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Monday, December 29, 2008

Aaker Patel: Our leaders and their writing

I was familiar with the basic lines of Tarana-i-Hind but had not registered its most stirring couplet: Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma sab mitt gaye jahan se, ab tak magar hai baqi naam-o-nishan hamara, till Manmohan Singh recited it in his Punjabi lilt. Iqbal is to be read like Ambedkar is to be read: front to back, and carefully.

His great work is the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and it is one of the world’s undiscovered classics. His understanding of east and west is majestic, perhaps unmatched in all India. And his defence of religion in the opening lecture is the best I have ever read, and would be an excellent response to recent books by the rationalists Dawkins and Hitchens.

Naipaul’s dismissal of Iqbal, though it is comprehensive, does not appear to have incorporated the reforming side to him. Muslims of course love the middle-period Iqbal of Shikwa and Bang-e-Dara and Javidnama but not the author of the Reconstruction lectures, or the young unifier of India, before he went to Europe.

I have spent many hours talking about Iqbal with my late friend Dr Rafique Zakaria, who said he had a book of Iqbal’s bawdy verse somewhere but could never find it. It is no surprise that the great scholar Annemarie Schimmel chose Iqbal as her muse in India. The man that Pakistan’s Muslims, and perhaps India’s, needed alive after 1947 was not Jinnah, who died in 1948, but Iqbal, who died in 1938....


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