The truth about Allama Iqbal

I read Rohinee Singh’ article ‘ Allama Iqbal : The last casualty of saffron surge ‘ in the portal The Friday Times

Rohinee Singh has lamented over the Delhi University’s decision to drop a chapter on Allama Iqbal from the political science syllabus, and called Iqbal in the same league as Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, etc

I am no Hindu right winger, and I am not in favour of dropping Iqbal from the political science syllabus. But then the full truth about him must also be told, and added to the syllabus, but that has not been done by Rohinee Singh.


While I regard Iqbal as a good poet, I intensely dislike him for his strong support of dividing India and creating Pakistan.


Some people say that Iqbal wrote ‘ Saare jehan se achcha Hindustan hamara ‘, which prove his secularism  Such people also quote the the sixth stanza of Saare Jahan Se Achcha (1904),  as proof of Iqbal’s secular outlook:


Maẕhab nahīṉ sikhātā āpas meṉ bair rakhnā

Hindī haiṉ ham, wat̤an hai Hindūstāṉ hamārā


Religion does not teach us to bear ill-will among ourselves

We are of Hind, our homeland is Hindustan.


Noble sentiments indeed, and many people say that this proves that Iqbal was patriotic, nationalist, and secular, and never wanted Partition of India. The truth is that the then 27-year-old Iqbal at that time viewed Hindustani society as a pluralistic and composite Hindu-Muslim culture. However, this poem was written in 1904, when Iqbal was only 27 years old, and his later highly communal views had not developed. and he had a complete somersault subsequently. Thus, in Tarana-e-Milli  written in 1910 he writes


Chīn o-ʿArab hamārā, Hindūstāṉ hamārā

Muslim haiṉ ham, wat̤an hai sārā jahāṉ hamārā


Central Asia and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours

We are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland.[3]

Iqbal’s world view had now changed; it had become pan Islamic. Instead of singing of Hindustan, “our homeland,” the new song proclaimed that ‘ We are Muslims , and the whole world belongs to us ‘  (See also his poems ‘Shikwa’ and ‘Jawab-e-Shikwa ).

How did this complete transformation happen ? How did a patriotic, nationalist, secular person become a hardline Islamic person, who instead of being a nationalist start talking of pan-Islamic nonsense ?

This total transformation happened after Iqbal went to England to study and returned sometime in 1909 as an Islamic fundamentalist with a narrow worldview and intolerant of Hindus.

The only reasonable conjecture is that while in England he was approached by some British intelligence agents who warned him that if he continues on the dangerous  path of nationalism he would face severe adverse consequences and penalties at the hands of the British authorities, but if he becomes a British agent, and supports the British policy of divide and rule, he would be rewarded.

This conjecture is supported by the fact that when Iqbal returned to India he was totally transformed, and was not the Iqbal who had written ‘Saare jahaan se achcha ”.

Thus in 1910, he wrote the ‘Tarana-e-Milli’ (song of the community) which was a total repudiation of the sentiments expressed in ‘Tarana-e-Hind’.

The first stanza of ‘Tarana-e-Milli’, composed in the same metre and rhyme scheme as ‘Sare Jahan Se Achchha’, reads:

” Chin o Arab hamaara, Hindustan hamaara, Muslim hain hum, watan hain sara jahaan hamaara” (China and Arabia are ours, Hindustan is ours, we are Muslims, the whole world is our homeland).

This can hardly be called secular; in fact, Iqbal is lionized in Pakistan today for expressing precisely such hardline Islamic sentiments. Our history books mention only the ‘Tarana-e-Hind’ and conveniently ignore ‘Tarana-e-Milli’, ‘Shikwa’, and ‘Jawab-e-Shikwa’.

Gradually, Iqbal became  a strong supporter of creating Pakistan, a separate homeland for Muslims in India.

Thus, in his presidential address to the Muslim League annual conference in Allahabad on 29th December 1930, Iqbal strongly supported a separate nation-state in the Muslim majority areas of the sub-continent, an idea that inspired the creation of Pakistan.

In this address Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India:

“I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated Northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India ”.

Iqbal continually preached that Hindus and Muslims are “two separate nations” and cannot live together. He says this in almost all his writings, whose primary focus was to remind Muslims of the sub-continent of the past glory of Islamic civilization and promoting pure Islam as a source of sociopolitical liberation and greatness.

His ultimate dream was to get Muslim nations to rise above their political divisions and forge a global Muslim community, the Ummah.

Iqbal was hardly the liberal that he is portrayed as by some. In his six English lecture series first published from Lahore in 1930 and then by Oxford University Press in a book titled The Reconstruction Of Religious Thought In Islam in 1934, Iqbal expressed deep fears of secularism weakening the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society and of India’s Hindus crowding out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence.

Iqbal constantly propagated  that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations and cannot live together. He says this in almost all his writings, whose primary focus was to remind Muslims of the sub-continent of the past glory of Islamic civilization and promoting pure Islam as a source of sociopolitical liberation and greatness.

Iqbal was also instrumental in coaxing and cajoling Muhammad Ali Jinnah to not only assume leadership of the Muslims of the sub-continent, but also embrace the two-nation theory and voice the demand for partition of India. At the time Iqbal first articulated this theory in 1930, Jinnah was still engaged in negotiations with the Indian National Congress (Iqbal frequently termed the Congress a ‘Hindu nationalist party’) to secure guarantees for Muslims. Iqbal was instrumental in convincing Jinnah to end his self-imposed exile in London (Jinnah, disgusted with petty squabbles between Muslim League leaders, left for London in 1930 and settled down to practice law there) and return to India.

One of his many letters to Jinnah beseeching him to return reads:

“You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community looks up to for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North West India and, perhaps, the whole of India”.

The point here is that while India’s left-liberal community would like to portray Iqbal as a secular leader, the fact is that Iqbal’s only concern was the political future of Muslims. He had no qualms in stating this in as many words. No wonder, then, that he is regarded in Pakistan as the spiritual founder of that country. He is officially known there as ‘Mufakkir-e-Pakistan’ (thinker of Pakistan) and ‘Hakeem-ul-Ummat’ (Sage of the Ummah).

Iqbal, commenting on the future of Muslims in India, wrote in Tolu-e-Islam (a politico-religious-social journal of Muslims):

“Muslims should strengthen Jinnah’s hands and join the Muslim League. The Indian question can be countered by our (Muslims’) united front against both the Hindus and the English”.

To him, both Hindus and the British were enemies bent on shackling the Muslims.

Iqbal wrote to Jinnah on June 21, 1937:

“A separate federation of Muslim provinces is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from domination by non-Muslims. Why should not the Muslims of North West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are?”

On some occasions, Iqbal was also critical of Jinnah for associating with leaders like Sir Sikandar Hyat Khan of Punjab (a liberal Muslim) who Iqbal felt was “not committed to Islam as the core political philosophy”. Iqbal was also critical of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as the ‘frontier Gandhi’, for being a liberal.

Iqbal’s premise that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist as one nation has been proved utterly wrong by India’s Muslims. The two-nation theory that he advocated was proved hollow in 1971 when Bangladesh became an independent country.

How, then, can Iqbal be called praised, as has been done by Rohinee Singh ? How can he be called secular? How can he be called an advocate of Hindu-Muslim harmony? How can a person who relentlessly advocated a dangerous communal theory that resulted in so much grief and bloodshed be called great?

And ultimately, how can a person whose theory has proved to be such an utter failure be elevated to a pedestal? It is fine for Pakistanis to idolize Iqbal. But should Indians do the same?

Iqbal, in the final analysis, may have written a lovely poem when he was a young lad of 27 in 1904, but for the majority of his adult life ( after he returned from England in 1909 till he died at the age of 61 in 1938 ) he was primarily a regressive, narrow-minded Islamist who was responsible, perhaps more than Jinnah, for the pa rtition of India in 1947 and all the misery it caused, and is still causing




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