• Omer Haq

Muttahid Qaum: Allama Muhammad Iqbal and the Creation of Pakistan

1947 - The partition of India is a scar left, or as some say the price paid for our independence from our colonial masters, the English. We will explore the life and ideas of Muhammed Iqbal and the evolution of the nationalist poet of India to a Muslim poet-philosopher and the evolution of his ideology through his poetry, speeches and letters.


Allama Iqbal is perceived as the spiritual father of Pakistan who laid grounds for the formation of the state. The perception of Iqbal in India, however, remains divided. He’s either seen as a firm and convinced Muslim nationalist or the champion of Hindu Muslim solidarity and freedom of India. Iqbal's political role has so far been mainly studied as a starting point, or a linkage, in the creation of a separate, independent, sovereign state of Pakistan.


Understanding Iqbal can be complex, but to generalise, Iqbal’s life can be divided into two phases. One where he spent writing poems on Indian nationalist feelings and the other where he was convinced of a ‘Muttahida Qaum’ or united Muslim nationhood.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal

This is evident if we analyze his poetry which at times reflects ardent Indian nationalism and in the other half showcases firm pan-Islamic views. He surely exhibited multitudes.


His identification with Indian culture and religion was broad and spontaneous. In his early years before his return from Cambridge where he studied philosophy, his poems expressed his respect for Hindu Gods, Sikh religious leaders and his deep feelings for the motherland.


If we see Iqbal with this approach, he does sound complex.


It’s not how we have been made to perceive him, where he has been either put in a black box or a white box.

We must consider two major aspects to serve the basis of the discussion about fragmenting Iqbal’s shift. (i.e.) his heterogeneous philosophy and reflections of his poetry. Maybe that is how we can lay a platform for a lenient understanding of his political ideologies.


In his early poetic life, he was a glorifier of nationality and brotherhood. By drawing upon Hindu, Muslim and Sikh traditions and symbols, Iqbal emerged as a leading Indian poet. There are stances of his poems where he'd address Nanak as Mard-e-Kamil and Ram as Imam-e-Hind. Moreover, he took pride in his Bhramin ancestry.


Although he was not directly linked to politics at that time, his poems were still propagators of solidarity between Hindu and Muslim.


This provides an explanation for the first part of Iqbal's life.


Even his description of true democracy as expressed in his earlier books or letters was similar to what Gandhi or Tagore gave.


From what numerous scholarly works have provided, his idea of democracy had four realms; equality, a community life (which defied the notion of territorial existence), the idea of khudi (a philosophical idea of an ideal human) and a true form of religion (here Islam.). So how does the transition of Iqbal happen from his political philosophy of integrated nationalism to Muslim separatist nationalism or pan-Islamism?


After moving to Cambridge he was influenced by the writings of Nietzsche and Goethe and Bergon among other Enlightenment Philosophers. Along with his evolving philosophical view, Iqbal was beginning to reflect on religious issues in the wake of European aggression on the Ottoman Empire, the only existing Islamic imperialist power, resulting in his advocacy of Pan Islamism and his call for the Muslims around the world to unite as a political community.


Conclusively his viewpoint took a major shift after gaining the broad worldview. And as discussed earlier this was the peak time when his subject of poetry also started transitioning, aiming more towards serving as a moral guide.


It acquired a high moral tone and carried a clear communitarian message. He used his poetic talent to express the finest values of Islam in his powerful poetic rhetoric, inspiring Muslim to consolidate themselves as one united community. There were also times when he lamented at the state of the Muslim community, its moral degeneration, it’s false idols and its hypocrisy.


As can be noticed in Saqi-Nama where he writes;


"Bujhi ishq ki ag andher hai
Musalman nahi ag ka dher hai"

His poems began reviving public memory of Islam's glorious days of Muslims’ expansion & dominion. One of his popular lines from poetry vividly displays his fervour to the cause of reviving the Muslims:

“Main tuj ko batata hun taqdir e umam kya hai,
Shamsheer o sina awwal taus o rabab akhar”

Which translates to,

“Let me tell you what is the destiny of a nation, The sword and dragger takes precedence over singing and dancing”

An excerpt from Saqi-Nama - a poem by Iqbal

Iqbal did not directly participate in politics but his poems expounded the notion of Millat and exhorted Muslims to consolidate themselves as a community.


His not being a direct part of the politics but propagating his sentiments was evident from the circumstances of colonial India, where normal lives were vehemently co-existing with the politics and governance of the country. For Iqbal, Islam was a single unanalysable reality that couldn't be separated from politics. Although he rejects the idea of territorial nationalism which in his view was a byproduct of western perversion and instead develops the intertwined notion of Muslim nationalism and Islamic Universalism as a common basis of action.


It was these ideas that together can be seen channelling in his poetry. Iqbal was essentially a poet and not a politician.


Over the years Iqbal became a poet-philosopher inspiring a generation of people to aspire to community regeneration and self-confidence.

Even the set of six lectures that he delivered across South India is an insight where he presents a rational interpretation of Islam which he believed was consistent with modern philosophy and science. He urged Muslims to remodel their social life by the principles as revealed in the Islamic ideals.


Meanwhile, during the transitioning phase of Iqbal, i.e; around the 1920s, the communal uproar arose comparatively higher. Even Gandhi in 1925 announced that the Hindu Muslim question was insoluble.


Iqbal gave more legitimacy to the political cause of Muslim Nationalism. Giving it a religious position, he approached to restore the means of exercising independent judgement (ijtihad) as a necessary instrument of Muslims not only in religious and spiritual matter but even in politics.

A rare picture of Allama Iqbal

On the broader plain, India was not always a hotbed of communal tensions. For centuries, Punjab and even Bengal had been melting-pots of cultures, a jumbled variety of Muslims and Hindus living side by side, with Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians.


As Jinnah and Iqbal had themselves admitted, most people within the regions tended to consider their local identity before their religious affiliation. But the importance of religious identity had been growing in the twentieth-century The reason being the British policy of ‘divide and rule’.


Undoubtedly, the Raj did plenty to encourage identity politics.

The British found it easier to understand their vast domain if they broke it down into manageable chunks. When the British started to define communities’ based on religious identity and attach political representation to them, many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged.


At the same time, Indian politicians began to focus on religion as a central part of their policies – defining themselves by what they were, and even more by what they were not.


This phenomenon is shown at its clearest with Iqbal and Jinnah as well, who began their careers as the leading light of Hindu–Muslim unity and ended it by forcing the creation of a separate Islamic-majority state.

Muhammad Ali Jinnah

But the arc of their careers merely amplifies that of Indian politics as a whole.


Congress was a largely secular and inclusive organization during Motilal Nehru’s prime in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. The emergence of Gandhi gave confidence to religious chauvinists.


While Gandhi himself welcomed those of all faiths, the very fact that he brought spiritual sensibilities to the centre of politics stirred up extreme and divisive passions. Fundamentalist Hindus were rare presences on the political scene before Gandhi.


In the wake of Gandhi, though, Hindu nationalists were able to move into the centre-ground of politics; while organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), dedicated to the formation of a Hindu nation, swelled their ranks from the fringes. This was no slow, invisible political trend



Even in mainstream politics, the question of Hindu fundamentalism strengthened the opinion Iqbal had for Muslim politics. For example, when the Nehru Report in 1928 accepted Dominion status and recommended the removal of a separate electorate of Muslims in constituents where they had a majority, the Muslim League, (understandably) had a strong reaction. Likewise, Iqbal opposed the report too because it denied Muslims there legitimate political rights.


In 1927, Iqbal directly entered politics by siding with the Shafi faction which was created as a result of the Muslim League dividing into two halves, the other led by M.A. Jinnah. His philosophical and religious notions conceived directly within political governance.

Allama Iqbal and Ali Jinnah

Since Iqbal was opposed to territorial nationalism, in his idea of the state, spiritual and temporal issue were inseparable. Islam was a theocracy that realised the spiritual in human organisation. His ambiguous address at the Allahabad Muslim League session in 1930 gives some idea about his notion of a Muslim homeland.


Iqbal felt that the Nehru report and the Simon Commission had denied Muslims their political right and he expressed his desire to free Muslims from the geographical limits imposed by the British and spoke in favour of a separate area for the protection of Muslim cultural identity.


His ambiguous address at Allahbad Muslim Leauge in 1930 gives us an idea of his Muslim homeland as a solution to the communal problem.

Iqbal visioned to amalgamate Punjab, North-West Frontier, Sindh and Balochistan into a single state, a state with self-government within or without the British Empire. A consolidated NW Indian Muslim state appeared to him to be the final destiny of Muslim of N-W India. Also note how he does not take the Muslim concentration of the rest of India, even Bengal.


Reginald Coupland, an Imperialist constitutional historian believed that Iqbal's idea can be interpreted in multiple ways. Reginald says that Iqbal never contemplated a completely separate state but only an NW autonomous Muslim region within a lose all India Federation, but excluding native Indian or (princely states) and exercising the powers freely vested in a federal state.


He believed this would strike a balance between Hindu and Muslim in India, which was obviously in sharp contrast to the unitary form of self-government contemplated in the ideas of swaraj.


In other words, Iqbal supported a plan for federal India with a strong emphasis on provincial autonomy.


Howsoever paradoxical, this turns out to be the initial seed where the idea of reorganisation came into place. Also, till this time Jinnah & Iqbal were not in direct proximity.


Iqbal and Jinnah came together only after the Muslim League's defeat in the 1936 elections.

Iqbal realised the weakness of the Muslim League in the Muslim majority provinces and was conscious of the vulnerability of 'Muslim interests' under the all-too powerful Congress hegemony. He thus shared several ideas with Jinnah for the protection of Muslim political interests.


Jinnah and Iqbal shared a very brief relationship!

Their brief yet impactful relationship can be examined from the dialogue which took place between them through letters wherein Iqbal advises Jinnah to refute Nehru's aesthetic socialism. Other letters followed guidance/suggestion on the separate federation of the Muslim majority areas.

Allama Iqbal's first letter to Jinnah

One can say that Iqbal was someone who blazed a trail that Jinnah followed. Iqbal conceived an idea of Pakistan (the name given by Ch. Rahmat Ali) and Jinnah realized it.


As an intellectual Godfather, Iqbal gave a concept of the two-nation theory and offered a map for the redistribution and formation of a Muslim state comprising of the Northwest and Bengal. He even rejected Maulana Azad's notion of composite culture and religious pluralism because he felt that the Congress brand of nationalism posed a threat to the protection of Muslim cultural and political aspiration.


He wanted the merging of Muslim nations into a universal Commonwealth based on sharia -- a conception that was central to his vision.

Both Iqbal and Jinnah began their separate journeys as Indian nationalists but ended as advocates of a separate homeland for Muslims.


There is no doubt for a fact that Jinnah borrowed Iqbal's political language and juiced over his ideas. Even though Iqbal's politics stems out from his poetic sensibility and heterogeneous philosophy, Jinnah used this as a mechanism of political action.


We may conclude that Iqbal’s poetic vision marked a distinct shift from the synthetic view of India to a cry for a separate Muslim homeland. He, later on, emerged as a poet ideologue of a Muslim homeland.


Iqbal did crown the dawn of Pakistan which Jinnah became an accessory of by his tactical skills as a politician. Thus, Iqbal goes down in history as a herald of Pakistan and of course a guide to Jinnah's following political actions. And to India remains the poet of its most favourite nationalist song!


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