Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Iqbal one love, three wifes and four marriages

The following is not meant to shed doubt on Iqbal's personal life - merely to show his human side. It is easy to find solutions for others, but ironically difficult to find solutions in one's own life.

read the following on Ale's blog

from Iqbal's one love, three wifes and four marriages by Dr. Sohail

laazim hai dil ke paas rahay paas-baan-e-aql
lekin kabhi kabhi isay tan-ha bhi ch-hoR day

(It’s good to keep the heart under the guardianship of wisdom
but sometime the heart needs to be left alone)

When we study the psychological aspect of Iqbal’s life, we find out that despite having a sensitive heart and a brilliant mind, he had to struggle against many romantic contradictions through out his life. These contradictions appeared for the first time when Iqbal went to Europe in the pursuit of higher . Upon reaching Europe, he discovered that his personality possessed certain charm that the opposite sex found irresistible. He could not have come to this realization in the traditional and suppressed romantic climate of his homeland where were conditioned not to act upon such attractions. Iqbal, soon, had a coterie of female friends including from the West as well as the East and among the latter was Atiya Faizi.

The relationship between Iqbal and Faizi developed quite rapidly and soon they were dining together quite frequently. These dinners were followed by long walks during which the two talked about many mysteries of life. Iqbal, besides being smitten by Atiya’s beauty, was impressed by her intellectual prowess as well which is evident from the fact that Iqbal sought her opinion about his Ph.D. thesis.

When we read Atiya Faizi’s diaries, we observe that she mentions Iqbal in a way one mentions a lover and not just a friend. [1] Her relation with Iqbal had reached the stage where it becomes difficult to differentiate between friendship and .

Iqbal’s return to in 1908, after completing his , resulted in a psychological crisis for him. After sampling the liberalism of the West, Iqbal could not cope with the conservatism of his own society. In such a mental state, Iqbal wrote a letter to Atiya Faizi in which he described his thoughts very candidly. This letter is mentioned by many commentators including Iqbal’s biographer Abdul-Majeed Salik in “Zikr-e-Iqbal”. The letter became one of the most talked about of all the letters Iqbal ever wrote. In the letter, Iqbal expressed his frustration and anger towards his life. To a certain extent, Iqbal blamed his wife to be the cause of his miseries. He wrote that his father had wedded him at a young age against his will and this had now become an unwanted burden for him. Iqbal wrote that he sometimes wished to drown his frustration in alcohol because he felt that alcohol made committing easy. Iqbal wrote that he was perfectly willing to support his wife financially for the rest of his life but he just couldn’t bear the torture of her being part of Iqbal’s daily life. In the same letter, Iqbal wrote that being a human being, he had the right to be happy and if society tried to deprive him of that right, he would rebel against it. The only choices he was left with, he wrote, were to either leave the cursed country or become an alcoholic to numb his feelings. According to Iqbal, dead and barren pages of books could not give him happiness and he had enough fire in his soul to burn those books along with the Eastern traditions to cinder. [2]

This particular letter betrays the depth of despair Iqbal was going thru at the time. His suppressed rage—against his wife, the outdated of his society and traditional nature of his —was coming to the surface. Atiya Faizi responded to this profound letter in a very sympathetic manner and advised Iqbal to seek psychological comfort in the company of his friends.

It seems that Iqbal’s life at this point had come to a crossroads. He had turned sour not just towards his but towards his culture, traditions and as well. He was experiencing a conflict between the traditional demands of his society and his desire to live in the open society of Europe which enticed him with economic opportunities as well as the proximity of Atiya Faizi.

It is quite possible that Iqbal wanted Atiya Faizi to become his life partner. If that was the case, he never overtly expressed that desire—maybe for the lack of courage. Despite his admission that he was extremely unhappy with his marital life, Atiya never made any suggestive moves towards Iqbal. She was a wise and seasoned woman who knew that what Iqbal needed was a psychiatrist and not a second wife.

The realization that Faizi was not going to become his life partner may have intensified the psychological crisis in Iqbal. When someone is thru an emotional and psychological crisis, one tends to make emotional decisions guided by the frustration and rage—and that is exactly what happened to Iqbal. He decided to marry again and, without seeking anyone’s counsel, Iqbal chose Sardar Begum to be his second wife. Soon after the nikah, the religious ceremony of wedding, and before the traditional departure of the bride to the house of her newlywed husband, Iqbal received anonymous letters questioning Sardar Begum’s character. Iqbal was so disheartened by those letters that he decided to Sardar Begum.

In the meantime, Iqbal received a proposal to marry Mukhtar Begum, the daughter of the famous Dr. Subhan Ali from Ludhiana, Punjab. Iqbal’s sister, Karim Bibi, went to Ludhiana to meet Mukhtar Begum. Upon her return, Karim Bibi praised the beauty of Mukhtar Begum in such persuasive manner that Iqbal immediately agreed to marry Mukhtar Begum.

Iqbal and his new bride arrived back at after the ceremony. The next day, when Iqbal had the first real opportunity to see his wife closely, he was utterly dismayed because she was nothing like how Iqbal’s sister had described her. She was not beautiful at all. It was later revealed that Iqbal had been conned into marrying Dr. Subhan Ali’s niece whose name was also Mukhtar Begum. By the time Iqbal came to know this, it was too late because he had consummated his . It is still a mystery as to who was responsible for this deception. At the outset, it seemed that Iqbal’s sister was deceived on her visit to Ludhiana but it is hard to rule her out as an accomplice because of the statements of Rasheeda Begum (Iqbal’s daughter-in- who married iqbal’s elder son Aftab). Rasheeda Begum alleges that Iqbal’s sister had a soft corner for Iqbal’s first wife and she was the one who wrote the anonymous letters against Sardar Begum. It’s quite possible that when Karim Bibi saw that her brother was determined to marry again even after getting disheartened by Sardar Begum affair, she deliberately sabotaged Iqbal’s with Mukhtar Begum by misleading her brother into marrying a woman who was not as beautiful as Iqbal expected.

While Iqbal was still suffering from this shock, he received a letter from Sardar Begum, his second wife, who he had mentally divorced and who was still living with her parents. Sardar Begum wrote to Iqbal that she was waiting for him to take her to his home and if Iqbal rejected her, she would never marry again. She expressed her profound sorrow that a person of Iqbal’s mental caliber had judged her only on the basis of gossip and rumor. The letter was bound to make Iqbal feel guilty and he became extremely sad when he later found out that the anonymous letters regarding Sardar Begum were probably written by an advocate by the name of Nabi Bakhsh who wanted Sardar Begum to marry his own son (Rasheeda Begum, as quoted above, disagreed with it and maintained that the letters were the handiwork of Iqbal’s sister). Iqbal talked to some of his friends who knew Sardar Begum’s and they told Iqbal that there was no truth in the allegations. Embarrassed and guilt-ridden, Iqbal wanted to bring Sardar Begum to his house but there was still an obstacle. Iqbal thought that he had divorced Sardar Begum in his mind and according to some of his friends with religious bent, once divorced, Iqbal could not marry her. She first had to marry someone else, get divorced and only then could Iqbal marry her again according to the religious concept of halala. Confused, Iqbal sought the opinion of a Muslim cleric who told him that what Iqbal’s friends had suggested didn’t apply to Iqbal’s situation because Iqbal had not consummated his with Sardar Begum. Still somewhat confused, for the satisfaction of his mind, Iqbal went thru the rites again with Sardar Begum before bringing her home and so Sardar Begum, who Iqbal married twice, became his second and fourth wife. In the period of two years, Iqbal had added three marriages and two wives to his life. Interestingly, Iqbal’s first wife, who was living in Sialkot till that time, also decided to live with him in with his other two wives. Iqbal had two kids, Aftab and Mairaj, with his first wife, so, at a certain point in his life, Iqbal was living with three wives and two kids.

This polygamous setup of Iqbal’s household was not very practical and could not last long. One day, the mother of Iqbal’s first wife came over, told Iqbal that he was a very irresponsible husband and took her daughter and her daughter’s kids away with her. [3]

Iqbal’s various biographers agree that Sardar Begum was Iqbal’s favorite wife who was the most beautiful of the three. Iqbal had two kids, Muneera and Javed, with her. With the passage of time though, the started to fade away from his relationship with Sardar Begum as well. Iqbal was not someone equipped with the abilities of coping with the demands of traditional life. Sardar Begum also realized that though Iqbal was a successful poet and philosopher, he was a failure at being a good husband. This feeling led Sardar Begum to become irate towards Iqbal. Iqbal’s son, Javed Iqbal, describes the relationship between his parents by writing, “we were always short of money for household expenses so my mother wanted my father to take his practice seriously. We were also renting at that time and my mother wanted us to buy a house. I can still recall the usual scene of my mother crying and cursing at my father and telling him that while she was working like a servant and making every effort to save some money, my father was busy lying down writing poetry, and my father laughing his embarrassed laugh.” [4]

This description of Iqbal’s household tells us that Iqbal, the great intellectual who could stare any politician, poet or intellectual in the eyes, could not give any satisfactory answer to his wife’s objections. If such was his relation with his favorite wife, one can imagine the state of his relationship with his other wives.

While living with three wives, Iqbal continued his correspondence with Atiya Faizi. Iqbal’s life was so typical of the life of an Eastern poet; he couldn’t marry the woman he loved and he couldn’t the he married.

Iqbal never moved to Europe but he maintained contacts with ladies. They used to come over to and meet Iqbal and Iqbal showed equal enthusiasm meeting them. After the of Sardar Begum, instead of hiring an Indian woman, Iqbal hired a German governess for Javed and Muneera who used to call her aunt Doris. It seems that Doris was serving dual purpose of looking after the kids and assuaging Iqbal’s about Europe.

As a psycho-therapist, Iqbal’s life came to me as a surprise. I am surprised to note that The Poet of the East, who had a solution for every problem afflicting his nation, remained clueless about the solutions of his own romantic and marital problems. I find it hard to believe that he got separated from his first wife and their kids after sixteen years of , that he divorced his second wife based only on anonymous letters, that he realized that he was deceived only after he had consummated his with his third wife, and more surprisingly, that he sought an edict from a cleric and then ignored the edict before marrying Sardar Begum a second time.

I guess Iqbal must have concluded from these experiences that it was easier for him to have a successful creative life than a successful marital life. Words came easy to Iqbal but the answers to the tough questions of his romantic dilemmas did not. Maybe that is why he wrote,

Iqbal baRa updeshak hai, mun baton main moh laita hai.
Guftaar ka yeh ghazi to bana, kirdaar ka ghazi ban naa saka.


1- Letters and diary of Atiya Faizi. Translation by Zia uddin Ahmad Burni. Iqbal Academy, , , 1969.
2- “Zikr-e-Iqbal”, Abdul Majeed Salik, Chaman Book Depot, , (p. 95)
3- “Iqbal and his elder son, Aftab Iqbal”, Rasheeda Aftab, Ferozesons , , 1999 (p. 80)
4- “Apna garebaN chaak”, Javed Iqbal, Sang-e-Meel Publishers, , , 2002 (p. 20)


  1. wow!! And for some reason I thought that he was never married and something of a celibate. Haha!! Because we never hear about his marriages and all.
    I want to see criticism regarding his nationalism and the "upward thinking" in "sitatron se aage jahan aur bhi hain" as H.G. Wells would call it.

  2. wow some secret things of iqbal for moe visit

  3. Hz. Allama Iqbal was in conflict with his time. Personalities of this calibre who change the course of the history often have a turbulent and complicated personal life.
    They often come in a personal dilemma if the partner doesnt match their mind.
    For such people mental stimulation is the most important aspect of satisfaction.
    Atiya Faizi gave him mental stimulation which he didnt get from his first wife and neither his later wives.
    They need a partnership where they can communicate on the same plan.
    Quaid e Azam married a self selected love but his marriage life was a fiasco likewise Hz. Allam Iqbals.
    Bacuse his wife wasnt able to give him that partnership he needed in his way of life. The woman who was able to do so was Fatima Jinnah.
    We can also bring in examples of prophets like Hz. Isa, Hz Mosa...we never hear about their wives. Hz. Nooh had a wife who didnt support his revolution and he had to left her back.
    Hz. Ibrahim had to leave his wife Hajra and son Ismael behind, according to his story as we know.
    Higher perspectives often lead to conflicts with traditions and culture. A creative mind do not stop pursuing mental stimulation and often make its being complicated because of creative solutions to its problems. Norms of the society never manage to give them relief cuz a creative mind never believe in man made norms but opt to create new norms by their revolutionary mindset.
    Such a great mind could never live according to the traditional way of life and its not any surprise that Iqbal or people of that calibre do get complications.
    They are architects of social evolution.

    1. im liking you response, well done Zeeshan :)

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Very well explained and to my mind very rightly. The analysis of writer is very realistic and practical. He has elucidated his narrations by giving examples, which of course appeals to mind. The writer seems to be well read and an intellectual himself.Thank you ZeShan Saheb.

    4. Wow, very nice and educated answer

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Excellent analysis of the married life. Got a question you may be able to help in that. What was the name of the person who introduced karim bibi's family to Iqbal's family and as a result they got married? Was it some maid or was it Molvi Mir Hassan? Cause karim was a daughter of rich surgeon and Iqbal was a member of lower middle class family. Any help would be appreciated

  6. There is always a very very fine line to hold a super intelligent philosopher from becoming a psychological case !

  7. There is always a very very fine line to hold a super intelligent philosopher from becoming a psychological case !

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  9. Appreciate Zee Shan response. This write up seems to be an attempt to downplay visionary and thought provoking poetry of Iqbal.

  10. Very nice and informative... Keep it up

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