The famous Urdu poet and Islamic philosopher Muhammad Iqbal shares a vital part in the history of Jamia Millia Islamia which isn’t known to many. Iqbal’s relation with Jamia goes back to its birth as he was one of the members of its Foundation Committee which led to its establishment in Aligarh on 29th October 1920.
Many wanted Iqbal to lead Jamia’s caravan. Thus, on 27th November, Congress leader Mahatma Gandhi who was amongst the closest associate of Jamia invited Iqbal to take over as the institution’s first Vice-Chancellor (VC). “I’m sure it will prosper under your cultured leadership”, he wrote. But, the poet has already expressed his reservations over Khilafat and Non-Cooperation, he declined the offer. “I’m afraid”, he replied two days later. “I’m not an expert in Sharia (divinely revealed Islamic Law), but it is my conviction that in connection with the question of education, the law of Islam cannot fail to give us a suitable line of action under our present limitation”.
However, despite the ideological conflicts, the name of Iqbal continued to shine in Jamia. Jamia’s co-founder Muhammad Ali Jauhar who took over as the VC after Iqbal’s decline would frequently recite from two of Iqbal’s best-known ‘masnavis’ – Asrar-i-Khudi and Rumuz-i-Bekhudi among the Jamia Biradari, sometimes, even repeating the same verse over and over again, hypnotically casting a spell over his listeners, explaining its nuances, sometimes crying copiously over something that struck him as particularly apt in their circumstances, and making the audience cry too. Likewise, students continued to study and discuss his poems Khizr-i-Rah and Tulu-i-Islam. Not only the institution’s printing press Makhtaba, Jamia published the third edition of Payam-i-Mashriq, which was Iqbal’s collection of poems, and several of his poems were even published in the journal, ‘Jamia’.
Although Iqbal’s poems lived in Jamia since its inception, however, it was on 18th March 1933, when he finally arrived in Jamia to preside over the institute’s Ghazi Rauf Pasha’s lecture on ‘Patriotism and Islamic Unity’ in Mohammad Ali Hall. At that time, Jamia had moved out of Aligarh to Delhi’s Karol Bagh.
It is learned that Jamia’s teacher Syed Nazeer Niazi who was present there had mentioned the event in his book Maktoobat-e-Iqbal, which was the biography of Iqbal. He informs when Iqbal came to deliver his concluding speech; he recited his couplet after couplet which had moved the audience profoundly. “When he (Iqbal) resumed his seat the silence broke and the audience reached the dais and expressed their gratitude by kissing his hands”, notes Niazi. Before he left Delhi, he was invited for a dinner by Jamia’s professor and future VC Mohammad Mujeeb on 15th April.
After few months, Iqbal suffered from a mysterious throat illness while he returned to India from a foreign tour. On 11th June 1934, he came to Delhi to consult leading Yunani medicine Hakim Nabina Abdul Wahhab, who was the brother of Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari, Jamia’s then Chancellor.
However, his situation didn’t improve and on 29 January 1935 he proceeded on his way to Bhopal to undergo electric therapy. But the next day, on 30 January stopped at Delhi to preside to visit Jamia once again to chair Khalida Adeeb Khanam’s lecture. He recited his poem on Cordova in his address. That evening only, he left for Bhopal for treatment.
Iqbal had been very weak by then. He retired back to his home in Lahore, and after suffering for months from his illness, he died on 21st April 1938.
As a tribute to this literary genius, Jamia has named one of its student residences as ‘Allama Iqbal Hostel’. Needless to say, for years, Iqbal continues to be Jamia’s favourite poet.
Aashish Kochhar is a student pursuing History Hons. from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan