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Islamic Personalities ( 12 Dec 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Allama Iqubal, One Beloved, Three Wives, Four Weddings



Halala Iqubal-Style

By Dr. Khalid Sohail

December 7, 2012

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

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) Iqubal

When we study the psychological aspect of Iqubal’s life, we find out that despite having a sensitive heart and a brilliant mind, he had to struggle against many romantic contradictions throughout his life. These contradictions appeared for the first time when Iqubal went to Europe in the pursuit of higher education. 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 women were conditioned not to act upon such attractions. Iqubal, soon, had a coterie of female friends including women from the West as well as the East and among the latter was Atiya Faizi.

The relationship between Iqubal 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. Iqubal, besides being smitten by Atiya’s beauty, was impressed by her intellectual prowess as well which is evident from the fact that Iqubal sought her opinion about his Ph.D. thesis.

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

Iqubal’s return to India in 1908, after completing his education, resulted in a psychological crisis for him. After sampling the liberalism of the West, Iqubal could not cope with the conservatism of his own society. In such a mental state, Iqubal wrote a letter to Atiya Faizi in which he described his thoughts very candidly. This letter is mentioned by many commentators including Iqubal’s biographer Abdul-Majeed Salik in "Zikr-e-Iqubal". The letter became one of the most talked about of all the letters Iqubal ever wrote. In the letter, Iqubal expressed his frustration and anger towards his life. To a certain extent, Iqubal 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 marriage had now become an unwanted burden for him. Iqubal wrote that he sometimes wished to drown his frustration in alcohol because he felt that alcohol made committing suicide easy. Iqubal 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 Iqubal’s daily life. In the same letter, Iqubal 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 Iqubal, 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 Iqubal was going thru at the time. His suppressed rage—against his wife, the outdated values of his society and traditional nature of his family—was coming to the surface. Atiya Faizi responded to this profound letter in a very sympathetic manner and advised Iqubal to seek psychological comfort in the company of his friends.

It seems that Iqubal’s life at this point had come to a crossroads. He had turned sour not just towards his marriage but towards his culture, traditions and religion 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 Iqubal 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 Iqubal. She was a wise and seasoned woman who knew that what Iqubal 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 Iqubal. 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 Iqubal. He decided to marry again and, without seeking anyone’s counsel, Iqubal 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, Iqubal received anonymous letters questioning Sardar Begum’s character. Iqubal was so disheartened by those letters that he decided to divorce Sardar Begum.

In the meantime, Iqubal received a proposal to marry Mukhtar Begum, the daughter of the famous Dr. Subhan Ali from Ludhiana, Punjab. Iqubal’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 Iqubal immediately agreed to marry Mukhtar Begum.

Iqubal and his new bride arrived back at Lahore after the marriage ceremony. The next day, when Iqubal had the first real opportunity to see his wife closely, he was utterly dismayed because she was nothing like how Iqubal’s sister had described her. She was not beautiful at all. It was later revealed that Iqubal had been conned into marrying Dr. Subhan Ali’s niece whose name was also Mukhtar Begum. By the time Iqubal came to know this, it was too late because he had consummated his marriage. It is still a mystery as to who was responsible for this deception. At the outset, it seemed that Iqubal’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 (Iqubal’s daughter-in-law who married Iqubal’s elder son Aftab). Rasheeda Begum alleges that Iqubal’s sister had a soft corner for Iqubal’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 Iqubal’s marriage with Mukhtar Begum by misleading her brother into marrying a woman who was not as beautiful as Iqubal expected.

While Iqubal 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 Iqubal that she was waiting for him to take her to his home and if Iqubal rejected her, she would never marry again. She expressed her profound sorrow that a person of Iqubal’s mental caliber had judged her only on the basis of gossip and rumor. The letter was bound to make Iqubal 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 Iqubal’s sister). Iqubal talked to some of his friends who knew Sardar Begum’s family and they told Iqubal that there was no truth in the allegations. Embarrassed and guilt-ridden, Iqubal wanted to bring Sardar Begum to his house but there was still an obstacle. Iqubal thought that he had divorced Sardar Begum in his mind and according to some of his friends with religious bent, once divorced, Iqubal could not marry her. She first had to marry someone else, get divorced and only then could Iqubal marry her again according to the religious concept of halala. Confused, Iqubal sought the opinion of a Muslim cleric who told him that what Iqubal’s friends had suggested didn’t apply to Iqubal’s situation because Iqubal had not consummated his marriage with Sardar Begum. Still somewhat confused, for the satisfaction of his mind, Iqubal went thru the marriage rites again with Sardar Begum before bringing her home and so Sardar Begum, who Iqubal married twice, became his second and fourth wife. In the period of two years, Iqubal had added three marriages and two wives to his life. Interestingly, Iqubal’s first wife, who was living in Sialkot till that time, also decided to live with him in Lahore with his other two wives. Iqubal had two kids, Aftab and Mairaj, with his first wife, so, at a certain point in his life, Iqubal was living with three wives and two kids.

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

Iqubal’s various biographers agree that Sardar Begum was Iqubal’s favorite wife who was the most beautiful of the three. Iqubal had two kids, Muneera and Javed, with her. With the passage of time though, the love started to fade away from his relationship with Sardar Begum as well. Iqubal was not someone equipped with the abilities of coping with the demands of traditional family life. Sardar Begum also realized that though Iqubal was a successful poet and philosopher, he was a failure at being a good husband. This feeling led Sardar Begum to become irate towards Iqubal. Iqubal’s son, Javed Iqubal, 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 law 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 Iqubal’s household tells us that Iqubal, 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, Iqubal continued his correspondence with Atiya Faizi. Iqubal’s love life was so typical of the life of an Eastern poet; he couldn’t marry the woman he loved and he couldn’t love the women he married.

Iqubal never moved to Europe but he maintained contacts with European ladies. They used to come over to India and meet Iqubal and Iqubal showed equal enthusiasm meeting them. After the death of Sardar Begum, instead of hiring an Indian woman, Iqubal 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 Iqubal’s nostalgia about Europe.

As a psycho-therapist, Iqubal’s love 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 marriage, that he divorced his second wife based only on anonymous letters, that he realized that he was deceived only after he had consummated his marriage 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 Iqubal 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 Iqubal but the answers to the tough questions of his romantic dilemmas did not. Maybe that is why he wrote,

Iqubal baRa updeshak hai, mun baton main moh laita hai.

Guftaar ka yeh ghazi to bana, kirdaar ka ghazi ban naa saka.


(The essay appeared in Punjabi-language journal Wichaar. The original title was “Allama Iqubal-Ek Mehbooba, teen beewian, chaar shadian” [Allama Iqubal, one beloved, three wives, four weddings]. It was translated by Rafi Aamer and it first appeared on Chowk)


1- Letters and diary of Atiya Faizi. Translation by Zia uddin Ahmad Burni. Iqubal Academy, Karachi, Pakistan, 1969.

2- “Zikr-e-Iqubal”, Abdul Majeed Salik, Chaman Book Depot, Delhi, India (p. 95)

3- “Iqubal and his elder son, Aftab Iqubal”, Rasheeda Aftab, Ferozesons Karachi, Pakistan, 1999 (p. 80)

4- “Apna garebaN chaak”, Javed Iqubal, Sang-e-Meel Publishers, Lahore, Pakistan, 2002 (p. 20)