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Revisiting Iqbal (Part 15) – Early signs of reconstruction


By Amir Suhail Wani –

The situations which Iqbal found himself thrown into were mostly deterring to his creativity, the phenomenon which he himself complained about many a times. But keeping his spirits high, he never let the external situations blunt his creative genius, but kept treading the path with vigor and passion. After having published Payam I Mashriq, he made due additions and alterations to it and published its second edition in March 1924. Meanwhile pressure was mounting on Iqbal from his friends to compile and publish his Urdu poetry, as a result of which, Bang I Darra went to be compiled in February 1924 and appeared in market in September 1924. The book was foreworded by Sheikh Abdul Qadir which made a comparison of Iqbal with Ghalib, a cliche that has stayed ever since. Bang I Darra, despite its traditionality and rootedness in mores of Urdu was a voice of rebellion against the established paradigms of poetry and carried a fresh air of experimentation both in style and content. While Iqbal was working out the contours of Bang I Darra, many people here and there, had published collections of his poetry. Seeing these premature publications threatening his project of compiling Bang I Darra, he informed these people to immediately bring these publications to halt. This was also the time when Iqbal drew the earliest sketches of his another work of poetry that later came to be known as Zaboor I Ajam.

The manner in which Asrar O Ramooz was criticised, particularly by the intellectual elite made Iqbal to exclaim in one of his letters that he had perhaps committed a mistake by publishing Asrar I Khudi. In a letter to Hadi Hassan dated 2 February 1924 Iqbal went on to state retrospectively that the ideas he had expressed in Asrar I Khudi weren’t purely of intellectual import but required spiritual maturity on the part of reader for their proper comprehension. He also made clear that the ideas expressed in the book couldn’t be grasped in one go and required lot of time and homework for their grasp. Iqbal had, once upon a time handed similar advice to Yusuf Saleem Chishti when he had complained about his inability to understand the book in its totality. Iqbal also stated that as opposed to the classical mystical ideal of self – annihilation, he had set before him the goal of self existence and that’s what made his message different from other predecessors. He believed that annihilation was anti-thesis to the Quranic doctrines and thus he discarded it in favour of self affirmation. In his scholarly spirit, Iqbal had simultaneously plunged into herculan task of revisiting and reinterpreting Islamic thought in contemporary epistemological idiom. He wrote to Maulvi Muhammad Shafi on 22 April, 1924 that he was writing a paper on ijtehad for which he wanted to study the teachings of Ibn I Tayimia, Abdul Wahab Najdi and the founder of Bahai faith Muhammad Ali Baab. Having completed the essay, he wrote to Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain that he was very much scared to publish this paper, lest it brings him fatwas from Orthodoxy. Despite his own modernist leanings, he owned his own share of orthodoxy and respected prevalent interpretations in established affairs of religious order. Thus when Inayat Ullah Khan Mashriqi proclaimed Quran to be the manifesto of conquest of nature, Iqbal protested against such proposal stating that it subverted the superstructure of Quran and deprived it of its spiritual, religious and metaphysical underpinnings. No doubt, said Iqbal, that Quran directs its followers to make use of rationality and other human faculties to master and tame the forces of nature, but this was only an aspect of the Quran and not its essence. These voices have been recurrently making their appearance on the intellectual horizon of Muslims.


On October 5 1924, Iqbal’s wife Sardar Begum gave birth to Javed Iqbal, an event which brought joy not only to Iqbal but to the whole family. Narrations have it that when Iqbal came to know that his wife is expecting, he went to the shrine of Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi and prayed that his child may prove to be of service to the cause of Islam. Iqbal named his son Javed and when Iqbal wrote later Javed nama, he was addressing entire Ummah through Javed. While the birth of Javed brought Iqbal joy, the death of his wife Mukhtar Begum on 21st October 1924 threw Iqbal into gloom and overarching sadness.Islam, as it sprang like a tulip in the desert was a faith that addressed man’s will and postponed all metaphysical intricacies for the simple reason that this science yielded nothing but speculation and controversy. The simplicity of Islamic creed and its appeal to man’s instruments of action was soon trumped as it travelled to foreign lands of Persia, India and elsewhere. These geographies, unlike Arabs, had a philosophical and speculative tradition of their own and this tradition left its visible impressions on Islamic creed and the manner in which it went on to be interpreted and understood by people. Iqbal felt a sense of rebellion against this tendency and craved to restore Islam to its Arabic simplicity and pristine nature. At one point he went to express himself so strongly that in a letter to Niyaz UD Din Khan he stated that Indian Muslims were deeply influenced by Eastern mystical thought, so much so that even if prophet were to come again and preach Islam in its pure form, these people will maintain their allegiance to their cultural beliefs. In another letter to Akbar Shah, he praised Sir Syed for purging Islam of later day accretions and unnecessary involvement of orthodox scholars, as he saw them importing alien elements into the fabric of Islam. Iqbal considered himself a humble student of Islamic sciences and wrote to Sufi Tabbasum in 1925 that he keeps equipping himself with the knowledge of Islam, not for the sake of teaching and preaching, but simply for his personal benefit. But it is equally true that there are aspects of Islam, like its jurisprudence, which he was especially interested in and wanted to sync this field in particular with recent advances in human understanding. He had sensed that the paper he had been writing on ijtehad in Islam was small enough to encompass the major plots of this debate. He thus intended to expand this paper to a book whose title he had chosen as “Islam as I understand it”. But the paucity of time didn’t allow him, like other projects, to work on this book and thus it remained only a dream.

(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])