This article explores Allama Iqbal's vision for a just and equitable society, focusing on his journey from studying the history of Islam to envisioning a Muslim state in India. It highlights his critique of secularism, his belief in Islam's potential for fostering equality, and his parallels with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's leadership in the struggle for a separate Muslim nation. The article also touches on Iqbal's lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, his analysis of socialism, and the unique spirit of Islamic society. Ultimately, it emphasizes the role of collective will and the duty of Indian Muslims in shaping their ideal society.
Allama Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of Pakistan, envisioned the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan in his Allahabad Muslim League session address on December 30, 1930. However, before presenting his concept of a Muslim state, he conducted a comprehensive survey of the entire history of Islam alongside the development of the modern world and various patterns of thought, all approached in a scholarly manner. His fundamental approach was to place human society in a global context, analyzing concepts from Western thinkers such as Luther and Rousseau. He also examined the contributions of Jesus Christ and the limitations of Christianity in its role in building a healthy world society. On this basis, the Europeans came to the conclusion that religion is a private matter and a secular approach should be adopted in politics and matters of the state. Iqbal nullified this concept. Giving the example of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Iqbal explained, “The religious experience, as discussed in the Quran, however, is wholly different. It is not a mere experience in the sense of a purely biological event, happening inside the experiment and necessitating no reaction on its social environment. It is an individual experience creative of a social order. Its immediate outcome is the fundamentals of a polity with implicit legal concepts whose civic significance cannot be belittled merely because their origin is revelational. The religious ideal of Islam, therefore, is organically related to the social order which it has created.”1
A just society seeks to reinforce the notion of equality among human beings by upholding the rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice, and formulating public policies that create a conducive environment through proper education, research, and policy-making. This can only be achieved if the head of the state and the leaders of each branch of its administration are readily accessible to the common man.
An equitable society is one in which every individual is afforded fair and reasonable treatment, and people can lead their lives according to their desires, with the state offering equal opportunities to all. A just society seeks to reinforce the notion of equality among human beings by upholding the rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice, and formulating public policies that create a conducive environment through proper education, research, and policy-making. This can only be achieved if the head of the state and the leaders of each branch of its administration are readily accessible to the common man. According to Iqbal, the only relevant example, both in ancient and modern times, is that of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, including Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique (RA), Hazrat Umar (RA), Hazrat Usman (RA), and Hazrat Ali (RA). Iqbal demonstrates that this example remains pertinent even in the contemporary world. What "socialism" attempted to achieve in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under Lenin after 1917 aimed at these goals but, in practice, ultimately failed in its mission. It is only Islam, with its modern approach, that can attain these objectives. Iqbal suggested that the Muslim society of the Indo-Pak subcontinent had the potential to reach these goals, provided it was led by suitable and capable leadership. The concept of equality of man in terms of equality of rich and the poor, common man and the high ruling class, has been explained in his poetry at a number of places.2
Iqbal argued that such thinking cannot develop within Islam. Providing an explanation in this regard, Iqbal stated: “Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam, God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other. Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of the world of spirit situated elsewhere. To Islam, matter is spirit realizing itself in space and time”.
Great men of the world deeply watch the developments not only in their own country but in different leading countries of the world. So was the case with Martin Luther, Hegel, Karl Marx, Lenin and others. Similarly, Iqbal watched the developments not only in British India but in Europe and other parts of the world as well. As the historical courses changed, Iqbal adjusted himself to the new realities. That is why he had to pass through three phases of his life in his career and thought. In all this, his primary concern was to see how Islam can be evaluated and adjusted to the new realities of life and how far Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s life can meet these challenges. He came to the final conclusion in the third phase of his life. Before going to England and Germany in 1905 for higher studies, Iqbal was considered a national poet, but during 1905-1908, when he was in Europe involved in legal and doctoral studies, he minutely surveyed the whole literature of Islam and Western thought differently. After 1908, when Iqbal returned to British India, he had entered into third phase of his thought as the bold and outspoken champion of the Muslim thought and earned fame as the ‘Poet of Islam, in the words of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’, in the modern world. Interestingly Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, before becoming the champion and a leading personality for the cause of Pakistan, also passed through three phases of his life. The first phase of Quaid-i-Azam was that of the Congress when he remained a member of the Indian National Congress from 1897 to 1920. Though he pleaded equality of Muslims with that of the Hindus at the Congress platform/meetings/sessions, and on this basis, he was successful enough to convince the Congress leaders to conclude the Lucknow Pact of 1916 by which equality of Muslim nation with that of Hindu nation was established, but all his efforts were sabotaged by Mahatma Gandhi in December, 1920 when Quaid-i-Azam was shocked to see that Gandhi had turned the Congress into a Hindu communal organization. Therefore, Jinnah left the Congress never to return again. The next phase of his life extended from 1921 to 1934. During this period, he was deeply affected by the Nehru Report of 1928, in which the Congress leadership, acting under the guise of All Parties, refused to grant any special status or separate electorates to the Muslim community, despite these rights having been granted under the Acts of 1909 and 1919. Consequently, the Congress initiated Non-Cooperation in 1930 and began pressuring the British Government to transfer power to the Congress, given its status as the largest political party in the country. Jinnah, however, could not tolerate this and felt the looming threat to the existence of the Muslim nation. He reconsidered, strategized, and altered his position, openly defending the Muslim nation by introducing his Fourteen Points Formula in March 1929. Finally, when Jinnah returned to England in December 1934 after a four-year stay, he took up the cause of the Pakistan Movement. Both of these leaders shared similar experiences with distinct approaches aimed at addressing the concerns of the Muslims in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. That is why Iqbal, in his letters to Jinnah during 1936-1937, pointed out that it is only Jinnah who can lead the Muslim nation out of the storm and crisis, which the Muslim nation is facing in the Indian world.3
In 1928-1929, Iqbal delivered his famous lectures in Madras on the issue of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. In these lectures, one relates to the spirit of Muslim culture.4 At the start of this lecture, Iqbal said: “Before, however, I proceed to do so, it is necessary to understand the cultural value of a great idea in Islam–I mean the finality of the institution of prophethood”.5 After explaining the experiences of the prophets in the ancient times and comparing it with the modern times, Iqbal addressed: “Looking at the matter from this point of view, then, the Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the modern world”.6
He also quoted the Quran multiple times in this lecture. At one point, he cited the Holy Quran, in which God mentions that He created humanity with one breath of life. Relying on this, Iqbal continues, “But the perception of life as an organic unity is a slow achievement, and depends on its growth on a people’s entry into the main currents of world events. This opportunity was brought to Islam by the rapid development of a vast empire. No doubt, Christianity, long before Islam, brought the message of equality to mankind; but Christian Rome did not rise to the full apprehension of the idea of humanity as a single organism”.7 Iqbal concludes: “As a social movement, the aim of Islam was to make the idea a living factor in the Muslims’ daily life, and thus silently and imperceptibly to carry it towards fuller fruition”.8
“Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions, and learn to determine the value of your individual and collective action, however, directed on material ends, in the light of the ideal which you are supposed to represent. Pass from matter to spirit. Matter is diversity; spirit is light, life and unity. One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims. At critical moments in their history, it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa”.
Karl Marx presented his theory of Socialism and Communism, advocating for the equality of human beings and the equitable distribution of wealth and resources among the common people in the mid-19th century. However, he was unable to put his theory of human equality into practice. It was Lenin who implemented this theory by leading the revolution in Russia, resulting in the creation of the USSR in 1917. Iqbal also analyzed his role and expressed his views in his poem titled, “Lenin–Khuda kay hazur main” in which he explained the hollowness of Socialist theory and being devoid of Godly spirit.9 This issue has also been touched in the letters of Iqbal. He comes to the uniqueness of the spirit of Islamic society and culture in India. In his address to the Allahabad session of the Muslim League in December 1930, he explains: “I lead no party. I follow no leader. I have given the best part of my life to the careful study of Islam, its law and policy, its culture, its history and its literature. This constant contact with the spirit of Islam, as it unfolds itself in time, has, I think, given me a kind of insight into its significance as a world fact. It is in the light of this insight, whatever its value that while assuming that the Muslims of India are determined to remain true to the spirit of Islam, I propose, not to guide you in your decision, but to attempt the humbler task of bringing clearly to your consciousness the main principle which, in my opinion, should determine the general character of these decisions”.10 The collapse of the USSR in 1989-1990 indicates that even socialism failed to establish a society of free communes or equal citizens.
Iqbal concludes: “As a social movement, the aim of Islam was to make the idea a living factor in the Muslims’ daily life, and thus silently and imperceptibly to carry it towards fuller fruition”.
Before going to suggest the solution of all this, Iqbal emphasized the role of Islam in India in these words: “It cannot be denied that Islam, regarded as an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity–by which expression I mean a social structure regulated by a legal system and animated by a specific ethical ideal–has been the chief formative factor in the life history of the Muslims of India. It has furnished those basic emotions and loyalties which gradually unify scattered individuals and groups and finally transform them into a well-defined people, possessing a moral consciousness of their own. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that India is perhaps the only country in the world where Islam, as a people force, has worked at its best. In India, as elsewhere, the structure of Islam as a society is almost entirely due to the working of Islam as a culture inspired by a specific ethic ideal”.11
Iqbal went on to critique the role of Martin Luther, labeling his rebellion against the Church as a rebellion against Christianity itself. This perception in Europe led to the notion that religion should be a private matter. However, Iqbal argued that such thinking cannot develop within Islam. Providing an explanation in this regard, Iqbal stated: “Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter. In Islam, God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other. Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of the world of spirit situated elsewhere. To Islam, matter is spirit realizing itself in space and time”.12
It was on this basis that Iqbal came to the conclusion: “The Muslim demand for the creation of Muslim India within India is, therefore, perfectly justified... Personally, I would go further than the demand embodied in it. I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Balochistan amalgamated into a single state”.13 Explaining it further, he nullified Rousseau’s concept of state which failed to achieve its objective.14 In terms of social mechanism, rights and duties of the citizens of the Muslim state, Iqbal suggested that by establishing such a Muslim state, the aim of Islam can be achieved by mobilizing “its laws, its education, its culture and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and with the spirit of modern times”.15 It is in this connection that Iqbal cited the example of modern states of Turkey and Persia.16
Expanding on this point and emphasizing the importance of their duty, Iqbal explained, “We have a duty towards Asia, especially Muslim Asia. And since seventy millions of Muslims in a single country constitute a far more valuable asset of Islam than all countries of Muslim Asia put together, we must look at the Indian problem, not only from the Muslim point of view, but also from the standpoint of Indian Muslims as such. Our duty towards Asia and India cannot be loyally performed without an organized will fixed on a definite purpose.” Finally, he appealed to the collective will of Indian Muslims: “Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions, and learn to determine the value of your individual and collective action, however, directed on material ends, in the light of the ideal which you are supposed to represent. Pass from matter to spirit. Matter is diversity; spirit is light, life and unity. One lesson I have learnt from the history of Muslims. At critical moments in their history, it is Islam that has saved Muslims and not vice versa”.17
The writer is Ex-Director, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, and Professor at Quaid-i-Azam Chair (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
1. Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. II, Islamabad, NIHCR, Quaid-i-Azam University, 2007, pp. 133-134.
2. For instance, see Ibid., pp. 165, 241, 271.
3. Riaz Ahmad, Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah – An Analysis, Lahore, Friends Co., 1972.
4. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, ed. By M. Saeed Sheikh, 2014, Institute of Islamic Culture, Club Road, Lahore, pp. 99-115.
5. Ibid., p. 100.
6. Ibid., pp. 100-101.
7. Ibid., p. 112.
9. Allama Iqbal, Kulyat-i-Iqbal (Urdu), Lahore, Sh. Ghulam Ali & Sons, 1999, pp. 106-108.
10. S. S. Pirzada, Foundations of Pakistan, Vol. II, p. 131.
12. Ibid., p. 132.
13. Ibid., pp. 135-136.
14. Ibid., p. 136.
15. Ibid., p. 137.
16. Ibid., p. 145.
17. Ibid., p. 147.
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