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The Perfect Man

- Ramanjit Singh

Allama Iqbal

To understand Pakistan, one has to understand Allama Iqbal, his thoughts, his beliefs, his yearning to recreate an ideal homeland for the Muslims governed by the true ideals of Islam. I believe that it takes a lifetime to fully understand Mahatma Gandhi and the same goes for Sir Mohammad Iqbal.

Born in 1877 in a Kashmiri Muslim family of Sialkot, Iqbal was a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi but his life's journey took a different path that defined his own identity and that of his community. For Gandhi, we were all Indians, for Mohammad Iqbal, Muslims were not Indians. To him a separate homeland for Muslims was an idea that he espoused upon throughout his life. And this dichotomy of beliefs between Gandhi and Iqbal became the genesis of Partition.

Iqbal gave voice to Muslims who found themselves submerged by the majority that they were not able to adapt with, they did not feel comfortable with, and it was this cultural and civilizational threat that he wanted to overcome. In India, Gandhi is considered the father of the nation, and in Pakistan it is Iqbal. It was his idea of carving out a separate and unique identity for Muslims, especially in northwest British India, that laid the foundation for the two-nation theory.

Iqbal was 20th century's greatest Urdu and Farsi poet, his work on Islamic studies, his passionate appeal for the revival of new Islamic civilization, his love for Rumi, his entire life's work makes him one of the greatest academic that South Asia has ever produced, placing him right next to Tagore. His life was devoted in the service of Islam, preaching its ideals, writing about how monotheistic religious principles has saved so many from the wretched stranglehold of idolatry and casteism.

He sternly believed in Islam not as an exclusionary force to fend off the non-believers, but for him Islam was rather an inclusionary force whose doors were always open to anyone who wanted to escape from the dystopian clutches of a system that had subjugated millions of lives since time immemorial.

His notion of monotheism (belief in one God) is rooted in Islam, however he respected and also appreciated such noble men like Guru Nanak whom he considered as a perfect man. In one of his works titled Bang-e-Dara, he wrote this;


Qaum Ne Pegham-e-Gautam Ki Zara Parwa Na Ki

Qadr Pehchani Na Apne Gauhar-e-Yak Dana Ki

Ah! Bad-Qismat Rahe Anwaz-e-Haq Se Be-Khabar

Ghafil Apne Phal Ki Sheerini Se Hot Hai Shajar

Anshakar Usne Kiya Jo Zindagi Ka Raaz Tha

Hind Ko Lekin Khayali Falsafe Par Naaz Tha

Shama-e-Haq Se Jo Munawwar Ho Ye Woh Mehfil Na Thi

Barish-e-Rehmat Huwi Lekin Zameen Qabil Na Thi

Anh! Shudar Ke Live Hindustan Gham Khana Hai

Dard-e-Insani Se Is Basti Ka Dil Began Gai

Barhman Sarshar Hai Ab Tak Mai--Pindar Mein

Shama-e-Gautam Jal Rah Hai Mehfil-e-Aghyar Mein

Butkada Phir Baad Muddat Ke Magar Roshan Huwa

Noor-e-Ibraheem Se Azar Ka Ghar Roshan Huwa

Phir Uthi Akhir Sada Touheed Ki Punjab Se

Hind Ko Ek Mard-e-Kamil Ne Jagaya Khawab Se

My clumsy translation of this poem won't do justice to those fluent in Urdu but what Iqbal is saying in these powerful words is this:

The society did not care or appreciate such a great prophet as Gautam Budh

You did not realize how great that man was

Your misfortune that you were not able to value this great gem

You were so ignorant and were busy attaining wealth

That you forgot to understand that he was talking about your salvation

You were unaware of the divine truth revealed by Buddha in the same way a tree remains oblivious to the sweetness of its own fruits

It rained from heavens but the ground was not ready to attain fertility

A low caste's life is full of despair and horrors

India remains a land of sorrow and without compassion

Brahman is intoxicated in his false superiority

While Budha is being revered in other lands

After a long while, finally the land was blessed with a new messenger of God

Now again a monotheistic belief would shine light on this land

Again a new light of monotheism (tawheed) originating from Punjab will brighten this land

India was awakened by a perfect man (mard-e-kamil, referring to Guru Nanak)

I have re-read this poem several times, and in each occasion I try to understand its true meaning by referencing his other work with the hope that it would give more meaning and context to his words. Nanak to him was an opportunity for Indians to see the light of monotheism, which provided a pathway to salvation. Although Iqbal's ancestors were Hindu Pandits and Brahmins, his views on Hinduism were conflicted.

He had disowned his own ancestral links to Hinduism and embraced Islam not from a contrived notion of simply opposing Hinduism or rather Brahmanism but from the standpoint of highlighting his strong belief that a monotheistic religion such as Islam (or if I say so Sikhism as well) is the only salvation for the millions who were yearning for salvation. The poem above gives a glimpse of what he genuinely believed in and cared about. To him Islam was clear, clean and absolute.

It is interesting to note that his ideas of Hindustan changed over time. On August, 1904 when he was invited to a function at Government College, Lahore, he presented this poem, titled 'Sarey Jahan say Acha Hindustan hamara" which to this day is sung in Indian schools.

Sāre jahāṉ se acchā, Hindositāṉ hamārā Ham bulbuleṉ haiṉ is kī, yih gulsitāṉ hamārā G̱ẖurbat meṉ hoṉ agar ham, rahtā hai dil wat̤an meṉ Samjho wuhīṉ hameṉ bhī dil ho jahāṉ hamārā Parbat wuh sab se ūṉchā, hamsāyah āsmāṉ kā Wuh santarī hamārā, wuh pāsbāṉ hamārā Godī meṉ kheltī haiṉ is kī hazāroṉ nadiyāṉ Guls̱ẖan hai jin ke dam se ras̱ẖk-i janāṉ hamārā Ai āb-i rūd-i Gangā! wuh din haiṉ yād tujh ko? Utrā tire kināre jab kārwāṉ hamārā Maẕhab nahīṉ sikhātā āpas meṉ bair rakhnā Hindī haiṉ ham, wat̤an hai Hindositāṉ hamārā Yūnān o-Miṣr o-Rūmā, sab miṭ ga'e jahāṉ se Ab tak magar hai bāqī, nām o-nis̱ẖaṉ hamārā Kuch bāt hai kih hastī, miṭtī nahīṉ hamārī Ṣadiyoṉ rahā hai dus̱ẖman daur-i zamāṉ hamārā Iqbāl! ko'ī maḥram apnā nahīṉ jahāṉ meṉ Maʿlūm kyā kisī ko dard-i nihāṉ hamārā!

But what changed in the subsequent years is his reckoning of how Muslims would live in a new India once the British are long gone. The overwhelming Hindu majority would gradually overwhelm the minority. The centuries of Islamic culture that existed in northwest India would be diluted by the Hindu majority. Thus his journey led him to become the chief advocate of Muslim rights and eventually influenced Mohammad Ali Jinnah's thinking and converted him from being an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity into an unflinching Quaid-e-Azam who successfully fought for Muslim independence.

Iqbal is ignored in India, we were never taught about his life or his writings. Very little is known about him among the generations that were born after Partition. I might say he's viewed negatively because he detested the very idea of a unified India and who believed in the two-nation theory. But I believe that in order for us to understand the idea of Pakistan, one has to understand its genesis, what made it happen, why it happened, and to ignore such an important individual from our history is a great disservice to our full comprehension of Partition.

Iqbal is revered in Pakistan. The very idea of Pakistan originated from Iqbal, he was its author and advocate long before anyone else thought about the concept of a pure Muslim homeland. To him a Muslim homeland needed to be governed by Islam and that there should be no separation of state and religion. He detested that the farmers of Punjab were forever being exploited by the money lenders (who happened to be Hindus) and Islam was the solution to their problems. Where Gandhi thought that unity among diverse ethnicities is possible, Iqbal believed in the absolute truth of Islam and separation of nations. He was not a secularist like Gandhi. He was not a secularist like me.

One has to understand the context of what Iqbal saw as he was growing up in what is now West Punjab, a province that was overwhelmingly majority Muslim. He was part of a lifestyle that hardly had any interaction with non-Muslims. As I wrote in one of the blogs, the entire lifestyle of Muslims in northwest India was completely separate from the rest of India. They were already, in essence, almost living in a separate country.

The Sikh and Hindu majority areas of Punjab were mere islands in this vast ocean of Islam. Minority was respected but surrounded. Out of this context, the idea of a separate country for Muslims came into shape. It was here the idea of Pakistan found meaning and support among the masses. Iqbal gave meaning to this idea by linking it to the resurgence of Islamic civilization and de-tethering it from the rest of India. Whether we as Indians like it or not, Iqbal was steadfast in his belief that for Muslims, their salvation would be achieved by gaining freedom not only from the British but more importantly from the rest of us.

In essence, he was indeed the perfect man who came up with the idea of Pakistan.


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