Current Relevance of Allama Iqbal:  The Sage of the East



Professor Waheed Uz Zaman Tariq


On 9 November, 2017, the 140th birthday of Allama Iqbal was celebrated half-heartedly, by the nation.  The Prime Minister of Pakistan has issued a brief official statement on the day. The guard changing ceremony took place at his tomb and people from different walks of life visited his final resting place. Different seminars and sessions were held in different cities. Pakistan and Turkey issued a joint special stamp at this occasion. For the third consecutive year, this time too, there was no public holiday. On the media a group of people criticised Iqbal and tried to undermine his status as one of the two national figures of Pakistan. His poetry and message had already been removed from the syllabus of most of the textbooks and whatever remains, is not sufficient to convey his proper message. It all looks as there are  intentional efforts on their way  to remove Iqbal from the memory of  nation. Then it might be easy to deal with the  ideological basis and the reason for the creation of Pakistan. If it happens, it will negate the basic reason for the existence of  Pakistan. It may shake the foundations,  on which our national structure is erected. At this juncture of the history people are daring to challenge the relevance of Iqbal’s message to our current national history. This is a recent phenomenon and need to be taken seriously.


I still remembered the celebration of  Iqbal’s centenary of November 1979, when it was great even of our history. International Iqbal Conference was held, at Intercontinental Hotel Lahore, for many days. We worked day and night for it. There, I met Prof Jalal Matini (the Chancellor of Firdausi University Mashhad) and Senator Saifullah Vehid Neya from Tehran (editor of literary magazine Vehid, which I was appointed, as its reported from Pakistan) and they called me to their country and provided all intellectual support. Then memorial coins were minted with the figure of Iqbal and many books were published. We always had public holiday on Iqbal day of 9th November. This year (2017), the Federal Minister of Interior Mr Ehasan Iqbal has sarcastically rejected the summary for the Iqbal day’s holiday, by misquoting Allama Iqbal’s verse. If Iqbal had  asked the nation for hard work and activity, without having  a break, then what was the fun of having labour day of first May and Kashmir day as public holiday. The things do not seem to be so simple and there is something more serious, when it comes to Allama Iqbal.


Allama Iqbal was born on 9th of November 1877, when the nation faced the darkest time of its history, in enslaved British India.  The people have lost all hopes after the armed struggle in 1857 AD. All kind of national uprising was ruthlessly uprooted. Twenty-nine thousand people (mainly Muslims) were hanged to death, in open in Delhi only. Mirza Ghalib has given a life account of the events in his carefully written book “Dastanbuy”, in classical Persian prose.   People were deprived of education and basics amenities. The Muslims were left backwards. They have failed in Khilafat (Caliphate) Moment of 1919-1922 AD, to achieve their objectives and were becoming desperate. They were one fourth of the Indian population and were destined to be neglected, if democracy was introduced in future. In anticipation to the self-rule, the Hindus had become conscious, for the need of their national consolidation as an entity, despite their pre-existing taboos, draconian caste system and prejudices.  Moreover, there was a fear for the cultural assimilation of Muslims, into the broader Indian background. Their language, moral code, ethical values and legal system, social code of conduct and religion were endangered. Alama Iqbal was afraid they may one day have the same fate which Buddhists and Jains have gone through, in the past. His main aim was to preserve their integrity and bring them back to the world as a thriving nation, which once had a glorious history and civilisation. As the Indian Muslims were, despite being minority in their native land, the major asset of the Muslim Ummah (nation), he was worried that if they were lost in the oblivion, then the Ummah might not bear that loss and might cease to exist. As he noted in his Allahabad address, he was worried about the future of Muslims of the Subcontinent as well as the Muslim Ummah as a whole.


Iqbal inculcated courage to the downtrodden people and inculcated a sense of dignity and self-confidence, which he called khudi. He spoke for the rights of the people of India and made a serious attempt for Indian unity. He preached for intercommunal harmony and mutual respect. He wrote national poems, to pay his respect to Rama, Buddha, Guru Nanak, Vishua Mitra and even his contemporary Swami Ram Tirath. He wrote Terana e Hindi, Nia Shawala and praised Ganges Rivers and Mountain of Himalayas. He spoke for Indian people and tried to awaken them from deep sleep. He talked about love and national cohesion. Perhaps, he had painfully realised that he was failing in his efforts and the gulf was widening between different communities. That prompted him to take extra care for the interests of his own community, which he called as a Muslim nation of India.  None else than Iqbal was wise enough to identify their problems and threats imposed to them, under British rule and Congress’s Hindu leadership dominated desire for hegemon. He wrote and worked hard to make them aware of their bleak destiny, if the things were not changed. He was not against any other nation and still wanted to live in peace and harmony with all of them, after having protected his own nation. To him, India’s problem was not national in nature but international one. To him, India was Asia in miniature, where its constituting nations had affinities with other nations across the boundaries of the Subcontinent, which had been marked by the end of British invasions and occupation. India was geographical reality, which had never been united in the past, as a single political unit. The only exceptional examples were those of Asoka’s rule and Aurangzeb’s Mughal India. One was the Buddhist and other was a Muslim. The historical events of unification were temporary phenomenon and did not last for long. According to Iqbal, as he noted in his Allahabad Address of 1930, the dream of homogenisation of Indian people and their transformation into one nation was seen by two persons, who were Muslims; a saint by the name of Bhagat Kabir (140-1518 AD) and an Emperor Akbar the Great (reign- 1556-1605 AD). Both had failed, despite their sincerity, dedication and hard work. Akbar had mobilised his entire state’s machinery for that purpose, for half a century. It meant that it was not possible to do so, therefore, the matters had to be taken the way they existed and not the way the wizards had wished.


Iqbal had earlier understood that the message which he wanted to convey was not easily assimilated by the recently developed Urdu linguistic tradition, which was in the process of development and was replacing the centuries old mature, Persian tradition. The Persian language had been forcibly uprooted from its official status by the British masters and the Muslims were handing in a linguistic vacuum.  Like Ghalib, he still followed it and could say whatever he wanted, in the best possible way.  He thought that still Persian was the language of Indian intellectuals and elites and he could communicate to them his feelings, in the best possible way. Moreover, his Persian poetry provided him with an audience from a broader region outside the Indian Subcontinent.


His message had therefore, attracted many nations of vast areas of the orient. His Persian Poetry introduced his ideology to Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. They were impressed by his verses and found remedy for their own political and social ailments.  Furthermore, his message was translated into English and Arabic. He had broadened his scope of conveying his message, while addressing the Muslims, who were in a miserable condition, in the unfortunate days of colonialism, totalitarianism and imperialism. The nations of the Central Asia leant form him about the detrimental effects of neo-Mazdakite Communism. Iran was shaken from the ancient, fossilised, stiffened and gangrenous system of monarchy, for which an autocratic King was carved to patronise the interests of wicked exploiters, like aristocracy, clergy and capitalism. The dictatorial regimes were shaken, as his message was understood by them. He offered his advice to Afghanistan; both people and rulers and helped in laying foundation for modern education there. He asked other nation to realise the importance of Afghans. To Afghans he gave a message for unity and breaking tribal yolks and shackles of the traditions. He highlighted many problems of the Arab world, which was in a chaotic situation and badly shattered.


In the Subcontinent, he saw the nations having distinct identities and peculiar problems. He talked of redefining of national boundaries and tried to bring them in a social framework when they might engage  each other, while retaining their own distinct identities. In this effort, he discovered a homeland for the Muslim Indian nation, which was to subsequently called as Pakistan. His concept was a kind of confederation, with collective efforts for defence and communication.  He did not rule out the establishment of such a state, inside the British India. He left it open, to the future whether it would be outside territory then defined as British India or otherwise. He asked the people to take the things as they existed and not the way people perceived. That made him the statesman, who first presented the idea of Pakistan. In his life, he maintained good terms with non-Muslim Indian politicians, leaders and religious personalities. He talked to Gandhi and Nehru and wanted a kind of adjustment. Nehru, too recorded after meeting him in early 1938 that it was not difficult to work with him. Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore paid him their tributes. He had close Sikh friends and a Swami from South India used to stay in the guesthouse of his house when he visited Lahore. His desire was to see future of India as a peaceful region, while being homeland to different nations, to control their own matters, without the interference form others.


He was heedful of the ills and evils prevailing in the Muslim society. He found them illiterate, morally bankrupt, divided by caste and ethnicity as well as backward in thoughts. He found them in the state of a prey to the exploitation of money-lenders, landholders and a newly evolving class of capitalists. He was an ardent critic to clergy, which followed ritualism, dogmas and myth. They had long forgotten the pure teachings of Quran. According to him, the Muslim jurists had a scarce knowledge of modern law and were adamant to hold up the banner of traditions set by early days’ jurists, which they followed religiously and resisted any attempt for the reconstruction and reinterpretation of Islamic law and values according to reality of time. He spoke against the traditional mullah (clerics) and decayed Sufi institutions, the way he faced them in his days. On the other hand, he had maintained good terms with accomplished religious scholars, like Maulana Suleiman Nadvi, Shibli No’amani, Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri and Sanaullah Amritsari. He respected the Sufi masters like Pir Jama ’at Ali Shah of Alipur Syedan, Mian Sher Mohammad Sharaqpuri and Pir Mehr Ali shah from Golra.  On the other hand, he criticised the national approach of Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani and pro Congress clerics.  He was in pain on the social and economic deprivation of Muslims of the Subcontinent of two centuries. He spoke against British imperialism and political hegemony, fragmentation of Muslim nation and sectarianism.  He was in search of a leader, who could lead them, towards their destiny. His health was ailing and he did not find himself a man of action. He was a visionary and a philosopher and could guide the people, when they needed his advice.


He called Mohammad Ali Jinnah (who was subsequently titles as Quaid e Azam), from Britain, and wrote him to lead the nation. He wrote him thirteen letters and offered him guidance and advise about the future. We just quote a sentence from his letter dated 28 May 1937, to highlight his political concerns, as he writes:

“Under the new constitution the higher posts go to the sons of [the] upper classes; the smaller go to the friends or relatives of the ministers. In other matters too our political institutions have never thought of improving the lot of Muslims generally. The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute. The Muslim has begun to feel that he has been going down and down during the last 200 years. Ordinarily he believes that his poverty is due to Hindu money-lending or capitalism. The perception that equality due to foreign rule has not yet fully come to him. But it is bound to come. The atheistic socialism of Jawahar Lal [Nehru] is not likely to receive much response from the Muslims. The question therefore is: how is it possible to solve the problem of Muslim poverty? And the whole future of the League depends on the League’s activity to solve this question. If the League can give no such promises I am sure the Muslim masses will remain indifferent to it as before.”

He had himself had visited all over India, till his health allowed him to do so and addressed to intellectuals. The political scenario was fast changing and the polarisation was at its rise, when he died. Before his death, he wanted to hold a public gathering in Lahore during spring season and reach to a consensus about the future. That was only possible, after a couple of years of his death. Quaid e Azam pointed at his grave at that occasion and noted that Iqbal would have been very if he had seen that day. Partition of India was imminent and all agreed for that. British rulers, Congress and Muslim League, all accepted it as an ultimate solution. The situation was worsened after his death and mutual adjustment was jeopardized and an unprecedented wave of massacre swept all over north India, during the partition. The bordering provinces had to bear the brunt. Displacement of population, Migration, looting and arsenal had taken over the land, Pakistan came into existence and did well initially to prove its reality. It became prey to wars and conflicts and lost East Pakistan in 1971. The nation had gradually drifted away from his great ideals and became a victim to confusion and anarchy. Iqbal was great and a game changer in the history. The nation has to admit his role if it wants to regain its lost dignity.


One cannot find a scholar, philosopher, reformist, poet, politician and visionary of his calibre, in the whole Indian and Muslim history of the last millennium. With clarify of ideas and deep wisdom, he disclosed the secrets of life, self-discovery and divine belief. His words were not influenced by pressure from his contemporary people, as he had a distinct vision and determination. In the preface of his published letters to the father of the nation, Quaid e Azam has himself recorded that he had received guidance and direction from Iqbal’s letters, who changed his pre-existing political views. Iqbal gave his nation a roadmap to make her way out of shackles of slavery and identify hidden potentials of her individuals. He guided the persons to absorb themselves in the nation and bring a pride for her for their concerted action. He taught us to submit our will to the greater interests of the nation. He himself has lived a simple life and had no complexity of his personality. He says in his book Peyam e Masheq:

عمرهادر کعبه و بتخانه می نالد حیات
تا ز بزم عشق یک‌دانائ راز آید برون


“For ages the life is possessed by its lamentations in the Ka’aba (holy sanctuary of Makkah) and Hindu Idol Temple. Then a wise-man who understands the secrets comes out the group of devotional lovers.”

This year too, as we noted earlier, the nation has been deprived of Public holiday at his birthday. The government is downplaying his role and there a hidden agenda to put his person, thoughts and ideas into oblivion. That may deprive the nation from its ideological basis and fundamentals of existence. We a have to struggle to avoid it. According to his own words in Peyam e Mashreq:

بگو اقبال را ای باغبان رخت از چمن بندد
کہ این جاود نوا ما را ز گل بیگانہ می سازد

“Oh the gardener! Tell Iqbal to vacate the orchard as he is the singer, who with his magical voice makes us indifferent from the flowers.”


It depends upon the nation, whether it follows his pathway and make a headway, to the future or perish. If he is forgotten and his message is intentionally misinterpreted by the wizard, who have no background knowledge to read his prose and poetry, the direction of the nation may change. An ideologically bankrupt, infertile and confused nations have bleak future, as the history has told us, time and again. Those who say that the message of Iqbal has lost his relevance, over the years should know that the great poets and philosophers cannot be limited to time and space. After one millennium, the fiction, poetry and myth presented by Firdausi in Shahnameh, admixed with history is a thriving force, which determines the psyche of the Persian speaking world. After eight centuries Rumi’s Mathanavi, still provides with an   ecstatic joy to the heart of its listeners.  It till inculcates a sense of universal love.  After a lapse of same time Sa’adi Shirazi‘s ethical and moral lessons, still help us in being true human being, with dignity and respect determined by him. Hafiz and Amir Khusroe are alive in their lyrics, after seven centuries. Ghalib had died 148 years ago in 1869 AD but still his verses bring a pleasure and quoted by writers. Iqbal was different from  all of them as he was not merely a poet. He rather resisted to be called as a poet. In his last days, he wrote a quatrain, which was posthumously published in his book Armoghan e Hejaz. He says:

به آن رازی که گفتم پی نبردند

ز شاخ نخل من خرما نخوردند

من ای میر امم داد از تو خواهم

مرا یاران غزلخوانی شمردند

“They have not tried to understand the message which I have conveyed to them. They did not enjoy the taste of dates, collected from the bunches of palm of my (garden).

Oh the leader of the nations (The Prophet Muhammad)! I seek justice from you as my contemporary friends have mistaken me as poet, who sings lyrics.”


He was a great reformist, visionary and thinker of all times to come. The poetry for him was a medium to convey his feelings. He did not believe in the limits of time and space. His message cannot become outdated. His time has come as he talked of future, our materialistic approach which is devoid of spiritualism, devotional love and deep-sighted wisdom, is a hindrance to our intellectual and social progress. As the challenges faced by the oriental and African nations are different from those encountered by the West, our remedy is also different. Therefore, the nation should not listen to the ultra-westernised pseudointellectuals, who have unlimited access to our media and pollute the minds of youth. As he says in his book Bang e Dera:

اپنی ملت پہ قیاس اقوام مغرب سےنہ کر.

خاص ہے ترکیب میں قوم رسول ہاشمی


“DO not compare your nation, with the Western nations. The followers of the Prophet (Mohammad) of Banu Hashim (the clan of the Prophet), is unique in her composition.”