Critical Appreciation


Iqbal Studies

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DAWN, Books & Authors November 4, 2007

The Inevitable Destination

Iqbal arriving at Allahabad

Pakistan has one of the richest foundational documents in the world. It is the presidential address delivered by Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal at the annual session of the Muslim League in Allahabad in December 1930. So far the document has only been studied from the perspective of political science and obviously such studies ignore the literary aspects of the text. An alternate study of the Allahabad Address (as it is popularly called) can be rewarding and may bring out some futuristic aspects of this national treasure.

For instance, here are the two famous two sentences (italicised by Iqbal himself), which every school-going child in Pakistan recognises very well:

I would like to see the Punjab, 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.

It may be noticed that the same thing is being said in each sentence but the second sentence is more detailed. Since that detail could have been included in the first sentence itself and Iqbal as a wordsmith was especially known for compactness, this ‘redundancy’ cannot be without a reason. This is where stylistics comes in. We see that the first sentence is a wish (‘I would like to see…’) while the second is information (‘appears to me to be the final destiny…’). Iqbal’s wish is only to see the four provinces amalgamated into a single state (as they are now in the shape of the present-day Pakistan). However, ‘the final destiny’ of his people holds some open possibilities, and which ones of these materialise depends on how people react to events and the choices they may make.

The ‘self-government’ of Muslims could occur ‘within the British Empire, or without the British Empire.’ Leading Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has shown in her study of Jinnah, The Sole Spokesman (1985), that right up to 1946 both options were open to the people of India. Hence Iqbal worded his statement in a way that could accommodate either possibility.

This self-government is the destiny, ‘at least’ of the Muslims of North-West India. The phrase ‘at least’ has also revealed its significance since East Bengal joined the federation of Pakistan at one time and seceded afterwards. The future of Kashmir also remains undecided as yet. But North-West India has remained self-governing as the state we know as ‘Pakistan’, and hence the phrase ‘at least’ is most appropriate.

Hence, while informing his audience about ‘the final destiny’ or the future events of history he structures his sentence in a manner that could include all the possible ‘ifs’ of history. Indeed, this is a very extraordinary manner of making a political statement but if we list the major theme of each section of the document we find that this extraordinary statement is not hanging in midair but in fact the whole document is carefully woven around it. Quite frankly, it is something which we need to understand if we care to know why Pakistan was conceived or if we are curious about its destiny in the world.

Iqbal says at the very opening, ‘I lead no party; I follow no leader.’ Instead, he says, he has given the best part of his life to a careful study of Islam and has developed, he thinks, ‘a kind of insight into its significance as a world-fact.’ Then comes the first section, ‘Islam and nationalism’, where he admits that he is going to discuss things only from the point of view he has already expressed in the opening lines. From this point of view, ‘Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of a world of spirit situated elsewhere.’ Matter and spirit are essentially a single unity and we ought to take a holistic approach towards issues.

The second section, titled ‘The unity of an Indian nation,’ defines the role of spirituality from the holistic perspective established earlier. From this point of view, the highest order of spiritual experience cannot be completely ascetic. ‘It is individual experience creative of a social order,’ says Iqbal. Hence spirituality requires the formation of a society where each religion becomes supportive of other religions. Referring to the non-Muslims he says, ‘Nay, it is my duty, according to the teachings of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship if need be.’ This is what he calls in another writing a ‘spiritual democracy.’

The third section is ‘Muslim India within India.’ It is here that he proposed, as a practical step towards achieving this spiritual democracy, a Muslim state in North-West India. As we have already seen, it is more than wishful thinking. It is an opinion pragmatically based on the expected direction of future events. The ‘wish’ he is making is the best way of utilising the possibilities embodied in those future events.

In the fourth section, ‘Federal States’, he points out a misunderstanding about the principle of nationality. The Congress understands the word nation to mean ‘a kind of universal amalgamation in which no communal entity ought to retain its private individuality,’ he observes. If spirit and matter are one (as established earlier) then the error of this approach becomes self-evident.

The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth sections, ‘Federation as understood in the Simon Report’, ‘Federal scheme as discussed in the Round Table Conference’, ‘The problem of defence’ and ‘The alternative’ comprise of an analysis of the British India and establish the fact that democracy and communal identities should not be separated from one another. The proposed Muslim state is a good way of achieving that end, and in the ninth section, ‘Round Table Conference’ he describes such a state as a practical step towards ‘a final combination of humanity’.

The leaders required for such a task are persons who, ‘by Divine gift or experience, possess a keen perception of the spirit and destiny of Islam, along with an equally keen perception of the trend of modern history.’ Paying attention to the finer details of the document we do not find such a statement to be out of place by the time we arrive at it in this last section. The Allahabad Address takes us into an intellectual atmosphere where leaders who have an insight into the future are a plausible thing. Since the destiny of Islam, according to him, is something that can be predicted to a great extent, the ‘Conclusion’ of the document suggests that ‘at critical moments in their history it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa.’ By Islam, he means more than a set of social norms. He means an insight into what twists and turns life is going to take in its onward march towards ‘a final combination of humanity.’

That final combination, where a holistic approach becomes the rule of life, is the inevitable destination of humanity although the way to it may be rough and strewn with mishaps.

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