Thoughts in Contradiction: Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Molana Abul Kalam Azad

Thoughts in Contradiction: Allama Muhammad Iqbal and Molana Abul Kalam Azad

Allama Iqbal and Abul Kalam


Sir Muhammad Iqbal is eminently known as the poet of the East and the ideological father of Pakistan. His magnificent grip on Urdu and Persian poetry is undeniable. Iqbal also had a political influence during British Raj. His thoughts, however, mismatched with Molana-e-Hind Abul Kalam Azad. Iqbal mentioned many religious leaders of the subcontinent in prose and poetry but never Azad. Similarly, Azad, in his speeches used many verses of different poets to support his arguments but he never recited Iqbal’s verses. They left a strong imprint on the political and intellectual outlook of Muslims in undivided India. This research essay focuses on Iqbal’s vision of a separate homeland and Azad’s pluralistic approach. Iqbal and Azad differed in their views for democracy and many other factors that are illustrated in this essay.

Who were Iqbal and Azad? What were the main differences between the two and how their thoughts evolved?

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was born on 9-Nov 1877. He was a great poet, politician and philosopher. He is considered one of the greatest figures in Urdu and Persian Literature. Iqbal chose Persian for poetry because he believed his broad ideas cannot be interpreted in Urdu Language. Persian, on the other side provides a large vocabulary where Iqbal assumed his thoughts could fit in. Iqbal is known as Shair-e-Mashriq in South Asia. He is also called Mufakkir-e-Pakistan (The Inceptor of Pakistan) and Hakeem-ul-Ummah (The Sage of the Ummah) by Muslim conservatives.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was born in the holy city of Mecca in 1888. He was 11 years younger than his contemporary Allama Muhammad Iqbal. His father Khairuddin was a great Sufi scholar and pir originally from Calcutta. He had great respect among his disciples and they eventually persuaded him to return to that city. With the guidance of his father, Azad has studied Islam. On his personal interest he has also studied Persian and Urdu. He even also learnt paly the sitar.

Iqbal and Azad both had a great influence on the contemporary Muslims of the subcontinent. They’ve been widely acknowledged as the great Islamic thinkers of the 20th century. However, they never did any dialogue and have never met or quoted each other in their long political careers. Their thoughts had changed a lot during their lives. 

The Iqbal of late 1880s and early 1900s was known for his works on the topic of Indian nationalism, specifically, the ‘qaumi tarana’ remains a very popular song in present day India. After his visit to Europe in 1905, Iqbal became least interested in Indian Nationalism and his passion grew towards strengthening the Muslim solidarity. Iqbal believed that encounter with the west made him a stauncher Muslim. All his prose and poetry focus on one goal; get Muslims back on track towards progress. His poetry is filled with motivation to move forward and make a difference in modern times. Muslims, he believed, was a separate identity, having Deen as their constitution and that Deen could not be followed in its true sense in Indian Central Democracy system. Azad had an ideological journey too. Born in Mecca and raised under the supervision of his parents who’re known for their religious work in South Asia, Azad had strong faith in Khilafat movement. He was in favor of making a separate political organization in undivided India. However, after the collapse of Khilafat, Azad stood in support of Indian nationalism and made great contributions. This change in Azad’s approach is criticized by Dr Israr Ahmad in his video lectures.  Azad and Iqbal were born in different family backgrounds and that’s why their overall school of thought differs.

How did Iqbal and Azad see nationalism?

Iqbal bluntly and proudly rejects the modern doctrine of nationalism which developed quite recently in the nineteenth century. This, however, doesn’t mean that nationalities and patriotism didn’t exist in earlier times. But the blend of nationalism and patriotism along with the preponderance of national patriotism above any other human loyalty developed in the nineteenth century. According to Iqbal, the rise of nationalism is closely related to weaknesses in Christianity in the nineteenth century. Islam, on the other hand, provides you with a constitution (deen) and that cannot be comprehended in the context of modern nationalism. According to Iqbal, “Islam (unlike Christianity) “does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other.” Closely related to the argument stated above, Islam also doesn’t separate the affairs of the state and religion. In Islam the Creator and universe, spirit and matter, religious institutions and state, all are organically mixed within each other.

Furthermore, Iqbal elaborates that the doctrine of nationalism witnessed in a Christian society is very strange and it’s completely abstract in Islamic Context.

These views about nationalism developed in Iqbal’s mind between 1905 and 1908 when he visited Europe and deeply observed the system. Before 1905, Iqbal was a nationalist poet who’d immense love for his Brahmin ancestry and Indian nation.

Iqbal is famous across the border for his anthem, “Saarey Jahan se Acha. Hindustan Hamara” which is the most popular anthem in India till date. After 1908, Iqbal turns into a whole different poet who is a firm believer of Islam and its universality.

Abul Kalam Azad shared a similarity of his thoughts with Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. They believed that religion and politics have no link at all. Religion, in fact, is a very private matter and no one should indulge in the religious activities of a person. This is where Iqbal and Azad are in contradiction with each other. The former believes that “Deen” is a constitution and is above all other realities while the latter puts emphasis on religion more.

The evolution of Azad’s views from religious nationalism to secular nationalism was largely dictated by the developments in Turkey and other Arabic countries, such as the elimination of Khilafat by Kemal Ataturk and the growth of Arab nationalism based on the common territory and linguistic, historical and cultural background. He became a member of Congress Work Committee in 1920 and became one of the party’s most prominent leaders and a consistent champion of Muslim-Hindu co-operation. He was President of the Congress from 1940 to 1946, Minister of Education and then Minister of Natural Resources and Scientific Research (1947 58). 

Between 1951 and 1958, he was Deputy Leader of the Congress Party in parliament. As he witnessed the progress of liberation movement in India, Azad became convinced that unity of Indians, irrespective of their religious or linguistic background mattered a lot. Moreover, he believed that the issues between Hindus and Muslims like communal violence could be resolved if India gained independence from the British Raj. Azad deeply observed and made future assumptions about the international consequences of partition. 

In one of his speeches, Azad said, If an angel were to descend from the high heavens and proclaim from the heights of the Qutub Minar, Discard Hindu-Muslim unity and within twenty-four hours SwarÀj is yours,” I will refuse the proffered SwarÀj, but will not bulge an inch from my stand. The refusal of SwarÀj will affect only India while the end of our unity will be the loss of the entire human world.

Did Iqbal really want a separate country for Muslims?

Pakistan studies textbook presents Iqbal as a Muslim thinker with a blunt message that Pakistan, the homeland for Muslims of the subcontinent, can be accredited to his vision. But the recent critical work done in understanding his ideas portrays a very sane and genius effort made by Iqbal in the mid-20th century. After consulting Iqbal’s Allahabad address, which thoroughly represents his stance on various solutions to the problems of subcontinent, one cannot derive any statement about having a separate country. Iqbal as a matter of fact believed that the northern India can defend the rest of the territory as it comprises of areas having strategic importance. Moreover, Iqbal emphasized on creating Muslim India within India where the Muslims could revive all the Islamic practices in their true sense. Iqbal was a student of history who observed the patterns where Islam was misused for self-interest for many decades. On the other side Azad believed that Muslims did not need to create an autonomous state for practicing Islamic principles mentioned in the Quran. Instead, they should revive and reconfirm what the Koran taught and prescribed. Azad believed there is no need to build a house; one has only to come back to the one that was abandoned. Therein lies the fundamental difference between Azad’s ideas as to what was to be done and the methods used by his contemporaries like Iqbal, Jinnah and other notables of Pakistan Muslim League. 

What was the main source of arguments for both the leaders?

One great and yet notable attempt of Iqbal was “re-construction of religious thought of Islam” to suit the needs of modern Muslims. He believed we have to change and broaden our horizons with the new era. Azad attempted to target the Muslim mind to the requirements of what he considered to be the true Islam. Iqbal being a student of history, philosophy, political sciences and economics draws his arguments from diverse range of sources like Arabic, Persian, Western and Indian thought to address and teach the Muslims. Azad’s thought “springs out of the Quran and from no other source”. He once said, “any thought which is derived from any institution of knowledge other than Quran is kufar and that includes politics”.  

Unlike Azad, Iqbal also values non-Quranic sources of knowledge. He does not consider the Quran to be a book of law and rejects “the claims of the ulama about the finality of Mahammadan law”. He regards claims of the present generation of the Muslim liberals to re-interpret the fundamental legal principles, in the light of their own experience and altered condition of modern life, as perfectly justified.

While Iqbal did not any sustainable future for Muslims of the subcontinent, Azad carried his thought and put aside all the religious and cultural differences between Hindus and Muslims. Iqbal believed that the real essence of Islam, which we’ve lost in lust for power since hundreds of years. He assumed the interest of Muslims could not be safeguarded in central system. Iqbal imagines what Allah (swt) would say to the Muslims. Iqbal then enumerated the Muslims’ many failures including their involvement in rituals instead of living up to the spirit of Islam, and sectarianism into which they have fallen.

Azad based his concept of composite Indian nationalism not only on a theological analogy of Prophet Muhammad’s accord with non-Muslim com- munities at Medina, but also on the doctrine of ‘wahdat-e-adyan’ (unity of religions) which he deduced from the Quran. This doctrine, along with Gandhi’s idea of Ram and Rahim, formed the theoretical basis of Indian nationalism and the Indian concept of secularism. Azad carried a hopeful message. He acknowledges the sectarian violence in United India like Iqbal but he had other predictions. Azad thought all these communal violence incidents will reduce and eventually diminished once the British leave and democracy totally flourishes the country. He constantly resisted the idea that Muslims and Hindus can’t live together under one system. During his presidential speech, he carried the same message in a great way.One of the last caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam. This led to a meeting of the culture-currents of two different races. Like Ganga and Jumna, they flowed for a while through separate courses, but nature’s immutable law brought them together and joined them in a Sangam. This fusion was a notable event in history. Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India too full of the riches of her own precious heritage. Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousand years, Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also, we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. 

What was Azad’s stand on Nehru and Jinnah’s decision to make separate country based on two nation theory?

After Iqbal’s death, the concept of a separate country was artificially created as a bargaining power to gain maximum rights for the Muslims living in an autonomous state in undivided India. Jinnah had to accept a Pakistan he had no intention of creating. Instead, he put up a brave front, as he told a Hindu friend in Karachi, Hashoo Kewal Ramani, an industrialist: “Look here, I never wanted this damn Partition! It was forced upon me by Sardar Patel. And now they want me to eat humble pie and raise my hands in defeat.” 

Abul Kalam Azad, in the late 1940s, literally begged Gandhi and clashed with fellow Congress leaders, Nehru and Patel, to prevent the division of the country and the catastrophe that was to follow in the form of bloodletting and mindless destruction that was to follow. He pleaded with Muslims fleeing to the new state of Pakistan in 1947 to stay back. It is said that following Azad’s spirited call, tens of thousands of Delhi’s Muslims who had packed their bags to leave for the newfoundland returned home with new hope and sense of purpose. 

What were Azad’s predictions about Pakistan?

Abul Kalam Azad gave an interview to Shorish Kashmiri for a Lahore based Urdu magazine, Chattan, in April 1946. Azad made some astonishing predictions throughout the course of the interview saying that religious conflict would tear apart Pakistan and its eastern half would carve out its own future. He predicted accurately:

1.Independence of east Pakistan on Bengali nationalism.

2.Foreign powers taking control of Pakistan

3. High debt of new country

4. High Handedness of feudal lords in Pakistan and their selfishness

Have we followed the advice of Iqbal or Azad?

We have failed to catch or understand either of the school of thoughts that Azad and Iqbal represented. If Iqbal’s advice was followed by the Muslims at that time, we might have emerged as a truly developed state within undivided India. There might have been a new hope for the future of Islam and maybe of the world.

Ignoring his advice, Pakistan came into being more on the support of Muslims of India than those of present-day Pakistan; on account of which both have suffered. While Muslims in India have yet not outgrown the stigma attached to them for their responsibility for the creation of Pakistan, Pakistan still misses the ideo- logical sanction of its national identity. On the authority, of Iqbal’s son, Javed Iqbal, one can surmise that had Iqbal been alive till the creation of Pakistan, “he would have found another concept and called it Pakistani nationalism.

Azad also looks increasingly irrelevant in the India of his dreams.  If the congress leadership, Jinnah had followed Azad’s advice, Muslims might have succeeded in getting constitutional and political rights and would not have split into three parts. However, during Modi’s tenure, the concept of two nation theory is revoked by Pakistani scholars who still believe that Pakistan was based on two nation theory.

Most importantly, it is impossible to deny the fact that Azad and Iqbal have worked throughout their lifetime, no matter how different the approach might have been. They wanted something great for the Muslims of South Asia specifically India. There’s no doubt that we’ve miserably failed to understand what Iqbal and wanted from us. 

By: Ahsan Syed Zada


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