Allama Muhammad Iqbal: The Great Sage Poet-Philosopher

After the death of Allama Muhammad Iqbal in November 1938, 26th Session of All India Muslim League was held at Patna on December 26-29, 1938. Before delivering his presidential address at this session, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, later Founder of Pakistan, thus expressed his tribute to Iqbal: “The Muslim League has already deplored the loss of Dr. Sir Mohammad Iqbal. His death, too, is an irreparable loss to Muslim India. He was a personal friend of mine and a singer of the finest poetry in the world. He will live as long as Islam will live. His noble poetry interprets the true aspirations of the Muslims of India. It will remain an inspiration for us and for generations after us.”1 In a resolution also this session expressed its condolence in these words: “This Session of the All India Muslim League places on record its appreciation of the late Sir Mohammad Iqbal as a sage philosopher of Islam and a great national poet. He urged the Muslims to build their future in consonance with their great past. Though he is not among us, he lives forever in his imperishable verses which will continue to inspire the life and actions of the Muslims all over the world. This Session deeply mourns for him and offers fervent prayers to the Almighty that the soul of the deceased may rest in peace”.2
Allama Iqbal was associated with the Muslim League and Quaid-i-Azam immediately after his return from Europe following the completion of his higher studies in 1908. When the Lucknow Pact was concluded in December 1916 between the All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress by the dedicated efforts of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who also earned the title of “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity”, a session of the Punjab Muslim League was held in Lahore in February 1917. Sir Muhammad Shafi who disliked the Lucknow Pact arranged this meeting of the Punjab Muslim League. This session consisted of the old and new members of the Muslim League. Sir Shafi belonged to the old section, while Allama Iqbal formed the new Muslim League members along with Nawab Zulfikar Ali Khan in support of the Lucknow Pact.3 Thus Iqbal’s association with the Quaid was very long.
Immediately after his return from England and Germany, Iqbal started his law practice at the Lahore High Court which was then known as Lahore Chiefs Court but his main concern was scholarly works in prose and poetry in the fields of philosophy, Islam, politics, economy, society and culture, history and economy of the Muslims. He wrote very little in prose, but his writings in poetry in Urdu and Persian were considered marvelous. They brought revolution in the minds of the Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent. His thought reached culmination point in the shape of Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, which is a composition of six lectures delivered by Iqbal at different places during 1928-1929 and seventh delivered in a session of the Aristotelian Society, London, in December 1932 when he had gone to London to attend the Round Table Conferences. Iqbal’s best known poetic collections are Asrar-e-Khudi, Rumuz-e-Bekhudi, Bang-e-Dara, Shikwah Jawab-e-Shikwah, Javid Nama. Iqbal’s poetry is on the pattern of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Masnavi whose basic concern is to depict the different life patterns of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in terms of the age requirements and basic human nature and world realities. So was the case with Iqbal whose basic concern was to make the colonial Muslims realize their historical importance keeping in view their golden past and shed the bonds of slavery and become free citizens of an independent Muslim state. For this purpose in his work he blends together all the modern thought with the life pattern of old Muslim scholars and thinkers, and bring among them the consciousness of the beauty of the life pattern of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and great figures in the history of Islam.
It was in this background that Iqbal presided over the Allahabad Session of the All India Muslim League held on December 29-30, 1930 and presented his concept of a Muslim state in Indo-Pak subcontinent. Hafeez Jalandhari, later the author of Pakistan’s national anthem, recited his poem from Shahnama-e-Islam at this historic session. Iqbal’s presidential address is a marvelous piece of scholarship and pragmatic analysis of the rationale for the establishment of Islamic State in South Asia. Iqbal’s demand for a Muslim State is coined in these words: “I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan 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 the North-West India”.4 The following points provide further rationale for establishment of this State which I prefer to quote in the words of Iqbal:
1)   “Muslims of India are determined to remain true to the spirit of Islam.”
2) “I mean a social structure regulated by a legal system and animated by a specific ethical ideal – has been the chief formative factor in the life-history of the Muslims of India.”
3) “India is perhaps the only country in the world where Islam, as a people [building]5 force, has worked as its best.”
4)  Martin Luther gave the idea of nationalism to the Christian world. After referring to Luther’s concept of nation-state in Europe, Iqbal said: “I do not know what will be the final fate of the national idea in the world of Islam. Whether Islam will assimilate and transform it, as it has before assimilated and transformed many ideas expressive of a different spirit, or allow a radical transformation of its own structure by the force of this idea, is hard to predict.… At the present moment, the national idea is racializing the outlook of Muslims and thus is materially counteracting the humanizing world of Islam. And the growth of racial consciousness may mean the growth of standards different and even opposed to the standards of Islam”.6
5) “Islam is itself Destiny and will not suffer a destiny!”
6) “Never in our history has Islam had to stand a greater trial than the one which confronts it today.”
7)  Addressing directly to the audience Iqbal said: “You are a Muslim assembly, and, I suppose, anxious to remain true to the spirit and ideals of Islam.”
8)  “I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teachings of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship if need be. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of my life and behavior; and which has formed me what I am by giving me its religion, its literature, its thought, its culture, and thereby recreating its whole past, as a living operative factor, in my present consciousness.
9)  “India is a continent of human groups belonging to different races, speaking different languages, and professing different religions. Their behavior is not at all determined by a common race-consciousness. Even the Hindus do not form a homogeneous group. The principle of European democracy cannot be applied to India without recognizing the fact of communal groups. The Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is, therefore, perfectly justified”.
10) “The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralization in a specified territory.”
11)  “This centralization of the most living portion of the Muslims of India, whose military and police service has, notwithstanding unfair treatment from the British, made the British rule possible in this country, will eventually solve the problem of India as well as of Asia”.
12) “The North-West Indian Muslims will prove the best defenders of India against a foreign invasion, be that invasion one of ideas or of bayonets.”
13) Iqbal also said that the Hindus should not term creation of a Muslim State as a religious state. In this regard, Iqbal said: “I have already indicated to you the meaning of the word religion, as applied to Islam. The truth is that Islam is not a church”.
14) “The character of a Muslim State can be judged from what the Times of India pointed out sometime ago in a leader on the Indian Banking Inquiry Committee. ‘In ancient India’, the paper points out, ‘the State formed laws regulating the rates of interests, but in Muslim times, although Islam clearly forbids the realization of interest on money loaned, Indian Muslim States imposed no restrictions on such rates’. I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim State in the best interest of India and Islam”.7
During the course of his lecture at Aligarh in 1929 on “The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam” Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal remarked: “We are to-day passing through a period similar to that of the Protestant revolution in Europe, and the lesson which the rise and outcome of Luther’s movement teaches should not be lost on us.  A careful reading of history shows that the Reformation was essentially a political movement, and the net result of it in Europe was a gradual displacement of the universal ethics of Christianity by systems of national ethics. The result of this tendency we have seen with our own eyes in the Great European War which, far from bringing any workable synthesis of the two opposing systems of ethics, has made the European situation still more intolerable. It is the duty of the leaders of the world of Islam to-day to understand the real meaning of what has happened in Europe, and then to move forward with self-control and a clear insight into the ultimate aims of Islam as a social polity”.
This statement of Iqbal needs to be properly understood.  But before resorting to do so, it is necessary to study how Iqbal has treated Martin Luther’s philosophy and works in his other writings and speeches. This is necessary so that we can properly understand the nature of Iqbal’s approach towards Luther’s ideas.  Whether he fully or partially agrees with what Martin Luther had said or written, a proper explanation in this regard is necessary before we go to address the problems of the modern Muslim world.
Replying himself to this phenomenon at Allahabad during the course of his presidential address at the Muslim League Session in December 1930, as mentioned earlier, Iqbal also appreciated and determined the limitation under which he accepts Luther’s ideas:
1.   “In Europe, Christianity was understood to be a purely monastic order which gradually developed into a vast church-organization.  The protest of Luther was directed against the church-organization, not against any system of polity of a secular nature, for the obvious reason that there was no such polity associated with Christianity.  And Luther was perfectly justified in rising in revolt against this organization; though, I think, he did not realize that, in the peculiar condition which obtained in Europe, his revolt would eventually mean the complete displacement of the universal ethics of Jesus by the growth of a plurality of national and hence narrower systems of ethics.  Thus, the upshot of the intellectual movement initiated by such men as Rousseau and Luther was the break-up of the one into a mutually ill-adjusted many, the transformation of a human into a national outlook, requiring a more realistic foundation, such as the notion of country, and finding expression through varying systems of polity evolved on national lines, i.e., on lines which recognize territory as the only principle of political solidarity.  If you begin with the conception of religion as complete otherworldliness, then what has happened to Christianity in Europe is perfectly natural.  The universal ethics of Jesus is displaced by national system of ethics and polity.  The conclusion to which Europe is consequently driven is that religion is a private affair of the individual and has nothing to do with what is called man’s temporal life.”9
2.    “Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam God and universe, spirit and matter, Church and State, are organic to each other.  Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of a world of spirit situated elsewhere.  To Islam, matter is spirit realizing itself in space and time”.10 
3.  “A Luther in the world of Islam, however, is an impossible phenomenon; for here there is no church organization similar to that of Christianity in the Middle Ages, inviting a destroyer.  In the world of Islam, we have a universal polity whose fundamentals are believed to have been revealed, but whose structure, owing to our legists’ want of contact with the modern world, to-day stands in need of renewed power of adjustments.”11 
Iqbal had gone to London to attend the second and third Round Table Conferences (1931-1932). While Iqbal was in London in connection with the Third Round Table Conference, Miss Margaret Farquharson arranged a reception in honour of Iqbal, on November 24,1932 in London. This was a unique occasion wherein a number of members of both the Houses of British Parliament, diplomats from many countries and some friends from the East had assembled. Lord Lamington expressed his appreciation of Iqbal’s work and great contribution he made to the awakening of the Muslims of the world. On December 15, 1932, another function was arranged to meet Iqbal and other members of the Muslim delegation. In his address, Iqbal fully endorsed the demands of the Muslim delegation and paid tribute to Sir Aga Khan in these words: “We have placed these demands before the Conference under the guidance of His Highness the Aga Khan, that worthy statesman whom we all admire and whom the Muslims of India love for the blood that runs through his veins”.12 Summarizing the Muslim demands, Iqbal explained: “Now these concrete demands are, in the first place, separate electorates, in the second place, majority in those provinces at least in which we happen to be in majority, and we claim as a demand, that is to say, a national demand, for immediate provincial autonomy. Again, we demand the separation of Sind. We demand equal status for the Frontier Province, and, further, we demand introduction of reforms in Baluchistan. We further demand 33% in both Houses, Upper and Lower, in order to safeguard our interests in the Centre”.13 These demands, Iqbal added, have been “placed before the Round Table Conference. Iqbal also noticed that on the basis of these demands some people say that we are “Pan-Islamic and not patriotic enough and they say that we are communalistic”. Replying to this bogey, Iqbal cleared: “Now with regard to Communalism and pan-Islamism I want to say a few words to you. Now if a man belongs to a cultural community, he feels that it is his duty to protect that culture. In that case I appeal to you whether you will look upon such a man as unpatriotic. I think it is the duty of every Briton to protect his country if his country is in danger. In the same way it is the duty of every Mussalman to protect his culture, his faith, if he finds that things due to him are not safeguarded. After all, it is man’s faith, his culture, his tradition, which are worth living for and dying for”.14  Referring to his demand for the “West Indian Muslim State” put forward in his presidential address to the All India Muslim League at Allahabad in December 1930, Iqbal made it clear: “While this suggestion of mine was not embodied in the demand of  Muslims of India, my personal opinion still is that this is the only possible solution. I wait until experience reveals the wisdom or unwisdom of this suggestion”. Speaking further with reference to Islam, Iqbal explained: “Islam does not recognize the differences of race, of caste or even of sex. It is above time and above space, and it is in this sense that all mankind are accepted as brothers”.15
While Allama Iqbal was in London, a number of articles appeared in the Times of London on behalf of some Hindu leaders misrepresenting Iqbal’s views with reference to his address to the All India Muslim League in December 1930. The above mentioned clarifications were also made by Iqbal in reply to these accusations. With reference to Sir Aga Khan a number of misinterpretations were also made in the London newspapers. Replying to Edward Thompson, Iqbal wrote letter to the Editor of The Times, London, which was published on October 12, 1931. In this letter, Iqbal made it clear: “So let me say that I admire the democracy which the Aga Khan finds in Islam as opposed to Hinduism, and I think he might have gone further (had not courtesy restrained him) and pointed out Islam’s great superiority to Christianity in its practice of human brotherhood”.16
Iqbal was very close to Quaid-i-Azam. Both the leaders had the same concern and perception regarding the future of the Muslims in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Iqbal further shared the concept of Muslim State with Quaid-i-Azam during 1936-1937 when Iqbal wrote 13 letters to the Quaid. These letters were published for the first time in 1942 with an introduction by Quaid-i-Azam himself in which the latter claimed that Pakistan Resolution of March 23, 1940 was presented in the light of Iqbal’s ideas.17 During the Centenary Celebrations Quaid-i-Azam, in which Quaid-i-Azam University played a major role in holding International Quaid-i-Azam Conference in which delegates from 46 countries of the world participated in December 1976, this author also published an analysis of these letters because of their historical importance.18 In one of these letters Iqbal clearly mentioned to Quaid-i-Azam: “You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India, and perhaps to the whole of India”.19 In the foreword to this booklet, Quaid-i-Azam himself wrote: “His [Iqbal’s] views were substantially in consonance with my own and had finally led me to the same conclusions as a result of careful examination of 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 of the All India Muslim League, popularly known as the “Pakistan Resolution” passed on 23rd March 1940”.20
With regard to influence of Iqbal on Jinnah a number of writers have written on this subject, but the best analysis is that of Prof. Rushbrook Williams who wrote: “It is true that Iqbal influenced the Quaid-i-Azam, but it is also true that the Quaid-i-Azam and his great nation-building work exercised a profound influence upon Iqbal, and illuminated the last years of his life with a new hope”.21

The writer is Ex-Director, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, and Professor at Quaid-i-Azam Chair (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]

1.      S.S.Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. II, Islamabad, NIHCR, Quaid-i-Azam University, 2007, p. 274.
2.      Ibid., p. 283.
3.      Riaz Ahmad, The Punjab Muslim League 1906-1947 Secret Police Abstracts, Islamabad, NIHCR, Quaid-i-Azam University, 2008, p. 16.
4.      Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. II, pp. 135-136. Also see Foundational Thoughts of Pakistan Movement, Rawalpindi, ISPR, 2019, p. 15.
5.      Author’s parenthesis.
6.      Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. II, p. 132-133.
7.      Ibid., p. 137.
8.      Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, edited and annotated by M. Saeed Sheikh, Lahore, Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986, pp. 129-130.
9.      S.S.Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan: All India Muslim League Documents 1906-1947, Vol. II,  Islamabad, NIHCR, Quaid-i-Azam University, 2007, pp. 131-132.
10.    Ibid., p. 132.
11.    Ibid., p. 132.
12.    Ibid., p. 72.
13.    Ibid., p. 72.
14.    Ibid., pp. 74-75.
15.    Ibid., pp. 75-76.
16.    Ibid., p. 118.
17.    See Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah, Lahore, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1942, reprinted later many times.
18.    See Riaz Ahmad, Iqbal’s Letters to Quaid-i-Azam: An Analysis, Lahore, Friends Educational Service, 1976.
19.    Ibid., p. 27.
20.    Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah, Lahore, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1942, Introduction by M.A. Jinnah.
21.    Jamil-ud Din Ahmed, (ed.) Speeches and Writings of Mr. Jinnah, vol.I (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1968), pp.89-90.  Taken from Kishwar Sultana’s article titled “Iqbal and Jinnah: A Study in Contact and Divergence”, published in Pakistan Journal of History & Culture, Vol. XXII/2, 2001 (Quaid-i-Azam Number), NIHCR, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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