Aaj Woh Kashmir Hai Mehkoom-O-Majboor-O-Faqeer
Kal Jise Ahl-E-Nazar Kehte Thay Iran-E-Sagheer
(Today that land of Kashmir, under the heels of the enemy, has become weak, helpless and poor
Once known among the wise as Little Iran)
These lines from the book Armaghan-e-Hijaz or The Gift of Hijaz by poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal perhaps best narrate the story of Kashmir in a lucid style. Iqbal’s poetry has not only chronicled the fate of Kashmiris, but his philosophical discourse provides the essence of contemporary Kashmir’s narratives of resistance.
The rationalisation of political resistance often comes through resistance literature that canvases certain political thoughts. In this context, the literary works of Iqbal, also widely known as the Poet of the East, constructs the political thought that resonates in Kashmir’s rebellious cause today. It constitutes a textual fuel for the ongoing insurrection in the disputed Himalayan valley.
In India, Iqbal is well remembered as the poet who penned India’s most patriotic songs ever written – “Saare jahan se achha Hindostan humara (Better than the entire world, is our India)” – while in Pakistan he is deemed as the country’s Spiritual Father. It was on his political speech that the two-nation theory was formulated that sought separated lands for Muslims of British-administered India, an aspiration that was eventually realised in the creation of Pakistan.
The political viewpoint of Iqbal was centred on the reformation of Muslim societies. This vision of Iqbal’s for Muslims and the philosophical concept of khudi (higher self) with time, however, became a source of inspiration for Kashmiris in their political consciousness, social revivalism and intellectual awakening.
The admiration for Iqbal among Kashmiris, and vice versa, always remained mutual. Kashmiris’ love for the poet is well known and overtly expressed in every little way. From parking lots and vegetable markets to educational institutions, public parks, libraries, health centres and shopping malls, almost every institution in the restive valley is advertently named after “Allama” Iqbal. Allama is an honorary title conferred to scholars of Islamic jurisprudence and philosophy.
Schoolchildren sing his Child’s Prayer every day during morning assembly: “Lab pe aati hai dua’ ban key tamanna meri (My longing comes to my lips as supplication of mine)”. His life, prose and poetry find elaborative mentions in school textbooks. And every year, Iqbal Day is commemorated to celebrate the poet’s Kashmiri lineage and revolutionary writings.
Who was Iqbal?
Iqbal was born on 9 November 1877 in Sialkot, Pakistan. His ancestors, originally from Kashmir, had converted to Islam from Hinduism a few generations ago. His grandfather had migrated along with his three brothers at the beginning of the 19th century.
Iqbal was educated at Government College in Lahore and later earned his degree in philosophy from the University of Cambridge, qualified as a barrister in London and received a doctorate from the University of Munich. On his return from Europe, he worked as a lawyer. His fame, however, came from his Persian and Urdu-language poetry, which was written in the classical style for public recitation.
Almost all Muslims from the Indian subcontinent have the habit of quoting Iqbal and, in 1922, the British government knighted him.
Before he visited Europe, his poetry affirmed Indian nationalism, as in Nayā shawālā or The New Altar, but time away from India caused his perspective to shift. He came to criticise nationalism and his reasons were twofold: in Europe, it had led to destructive racism and imperialism, and in India it was not founded on an adequate degree of common purpose.
Iqbal used poetry to awaken the consciousness of Muslims and emphasise how getting an education helped one understand reality and become self-enlightened – the concept of khudi or higher self. The principal behind the concept of khudi is ishq (love), which the poet draws from Sufis such as Ibn Arabi and Rumi. Scholar RA Nicholson, who translated his Asrar-i-Khudi or The Secrets of the Self into English, praised Iqbal’s excellence, boldness and thinking. “Iqbal is a man of his age and a man in advance of his age.”
Allama’s passion for Kashmir
Iqbal’s works clearly reflected his emotional attachment to Kashmir and its suppressed people. Once the poet famously stated that the blood running in his veins was like the red Chinar leaves of Kashmir. Perhaps this attachment was because of his Kashmiri lineage. The brutal oppression of the disenfranchised Kashmiri population under the despotic Hindu Dogra regime had impacted Iqbal’s work, evident both from his literary and political speeches.
His poetry often revealed his strong feelings for the Kashmiri people, and the following lines highlight his dismay over the despairing situation, and brutality faced by Kashmiris under the salvery of Hindu Dogras.
Mullah ki nazar Noor-e-firasat se hai khali,
Be-soz hai Maikhana’ay sufi ki mai’ay naab
(The Mullah’s sight has lost, the light of penetrative discernment;
the mystic’s wine, pure and sparkling, no longer produces frenzy)
Baidar hon dil jis ki faghan-e-sahari se
Iss qoum mein muddat se woh darvesh hai nayab
(The dervish whose morning lamentation may awaken the hearts of the people is no longer around)
Iqbal is said to have visited Kashmir in 1921, when he was disturbed by the abject plight of Kashmiri Muslims and their sociopolitical situation. The pitiable conditions under which Muslims were working in the silk factory in the capital city of Srinagar inspired the poet to describe their ordeal in a Persian poem titled Saqi Nama in his book Payam-e-Mashriq or A Message from the East, which called for the political awakening of Kashmiri Muslims.
The poem portrays the misfortune of Kashmiris, the oppression of the Muslim populace by the Hindu regime and the exploitation of silk weavers. It highlights the servitude and self-unawareness of the Kashmiris. In the same poem, Iqbal prayed to God to “Bring revolution in the hearts of Kashmiris so that they can live with honour in this world.”
Three years after writing Saqi Nama (1921), Kashmir witnessed a protest by the silk weavers against their inhumane working conditions. Almost a decade later, the valley witnessed an uprising against the Dogra rule that resulted in the massacre of 22 Kashmiri people on 13 July 1931, marking an important stage in the evolution of political resistance in the restive region.
Banned from the valley
When the 13 July massacre happened, Iqbal not only garnered donations for victims of regime violence but also persuaded lawyers to visit Kashmir and provide legal aid to jailed Kashmiris. The Dogra regime expelled these lawyers and banned Iqbal from entering the valley.
Iqbal was instrumental in organising Kashmir Day on 14 August 1931. Today, it is commemorated around the world to raise awareness of Delhi’s violent rule in the disputed state.
“After attacking repeatedly the enemy has deluded itself into believing that Muslims are a dead nation. To refute this misbelief it is your obligation to make the Kashmir Day a resounding success. By actions, Muslims must demonstrate that they were not going to be willing victims of their enemies, injustice and repression,” Iqbal said while issuing an appeal for Kashmiris.
The poet further lobbied the British government to conduct an investigation into the July 1931 massacre, following which the Glancy Commission was formed. It recommended that a variety of constitutional reforms be instituted in the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state.
On being elected as president of the All-India Muslim Conference, Iqbal also raised the issue of Kashmir during his presidential address. “I appeal to Muslims of Kashmir to beware of the forces that are working against them and to unite their ranks. The time for two or three Muslim political parties in Kashmir has not yet come. The supreme need of the moment is a single party representing all Muslims in the state,” he urged.
To help the people of Kashmir, on 30 June 1933, he and Malik Barkat Ali, secretary of the newly reconstituted All-India Kashmir Committee, issued an appeal to help the people of Kashmir and raise funds: “Kashmiris are an inseparable part of the Muslim nation, and to separate their fate from our national destiny amounts to consign the entire nation to self-destruction.” He also equated the Kashmir movement with the Khilafat movement of 1920 that “reflected the Islamic impulse in practical terms”.
Iqbal showed his love for Kashmir in several of his poetic verses. The dialectical quality of his thinking on Kashmir was expressed in these lines:
Tanam Gulai Zi khayanban-e-Janat-e-Kashmir,
Dil Az Hareemi Hejaze Nawa Ze Sheeraz Ast!
(My body comes from the earthy paradise of Kashmir; my heart belongs to the holy land of Hijaz, and my song to Shiraz.)
Iqbal said that slavery made a man worthless and restricted his thinking powers, subsequently breeding regional, ethnic and other biases. His poetics showed the disastrous results of colonialism and called on people to keep resisting it. He constructed national resistance by invigorating the feelings of resistance in the masses.
This political idealism became the core thought behind the armed resistance in Kashmir against Indian rule decades later. Iqbal’s poetics reminded Kashmiris of the power of resistance against oppression and their right to resist it. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Iqbal was the poet who taught Kashmiris the language of resistance.