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    The Idea

    This is the official website of Khurram Ali Shafique, the author of The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality(2007)

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    The author has published works in English and Urdu. He received the Presidential Iqbal Award in 2011.

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    Articles and Papers

    Most of the articles and research papers by the author are available on this website.

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    The author has written textbooks for environmental education, Social Studies, Islamic Studies and Iqbal Studies.

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The site is being renovated. Some of the new links may not become functional till the end of March, but I hope that you like the new look.

Ayaz Amir: between ignorance and dishonesty

Ayaz Amir.
Image from The News International
I have read with great interest the recent article Poet of the soul, thy occasional silences’ by Ayaz Amir published in The NewsInternational on Friday, March 28. I am surprised to see that the esteemed writer is so unfamiliar with facts about the life and writings of Allama Iqbal, and has based his writing on sheer sentiment at the cost of truth.

He complains that ‘in all his work, so much of it transcendent, there is no mention of Jallianwala Bagh, an event which shook India. Nor did Iqbal take a public position on it.’ This is not true. Iqbal wrote a short but very moving poem in Urdu, in which he advised the reader not to withhold tears on the plight of those ‘martyrs’. The poem was published in newspapers at that time and has been included in several anthologies and biographies since then. It can also be found on page 460 in my Urdu biography of the middle years of Iqbal’s career, Iqbal: Darmiani Daur, which covers the period 1914-1922.

I am copying the poem here along with an English translation done by my friend, Akhtar Wasim Dar:

جلّیانوالہ باغ امرتسر
ہر زائرِ چمن سے یہ کہتی ہے خاکِ پاک
غافل نہ رہ جہان میں گردُوں کی چال سے

سینچا گیا ہے خونِ شہیداں سے اس کا تخم

تُو آنسووں کا بخل نہ کر اِس نہال سے

Jalianwalla Bagh Amritsar
The sacred land urges to every pilgrim of the garden
Not to remain inattentive in this world to the ways their destiny works.
Its seed has been watered by martyrs’ blood
Do not withhold your tears from its saplings.

Yet, Mr. Amir chooses to call the poetry of Iqbal ‘poetry at the same time silent on such a tragedy as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre’! We understand that it is really too much for some Pakistani journalists to stop telling lies, but one wonders what happened to the old-fashioned editorial discretion. I mean, seriously, does The New International not have even one well-informed person in its editorial team, who could have taken a look at Mr. Amir’s writing before it went to press? 

Mr. Amir is partially correct in suggesting that the holocaust which occurred in Punjab in 1947 was only indirectly linked to the partition of India and was more directly a result of the partition of Punjab. Yet, again I wonder from where did he get his information that Iqbal and the founding fathers of Pakistan did not foresee it (as he says, ‘Mention should also be made of a failure of the imagination or a failure of foresight, on Iqbal’s part as on that of the League leadership as a whole…the failure to see that if ever the demand for a north-west Muslim state was met, it would surely and inevitably entail the partition first of Punjab and then only of India’).

Talks about the partition of India, and the partitions of Punjab and Bengal, had started in the early 1920s. Therefore, it required neither imagination nor foresight on part of Iqbal and his club to see it – but of course it requires general knowledge and hindsight on part of Mr. Amir to know this (and how much we wish that Mr. Amir was in possession of either of these).

Ironically enough, the person who initiated the discourse about these partitions in 1921 was none other than Hasrat Mohani – the same about whom Mr. Amir has wished so melodramatically that there were ‘a few more Hasrat Mohanis’. Mohani made some bold suggestions to this end in his presidential address to the annual session of All-India Muslim League in 1921, and followed them up with even more radical propositions along these lines.

Lala Lajpat Rai, in sync with Hindu Mahasabha, answered Mohani by demanding the partition of Punjab as well as the partition of Bengal, and a partitioning of India between ‘a Hindu India and a Muslim India’. Rai did that in a series of thirteen articles, collectively titled ‘The Hindu-Muslim Problem’, which were published in November-December 1924 (apparently in view of the impending annual session of the Indian National Congress, since the annual sessions for the two preceding years had been consecutively presided over by advocates of Muslims nationalism, i.e. C. R. Das in 1922 and Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar in 1923, and their views were anathema to obscurantist leaders like Rai). 

Hence the Hindu demand for the partition of Punjab and Bengal was already on the table by the time Iqbal came out with his proposition for a consolidated Muslim state in 1930.

Mr. Amir complains that Iqbal did not say much about Bhagat Singh. Here, one cannot overlook the macabre irony that Bhagat Singh was out to take revenge for the death of the same Lala Lajpat Rai, who had originally demanded the partition of Punjab which Mr. Amir loathes so much (and given the overall quality of scholarship reflected in Mr. Amir’s writing, we cannot be sure if he is even aware of these facts). 

On a more serious note, while it is true that Iqbal did not say much about Bhagat Singh, many other freedom-fighters were also silent on that issue but this is not usually considered as sufficient ground for questioning their bonafide. Even Gandhi didn’t do much to save Bhagat Singh, and this does not bring down Gandhi from his high pedestal.

It seems that the underlying issue which Mr. Amir is trying to reach here is whether Iqbal was sufficiently opposed to British imperialism, and whether Iqbal did something to that effect. It is well-known even to the detractors of Iqbal that he took a very well-defined stand against colonialism, not only as a poet but even as a politician and social activist.

Granted that his stand was in keeping with his worldview, and anybody who disagrees with that worldview, like Mr. Amir does, is welcome to question whether Iqbal’s stand was effective or not. Unfortunately, such an exercise pre-requires a wider range of reading than Mr. Amir seems to be capable of, and therefore he takes the easier path of misleading his readers by stating, in clear contradiction to known facts, that Iqbal did not take a stand against colonialism at all. This is where Mr. Amir crosses the line between ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, in the direction of the latter.

In the passing, I would like to mention just one anecdote about Iqbal’s well-known opposition of British imperialism. The declassified documents in the archives of the former princely state of Hyderabad Deccan have revealed that when the ruler of that state was considering a proposal for granting patronage to Iqbal, he was advised by his counsellors against it on the grounds that Iqbal was too well-known for opposing British imperialism, and any patronage to Iqbal would displease the foreign rulers.

Pakistan is not suffering today because its founding fathers lacked moral courage or foresight, as Mr. Amir has tried to insinuate. It suffers today because a large majority of our educated class and our intelligentsia is unaware of the basic facts of our history, and Mr. Amir happens to be one sorry example of this. Maybe he is too old to change his habits now and start getting his facts right, but the younger lot should rise up to their moral duty and find out those truths about our history which need to be known.

Comments can be posted directly at the website of Marghdeen Learning Center.

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The Election Aftermath: an Iqbal Studies Perspective


"An election which is only a partial expression of the people’s will is null and void." (Hazrat Umar Farooq, r.a.) 

This saying of the second caliph was cited by Iqbal in his paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). How do the recent elections stand in the light of this saying? - blatantly rigged, voters stopped from voting or forced to vote against their will, and so on.

The purpose of beginning this post with that quote is to remind us that Islam of the free people is different from the religion of the slaves. It is comparatively more concerned with freedom of nations and civic liberties than worrying about the wardrobes of women or teaching the victims to show "compassion" to their oppressors. "Democracy, then, is the most important aspect of Islam regarded as a political ideal," according to Iqbal ('Islam As A Moral and Political Ideal'; 1909).

If Iqbal were alive today, he may have eagerly declared that the present protests against rigging were a step in the direction of establishing a truly Islamic society - and perhaps the most important step in that direction since 1949. It would not have mattered to him that the protesters are not using the name of religion. He would have repeated his words from some other occasion: "The Muslim [of this country], I believe, instinctively realizes the peculiar nature of the circumstances in which he is placed..." ('Islam and Ahmadism'; 1935).

Iqbal's advice to the political activists in Pakistan may have been the same which was offered by him to the political reformers of other Muslim countries in 1908:

"They would certainly impress [their people] more if they could show that their seemingly borrowed ideal of political freedom is really the ideal of Islam, and is, as such, the rightful demand of free Muslim conscience." (Political Thought in Islam').
The cornerstone of this ideal, according to Iqbal, is "the idea of universal agreement". On the basis of the above-cited quote from Hazrat Umar, Iqbal stated in his 1908 paper: "The idea of universal agreement is in fact the fundamental principle of Muslim constitutional theory."

Let's try to understand what he meant by "universal agreement" and how it can help us analyze the current situation in Pakistan.

Iqbal believed that society was like an organism, and "if one portion reveals a certain organic craving, the material to satisfy that craving is almost simultaneously produced by the other." ('The Muslim Community - A Sociological Study'). The example which he offered for explaining this was that the modernism of the Aligarh Movement was complemented by the healthy conservatism of Akbar Allahabadi. It is possible to conclude from this example that if we desire to find out what the Muslim community of British India collectively wanted in that period, we would have to place the ideals of the Aligarh Movement side by side with the poetry of Akbar Allahabadi.

There was no "agreement" between the two, but the collective will of the community resided in the point where these two contradictory ideas converged: preserving and strengthening the national character. Hence, this was the point of "universal agreement" even though the two schools of thought in the community appeared to be opposed to each other.

If we place the results of the recent elections on the map of Pakistan, we see a different political party coming to power in each province. Treating Pakistan as a single organism, we need not stop at this seeming conflict - especially if we have learnt anything from the aftermath of the elections of 1970, whose results may be faintly reminded to us by these ones.

From the perspective of the older democracies, the emergence of   mutually exclusive power zones may serve as a threat to the federation. Indeed, they may, if we repeat the mistakes of the past.

From the perspective of Iqbal Studies, this situation is an opportunity (and so was the situation in 1970-71),  for creating a prototype which could serve as the model for "a world-state [whose] structure will be determined not by physical force, but by the spiritual force of a common ideal." This idea, presented by Iqbal in his 1908 paper, perhaps deserves to be explored in greater detail now.

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Election Replay

Photo Source: ET Blogs
People were enthusiastic because an elected government had completed its tenure for the first time in Pakistan and elections were now being held for a democratic transition of government. Unfortunately, news of massive rigging appeared before the process could be completed and some of the contestants announced boycott while demanding re-election on the seats where rigging had occurred. This was May 12, 2013, right? Wrong.

The first so-called elected government in Pakistan to complete its tenure was the PPP regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. Elections were held for the national assembly on March 7, 1977, and the results were met with serious allegations of rigging. The opposition boycotted the elections to the provincial assemblies, held on March 10. A deadlock ensued and martial law was eventually imposed on July 5.

The election day this year was reminiscent of 1977 in some ways, although not as bad. It was different mainly because one major contestant could be trusted not to use rigging and un-democratic methods. Needless to mention, this was Imran Khan with his Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf. This may have made a difference.

Throughout the past, almost every major contestant has been resorting to some show of force for intimidating their opponents during the elections. Since everybody was involved, it was very easy to blame the political culture of the country and to say that a nation like Pakistan could not have true democracy; that this is the best which we can get. This sentiment has been reflected in the life and work of those intellectuals who have been supporting various political leaders as champions of democracy without asking those leaders to refrain from un-democratic measures for seizing and holding power.

The same sentiment is reflected in the statements of the election commission, who are congratulating us on a "fair and free" election despite our first hand experience to the contrary. Clearly, these people think and have been thinking that the nation deserves no better.

The first lesson to be learnt from the recent elections is that we deserve better. We must concede that it is possible to have true democracy in Pakistan. If one political party can rely on purely legal means for securing a considerable share in the national assembly and a sweeping victory in a turbulent and traditionally backward province, why others cannot do the same?

Photo Source: RFI
Next post: "Elections Results: an Iqbal Studies Perspective"

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