An Exclusive Interview with Justice Javid Iqbal on his Life, his Father – Allama Muhammad Iqbal – and the Future of Pakistan

By Sonya Rehman

Perhaps the most defining feature of Justice Javid Iqbal’s house – situated on Main Boulevard, in Lahore – is its doors; made of solid wood, quaint, with carvings – Swati style.

Seated in his small office with leather chairs and couches, a few framed pictures of both Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal (Justice Javid’s father) hang on a wall behind his desk. The cozy room is lined with books and an assortment of awards – one being a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ presented to Justice Javid from the Pakistani American Congress.

Justice Javid Iqbal – Photo: Faisal Farooqui
Justice Javid Iqbal – Photo: Faisal Farooqui

A former Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court and a retired Judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Javid completed two Masters degrees in Pakistan (in both English Literature and Philosophy) before going abroad, to Cambridge, where he was a Research Scholar.

Having completed his PhD in a topic titled ‘The Development of Muslim Political Philosophy,’ Justice Javid joined Lincoln’s Inn and gave his Bar Exams. “I was away from Pakistan for about 6-7 years,” he states, “But afterwards I returned and started practicing as a Lawyer in Pakistan. I’m a trained Lawyer but at the same time my interest in Philosophy is reflected by my PhD, which pertains to the question – and is in a way connected with – how Pakistan was created and why. So in a way it’s a kind of a philosophic approach to the necessity of the creation of Pakistan. That thesis is the basis of one of my English books titled ‘Islam and Pakistan’s Identity.’”

During the course of the interview, Justice Javid frequently speaks about his father’s works, Iqbal’s philosophy and the importance of the Pakistani youth in taking the country forward.

“We’ve ceased to develop this habit of studying books, and that is the main reason why our youngsters are so confused,” states Justice Javid, who’s dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez while seated on one of his leather couches. Even though he is in his 80s, Justice Javid is bright, alert and sharp of mind.

“The youth have to be given training by our [local] universities,” he says, “They should be made familiar with the Islamic cultural tradition – because we’re not really familiar with it. The cultural tradition of course, when you examine our history, you’ll find out that we were dominating the world – once upon a time – just as the West dominates us now. But then of course there’s a state through which we’re passing currently, and that is the state of decadence. Now this has to be realized, we are no more a dominant community.”

He continues to speak at length about Pakistan’s current state of decadence and how it must be done away with before the country disintegrates even further.

Allama Iqbal

“Iqbal says that the real sinner is he who is non-creative,” Justice Javid says ardently, citing a few verses from his father’s book of poetry, ‘Javid Nama’ – translated as the ‘Book of Eternity.’

Towards the end of the book, Iqbal addresses his son; Justice Javid in some verses – here, Iqbal is not only addressing and providing guidance to his son, but also, to the young Muslim generation. “He [Iqbal] states that a person who isn’t creative isn’t a Muslim. In other words, God’s quality is creation – constant creativity! So, in actuality, you have to be like God in the field of creativity. And if you seize to be creative, you seize to be a community – you decay.”

So how does one avoid the state of decadence, I ask. “To avoid the state of decadence is to shun following ancient authorities, to re-think and to be creative,” he says. “You wouldn’t be sitting here taking this interview of mine if Sir Syed Ahmed Khan had not existed. Sir Syed emphasized on modern education. Without him you would’ve been confined to the four walls of your home and I would’ve been sitting here with a long beard, without any knowledge of the modern world or experimental sciences! Our youngsters need to be trained to think originally.”

Speaking about his father, Justice Javid states that Iqbal was a “strict” parent. Mothers and fathers weren’t as they are today, he adds. “Because at that time we were enslaved, we thought our children should not develop the habits of slavery, of mimicking or adopting the culture which was dominating us. That’s why they were very strict.”

For example, Justice Javid mentions that he was “forbidden” to wear “European clothes,” and was only allowed to wear the national dress as well as a ‘Rumi topi’ [a Fez hat] that Justice Javid would often wear as a child.

Cinema too, was forbidden by Iqbal. It was “disapproved according to those values of morality.” However, both Justice Javid and his younger sister (six years his juniour) were allowed to see only two movies: one on Napoleon and the other on a famed French writer. These movies were viewed in the presence of their German governess, Aunty Dorris, who the children were extremely close to after the demise of their mother – who passed away in their childhood.

“He had a European woman in the house to train us, to look after us, but his emphasis was anti-British,” Justice Javid chuckles, “Iqbal thought very well of Germany, once he’d thought if he ever left India he’d like to settle in Germany. He said it was his second home; he was very fond of Germany.”

Justice Javed was only 13-years-old when Iqbal died. Little wonder then, the softness in his eyes when he speaks of his governess who raised and took care of him and his sister. Aunty Dorris was fluent in both Urdu and English (apart from German) and was eventually buried in the Christian Graveyard in Lahore. “We still go to her grave every Christmas to pray for her.”

Topping science in 9th grade, Iqbal expected his son to become a scientist. Justice Javid laughs lightly when he mentions this. “He wanted to send me to Austria but apparently afterwards I had no interest in science.” Instead, Justice Javid’s interest developed elsewhere: in Philosophy.

Before he died, Iqbal made arrangements of guardianship in such a way that the children “did not feel the absence of a mother or father.”

“Because we had our governess, the household arrangement remained the same, there was nothing except for the house, and we didn’t have any other property or land. So the only source of income was his books, and its royalties. This was managed by the guardians and there was sufficient income from the sale of books for my sister and I to study.”

Given his father’s immense popularity and recognition the world over, did Justice Javid ever feel like he was in Iqbal’s shadow while growing up?

“Yes,” he responds candidly in an endearing fashion, “It was a difficult process because I didn’t know what he did when I was a child. If anyone asked me what my father did, I wouldn’t know what to say. But as I grew older I took pride in his being famous. But then a time came when I was struggling, for example, when I was abroad doing my own research work I discovered that anyone who liked me was because of me – I became conscious of myself. I then started disapproving of anyone calling me Farzand-e-Iqbal and all such nonsense, which they still do, but of course now I’m in old age and I don’t particularly care or mind.”

He continues; “But I still feel that because of our own decadence, we consider  the past more important than the present,” Justice Javid goes on to state while chuckling, “So anyone who calls me Farzand-e-Iqbal – it means that I have no existence, I have no ego, no personality, I’m only a bloody farzand which means nothing!”

Justice Javid agrees that he learnt a lot about his father while growing up studying Iqbal’s works. “My interest in Iqbal basically is to understand him in the philosophic tradition. I’m now in my 80s and I feel that I’ve only now gradually started understanding some of the intricate ideas of his.”

Given that Iqbal’s works were very futuristic for the time in which they were penned and published, do they then still remain futuristic, today? “Yes. Iqbal is the poet of the future.”

“The whole philosophy of Iqbal is khudi – meaning ‘self.’ Now, how does one strengthen the self? Iqbal says you can strengthen the individual self on the basis of three things which he lays emphasis on: one is love (loving yourself, humanity and God); the second is to have the courage to speak what you feel…what you think is right. And the third is liberty – freedom. These three values, according to Iqbal strengthen your ego,” Justice Javid states.

If these qualities are nurtured by the young Pakistani generation, he says, change can come to Pakistan.

Stating that credence must be given to the creators of Pakistan, Justice Javid says that the country today is “in pieces.” “We’ve destroyed Jinnah’s Pakistan,” he states, yet the only solution lies in creativity.

“The only thing is that you have to have an urge to be creative. There’s no need of being creative in another country, because you become an instrument for the others – you only help them in being more creative…what’s the use of that? I’d like such talent to come back to Pakistan and help in the progress of creativity in this country.”

Speaking of ‘Javid Nama,’ Justice Javid mentions that the message that Iqbal gives to the youth in the last chapter is this: that the biggest sin is hopelessness.

“This is the philosophy of Iqbal. You have to be hopeful all the time. Everything can be sorted out, but for that, you have to make an effort.”

HELLO! Pakistan

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