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Newsletter for March 2010
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Iqbal's Impact On Freedom Movement
By M.H. Askari
CONSIDERING the short span (from about 1926 to 1938, Iqbal's impact on the freedom struggle and on the destiny of the Muslims of the subcontinent was profound and abiding. He had an almost indelible influence on the shaping not only of the political thought of his compatriots but also of their perceptions on religion and culture.
Unlike his contemporary, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was drawn into the vortex of politics while still a student in England in the closing years of the nineteenth century, Iqbal, on his return home in 1908 after his higher studies in Cambridge and having qualified as a barrister, had to go into the profession of teaching (at his old alma mater, Government College) even while beginning to practise as a lawyer).
However, this does not mean that Iqbal was not sensitive to the cataclysmic political changes taking place around him. As a poet and a visionary, he was deeply affected by the condition of his people, something that inspired him not only to write some of his immortal poetry but also to be a guide to his people in adjusting to the changes. In order to fulfil his self-imposed mission in life, he liberated himself from the traditional modes of expression in poetry and later even adopted a foreign language (Persian) as his medium of expression.
>From the outset, even while a disciple of Dagh Dehlavi, Iqbal found the nazm form more suited to the expression of his message to his readers. With his ever dynamic ideas and feelings the nazm form provided him with a broader canvas for painting his vision of life and destiny. He also immersed himself in the movement for the social and educational uplift of his people.
All this inevitably had an impact on the style and content of Iqbal's vocation-- poetry. His poetry of this phase in his life was deeply patriotic. He wrote poems like Tasveer-i-Dard, Nala-i-Yateem, Naya Shivala, Parinde ki faryad, and what proved to be most popular of all, Tarana-i-Hindi. The tarana even in today's India is sung with devotion and fervour matching their own national anthem by millions of school students every morning.
Iqbal was elected general secretary of the Kashmir Muslim Association as he struggled to make his mark as a lawyer and chaired the All-India Muhamadan Conference at Delhi in 1911. He identified himself closely with the ideals of the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, an organization which was dedicated to the progress and reformation of education among the Muslims.In consonance with the sentiments of most Muslims of India, Iqbal was fully supportive of the Turkish revolution led by Kemal Ataturk. However, like Jinnah, he remained unmoved by the agitational khilafat movement. When his close friend, Maulana Shaukat Ali, wrote to him inviting him to join the movement, he wrote back saying: "Iqbal likes a hermit's life. And in these turbulent days, I regard my home as safe as Noah's Ark..."
Like most people around him, both Muslim and non-Muslim, Iqbal was anguished by the massacre carried out by the British army in the Jallianwala Bagh of Amritsar and wrote a poem to express his feelings. He also wrote a most moving poem on the release of Maulana Muhammad Ali after serving his term of imprisonment for campaigning against the enlistment of Indians in the army during the second world war.
Rajmohan Gandhi in his 'Understanding the Muslim mind' expresses the view that Iqbal was deeply affected by Europe's "vitality". While studying in England he would "sing of action and satirize passivity." He wished his people "to glow with the sunbeam of desires."
Sceptics who doubt whether or not Iqbal had a clear vision of the separate nationhood of Muslims are obviously unaware of what the eminent scholar S.M. Ikram has said of him. Ikram says Iqbal, in a letter written as early as March 1909, said: "I have myself been of the view that religious differences should disappear from the country and even now act on this principle in my private life. But now I think that the preservation of their separate national entities is desirable for both Hindus and Muslims. The vision of a common nationhood in India for India is a beautiful ideal and has a poetic appeal... but appears incapable of fulfilment." He also declined to associate himself with an Amritsar-based Hindu-Muslim-Sikh body.
Indeed, there is no clear record of Iqbal identifying himself with any political party until around 1925-26 when he worked for the revival of the Muslim League in Punjab. The party had been for a time eclipsed by the popular appeal of the Khilafat committees and gone into semi-hibernation.
According to Indian scholar Dr Rafiq Zakaria, otherwise a geart admirer of Iqbal, the poet in fact was a "reluctant politician." His acceptance of the knighthood in 1922 was also not exactly popular with the Muslim masses. Many of them thought that it would cramp his style as a rebellious poet and thinker. However, he assured his friend, Ghulam Bheek Nairang, in a letter: "...I swear by God that there is no power on earth which can prevent me from speaking out what I consider to be the truth..."
When elections to the provincial legislative assembly were held in 1926, for the second time under the political reforms announced in the Montague-Chelmsford Award, Iqbal was prevailed upon to be a candidate for the Muslim League. One of the candidates who opposed Iqbal, Mian Abdul Aziz Malwada, withdrew his candidature. But a leading lawyer, Din Muhammad, refused. Hence a contest became inevitable.
According to Zakaria, there were some who felt threatened by Iqbal's growing popularity and "they were hell-bent on making sure that Iqbal did not get elected: they resorted to the meanest tactics..." Nonetheless, when the elections took place on November 23-24, 1926, Iqbal won by a huge margin of votes. In the victory celebrations that followed not only thousands of Muslims but many Hindus and Sikhs also participated."
The elements opposing Iqbal in the elections mainly belonged to the Unionist Party which had been set up in January 1924, with Mian Fazl-i-Hussain as its chief motivator and moving force. As Ashiq Hussain Batalvi has discussed at great length, in his Iqbal kay Akhri do saal, the Unionist Party created a division between the urban and rural population of Punjab. This in later years was to strengthen the feudalist elements who today exercise a strong influence in the politics not in the province but of Pakistan .
Iqbal is said to have been extremely critical of this division between the rural and urban Punjab and perhaps believed that Mian Fazl-i-Husain had used the strategem to strengthen his own constitutency. Iqbal at the same time also believed that Mian sahib achieved the eminence in politics which he did (ending up as a member of the Viceroy's executive council) not because he was from a rural constituency but because the Muslims of Punjab held him in high esteem. Incidentally, Iqbal's maiden speech in the legislative council was focused on the problems of education.
The Muslim League split into Jinnah League and Shafi League on the question of boycott of the Simon Commission and Mian Muhammad Shafi became the head of a rival League. According to Zakaria Iqbal joined Mian Shafi.
In 1928 Iqbal delivered a series of six lectures in Madras on the theme of 'Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam'. S.M. Ikram maintains that Iqbal had also hoped to write a book to be called Reconstruction of Islamic Jurisprudence, in which he "would have dealt with items in the shariat in the altered conditions of modern life." Unfortunately, because of his poor health, he never got round to doing so.
However, even in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought, Iqbal has expressed the view that the present generation of Muslims had the "right to interpret the foundational legal principles (of shariat) in the light of their own experience and the altered conditions of modern life." It is also believed that in 1925 he wrote an essay on ijtihad but that was never published.
Iqbal attended the Round Table Conferences in London held by the British government to help the Hindus and Muslims resolve their differences over the future political form of the government in India. The Conferences did not result in anything much useful.
The Hindu-Muslim communal question continued to dominate the politics of the subcontinent, and the Unionists continued to be in power in Punjab. However, 1930 was to prove a high watermark in Iqbal's political career.
Jinnah was away in London at the time. Iqbal presided over the annual session of the All India Muslim League which was held in Allahabad. In his presidential address, he stressed that the European model of democracy was not suitable for India, so long as the fact of communal groups was not recognized. Spelling out his own vision of the "final destiny" of the Muslims he said: "I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British empire or without the 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." This statement is generally seen as spelling out the genesis of the Muslim League's demand for Pakistan.
Prof Khalid Bin Sayeed has pointed out that Iqbal made no reference to Bengal in his statement and that he also visualized that in certain cases a Muslim state could adopt such "a flexible approach as to impose no restrictions on the realization of the interest on money loaned."
Iqbal passed away on April 21, 1938. Jinnah at mammoth public gathering in Calcutta while paying him rich tributes referred to him as "undoubtedly one of the greatest poets, seers and philosophers of humanity." he said: "To me he was a personal friend, philosopher and guide and as such the source of my inspiration and spiritual support."
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