Allama Iqbal: A Sense of Mission
By Prof. Mustansir Mir
Submitted by Prof. Mohammad Soheyl Umar
Director for English Language and Professor
University of Central Punjab
4. A Sense of Mission (1908-38)
On his return to India in July, 1908 Iqbal set up legal practice in Lahore, where, for a while, he also taught philosophy at his Alma Mater, Government College.
The struggle to establish himself financially made strenuous demands on his time. His married life, too, was far from happy. His first marriage had been unsuccessful. In 1910, he married Sardar Begum and, in 1913, Mukhtar Begum. The troubles in his personal life left him little time to pursue his literary interests, and, consequently, he wrote very little poetry in the first two or three years after his return from Europe.
Increasingly, however, he took part in the activities of several social welfare organizations and became involved in different capacities with a number of educational institutions, including Punjab University and Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College.
In 1911, the British government, acceding to Hindu political demands but causing grave disappointment to the Muslims, rescinded the 1905 partition of the Bengal province. The international scene, too, was depressing to Muslims.
In 1911 2, Italy occupied Libya, France annexed Morocco, and several Balkan states attacked Turkey, divesting it of its East European possessions. The events at home and abroad created a sense of despair and helplessness in many sensitive Muslims, including Iqbal, whose life from now on is marked by a growing earnestness of purpose. In both prose and poetry, Iqbal now begins to address the plight of Muslims—not only in India but in the Islamic world at large—and, in the process, his philosophical and political ideas start to take a more definite shape. According to Iqbal himself, it was during his stay in England that he became preoccupied with the question of the decline of the historic Muslim community. This preoccupation is conspicuous in his subsequent literary output.
Iqbal’s Urdu poems had been appearing in periodicals, but his first book of poetry to be published—in 1915—was the Persian Asrar-iKhudi, which sought to offer a systematic treatment of core concepts of Iqbal’s developed thought. Reynold Nicholson’s English translation of the work (1920) introduced Iqbal in the West as a major literary and philosophical writer.
Reviewing the English version, Herbert Read compared Iqbal to the famous America poet Walt Whitman (1819 92). In its scope and appeal, Asrar-iKhudi addresses the worldwide Muslim community. Several other Persian and Urdu collections of poetry followed. Becoming heavily engaged on the intellectual, educational, and social fronts, Iqbal gave public talks and academic lectures, wrote articles for journals and newspapers, assisted in the production of textbooks for students at school and college levels, and corresponded with many people, expressing, in many cases, his views on issues of national and international importance. His major philosophical work, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, was published in 1934 (1st edition 1930). He was invited to give the Rhodes lectures in 1934, but ill health prevented him from travelling to England.
The worldwide Muslim community—the ummah—became a major focus of Iqbal’s attention in the post-Europe period. Iqbal, who had previously written ‘National Song of India’ (BD, 83), saying ‘We are Indians, and India is our country’ (the poem ‘National Song of Indian Children’ (BD, 87)) may also be mentioned in this connection), now wrote ‘Islamic Community’s Song’, proclaiming ‘We are Muslims, the whole world is our country’.
Iqbal’s concern for the uplift and well-being of the ummah is evident from his active involvement in several global Islamic causes. When the adventurer Bachchah-iSaqao captured Kabul in January 1929, ousting the ruler Amanullah Khan, Iqbal appealed to the Muslims of India to support the Afghan general Nadir Shah’s campaign to defeat Bachchah-iSaqao. In September 1929, Iqbal presided over a large public gathering held to protest the growing Zionist influence, under British patronage, in Palestine. In his speech, he declared that Muslims put no trust in the investigative commission that Britain had intended to send to Palestine. In 1931, he represented the Muslims of India at a meeting of the World Islamic Congress held in Palestine. In 1931 and 1932, again representing India’s Muslims, Iqbal participated in the London Round Table Conferences held to decide India’s political future. In 1933, Iqbal and two of his friends travelled to Afghanistan at the invitation of Nadir Shah, who wished to consult them about Afghanistan’s educational system.
In practice, of course, most of Iqbal’s political activities were confined to India. In 1926, he was elected a member of the Punjab Legislative Council, a position he retained until 1930. He played an important role in determining the course of the Muslim League, which was to become India’s largest Muslim political party.
When the activities of militant Hindu proselytizing movements like the Shuddhi and Sanghatan led to Hindu-Muslim riots, Iqbal urged Muslims to follow the example of India’s Hindu community and rely on themselves for their communal survival and progress.
Formerly a supporter of the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity, Iqbal eventually became doubtful of the viability of the project, concluding that the Muslims of India must maintain their distinct religious and cultural entity. He also spoke of the need for a separate electoral system for Hindus and Muslims in India. In December 1930, at the annual meeting of the All-India Muslim League held at Allahabad, he delivered his famous presidential address in which he proposed the creation of a separate homeland at least for the Muslims of northwestern India. Although he did not live to see the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Iqbal is revered as its spiritual father—and as its national poet.