Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iqbal ka Pakistan

In a country otherwise unsure about its heroes, two men stand head and shoulders above the rest. The place Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, and Allama Sir Mohammad Iqbal hold in the history of Pakistan is uncontested, and that is a problem, especially when it comes to the latter, which is the concern of this paper. While Jinnah’s speeches and correspondence have laid out a relatively concrete vision of what his idea for the new state was, the role of Allama Iqbal is controversial. In standard texts, both government issue and those used in private schools throughout the country, we are told Iqbal wanted an Islamic Pakistan. This, strictly speaking is true, but what is left unsaid is much more important than the facts that are stated. What is left unsaid is how Iqbal, a man who studied philosophy and law in Germany and Cambridge, and was impressed favorably by these democratic societies, came back to make a complete u-turn on his earlier convictions, and advocated a separate Muslim homeland as the only route available to Muslims of the subcontinent.

How did he come to this decision? How did his thought process evolve that he went from arguing for a unified India to arguing for a break up of India as the only logical solution, both with equal conviction? What caused this change of heart? How is his legacy relevant to today’s Pakistan? Was it even practical before partition? These are the questions this paper attempts to answer.

It should be said outright that Iqbal is one of the most perplexing personalities of the partition movement, and his narrative and ideas have been manipulated by many parties, not least the government of the state he conceived of, and there is no one definitive answer to any of these questions. However, to state that he wanted an Islamic Pakistan is simplifying his whole thought process almost to the point of willful deceit, and serves as a rallying cry for Islamist parties and people such as Zia-ul-Haq, and lately, Zaid Hamid. It is also noteworthy that the official narrative has erased Iqbal’s advocacy of a unified India and presents only his later ideas.

Mohammad Iqbal was born in Sialkot in 1877. His initial education was in Sialkot and Lahore, but he later went abroad. This was in the year 1905. Up to this point he was a firm Indian nationalist, a “patriot in the western sense,” so much so that he wrote his Taranah-e-Hind in 1904:

Our Hindustan is the greatest country in the world.
We are her nightingales, and she is our gardener.
Religion doesn’t preach rift.
We are Indian, and our country is Hindustan
Greece, Rome and Egypt are no more
Yet we continue to flourish
Something within us makes our existence worthy of note
Though unsmiling fortune has been our enemy.

Hindustan in the sense that he uses here refers to a geographical place, and has no religious connotations. When he says Indian in the fourth verse, “it means ‘pertaining to Hind’ in general, and thus Indian,” without any religious associations.

Iqbal also talked about Rama (in Imam-e-Hind) and Guru Nanak in glowing terms, calling the former a religious leader of India and the latter a perfect man, and he felt that all religions could co-exist together in one unified India, “with Muslims and Hindus living side by side like brothers.” In his beloved Punjab, he could not even think about partitioning it into two, and it was here, with roughly equal numbers of Hindus and Muslims, that his early nationalistic poetry took on a sense of urgency.

This all changed, however, when he went abroad for higher education. He went to Germany and England, and returned a changed man. The one thing Iqbal hated more than anything else was injustice. “He was well aware that the true antithesis of his age was not between East and West, but between more fundamental things. This he expressed in a variety of ways; the history of the twentieth century is writing them down as the principles of social justice and social injustice.”

When he returned, it was 1908, and he saw all around him Hindus educating themselves, while Muslims lagged behind. The Aligarh Movement by Sir Saeed Ahmad Khan had also been concerned with this during Sir Saeed’s lifetime. He saw lingering resentment in the Muslim population as a result of the Mutiny of 1857, and after seeing the hypocrisy of the democratic England’s treatment of its own citizens as opposed to the citizens of its colonies, he resolved to work towards the goal of “a federal India with a strong emphasis on provincial autonomy,” a goal which would later turn into a struggle for outright freedom.

Thus it was this sense of injustice which prompted Iqbal to change his view of the current political situation, nothing else. From now on, he would work tirelessly until his death to bring about the change he so yearned for, one that he did not live to see. As an example of is new goal, he reworked his original poem, the Taranah-e-Hind into a new Taranah-e-Millii. Some selected excerpts:

Central Asia and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours
We are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland.
The trust of oneness is in our breasts
It is not easy to erase our identity
Oh pure land! For your sacredness we have been cut down and died
Till now our blood moves in your veins
Our leader of the caravan is the Chief of the Hijaz
Through the name the peace of our spirit lives on.

These two poems are meant to go together, to reflect on one another. He wrote this in 1910, two years after his return. There are similarities, but the conflicts are much more telling. The purpose of the former seems to be for people to relate the two.

The opening verse of the Taranah-e-Hind says that Hindustan is better than the whole world, while the corresponding verse of the second poem says that our homeland is the whole world. And the closing verse of the first poem speaks of solitude, isolation and dejection while the corresponding verse of the later poem is rather reassuring, where the caravan is being led by the Prophet himself.

Taranah-e-Millii roams the whole world, in contrast to Taranah-e-Hind, which confines itself to Hindustan. In the former poem, we are free of territorial restrictions, which would from now on, become a major part of Iqbal’s theories. He rejected territorial demarcations, considering faith alone as enough to identify people, dismissing western nationalism as “idolatry.” He called for the formation of a boundary-less “supra-national nation of believers.”

As a corollary of his new found philosophy, he also considered the notion of the Indian Muslim as a contradictory one, since Muslims have no boundaries, and are a global community regardless of borders, bound by their faith, which he considered as more than a simple religion; he saw Islam as an “action oriented system.” Iqbal also expounded on the notion of pan-Islamism, calling it “the political goal of the Islamic World.” He took a lot of interest in foreign political movements at this time. He had this to say of Turkey:

“The truth is that among the Muslims nations of today, Turkey alone has shaken off its dogmatic slumber, and attained to self-consciousness. She alone has claimed her right of intellectual freedom, she alone has passed from the ideal to he real - a transition which entails keen intellectual and moral struggle.”

This was before Ataturk’s abolition of the Caliphate, of which Iqbal had a markedly different opinion. When that happened, Iqbal wrote poems glorifying the conscripts as “Defenders of the Faith, when they were really victims of a moldering past, while a new future was being opened for their country by Kemal Ataturk.”

He also strongly supported the Khilalfat Movement that was dismissed by Jinnah as a ‘religious frenzy.’ Later, Iqbal also distanced himself from the whole episode as its effects became clear. He was interested in these movements because he saw these as a part of the Islamic millat, and as part of the pan-Islamic ideal he espoused. Iqbal’s, both in his speeches and in his poetry, played on emotions of the down trodden Muslims by indulging in nostalgia. However, he never quite laid out how his vision was going to work.

While rejecting territorial limitations, he stated that “the life of Islam as a cultural force depends on its centralization in a specified territory” This was not the only issue with his vision for what would ultimately become Pakistan. He never laid out concretely how an Islamic Pakistan would work. He had no faith in Mullahs and prayer leaders, criticizing them no end in his poetry and in his other works, including an open letter to Jawaharlal Nehru. His only concrete thought regarding his vision was the use of ijtihad, which most mullahs opposed. He wrote to Nehru that " ‘Mullahs have become extremely conservative and do not allow any freedom of ijtihad, the mystics keep everybody in a kind of superstition and blinding actualities, and Muslim Kings have only heir own self-interests at heart, and sell their country to the highest bidder.' Among these, it was the mullah, as a representative of a lifeless religion, and the sheikh, whom he attacked violently from the first to the last of his life.”

The mullah is intoxicated by talking and the mystic is drunk with the climax of mystical states. He called these people the ‘four deaths’ of Islam: the sufi-sheikh, the mullah, the moneylender and the governor. Nothing expresses his contempt for these people so vehemently or so eloquently, especially the mullahs, more than his poetry:

Being present myself, my impetuous tongue
To silence I could not resign
When an order from God of admission on high
Came he way of that revered Divine;
I humbly addressed the Almighty: Oh Lord,
Excuse this presumption of mine,
But he’ll never relish the virgins of heaven,
The garden’s green borders, the wine!
To meddle and muddle and mangle,
And he, the pious man - second nature to him
Is the need to dispute and to jangle;
His business has been to set folks by the ears
And get nations and sects in a tangle:
Up there in the sky is no Mosque and no Church
And no Temple - with whom will be wrangle?

Iqbal had good reason to think like he did, for a Mullah had once passed a fatwa on Iqbal as well, when he penned a poem inspired by a Hindu scripture. He also ridiculed the mullahs in ‘Virtue and Vice’ where he criticizes mullahs through satire for castigating Iqbal for accepting Shia’s in the fold of Islam. Holy men are further attacked for caring about the numbers of their following and not God, for banning music, and attacking Hindus.

So who exactly was to be administer Iqbal’s Pakistan? His answer to this was Asrar-E-Khudi, a masterpiece by Iqbal, at the same time brilliant and surprising. “Secrets of the Self” charts the stages through which people have to pass to finally become a vice-regent of God on earth. This whole work deals with the individual and addresses issues such as ego and individual achievement, which is what Iqbal thinks will form the base of his vision of Pakistan. The book dealt with ‘self-discovery’ leading to a reigniting of Muslims to rediscover their inherited Islamic culture. Iqbal clothed his timeless idea of individualism in a nostalgic, Islamic appeal to the Muslims to go back to their roots. Iqbal held that if Muhammad was to come back today, then he would not recognize the religion he left 1400 years ago, so much had it been corrupted by various negative influences. He followed this up with The Mysteries of Selflessness, “concerned with the healthy development of the individual within a healthy society, which he no longer expected to find in a united India.”

The Secrets of the Self generated a largely negative reaction from the religious authorities and some members of the public. The central concern was the issue of agency, as people felt that Iqbal had taken prerogative away from God and given it to man. As always, Iqbal had an answer ready. “He defined the system of government labeled as ‘theo-democratic’ government as a divine democratic government, because under it the Muslims have been given a limited popular sovereignty under he sovereignty of God.” The controversy soon died out.

So was every single member of the new Pakistan going to decide their own way in the country, whenever it would be created? This was pointed out by Jinnah who had exactly the opposite idea for the nation he would create in 1947, who pointed out that Pakistan was going to be a secular democracy, as he pointed out that Islam had over 70 different sects, which would make it impossible to administer Shariah Law.

Another issue with Iqbal’s ideology is that he banished Ahmedis from the fold of Islam, considering them a threat to Muslim unity. He had only two criteria for Muslims, Tauheed and Risalat, and since Ahmedis didn’t fulfill the latter, they were not Muslims. He downplayed the Sunni-Shia schism as a result of the myopic mullahs, which as mentioned he had no respect for.

Iqbal, however, was aware of many of these issues. “He never denied the irrational background of religious phenomena in general and Islam in particular.” He stated that Islam cannot be looked at through a rationalist lens. Conceding that “reason and faith do not fuse,” he even admits that his “personal opinion may be wrong.” He criticizes the Greeks for their logic, saying that Islam cannot possibly be understood because it is inherently “unanalyzable,” but once again he extols the virtues of Muslim scientists and explorers such as Ibn Khaldun, who he thought excelled in a proper Islamic environment. He talks about “the return of new life” in Islam, but never elaborates on how this will come about. Iqbal also points out that “new sanctions created by Christianity were working division and destruction instead of unity and disorder,” which is exactly what is happening in the Islamic world, but this does not figure in his book. He does make allowances for his vision not being realized, saying “how far these possibilities have become actualities is largely a matter of how far the actual circumstances offered inducements for making use of the possibilities.”

No matter what the ideological issues with Iqbal’s ideology, or problems with his ideology translating into reality, the biggest problem with his vision being realized was not theological, it was in the form of a person, and he was no ordinary person. Mohammad Ali Jinnah towered over every other Muslim leader after the 1937 elections confirmed his worst nightmare, as the Congress completely ignored the Muslim League. The relationship between the two was rocky; at one time they ended up on opposite factions of the split Muslim League in the aftermath of the Simon Commission. Iqbal was critical of the Jinnah-Sikander pact of 1937, which cemented support for the Pakistan Resolution, because Iqbal thought there should only be a single party representing Muslims, and feared the Red Shirts of Sikander Hayat Khan would affect the Muslim League in Punjab, which was to become the largest province of Pakistan.

However, conscious of the vulnerability of Muslim interests in an undivided India, they shared one significant aim, the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. They got in touch in 1937, and Iqbal was supportive of Jinnah, calling him the Muslim’s only hope for what would become Pakistan.

These two men’s journeys are mirrored; both of them started out as advocates for an undivided India, something which in the case of Iqbal is rarely mentioned in official narratives, and ended up as proponents for a separate state. As has been shown, Iqbal’s u-turn had little to do with Shariah Law, as is portrayed today, and more with the injustice that the Indians, and more specifically the Muslims (especially after 1857) were forced to endure from their British masters. “Iqbal hated injustice; his protest, first made in the name of India, continued in the name of Islam; in this form it was reinforced, rather than superseded, by a protest in the name of the common man, the disinherited of all lands.”

The Islamic State he envisioned was a very abstract concept, which even at the time it was conceived of, had not been active except during the heydays of the Muslim Empire of almost a millennium earlier. In any case, Jinnah would have none of it and still firmly believed in the nationalism that Iqbal had long ago condemned as a “sham.” Iqbal to his last days lamented as to

Why hast Thou made me born in this country,

The inhabitant of which is satisfied with being a slave?

He was distraught at the moral disintegration of the Muslim community; he wrote “Gabriel and Satan”, in which the latter taunts his former companion that it is he, not the angels or God, who makes men think and act boldly. Iqbal has also written about men such as Alexander the Great and Timur; saying their reigns ended with “the long nights of the grave.” It would not be out of place to say the same thing about his vision of Pakistan, a state he never lived to see come into existence.

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