Allama Muhammad Iqbal (November 9, 1877-April 21, 1938), a poet-philosopher of Muslim India and eventually Pakistan, expounded a philosophical view of Islam for the realization of which the Indian Muslims, under the charismatic leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, struggled and created a separate homeland in the subcontinent. His poetic mind led him to produce an array of works such as: Asrar-i-Khudi (1915), Rumuz-i-Bekhudi (1918), Payam-i-Mashriq (1923), Bang-i-Dara (1924), Zabur-i-Ajam (1927), Javid Nama (1932), Bal-i-Jibril (1935), Zarb-i-Kalim (1936), and Armughan-i-Hijaz (1938), published posthumously. He strived to inspire the Muslims to realize their true potential through a life of action and activism, to be able to respond to the pressing challenges and difficulties in their way. He acknowledged that their recent past was a dampener having lost power, political power, steadily and surely. But then, he reminded them that ‘the history of Islam tells us that the expansion of Islam as a religion is in no way related to the political power of the followers. The greatest spiritual conquests of Islam were made during the days of our political decrepitude’. They should not lose their heart and ‘soul’. Indeed, they should awaken their soul from the deep slumber to take charge of the present.
Philosophically, Iqbal was not enamored of the most dominant force of the present, ‘nationalism’. The European experience showed him the harsh harmful side of it. He saw in it ‘the germs of atheistic materialism… the greatest danger to modern humanity’. What ‘really matters’, he proclaimed, ‘is a man’s faith, his culture, his historical tradition. These are the things… worth living for and dying for, and not the piece of earth with which the spirit of man happens to be temporarily associated’.
Indeed, while in his estimate, nationalism was devoid of any spiritual or ethical considerations and, in fact, reflected the separation of Church and the State in the West, the Islamic ideal united the religion and state, ethics and politics, matter and spirit. The spiritual and temporal were ‘not two distinct domains. In Islam it is the same reality which appears as Church looked at from one point of view and State from another… Islam is a single unanalysable reality which is one or the other as your point of view varies’.
Thus, Iqbal wondered whether it was possible ‘to retain Islam as an ethical ideal and to reject it as a polity, in favor of national politics in which the religious attitude is not permitted to play any part?’ He did not think so. The ‘fundamentals of a polity’ could not be ‘belittled merely because their origin is revelational’.
Iqbal, therefore, felt that in Muslim countries, where nationalism did not call for separation of the spiritual from the temporal, there was no issue. It was a problem if nationalism as ‘a political concept’ forced Islam to ‘recede to the background of a mere private opinion and ceases to be a living factor in the national life’. But ‘if Muslims are politically dominant’ and there was ‘no threat to the Muslim personality of the people concerned’, Islam had ‘no quarrel with modern territorial nationalism’.
In India, there was a threat to the Muslim personality, of course. The Muslims were a ‘minority’, facing an assertive, indifferent and an even hostile majority, the Hindus. The system of representative government introduced by the British in India, based on numbers, made them a permanent minority. They could not turn the system around in their favor at any time. On top of it, much to their chagrin, the Indian National Congress, the most representative organization of the Hindu majority, like the British, preferred a unitary form of government, with powers vested in the centre than in the provinces, a Muslim demand all along. They were not interested in provincial autonomy, a genuine federal objective in spite of so many efforts on part of the Muslim political leadership, particularly by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah – as evident in his elaborate ‘Fourteen Points’. But Congress leadership, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru included, were not interested. The distressful experience of Congress rule in 1937-39, in spite of all the constitutional safeguards in place and the British still around, made it abundantly clear to the Muslims that, inevitably, they will be at the receiving end of the system in ‘independent’ India. They would be at the tender mercy of the Hindu majority. They would be helpless. Later, of course, the Muslims further realized that ‘the remedy of minority troubles did not lie within a federal framework, because the advantages offered by provincial autonomy would be negative, if the central government was placed, as it was bound to be, under Hindu domination’.
But then, fortunately for the Muslims, Iqbal had a ‘remedy’ and a viable one. In his presidential address at the All-India Muslim League session at Allahabad in 1930, he proposed ‘a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State’, comprising Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Sind (Sindh) and Baluchistan (Balochistan) as ‘the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India’. Later, of course, he included Bengal in his demand for a separate homeland. In one of his letters to Jinnah in 1937-38, he pointedly asked, ‘Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are?’ In his own words, as he explained, ‘the enforcement and development of the Sharia of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states’.
Iqbal realized that the Indian polity, dominated by the Hindu majority community, would not help the Muslim cause. Indeed, he felt, this would mean ‘a displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity’ of the Muslim community. Islam, he insisted, was ‘an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity’ which furnished ‘those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups, and finally transform them into well-defined people, possessing a moral consciousness of their own’. Indeed, he went on to claim that ‘it is no exaggeration that India is perhaps the only country in the world where Islam, as a people-building force, has worked at its best’. Islam, in fact, made the Indian Muslims more than a community – a nation. They, he was convinced, were the only people in India ‘who can fitly be described as a nation in the modern sense of the word. The Hindus, though ahead of us in almost all respects, have not been able to achieve the kind of homogeneity which is necessary for a nation and which Islam has given you [Muslims] as a free gift’.
Thus, Iqbal went on to draw a clear distinction between nationalism and ‘Muslim nationalism’, as in this case, was necessitated by the peculiar situation of Indian Muslims and subjected to the demands of Islam and its way of life. The Indian Muslims were confronted with existential threat as a community, as a socio-cultural political community, in a system of government inherently biased against them. In Iqbal’s view, ‘the life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralization in a specific territory’. Indeed, he stressed that ‘we must look at the Indian problem, not only from the Muslim point of view, but also from the standpoint of Indian Muslims as such’.
Iqbal not only articulated the need and rationale for a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, but also significantly prevailed upon Jinnah with whom he had worked closely in his own active political career, from 1926 to 1933, to make a formal demand for it. He considered him to be ‘the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has a right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India and perhaps to the whole India’. Jinnah, of course, did not disappoint him. Based on his now well-known theory, the ‘Two-nation Theory’ inspired by him, Jinnah boldly declared on March 22, 1940, at the historic Muslim League session in Lahore, that the Indian Muslims ‘are a nation according to any definition of a nation, and they must have their homelands, their territory, and state’. Indeed, they ‘cannot accept any constitution which must necessarily result in a Hindu majority government… Hindu Raj’.
On March 23, 1940, Jinnah’s demand was endorsed and, on March 24, it was adopted as the now famous Lahore (Pakistan) Resolution. The Pakistan Movement was launched, ably led by Jinnah himself, the movement reached its goal on August 14, 1947. Pakistan emerged on the map of the world as an independent, sovereign state in South Asia. Jinnah, of course, acknowledged his debt to Iqbal in these telling words: ‘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’. Philosophy and action had come together. Indeed, as one writer succinctly put it: ‘The vison of one [Iqbal] and the leadership of the other [Jinnah] led to an act of political creation — the State of Pakistan.’
The writer is a Distinguished Professor of History and Public Policy and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences at the FC College University, Lahore. His most recent book, A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan (OUP, 2021), has an extensive chapter on Allama Iqbal.
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