In his poem Shaam-o-Falasteen (Syria and Palestine), included in Zarb-i-Kaleem, Allama Iqbal says:
Hai khak-i-Falasteen pe yahoodi ka agar haq
Hispaniya pe haq nahin kyun ahl-i-Arab ka?
This can roughly be translated as: if Jews have a right over the soil of Palestine, why do Arabs not have a right over Spain?
So, in Iqbal’s opinion, Palestine belongs to Arabs, and if someone advocates rights of Jews over Palestine land because they were driven out of Palestine, Arabs were deported from Spain, too.
Iqbal had deep sympathies for Muslims of Palestine, as he believed Islam transcends all races, regions and borders. Though he died in 1938 and Israel was created in 1948, Iqbal had been closely following the developments in the Middle East. Western countries were bent upon granting lands to Jews in Palestine, trampling over all the promises they had made during the negotiations. So, writes Bashir Ahmed Dar in his Anwaar-i-Iqbal, a public rally was organised outside Lahore’s famous Mochi Gate on Dec 30, 1919. Speaking on the occasion, Iqbal presented a resolution demanding that the promises that the British government had made to Muslims regarding their territories in the Middle East be fulfilled. He stressed that no part of any Muslim land should be handed over to any other side (p42-43).
After Paris Peace Conference, need for an international organisation was felt for maintaining global peace. As a result, the League of Nations, a kind of precursor of the United Nations, was formed in 1920. Unfortunately, big powers held sway over the matters at the League of Nations as it had no real power to implement what it intended to do.
Iqbal was utterly disappointed with what was doled out to Muslims after the First World War and in the wake of the creation of the League of Nations. He composed a scathing four-line piece, calling the League of Nations ‘kafan duzde chand’, or a few who steal shrouds from the graves. The two verses are included in Payam-i-Mashriq, or the message from the East, a collection of Iqbal’s Persian poetry first published in 1923.
The verses have been translated into English by Syed Abdul Vahid. The translation is reproduced here:
To banish the institution of warfare from this ancient assemblage
The well-wishers of the world evolved a new order;
I know but this that a few shroud-stealers
Have formed a league for distributing graves.
During their rule Ottoman Turks had shown much permissive and tolerant attitude towards Jews. They permitted Jews to pray in front of Western Wall, an ancient wall situated in the proximity of Dome of Rock at Jerusalem and known as Buraq Wall among Muslims.
In September 1929, Iqbal delivered a speech criticising pro-Jews policies pursued by the British and said, as quoted by Muhammad Rafiq Afzal in his book Guftaar-i-Iqbal, “Turks have been showing extraordinary tolerant attitude towards Jews. They allowed them to wail before the Buraq Wall and that is why it came to be known as Wailing Wall. According to Islamic Sharia the entire court area of Al-Aqsa Mosque is ‘waqf’ (or endowment). The Jews claim its control and use but legally and historically they do not have any right over it” (page 93).
The League of Nations’ headquarter was in Geneva, Switzerland, and British was supporting the Jews. So Iqbal alluded to them in his poem Falasteeni Arab Se in Zarb-i-Kaleem:
Teri dava na Geneva mein hai na London mein
Farang ki rag-i-jaan panja-i-yahood mein hai
In this couplet Iqbal, while addressing Palestinian Arabs, says “your panacea is neither at Geneva nor at London, because the jugular vein of the West is in the clutches of Jews”.
Muhammad Hamza Farooqi has mentioned in one of his articles that Allama Iqbal participated in the Second Roundtable Conference held at London, during the last few months of 1931, to discuss the reforms for greater self-government as demanded by the Indian politicians. In those days, Motamar Al-Alam Al-Islami, or the World Muslim Congress, was organising a conference to discuss the Zionist threat. Leaving London conference, Iqbal went to Jerusalem to attend the conference.
On many other occasions, Iqbal had supported the Palestine cause. For want of space we cannot offer much here, but, his letter dated Oct 7, 1937, addressed to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is an absolute eye opener: “The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims. … I have no doubt that the League will pass a strong resolution on this question and also by holding a private conference of the leaders decide on some sort of a positive action in which masses may share in large numbers. This will at once popularise the League and may help the Palestine Arabs. Personally I will not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India.” (p.27)
The great bard was ill and died within six months, but was willing to go to jail for the Palestine cause!
Originally published in Dawn, October 30th, 2023