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Whose Idea was it anyways?

June 22, 2010

Lately, I have been reading a lot of chit chat about the Idea and ideology of Pakistan.  Sounds to me like a good place to look and see if the structure we call Pakistan is crumbling because of a bad idea or perhaps lack of it.

The idea of Pakistan remains somewhat of an enigma. The credit for the idea is attributed to two major personalities; Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (aka Sir Syed) and Sir Allama Muhammad Iqbal (aka Allama Iqbal) both men of tremendous stature within the Muslim community, and also with the British Raj. Both had been endowed with the titles of Sir. 

Sir Syed undertook efforts to facilitate the uplift and betterment of the Indian Muslims. He setup several educational and welfare foundations as well as laying the foundations for MAO College and eventually Aligarh University. These and other such efforts were in line with Sir Syed’s desire as a reformist to introduce change and reform Muslim attitude and conditions. The fact that Anti-British movement had started well before the times of Sir Syed and that there were feelings present amongst the Muslims of India to rid India of the British “infidel” as they considered Hindustan as a country of Muslims or Hizbul Islam.  However, the two nation theory that became the basis for the formation of Pakistan was not even a pipe dream in those days. The reality is that Sir Syed viewed any talks or suggestions related to independence from the British with suspicion as evidenced from and I quote “One of the most influential Muslim politicians of his time, Sir Syed was suspicious of the Indian independence movement and called upon Muslims to loyally serve the British Raj. He denounced nationalist organizations such as the Indian National Congress, instead forming organizations to promote Muslim unity and pro-British attitudes and activities.”1 While there is some historical reference to Sir Syed’s changing attitude towards British loyalty, there is no evidence to support his call for a separate Muslim entity in the form of a separate state.  

Historians and observers of Sir Syeds efforts can draw whatever conclusion they may of his intentions. The fact is it is one thing to associate with and initiate efforts for the betterment and reform of one’s ethnic community and association. It is yet and entirely different a proposition to associate a separate homeland for that same group and ethnicity. Not all foundations, Charity groups and community efforts are started in that same spirit to say the least.

Now let’s consider the other side of this theory of the idea for Pakistan.  It is believed that Allama Iqbal had a “dream” in which he purportedly saw a separate state for Muslims of India. He then iterated this “dream” and the “idea” at the Presidential address he delivered at the Greater Muslim League meeting in Allahabad, India in 1930 where he said “I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated Northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of Northwest India.”

 Then if you read the following letter written by Iqbal to Prof. Edward Thompson of Oxford University in connection to a book review he apparently had requested of Prof.  Thompson.

“Dr. Sir Mohd Iqbal, M.A., Ph.D. Barrister-at-Law

Lahore 4 March 1934

My Dear Mr. Thompson,

I have just received your review of my book. It is excellent and I am grateful to you for the very kind things you have said of me. But you have made one mistake which I hasten to point as I consider it rather serious. You call me a protagonist of the scheme called “Pakistan. Now Pakistan is not my scheme. The one that I suggested in my address is the creation of a Muslim Province – i.e; a province having an overwhelming population of Muslims in the North-West of India. This new province will be, according to my scheme, a part of the proposed Indian Federation. Pakistan scheme proposes a separate federation of Muslim Provinces directly related to England as a separate dominion. This scheme originated in Cambridge. The authors of this scheme believe that we Muslim Round Tablers have sacrificed the Muslim nation on the altar of Hindu or the so called Indian Nationalism.2

Yours Sincerely,

Mohammed Iqbal

In the letter it seems the great Allama making a complete turnaround of his stated position evidenced and contained in the address. Iqbal clearly states that what he presented as an idea for a separate “province” for the Muslims of India was in fact not a suggestion that served as the basis for the two nation theory but instead a separate province under the Umbrella of the British Empire.  I am not sure here if Iqbal is in fact reneging on an original idea of a separate nation or that perhaps reiterating what he said and meant for to begin with.

The point being that though sources of historical accounts presented and written about by either the Muslim or perhaps generously the historians of the Sub-Continent make us conclude that either the idea of a separate homeland for Pakistan originated before or in parallel to the greater struggle to decolonize India from the claws of the British. I can’t help but conclude that perhaps in our haste to find ourselves a hero and render a more romanticized and maybe even a benign purpose to the struggle for Pakistan we have attributed the idea of its creation to men of high stature and station in life. Never mind the fact that historical evidence seems to bear their reluctance leaving me to wonder; Whose Idea was it anyway?

1 & 2



One Comment
  1. Mia permalink

    Probably my favorite post so far. I liked how you ended this one, a funny way to culminate your thoughts. It’s interesting that there seem to be more questions than answers when it comes to Pakistan!

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