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Allama Iqbal and Maulana Azad: Two men who fought for one cause
Thursday November 14, 2013 3:30 PM, Aijaz Zaka Syed

Last week saw the birth anniversaries of two of South Asia's tallest visionaries. Allama Iqbal and Maulana Abulkalam Azad were contemporaries although Azad was 11 years younger. In their background, temperament and outlook, no two men could have been more dissimilar.

What was common between them though was their concern for and lifelong preoccupation with the lot of South Asian Muslims. They left a strong imprint on the political and intellectual outlook of Muslims in undivided India although Iqbal was in a different league altogether and his influence on generations that came after him remains unsurpassed.

Both were men of extraordinary intelligence, intellectual brilliance and insight that helped them see far ahead in time and into the future. Fame and recognition came to them early in life.
If Azad in his teens had established himself as a writer of fiery prose and published a revolutionary newspaper called Al-Hilal besides joining the freedom struggle and working on the commentary of Holy Qur'an, Iqbal's popularity as a poet and philosopher spread to far corners of the subcontinent and beyond in his own lifetime. No poet has ever been so wildly popular and widely quoted as he has been.

Even today, 75 years after his death, his popularity knows no bounds. In Hyderabad, Dars-e-Iqbal (Iqbal studies) sessions are held on a regular basis. Interestingly, a lot of mediocre stuff by other poets is often dumped into Iqbal's account. Which is a minor crime considering what he has suffered at the hands of those claiming to be inheritors of his formidable legacy.

The 136th birth anniversary of Iqbal this week once again saw a lot of hot air and platitudes in the name of tributes to the Poet of the East, in Pakistan which calls him its National Poet. Newspapers talked of celebrations being held across Pakistan with "great reverence and fervor."

There were hardly any celebrations to speak of on the other side of the border in India though where 'Saare jahan se achcha Hindustan hamara' (India is the best in the whole wide world) written by him remains the most popular patriotic song although Tagore's 'jana gana mana' is the national anthem.

As with everything else, Iqbal seems to have become a victim of the never-ending India-Pakistan war of wits and emotions. Perhaps, you can't really blame India for being indifferent to someone who is considered the "national poet" of Pakistan. Especially when Pakistan also sees Iqbal as its ideological architect.

But Iqbal died in 1938 — much before the idea of a homeland for Muslims germinated into a popular movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Of course, he dreamed of a model Islamic state and a territory where Muslims can live according to their ideals. But it was more like an Islamic utopia for him.

Iqbal was both a humanist and a pan Islamist and did not believe in borders. I doubt if someone who believed that the entire world belonged to the believers would have liked his people to remain limited to geographical confines of territory and nation state.

The man who celebrated India with 'saare jahan se achcha' also gave us: "Muslim hain watan hai saara jahan hamara" (We are Muslims and the whole world belongs to us!)
He had drunk deep from the nectars of Islamic philosophy — chiefly from the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions and philosophers like Ghazali and Rumi, even as he mastered Western philosophy arming himself with a Ph.D. from the Munich University.

What fascinates me no end is the question — what would Iqbal have thought of the current state of Pakistan — and the predicament of Muslims around the world? What medicine would the great sage have offered for the various malaises plaguing his people?

Extremism has emerged as a clear and present danger to Pakistan and the rest of the world of Islam. A lunatic fringe claims to speak on behalf of the faithful. Things fall apart and there's chaos everywhere. What would have been Iqbal's solution to our woes?

The same question intrigues me with reference to Maulana Azad. What would have been his counsel to India's Muslims — and those around the world? As everyone knows, Azad had been a passionate votary of Indian nationalism, Hindu-Muslim unity and had vehemently opposed the idea of the partition till the very last minute.

He 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.

His speech at Delhi's Jama Masjid in October 1947 – two months after the partition — remains one of the most powerful and profound examples of sublime oratory. He spoke like an ancient oracle and cast a spell: "Behold, the high towers of Jama Masjid are asking you: Where have you lost the pages of your history? Only yesterday your caravans had performed Wazu (ablution) on the banks of Jamuna. And today you are afraid to live here. Remember that you have nourished Delhi with your blood. You are afraid of tremors; there was a time when you were an earthquake. You fear darkness when you yourself symbolized light.

"Those were none but your forefathers who not only laughed at the bolts of lightning, turned away tornados, challenged the tempests and made them alter their course. It is a sign of a dying faith that those who had once grabbed the collars of emperors are today clutching at their own throats. They have become oblivious of the existence of God as if they had never believed in Him. Today you are in a helpless, hapless and in a miserable condition. A community with a faith that can turn the tides before bending is in such a situation today because you had become sentimental. Go back it is your home, it is your country…."

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 newfound land returned home with new hope and sense of purpose.

Today, I wonder, what the Maulana who was dismissed by Quaid-e-Azam as a "show boy of the Congress," would have thought of India of his dreams. "On his 125th anniversary, Maulana Azad lies a forgotten man," wrote Rahul Vaishnavi this past week. "It's indeed ironic how the man who persuaded thousands of Muslims during partition to stay back in India is now a forgotten man."

Vaishnavi is horrified by the condition of Azad's mausoleum near Jama Masjid. "Its red sandstone boundary walls are defaced with posters and betel juice marks. Shopkeepers hang cases full of clothes and jewelry on them. Inside the walls the dry fountains gather dust and filth. Situated in the heart of the bustling Meena Bazar, the mausoleum is surrounded by numerous shops selling food, mobiles, CDs, clothes and other knick-knacks. Open sewers and a dump yard nearby tell a tale of unbelievable civic and governmental neglect."

In a way, Azad's last abode mirrors his legacy. Despite being one of the stalwarts of the independence movement and having played a seminal role as India's first education minister, setting up its world-class universities, IITs and numerous research and development institutions, Azad looks increasingly irrelevant in the India of his dreams. Perhaps more so when Narendra Modi steps into the shoes of his lifelong friend to rule the country.

The same is more or less true of the people he persuaded not to turn their back on the land of their ancestors saying, "If you go to Pakistan, you might find your co-religionists, but never your countrymen."

On the other hand, the lot of those who did migrate to the "promised land" isn't better off either. I've said this before and I say it again. Indian Muslims have been the biggest losers in the grand bargain struck by the guilty men of partition in 1947.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published Gulf-based writer. He can be reached at

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