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IQBAL & AHMADIAT – SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
by: Tahira Perwaz
Allama Muhammad Iqbal is the leading Muslim intellectual, poet/writer, and philosopher of all times. He was also the first Muslim pubic figure to highlight Ahmadiyya’s divisive potential and proposed a separate religious status for them. Ahmadiyya, as you may know, is a breakaway cult from the Sunni (predominantly Punjabi) Islam and was conceived by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, based in Qadian (India), in the late 19th and early 20th century. It fractured into two factions, Qadiani & Lahori, following Mirza’s death: Qadianis believe that Mirza was a prophet and consider Muslims who do not accept his mission to be Kafirs; Lahoris believe that Mirza was a Mujjadid and do not push Muslims outside the pale of Islam. Ahmadiyya have been declared non-Muslims by a general consensus of the Muslims and in most Islamic countries.
Nehru (1935) advocated, inadvertently, for Ahmadiyya while criticising some Muslim groups for lack of tolerance in inter-communal and religious matters. Iqbal responded by highlighting the importance of Muslim belief in the Finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (SAW), conceptual poverty of the Ahmadiyya mission and its potential for dividing the Muslims in their religio-socio-political outlook. Since then, Ahmadiyya have left no stone unturned to malign Iqbal’s personal, political and academic life. Rebuttal of Ahmadiyya propaganda regarding Iqbal’s religious identity is the scope of this article.
During Munir Enquiry (1953) into Punjab riots, an Ahmadi witness alleged that Iqbal was a closet Ahmadi and only renounced his Bayyat following political grievances in 1935. This witness was discredited when several discrepancies (Nawa-e-Waqt, 1954) emerged in his statement including a denial that he ever claimed Iqbal to be an Ahmadi. Since casting this first stone, several years after Iqbal’s death, Ahmadiyya propaganda machinery has kept churning out articles and books claiming that Iqbal & his family were Ahmadi and his late renunciation was politically motivated. Some writers, including Javed Iqbal (Iqbal’s son), have tried to clear the air but nothing has appeared in English to analyse the issue and set the record straight.
Iqbal was born and brought up in Sialkot, a small town in West Punjab (now in Pakistan). Mirza served there as a junior cleric in the Deputy Commissioner’s office before Iqbal was born. Mirza formed friendships and acquired some following in the town due to his early reputation as an Islamic missionary. When Mirza returned to Sialkot after launching his ‘prophetic mission’ from Qadian, Iqbal was busy at college. Either during or before this visit, Iqbal’s elder brother, Atta Muhammad, and his son, Shaikh Ijaz Ahmad accepted Ahmadiyya. Atta Muhammad renounced Ahmadiyya some years before his death and none of his other children accepted it. Ijaz died an Ahmadi but none of his children accepted Ahmadiyya. Ijaz is also the author of a fine book, Muzloom Iqbal - it confirms that Iqbal never accepted Ahmadiyya.
Iqbal’s relationship with his first wife was strained before and after they separated due to her temperament, and morbid pride in her higher socioeconomic background. Their first born, Aftab Ahmed, stayed with his mother and remained a source of anguish for Iqbal throughout his life. Aftab was sent to a boarding school for four years because of his difficult temperament; Taleem-ul-Islam at Qadian was chosen due to its academic reputation, discipline, and least expenses. Atta Muhammad took this decision, as Iqbal was abroad/away from his parental home in Sialkot. Aftab never accepted Ahmadiyya and even changed his surname from Ahmed to Iqbal early in his career as a successful barrister.
Iqbal established anti-Ahmadiyya credentials early in his youth. He published a poem in Persian highlighting his belief in the Finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (SAW) in 1902. Then, following harassment from an acquaintance turned Ahmadi preacher, he published an Urdu poem in Mukhzan (7/1902), which glorified Islam’s unifying nature and criticized schismic potential of Ahmadiyya. When someone misquoted Iqbal about the superiority of one Ahmadi faction over the other, he wrote (Paigam-e-Sulah, 1915) to certify his belief in Khatam-e-Nabuwat and having no expertise in Ahmadiyya beliefs or history. These examples show Iqbal’s discomfort towards Ahmadiyya despite his kind nature, which restrained him from getting into controversial issues.
Iqbal, like Sir Syed, believed in religious reform, modern education and political unity for Muslims. His views regarding Ahmadiyya were also in line with those of Syed, who opined that Mirza’s claims were useless and Muslims should ignore him to avoid washing dirty linen in public. That was the position until Iqbal experienced the shenanigans of Ahmadiyya while working with Mirza Bashir (2nd Khalifa of Qadiani faction) and his followers in the All India Kashmir Committee (1931-1933). Bashir and another Ahmadi were the head and secretary of the Committee. Iqbal received complaints that Ahmadiyya were using the Committee as a platform to carry out missionary activities in Kashmir. The best way forward, Iqbal proposed, was to formulate rules of business for the Committee. But Ahmadi members vehemently opposed Iqbal and others, making it clear in the process that their primary loyalty lay with their Khalifa (Bashir) for now and in the future. Bashir resigned eventually and Iqbal took over the chair temporarily before the Committee was dissolved, mainly, due to the Ahmadis leaving to follow Bashir. Ahmadiyya went on to form their own Tehrek-e-Kashmir and offered Iqbal the chair but he refused to be bitten twice.
Around the same time, Ahmadiyya of Qadian were raising their political game. They were staunch supporters of the Punjab Unionist Party, which was secular and very close to the British, under the leadership of Sir Fazal Hussain. In return, they sought patronage for Sir Zafar Ullah Khan, an Ahmadi stalwart & later 1st Foreign Minister of Pakistan. As a result, Zafar Ullah rose through the political ranks quickly and was made the president of Muslim League at its Annul Meeting in Delhi (1931) despite protests from local Muslims. Iqbal must have appreciated how Muslim League nearly disappeared from the political scene, under the leadership of Zafar Ullah and patronage of Sir Fazal, after proposed amalgamation with Muslim Conference. Zafar Ullah was also a surprise choice to represent Muslims & Punjab in the Viceroy’s Council (1935) instead of any other prominent Muslim leader. Contrary to Ahmadiyya propaganda, Iqbal was in failing health at that time and was never a candidate for the post.
Herbert Emerson (1935), the Punjab Governor, spoke about the need for tolerance towards Ahmadiyya (from Ahrar) and questioned the quality of Muslim leadership at a meeting of Ajuman Hemayat-e-Islam. Iqbal issued a statement clarifying the importance of Muslim belief in the Finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (SAW) and also asked the British to take some responsibility for the policies that hindered the emergence of quality leadership from Muslims.
Pandit Nehru (1935) also wrote three articles in The Modern Review of Calcutta teasing out similar issues, apparently, without realizing their sensitivity to Muslims. Ahmadiyya gloated at large before Iqbal published (1935) his legendary response: it tore into Nehru’s understanding of Ahmadiyya while educating the public, especially modern Muslims, about Ahmadiyya’s hidden agenda. He explained that Ahmadiyya’s real nature lay behind medieval mysticism and Qadianis felt nervous about the political awakening among Indian Muslims, which could defeat their designs to carve out a new Umma for their Indian prophet. Iqbal proclaimed that ‘…the socio-political Organization called "Islam" is perfect and eternal. No revelation, the denial of which entails heresy, is possible after Muhammad. He who claims such a revelation is a traitor to Islam’.
It is evident from the above that Iqbal, despite initial optimism, always felt uncomfortable about Ahmadiyya beliefs and designs. In prevailing circumstances, he had political and social interaction with them. He also took a long time before criticizing them publicly due to his mild nature and to avoid creating new fissures in the Muslim community. However, what he wrote clearly established that Ahmadiyya were traitors to both, Islam and Indian struggle for independence. To claim that he believed in Ahmadiyya cannot be further from the truth; and to create such evidence from propaganda literature is intellectually dishonest. Allama Iqbal and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad remain poles apart, and taking their names in the same breath is an insult to Iqbal and his followers.
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