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Revisiting Iqbal (Part 13) – Political Awakening


By Amir Suhail Wani 

World War I was a watershed moment in the history of nations and an unprecedented event in terms of the consequences it had on macro and micro aspects of civilisation, culture and at the future of mankind itself. Iqbal, as pointed at earlier, maintained a physical and mental seclusion from the war and kept working on his Ramooz I Bekhudi. 

The post war period was one fraught with challenges for the Muslim world and the nature of these challenges prompted Iqbal to break the shell and participate in local and national politics. The foremost challenges that war threw at the world were the disintegration of turk khilafah, the bolshevist revolution in Russia and redistribution of territories between imperial powers. In India itself, procudures like implementation of Rowlett act, the tragedy of Jallianawala Bagh massacre and change in the modus operandi of freedom struggle were all developments of prominence and Iqbal was quick to respond to these developments in terms of ideological counter poise and practical engagement with the politics. To register a protest against the excesses of British committed to Turkey and to restore the institution of Khalifa, “Khilafat movement” was launched under the leadership of Ali brothers, Hakim Ajmal Khan and et Al. In December 1919, a joint session of Congress, Muslim league, Khilafat Committee and Jamiat I Ulema was held at Amritsar and a resolution of non-cooperation was passed. Iqbal too joined the movement and became a member of provincial working committee, a tryst that proved short lived. Iqbal soon disagreed with Khilafat Movement on two issues – the proposal of sending a delegation to England to and the participation of Hindus in Khilafat movement. On account of first difference, Iqbal noted that the exercise was futile and useless without any possible yields and regarding the second difference, he opined, and truly so that Hindu support to Khilafat movement was an eye washer. Iqbal, despite being a member of the provincial committee, strongly instructed his nephew, Sheikh Aejaz to avoid participating in the gatherings of the movement and instead instructed him to focus on personal growth. Dr. Javed Iqbal writes that Iqbal imagined the future of Turk Caliphate as fragile and susceptible. He thus considered that the future of Muslim nations shall rest on principles other than pan Islamic Khilafat.


Iqbal’s association with Khilafat Movement is said to have drawn its inspiration from the religious ideals of the movement and not its political motives. This is what Dr. Ghulam Hussain Zulfikar notes while asserting that “Iqbal participated in Khilafat Committee for its religious connotations, but when the movement assumed purely political character after Calcutta session of Congress, Iqbal parted his ways from the movement” . But despite his practical distance from the movement and for that matter any other political body, Iqbal kept contemplating the national and international issues of importance. It was also during these days that Iqbal started groundwork on his Payam I Mashriq, a book, which according to him was written as sequel and as Eastern response to Goethe’s West–östlicher Divan. Iqbal wrote, in successive letters to Niyaz UD Din Khan that

” Convey my regards to Mr. Girami. I heard he is angry at me as to why I resigned from Khilafat Committee. Shall he come to Lahore, I will inform him of the situation. The way this community was established and the ideals of few of itmembers made me realise that the existence of this community is dangerous for Muslims “

(11 February, 1920)

And in another letter, Iqbal wrote about Payam I Mashriq

” I am writing an Eulogy addressed to the Prophet (PBUH)… I just wrote few couplets, and never before has my heart been in a situation as it is while I am writing the book”.

Another puzzle that has confronted the Muslims in the wake of Khilafat movement was a boycott to educational grants received from the England and the establishment of independent institutions of education. This move irked Iqbal, as he saw it as a means of disrupting the already dilapidated sector of Muslim education. This act badly disrupted the scene of Muslim education in India and for a while, as described by Dr. Javed Iqbal, the situation remained grim and chaotic. The issue of educational disruption was compounded by a fatwa from Jamiat I Ulama I Hind declaring India as Darul Harab (The land of war) and thus making it incumbent upon the Muslims of India to migrate to other parts. A huge population of Muslims from various areas migrated to Afghanistan to begin with, but as the population of migrants increased most of them were forced to return to India only to face a strong economic backlash. Dr Javed Iqbal, on authority of Rushbrook Williams quotes that “The Road from Peshawar to Kabul was strewn with graves of old men, women and children who had succumbed to the difficulties of the journey. The unhappy emigrants, when they returned, found themselves homeless and penniless, with their property in the hands of those to whom they had sold it for a tithe of its value”.

In June 1921, Iqbal travelled to Kashmir for the first time in pursuance of one of his cases and stayed here for almost three weeks. He was simultaneously moved by Kashmir’s natural beauty and disturbed to the core by the plight of its residents – and both these impressions found their way into Iqbal’s poetic synthesis. He sang eulogies and elegies in same breath and made prophecies that were to come true in less than a decade’s time. Saqi Nama that later went on to become an important entry in Payam I Mashriq was written in Nishat Garden.

In continuation with the tradition that loneliness is the fate of great minds, Iqbal found himself lonely and without a companion. This loneliness had an intellectual import to it as there were scarcely men around to understand Iqbal, his worldview and opinions he expressed on issues of political and religious nature. It was during these days of pressing ideological loneliness that Iqbal wrote his epic poem Khizr I Rah that he later went on to recite in annual session of Anjum I Himayat I Islam. Ali Bhaksh narrates that around the time when this poem was written, Iqbal had fallen into a sort of soliloquy and used to talk for hours and hours with some character, which seemed to be the product of his imagination. Iqbal posed questions after questions to this character and received answers from him. The poem reverberates the socio-political milieu and a growing consciousness of emerging world order. It was around this time that Egypt, Palestine, Iran, Turkey and other Muslim nations launched their freedom struggles against the dominant imperial powers based on geographic nationalism. In the wake of this movement, most of the countries freed themselves from imperialist fetters and went on to tread the trajectories of their independence. These developments had heightened Allama’s dream of Muslim revival and re-emergence of global Muslim dominance. Inspired by this vision, he went on to write a series of poems making prophecies and foretelling Muslim ascendancy in the world. But unlike other predictions made by our poet philosopher, world politics proved too cruel to let his political predictions come true. He nevertheless remained an ardent advocate and undying aspirant of Islamic resurgence – the idea that went on to define the later phase of his life and poetry.

(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])