Last week, Furqan Ali, a headmaster of a government primary school in Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh was suspended after his students recited a poem written by Muhammad Iqbal in 1902 titled, “Lab pe aati hai dua”. This happened after a complaint was filed by local Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) workers who alleged that this poem by Iqbal is usually recited in madrasas and that asking students to recite it in a government school is “anti-national”.
An order issued by the local Basic Shiksha Adhikari (BSA) Devendra Swarup states (translated from Hindi): “As per a viral video on social media, it came to our knowledge that at Primary School, Ghayaspur, students are being made to sing a different prayer other than the commonly accepted one. School headmaster Mohammad Furkan Ali prima facie has been found responsible for this and thus he has been suspended…”
On Saturday the BSA revoked Ali’s suspension, transferring him to another school on “humanitarian grounds”.
After the headmaster’s suspension, an inquiry was launched by Bilaspur’s Block Education Officer Upendra Kumar. The inquiry revealed that Ali was suspended because of the recitation of the poem written by Iqbal. Pilibhit’s District Magistrate Vaibhav Srivastava, who was unaware of the findings of the BEO’s inquiry said, “The headmaster was suspended because he was not getting the national anthem sung, and was making students sing a religious prayer.” Even so, BEO Kumar and BSA Swarup maintained that in the original complaint filed by the VHP members, singing of the national anthem was not an issue and the complaint was regarding the recitation of a poem written by Iqbal.
Iqbal is also known as Allama Iqbal and has also written, “Saare jahan se acha”. Iqbal was a poet-philosopher whose work promoted the philosophy of self-hood and dealt with the intellectual and cultural reconstruction of the Islamic world. He was born on November 9, 1877 in Sialkot Punjab (now in Pakistan) into a family with Kashmiri Brahmin ancestry. His grandfather left his ancestral village of Looehar in Kashmir after 1857 and settled in Sialkot and peddled Kashmiri shawls. Iqbal’s father was a reputed tailor in the area. Therefore, it was not until Iqbal’s elder brother Shaikh Atta Muhammad joined the Mechanical Engineering Services of the Army, that his family’s economic position became better: from a being a working-class family to a middle-class one.
Iqbal is believed to be the reason that schoolboys in Pakistan remember the proverb “God helps those who help themselves” by heart because he repeatedly versified it according to Hafeez and Linda Malik, who wrote this in “Life of the Poet-Philosopher” in 1971. During his visit to South India in 1928 to deliver lectures on the invitation of the Madras Muslim Association he said that he was trying to “reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical tradition of Islam and the more recent developments in the domain of human knowledge,” according to Malik & Malik.
Iqbal’s first published collection of poems came out in 1923 and is titled, “Bang-e-Dara” (Call of the Marching Bell). He wrote mostly in Urdu and Persian. Some of his works include Zabur-i-Ajam, Bal-i-Jibril (The Gabriel’s Wings), Musafir (The Wayfarer), Mysteries of the Selflessness, Secrets of the Self and The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.
Iqbal also took keen interest and part in the politics of his time and is revered as the “Spiritual Father of Pakistan.” One of the Government of Pakistan’s statutory body’s is the “Iqbal Academy Pakistan” which offers courses in “Iqbal studies” to promote the understanding of his works and ideas.
Opinion | Don’t sing in Pilibhit
In 1930, Iqbal delivered a Presidential Address to the 25th Session of the All-India Muslim League in Allahabad where he expressed his thoughts on Islam and nationalism, unity of the Indian nation and one on the problem of defence. “The principle that each group is entitled to its free development on its own lines is not inspired by any feeling of narrow communalism. There are communalisms and communalisms. A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities. Nay, it is my duty, according to the teaching of the Quran, even to defend their places of worship, if need be,” he said.
Iqbal is considered to have given the vision for the creation of Pakistan, whereas Jinnah is considered to be the one who shaped this vision.
In 1937, Iqbal wrote two letters to Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In the first one dated May 28, 1937, he wrote, “After a long and careful study of Islamic Law, I have come to the conclusion that if this system of Law is properly understood and applied, at last, the right to subsistence is secured to everybody. But the enforcement and development of the Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states. This has been my honest conviction for many years and I still believe this to be the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India.”
In the second letter marked “Private and Confidential” dated June 21, 1937, Iqbal wrote, “Why should not the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are? Personally I think that the Muslims of North-West India and Bengal ought at present to ignore Muslim[-minority] provinces. This is the best course to adopt in the interests of both Muslim majority and minority provinces.”
Iqbal’s confidence in Jinnah is believed to have sprouted from Jinnah’s integrity since he was the only Muslim leader with an unchallenged national status and because he did not have provincial or regional ties and Iqbal’s need to concretise his philosophy of “communalism of a higher kind” reflecting Iqbal’s interpretation of the universal values of Islam, according to the book, “Iqbal, Jinnah, and Pakistan: The Vision and the Reality”.
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