and the notion of a separate statehood for the Muslims of India. During the period of World War I, Iqbal worked on these ideals. The immediate reaction of the Muslims of India to the events following the war was reflected in the Khilafat Movement that they launched under the leadership of Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar.
Though Iqbal was not an ardent supporter of the Movement, especially in its culminating stages, and had serious reservations regarding the modus operandi of the Khilafat Committee, of which he himself also remained a member, his poetry did move feelings of the Muslims of India in particular, and those of the world in general. Yet, to the satisfaction of Iqbal’s admirers, we find that Iqbal’s role during this period and the subsequent years remained positive and above ordinary criticism, otherwise, while speaking of Iqbal, Maulanaa mohammed Ali would not have gone to the extent of saying: “He was the poet of Islam’s reawakening in India in the twentieth century, and to no man does Muslim India owe a greater debt than to this modest and retiring barrister of the Punjab.” (Mohammed Ali, My Life: A Fragment, p. 166-67).
The second phase of Iqbal’s political career started in 1926 when he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council. Iqbal joined the Unionists, the most dominant group in the Council. As the views and the priorities of the Unionists and Iqbal did not meet on most of the political issues, Iqbal restrained himself from taking active part in the affairs of this group despite his formal association with them till 1930. In later years, he vehemently opposed them for their policies, which he considered to be against the interests of the Muslims and the Muslim League. This factor is more vivid in his correspondence with Jinnah between 1936 and 1937, with special reference to Sikander-Jinnah Pact, about which Iqbal feared that “the Unionist wanted to capture the league only to destroy it as far as Punjab was concerned.
On December 29, 1930, Iqbal was called upon to preside over the 21st annual session of the AIML held at Allahabad. Referring to the value of his address, he said: “The constant contact with the spirit of Islam, as it unfolds itself in time, has, I think, given me a kind of insight into its significance as a world fact. It is in the light of the insight, whatever its value, that while assuming that the Muslims of India are determined to remain true to the spirit of Islam, I propose, not to guide you in your decisions, but to attempt the humbler task of bringing clearly to your consciousness the main principles which, in my opinion, determine the general character of these decisions.”
It was in this address that Iqbal formally gave the idea of a separate statehood for the Muslims of India. On October 3, 1931, Edward Thompson published a letter in Times (London) under the caption: “Pan-Islamic Plotting”, in which he maintained that Iqbal did not favour the idea of ‘Pakistan’, and it was because of his position as president of the AIML session that he put forward the idea. On 12 October 1931, Iqbal responding to Thompson’s letters, stated: “I do not put forward a ‘demand’ for a Muslim state outside the British Empire, but only a guess at the possible outcome in the dim future of the mighty forces now shaping the destiny of the sub-continent. No Indian Muslim, with any pretence to sanity, contemplates a Muslim state or a series of states in North-West India outside the British Commonwealth of Nations a plan of practical politics.” He further stated: “Although I would oppose the creation of another cockpit of communal strife in the central Punjab, as suggested by some enthusiasts. I am all for a redistribution of India into provinces with effective majorities of one community or another on lines advocated by the Nehru and the Simon Report. Indeed, my suggestion regarding Muslim provinces merely carries forward this idea. A series of contented and well-organised Muslim provinces of the North-West Frontier of India would be the bulwark of India and of the British Empire against the hungry generations of the Asiatic Mainlands. (Dar, Letters of Iqbal, pp. 216-18).
It was on the basis of this article that Nehru could wrongly perceive or declare that Iqbal did not entertain such notions, especially during his last years. Nehru writes: “Iqbal was one of the early advocates of Pakistan, and yet he appears to have realized its inherent danger and absurdity. Edward Thompson had written that in the course of a conversation, Iqbal told him that he had advocated Pakistan because of his position as president of the Muslim League session, but he felt sure that it would be injurious to India as a whole and to Muslims especially. Probably he had not given much thought to the question previously, as it had assumed no importance then. His whole outlook on life does not fit in with the subsequent development of the idea of Pakistan or division of India.” (Nehru, The Discovery of India, p. 352).
Nehru’s argument, as partially borrowed from Edward Thompson, does not hold firm ground because if it had been due to Iqbal’s position as president of the ML session that he propounded the idea, then the same must have been mentioned in the resolution passed by the Muslim League session. It shows that the views expressed by Iqbal in his address were purely his own and under no pressure from the audience or from the forum that he was addressing or had aimed to guide in the course of their political struggle towards self-determination and separate identity.
The authors of the famous pamphlet Now or Never, while putting their views on Pakistan in comparison with those of Iqbal, write: “This demand is basically different from the suggestion put forward by Sir Mohammed Iqbal in his Presidential Address to the All India Muslim League in 1930. While he proposed the amalgamation of these provinces into a single state forming a unit of the All-India Federation, we proposed that these Provinces should have a separate Federation of their own. There can be no peace and tranquility in the land if we, the Muslims, are duped into a Hindu-dominated Federation where we cannot be the masters of our own destiny and captains of our own souls.”
The contentions of Nehru and Edward Thompson both appear to be misleading when we look at them in the light of Iqbal’s letters to Mr Jinnah. In one such letter on June 21, 1937, Iqbal, while dealing with the Government of India Act 1935, states: “To my mind, the new constitution with its idea of Single Indian federation of Muslim Provinces, reformed on the lines I have suggested……, is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India, and save Muslims from the domination of the non-Muslims. Why should not the Muslims and the North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are.” He went on saying that “personally, I think that the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal ought at present to ignore Muslim minority provinces. This is the best course to adopt in the interest of both Muslim majority provinces.” (Dar, Letters of Iqbal, p. 260).
In conclusion, we can safely maintain that as regards the Two-Nation Theory, Iqbal’s views and notions were loud, clear and firm. His poetic work too does not at any stage negate this thought. The apparent conflict and contradiction in Iqbal’s approach towards nationalism can be dispelled through the statement that he made in reply to questions raised by Nehru. “Nationalism, in the sense of love of one’s country and even readiness to die for its honour, is a part of Muslim faith; it comes into conflict with Islam only when it begins to play the role of a political concept and claims to be a principle of human solidarity demanding that Islam should recede to the background of a mere private opinion and cease to be a living factor in the national life.” (S.A. Vahid, ed., Thougts and Reflections of Iqbal, p. 281).
We find that Iqbal demanded not merely a piece of land or a territory for the formation of a state, but was for the establishment of an ideal. “Political power for Iqbal was a means to an end and the end was the preservation of Muslim identity in India.” Jinnah worked on the ideals set before him by Iqbal, and the fulfillment of that ideal was initiated in the shape of Pakistan. In his foreword to Iqbal’s letters, Jinnah states: “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.”
All this clearly indicates that Iqbal has rightly been credited for being the first Muslim who presented of Pakistan in the most rationalistic and reasonable manner. His was a careful prediction and indication towards the ultimate destiny of India. Jinnah’s observation in this context would certainly not be out of place: “Although a great poet and philosopher, he was no less a practical politician. With is firm conviction and faith in the ideals if Islam, he was one of the few who originally thought over the feasibility of carving out of India an Islamic state in the North-West and North-East Zones, which are historical homelands of the Muslims.” (Pirzada, Evolution of Pakistan, p. 121).

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Allama Iqbal
Poet of the East
Arif Khattak is based in Islamabad, Federal Capital Area, Pakistan, and is a Stringer on Allvoices.
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