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Revisiting Iqbal (Part 10) – Some aspects of his personality


By Amir Suhail Wani

In 1893, when Iqbal was just 16, and had recently passed his matriculation, he was married by his elders. This marriage was in accordance with social norms, as it was quite common to marry at such unripe ages. Karim Bi, to whom Iqbal was married was three years elder to him and belonged to one of the prosperous families of Gujarat. Her father, Dr. Ata Muhammad was a figure of social prominence and commanded awe and respect far and wide. Though the marriage had a social sanction, but it could never mature into the mutual understanding of spouses and variance of their priorities, their differing familial backgrounds and a host of other factors of personal nature finally led to the failure of marriage and Karim Bi preferred staying back with his parents at Gujarat.

Javed Iqbal notes that in spite of pursuance from friends and family, the two failed to reconcile and parted their ways. In a letter, addressed to Atiya Faizi, Iqbal laments the situation that his family is pushing his wife, Karim Bi, on him, but he is not ready to keep him along. Having made the mind, Iqbal harboured the desire of marrying again and when his friends came to know about it, they initiated the process of searching a suitable match and finally Iqbal got betrothed to Sardar Begum, but the Rukhsati was delayed. In the meantime, Iqbal received letters from unknown sources, defaming the character of Sardar Begum and this led to prolonged delay in the process of wedding ceremony.


Meanwhile, Iqbal’s acquaintance, Syed Bashir Hyder, suggested the name of Mukhtar Begum, a daughter of well to do Kashmiri family living in Ludhiana, to consider for marriage and the marriage took place. But after few days, it came to fore that the letters were an act of miscreancy and Iqbal felt extremely sorry for his act. In addition, a letter from Sardar Begum reminding of his mistake to believe on unverified letters shook Iqbal further and consequently the Nikah Ceremony with Sardar Begum was held again and Iqbal brought her home. Iqbal was now staying with two of his wives and sometimes Karim Bi joined them too.

These days brought mental repose to Iqbal and he was spared of the much trauma and tension which he had been going through. There has been much criticism on the marital aspect of Iqbal’s life and critics have went on to trespass the legitimate line of healthy criticism. These critics have not taken into account that issues like marriage are intrinsically internal to one’s personality and perception. These are affairs which fall beyond the Ken of academic criticism and foray into personal criticism – which is highly undeserved. But these incidents, pertaining to Iqbal’s marital life, do help us in understanding some aspects of his psyche and personal evolution. But It was not only on account of his personal and marital issues that Iqbal was subjected to incisive criticism, but there was a spectrum of critics and opponents, who criticised and opposed Iqbal on other accounts.

The first in the list where those people of language from Delhi and Lucknow who went on to criticise Iqbal’s idiom on the basis of linguistic bias. As a matter of fact, poetry in Urdu and Lucknow had been following a specific trajectory and that trajectory was the reminiscent of Muslim decadence in the subcontinent. The themes and issues which this poetry incorporated reflected deep impact of decadence and devolution. When Iqbal rose to occasion, with the tone and content, which these people were unknown to, they couldn’t help, but oppose Iqbal’s poetry on the false pretence of idiom and language. They started to fabricate such wierd and false concoctions about Iqbal, as were far from reality. In their misplaced criticism, they went on to demean Iqbal’s personality and cast upon it, aspersions of varied nature.

The second among the critics of Iqbal was a section of Orthodox scholarship, who couldn’t understand, and were thus at odds with the message and representation of Islam, Iqbal had to suggested. Steeped in moores and modes of their own and bereft of the sense of evolution of culture and civilization, Iqbal seemed to them, but a heretic. No wonder Iqbal, in his own life, was conferred with a set of fatwas declaring him non-Muslim and calling him by varied names. This tussle which still continues in Muslim lands between Orthodoxy and reformists in varied modes of manifestation, is pivotal in deciding the future course of Islam. The opposition to Iqbal’s message of reform and reconstruction and revaluation of classical modes of thought and expression by Orthodoxy or Mullahs is a typical incident of the battle which has been going on between tradition and modernity in Muslim worlds for no less than a century now. Another reason why Iqbal had to face the brunt of Mullahism were his political opinions, by virtue of which he rejected the idea of modern day nation states in favour of the larger concept of trans-Islamic unity called Ummah. Leaving apart the pragmatic correctness of Iqbal’s opinion on this point, but his cry for pan-Islamism brought him in conflict with the mullahs who considered their future and interests tethered to the narrow concept of chauvinistic nationalism.

Iqbal was an egalitarian thinker and eclectic writer. He drew, like a honeybee, the nectar from flowers and turned it into an entity of merit and benefit. Despite his eclecticism, he maintained his loyalty to Islam, not merely as a system of rituals, but as a way of life and this adherence to Islam earned Iqbal criticism from the fifth quarter which included Bolshevists, Communists, Socialists and other such ideologies whose foundations were rooted in principles, other than that of Islam. There do exist the passages and writings of Islam which are explicit enough to place Iqbal in either of these groups. But an inclusive view on his poetry and prose reveals that he was a Muslim through and through and if anything, just wanted Islam to exercise its own socialistic ideals in order to ensure social justice and economic equality. The sixth column in the critics of Iqbal included persons from various backgrounds and having varied reasons for their opposition. The nature of their opposition was either personal or ideological and even sometimes unspecified.

By recounting Iqbal’s critics, at this stage of his biographical sketch is useful in a sense that as we proceed, we will be discovering the life and thought Iqbal subtly refuting these critics one by one and this will help us in placing Iqbal at a place which legitimately and properly belongs to him. Besides a mention of these critics, will well form and better inform us while discussing various facets of his poetry and thought.

(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at [email protected])