Today is the 136th birth anniversary of Allama Iqbal, thus providing an appropriate occasion for an examination both of his message and teachings, and what we have made of them. However, it would first be rightful to look at his political contribution, for he was essentially a practical politician. It should never be forgotten that he first proposed the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent in his Allahabad Address, which was his presidential address to the Allahabad session of the All-India Muslim League. He died in 1938, too early to take part in the endgame for Pakistan, but he was careful enough to choose as the leader of the Muslims the Quaid-i-Azam, playing a vital role in sending Liaquat Ali Khan to the UK to invite back the Quaid, who had gone there to practise law. If for nothing else, the Allama deserves to be remembered and rendered immortal for convincing Quaid-i-Azam to come back, though his role as the national poet, and the philosopher of Pakistan, are enough reason for his memory to be immortal, and his thoughts to be worth careful study even today.

It is thus appropriate for it to be considered whether the state he wanted was brought into being. When he thought of a separate state for the Muslims, he thought that it would be an Islamic democratic welfare state. The state may have come into being, but its rulers have not tried to make it Islamic, democratic, or welfare.

These concepts are inter-related. If even one of them is achieved, the others would follow. But the state’s rulers, taking advantage of the early deaths of both the Quaid and the Allama, worked to prevent the achievement of any of these goals in the new state. One of the essential constituents of the state, a democratic polity, was sabotaged almost at the very beginning, and the imposition of military rule in 1958 was a culmination of this process rather than something new. The state as originally conceived consisted of the Muslim-majority areas of the subcontinent. However, the first problem was that of Kashmir, and though it had an overwhelming Muslim majority, its people were not allowed to exercise their right of self-determination, something which has been denied to them all these decades, and then there was the separation of East Pakistan from the country the Allama thought of, and the creation of Bangladesh. That process of fragmentation continues, and there is an ongoing attempt to break up the country. By conceiving of a separate homeland for the Muslims, the Allama incurred the hostility of Hindu extremists within India, whose attempt to break up the country he dreamed of, is still going on. Thus the basic problems of the country, which range from failures of welfare through problems with democracy, to failures in implementing Islam, are viewed with glee in India, as evidence that the vision of the Founding Fathers was incorrect, and thus the creation of the state was misguided. The leaders of Pakistan have preferred to follow narrow personal interests rather than implement broad national goals, with the result that the country, far from fulfilling any of the Allama’s hopes, is prey to bad governance, lawlessness and disorder. This merely strengthens the enemies of Pakistan, and does no service to the goals before the nation.

This makes it essential to hark back to Allama Iqbal’s message on this birth anniversary. It is a task rendered all the more pleasant by the fact that it has been expressed in sublime poetry that can be studied with both pleasure and for profit, or else vigorous prose, such as in the Allahabad Address or the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. The Allama provided not just the right leader to the Muslims of India, but gave that leader the concepts which should have guided the new nation. The failure of all past leaderships to fulfill these concepts shows that they are very relevant even today. However, as these concepts also represent the aspirations of the people, they are still the guiding principles for the state, and as such more than worthy of study. The Allama’s message is not academic, even if it is that of a philosopher. If only political leaders would realise it, his message provides a very modern and eminently practical manifesto. It is merely waiting for the right person to take up the task of putting on the path of progress the nation the Allama worked so hard to create.