By Jaihoon, published in Iqbal Review, by Iqbal Academy Hyderabad. Posted on June 06, 2007
(The author is Chief Editor of Jaihoon.com, a non-profitable initiative delivering innovative and thought-provoking perspectives. He writes frequently on mystic themes and contemporary issues. He lives in the Middle East with his parents, wife and son and has authored three books, Egoptics (2002, Calicut) and Henna for the Heart (2003, New York) and The Cool Breeze From Hind (2006, New Delhi).
The state of lovers is strange. Trees and rivers do not entice them in the absence of the Beloved. They feel lonely in the crowd. The Rose feels solitary in the colorful Gulistan without the Nightingale’s presence. How can the bee remain separated from its hive? All the hue and scent are measured in comparison to the Beloved. “Life spent away from the Master is veritable death”, said Allama Iqbal, the passionate lover of the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
Yet in their Legacy of Love, it is the same fragrance every lover inhales. The language of all love is one. The end of all love is one. They experience the same thirst. It is not possible for everyone to understand the mystery of this thirst. And how can they when the thirst is lost in the heart of the Lover?
Purpose of this essay
The purport of this essay is to explore the similarities of thought between Allama Iqbal and Umar Qazi, both of whom were inspired by their love for the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم From known records, there is no evidence of Sialkoti’s acquaintance with Vilankoti . Destiny had separated these two gargantuan poets of Islam by almost a century and half. One lived in the North; the other in the South of the British ruled India. Many were the differences between them but nevertheless the similarities were greater.
In 19th and 20th centuries, India had to bear many sufferings at the hands of British rule. The Indian Muslims fought with full vigor to oppose the British imperialistic designs. They had to face drastic economic consequences as a result. In the anti-imperialistic battle, great leaders who left their marks on history led them. Umar Qazi of Veliyankode, a small town in Ponnani – the Sufi poet on horseback – was such a leader whose patriotism made him the trademark of anti-British sentiment during his lifetime.
Born in 1765 AD in a very pious family, Umar Qazi was to become the pride of Muslim Kerala as the visionary poet and a just reformer. He showed unusual signs of greatness in childhood. His father, Ali Musliyar, used to take Umar to the great saints when they would pass by Veliyankode.
At the age of 7, his mother passed away. Umar Qazi grew in the company of his father. He learnt Quran recitation, aqeedah (theology)and fiqh (Jurisprudence) from his father. At 10, his father too passed away. At 11, he joined the Madrasa at Tanoor. At this stage, he used to inscribe poems on walls of mosques and houses. He also paid visits to his parents’ graves and prayed for them. At 13, he joined Ponnani Madrasa for higher studies.
After completing his studies in Ponnani Madrasa, he was made the Qazi (judge) of Veliyankode. Other neighboring areas also proclaimed Umar as the Qazi.
Once Umar Qazi went to Mampuram to hold discussion on Islamic law with Syed Alavi . At one point of time, he doubted the spirituality of Syed Alavi. It is said that as a result, he forgot what he had learnt. Thereafter, Umar Qazi realized that Syed Alavi was the Qutb-uz-Zaman (‘the Axis of the Era’ in Sufi terminology) and he was a divine scholar. He apologized for misunderstanding the great saint. Syed Alavi bestowed the mantle of the Qadiriyya tariqa on Umar Qazi and taught him the secrets of the spiritual domain. Later on Umar used to visit Syed Alavi often and became a close disciple of the saint.
Confrontation against the British Rule
Umar was a tacit critic of the British Empire and their imperialistic designs. He considered it a religious duty to oppose such powers and side with the oppressed. In this aspect he was larger than a poet who would normally remain secluded from the political and social developments affecting the community. He saber-rattled with the mightiest empire of those days, feared neither the British nor the native civil servants who served them. However, he never resorted to an armed struggle in which innocents would be killed. As a true Muslim, he did no believe in shedding blood for a purely regime change (an important lesson for many present-day uprisings in Muslim countries)
He realized that the secret of the Colonial Behemoth was its colossal tax revenues collected from around the world. This realization led Umar to fire his most powerful salvo against the British when, in 1805, he publicly announced his defiance of the British taxation system. When the officers approached the brave hero requesting him to pay his taxes, he gave a fiery reply “You are servants of the murderers of Tipu Sultan and destroyers of Samudiri, Arakkal, Kochi and Kodungallur . Almighty is the true owner of the land. I will not pay the tax”. It is to be noted here that Umar Qazi introduced the Non-Taxation Movement decades before Mahatma Gandhi started it towards the last stages of the Indian freedom struggle. He was later tried and jailed but released fearing popular uprising from the community.
Umar the Poet
Notwithstanding his political genius, Umar was a loquacious poet as well. He could compose melodious verses with equal aplomb befitting the context and appealing to the common man. His mastery of Arabic was impeccable and his poems became a daily metaphor for the people of Ponnani. His poems covered a variety of topics, but it should be stated that hardly any were particularly romantic. Majority of them were based on canons of Fiqh, especially of the Shafi’ school Islamic law. Perhaps it is rare to find in the history of Islamic world a poet of his genre. His poetry included topics such as marriage and divorce, inheritance, advent of Islam in Kerala, social malpractices, innovations in religion, etc
He also peppered his poetry on walls of Masjids in and around Ponnani. He could effortlessly interweave regional Malayalam and Arabi Malayalam words. Once he passed by the historic Thottungal Masjid, believed to have been built by Shaikh Faird , (a North Indian Sufi, who visited Ponnani) and recited thus:
A lengthy description hitherto of the poet and social reformer of Malabar was given to provide a clear picture before the forthcoming topics of discussion. It would be an exaggeration discuss the details of the life of Allama Iqbal in this journal.
The similarities between the two personalities under discussion can be summarized under various topics evident from their literary works and life.
1. Communal Harmony
Umar Qazi shone equally in political and religious circles as well. He saw Hindus, Muslims and Christians as one people and the British as the common enemy. He had high esteem for the Hindu rulers and as such he was given great honor in the court of Samudiri. He was a refined exponent of communal harmony in Malabar. True to the spirit of his creed, he would never instigate any act from his side which resulted in communal unrest.
Allama Iqbal ’s Tarana-e-Hind popularly used in India as a patriotic song praising the communal harmony. In his poem Naya Shivala (A New Temple), Iqbal finds divine glory in every dust of the nation’s soil. He wishes to build a temple in his heart which would be the highest place of worship. He further says,
“shakti bhi shanti bhi, bhakton ke geet mein hai
Bharat ke basiyon ki mukti preet mein hai”
Peace and power stay in hymns of devoted persons
Salvation of Indians lies in their mutual love
2. Religious Reforms
Umar Qazi’s was a Sufi saint but at the same time he never approved malpractices that had crept into Islamic way of life. At a place called Kondotty, a name-sake saint had instructed his students to prostrate in front of him. Umar Qazi, a man of visionary reforms, could not tolerate his practice. Nor could the rest of Malabar for that matter. Many great scholars like Mampuram Syed Alavi, Syed Ahmed Makhdum, Panakkad Syed Muhammad Hussein strongly protested against the un-Islamic prostration. They issued fatwas, wrote numerous books and composed poems to strike at this evil practice. Umar Qazi also wrote a poem against this malpractice:
A creation should not prostrate before another creation.
Doing so, he will be out of religion and become a unbeliever.
Qazi was never prepared to accept any Tariqa that was opposed to the tenets of Sharia. He was himself an ocean of ma’rifat, or divine knowledge. But that did not stop him from becoming subservient to the rulings of Islamic law.
Allama Iqbal too was a staunch critic of the preachers of pantheistic ideas within the fold of Islam. He could not refrain from protesting against the lethargy that had crept into the fold of the community at the hands of misguided Sufis. He found no passion in sitting with those at Madrassa and Khanqah.
3. Criticism of Social injustice and worldly mullahs
In addition to his political activism, Umar Qazi was also a social reformer and critic who questioned the hollow practices of society. Caste system was prevalent during his days which he could not tolerate. At one occasion he said addressing the proud members of the society.
‘O those who become arrogant on your lineage! Recall your ancestors!
Who were Thiyyan, Nayar, Ashari, Mushari, Pannan, Kushawan, Chetty, Nayadia and Parayar?
You were the converts from these classes’
Due to his acerbic stand against moral corruption, he had to face charges of suspicion from many within his own community. He wanted to distribute the wealth and close the gap between the wealthy and poor. In many poems, he openly mocked the greedy nature of mullahs and their lust for worldly pleasures.
Iqbal also was critical of the differences among the community. He interpreted Tawhid to be reflected in the unity of human existence and in universal human ideals. He says that the Muslim community is “the dew of one smiling dawn”. In Jawab-e-Shikwa, Iqbal reminds the Ummah that:
“Yun tou sayyid bhi ho, mirza bhi, afghan bhi hou
Tum sabhi kuch ho, Bataa musalmaan bhi hou
Like the Poet of Veliyankode, the Poet born at Sialkot also mocked the anti-social behavior of those who served formal religion. In “Baal-i-Jibril” (“The Wings of Jabriel”) the poem entitled “Mullah aur Bahisht”, has the following lines:
“When Almighty God ordained the Mullah to paradise,
I was also present there, and could not hold my tongue.
Submissively I said “Forgive me,
The Mullah will feel ill at ease in the paradise,
The houri, the wine and the verdant fields will not attract him.
Hair -Splitting and quibbling are in the nature of the man.
And paradise is not the place to bicker, argue and quarrel.”
Instead of guiding humanity into the fold of Islam, as taught by the Mercy to all Worlds صل الله عليه وسلمthe Mullah is preoccupied with hair-splitting issues and brands every other Muslim as infidels.
“Because of the Mullah, the true religion has sunk lower than irreligiousness,
For the Mullah instead of guiding the Muslims is busy branding the people as ‘Kafir’.
Again, he says about the Mullahs who misuse the religion to serve their own vested interests. In certain cases, the fitna caused by such conspiracies are more destructive than the acts of war committed by the Non-believers.
The religion of the Kafir consists of planning for Jihad;
The religion of the Mullah is creating trouble in the name of God.”
4. Humility and Non-finality
Both were prepared to admit non-finality for their works. Very rarely can we see such thinkers who are prepared to accept faults with their works. Most artists think that their work of art is absolute which blinds them from the higher truths in life. In Omar Qazi’s renowned philosophical poem, Nafais-ud-Durar, which has several lines praising the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم , he admits humbly:
If you find in this work any shortcoming or error
Resolve it after careful consideration
Allama Iqbal too never claimed any sort of perfection for his thoughts, neither in poetry nor philosophy. In fact one of the core aspects of his thoughts is the perpetual evolution of human thought with the progress of time. In the preface to his philosophical masterpiece, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Iqbal admits, “It must, however, be remembered that there is no such thing as finality in philosophical thinking. As knowledge advances and fresh avenues of thought are opened, other views, and probably sounder views than those set forth in these Lectures, are possible. Our duty is carefully to watch the progress of human thought, and to maintain an independent critical attitude towards it.”
5. Political Participation
The Holy Quran states in a Sura named Al-Shura’a (Poets)
“And the Poets – It is those straying in Evil, who follow them: Seest thou not that they wander distracted in every valley?- And that they say what they practice not? Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah, and defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take”.
Both Umar Qazi and Allama Iqbal belonged to the second category mentioned in the above-said verses. They were not among those distracted poets who talked of things they practiced not. Both participated in the political developments of their times. Qazi propounded the concept of Non-Taxation for the oppressive British regime, while Iqbal wrote poems expressing patriotism and the suffering of the colonized nation. The two poets’ thoughts were organically linked with the realities around them. Although both poets’ poetry was kindled and inspired by their proverbial love for the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم (as we shall see later), both delivered their message in the context of the people around them.
Both poets used a variety of birds and animals to elucidate their thoughts. While Umar Qazi mentions crow and fly to depict the feeling of greed and self-indulgence, Iqbal uses peacock and nightingale to represent the world of color and sound of this fleeting world. Besides, a peripheral reading of Payam-e-Mashriq will shows us that Iqbal takes the example from Falcon, quail, moth, hawk, eagle, fish and glow-worm to explain his philosophy.
7. Journey to the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
Umar Qazi left the land of Paddy Fields to visit the Beloved Hero of Hijaz صل الله عليه وسلم At his homeland, he was engaged in fighting the colonial powers. He could not tolerate the Oppressive Regime reigning in his homeland. With pen and sword, he defied their every word. But to fight for his Hindi homeland, his strength lay in the Hijazi land. He left his homeland to quench the thirst of his heart. In the Hijri year 1209, he went on Hajj pilgrimage, boarding a ship from Calicut to Bombay and then to Jeddah. En route, he was made the Amir, chief, of the group of pilgrims for guiding them on matters of Hajj. After performing the obligatory acts of Hajj at Makkah, he left for Madina to visit the grave of the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلمSitting beside the Rawdha Shareef, he composed the long sentimental poem, Salla-al-Ilah, which is completely addressed to the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم. People around gathered around him listening to his melodious anguish-filled recitation and is reported to have witnessed certain miracles.
While Iqbal’s pilgrimage was spiritual in nature, it was nevertheless with equal passion and vigor. Even while at home, his friends have related incidents when he would break into tears unable to control himself when anyone would make a mention of the Holy Prophet! صل الله عليه وسلم
Reading them both alongside each other, one can find striking similarities in the pattern of emotions and expressions which would make us suspicious whether they were contemporaries!
Leaving their homeland for the sake of the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
O the Full Moon perfect in shining
To my homeland I bid farewell in your longing.
Despite old age I took the way to Yathrib
Singing with the ecstasy of Love
Like the bird which in the evening
Spreads its wings eagerly for the nest
The Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم s the only refuge for hope
For a sinner of my stature
Have I no other means left
Save my love for you to intercede
To save me from the punishment of Merciful Lord
Your slave begs not solace from anyone else
Life spent away from master is veritable death
O you who endues the Kurd with Arab’s burning
Summon your own slave to your gracious presence
At the doorstep of the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
With tears flowing profusely here is Umar-
He stands at your doorstep; your mercy for him is dear
The shrine of your street is my refuge
Hopefully have I run up to you
Ah! The agony of my body and soul
A glance of yours is the sovereign remedy.
Appeal to the mercy of the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
For those coming in search of mercy in your presence
Among those of all ages, none is greater than you in benevolence.
Your mercy on the sinners is greater
In forgiveness it is like mother’s love.
The praise of the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم as the solution for all ills of the present
Loving and praising the Holy Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم are good deeds
It is possible that Allah may fulfill your wishes due to them.
He who cherishes love of Mustafa,
Controls everything in the seas and lands.
It is love for him that gives life
and prosperity in the universe to Community.
While Umar focused primarily on the jurisprudence and apparent acts of worship, Iqbal was more concerned with the zeal of faith and awakening the Ummah from their dogmatic slumber. While Umar was educated in the traditional system of religious Madrassa, Iqbal was nurtured in modern educational system including western sciences. The social and political conditions were also noticeably different in their times. While Qazi lived during the initial years of British rule, Iqbal spent his life towards the end of colonial rule.
Had Iqbal known of Qazi, he would have probably included him in his poetry just as Tipu Sultan (from South India). The gap was partly owing to the rich contributions of Keralite intelligentsia but restricted to their own mother tongue. Umar Qazi had the courage to fearlessly challenge the British rule as well devise new method of confrontation. He critiqued the prevailing malpractices and hypocrisy of the community and made efforts to rectify them. He loved the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم dearly and composed several verses dedicated for the Beloved. It is impossible to assume that such a personality would not have impressed Allama Iqbal. Such assumption is only logical considering our knowledge of Iqbal’ selection of the type of personalities sound in his poems. Unfortunately Fate had it otherwise. With the spread of technology and advancement of communication means, we are in a better position to remove such ignorance and thereby appreciate the universality of love for the Beloved Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم May this humble essay be a helping hand to bridge that gulf between the two lovers of the Prophet صل الله عليه وسلم
1. Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, by Sir Mohammed Iqbal
2. History of Kerala and of Her Muslims, by Dr. C.K. Kareem
3. Glory of Iqbal by Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi
4. Hazrat Umar Qazi: Life and works, published by Veliyankode Mahallu Juma’th Committee
5. Ruzgar-i-Faqir by Faqir Wahiduddin