Iqbal and the Muslim Reawakening

Iqbal’s reawakening of Muslims through poetry rested on the pillars of equality, justice, and freedom. He opposed exploitation, and condemned imperialism that in his opinion, is the genesis of destruction and decadence of a society. He was cognizant of youth’s potential and had faith in them of being the torchbearers for Muslims and a symbol of resistance for the tyrants.

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), the spiritual father of Pakistan, dominates the Islamic thought of the twentieth century. He sang for the spiritual regeneration of the whole of mankind. He was a poet-philosopher with a universal message to 'lay the foundation of a new world by wedding intellect with love.’1 But in spite of his abiding universal outlook and his compelling international concern, he was intensely preoccupied with the future of his own people and with the spirit of his own times. He was educated in Punjab, Cambridge and Munich. He composed poems of a rare vitality and sustained emotional power in Urdu and Persian and attempted to reinterpret Islam in modern philosophical terms in his English work entitled, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. During his lifetime, almost all the nations of the East were groaning under the mighty sway of imperialism. He perceived imperialism as a worldwide system getting its strength from old and new vested interests within the nations of the East. He declared war on this order and called upon the Muslim masses to rise against their oppressors, both local and foreign. He used his poetry as a powerful weapon to combat political tyranny, social injustice and economic exploitation. Using 'Afrang' as the metaphor for western imperialism, he wrote poem after poem in Urdu and Persian to expose the inner mechanics of this exploitative order. His was the first voice in the East to be raised against the 'acquisitive economy which the West had developed and imposed on the nations of the East and which looked upon man as a thing to be exploited and not a personality to be developed by purely cultural forces'.2
Economic exploitation, both at the local and the global level, is one of the recurring themes of his poetry. His political activity was free of fear and want, and grounded in reality. During his term in office as a legislator (1926-1930), he subjected the unjust revenue system and the more-royalist-than-the king aristocracy to relentless criticism. While rejecting the concept of individual ownership of land as a means of production during his speech in the Legislative Council on March 5, 1927, he retorted: 

"We are told that the Mughals claimed such rights: but the people of the Punjab owned and possessed the land of this country long before the race of Babur entered into history–the unmistakable lesson of which is that crowns come and go; the people alone are immortal".3
The idea of collective ownership of land is the theme of one of his most fascinating poems in Bal-i-Jibril (Gabriel's Wing), where he bluntly challenged the landlord:

Landlord! this earth is not thine. is not mine,
Nor yet thy father's: no. not thine. nor mine.4

The economic plight of the common man figured prominently in his mind. The Presidential Address delivered at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference at Lahore, March 21, 1932 gives a glimpse of the economic dimension of his vital philosophy of Khudi (the self). In order to rouse and organize the dormant energies of the progressive forces of the community, Iqbal suggested, among other things, formation of youth leagues and volunteer corps for social service and economic development throughout the country. Referring to the egalitarian sprit of Islam, he addressed: 

"I want the proposed youth leagues to specialize in propaganda work in this connection, and thus to help the peasantry in escaping from its present bondage. The future of Islam in India largely depends, in my opinion, on the freedom of Muslim peasants in Punjab. Let then the fire of youth mingle with the fire of faith in order to enhance the glow of life and to create a new world of actions for our future generations.”5

Iqbal, thus, linked the future of Islam with the economic and social emancipation of the toiling masses. He was very emphatic on declaring time and again that Quranic teachings are opposed to holding of land as private property.6 He passionately argued to his audience to see the guiding principle of economic justice in the Quranic message of Qul-al-afu, i.e., 'They ask thee how much they are to spend; say: what is beyond your needs' (The Quran, ii. 219). He was confident that the Russian revolution in the neighborhood of Muslim Asia was bound to open the eyes of the Muslim world to the inner meaning and destiny of Islam. Raising the inspiring cry of inqilab ai inqilab (Revolution, O, Revolution), Iqbal devoted himself to the task of the resurrection of the Muslim world from intellectual stagnation, cultural decay and political slavery. His Persian Masnavi ‘Pas Cheh Bayad Kard Ay Aqwam-i-Mashriq’ (What then shall we do, o nations of the East) is acknowledged as one of the most elaborate formulations of the revolutionary anti-imperialism programme of the colonized nations.7
Having shown that capturing of new markets and plundering the resources of the colonies was at the root of imperialist expansionism. He foresees the end of the direct imperialist subjugation: 

"What then shall we do, o nations of the East? Once again the days of the East are being lit up. In the inwardness (of the East) a revolution has appeared. The might has passed and the sun has arisen."8

While breaking the good news of approaching indepenence to the East in 1936, he sounded a note of warning too. Iqbal could imagine the rise of the monster of neo-colonialism from the very ashes of colonialism. He advised the nations of the East to sink deeper into their own selves and develop their own strategy of revival and reform without the assistance of capitalism or communism. He emphasized the need of national self-reliance by preferring poverty to a lifestyle of borrowed luxury, leading to debt slavery and extinction of real sovereignty.

Whatever grows in the soil, O man of freedom! Sell that, and wear that, and eat that alone. Those wise ones who have known themselves have woven for themselves their own blanket Alas for the river whose wave have little tumult It had to buy its own pearl from the divers.9

It is worthwhile to note that this outright rejection of western imperialism is tempered by a passionate recognition of the Islamic origin of western scientific and technological as well as intellectual and philosophical accomplishments. Iqbal regarded democracy as the most significant ideal in Islam. In order to achieve the objective of returning to the original purity of Islam, Iqbal initiated a process of rediscovery of the original principles and pristine values of Islam through an imaginative reinterpretation and a dynamic reconstruction of Islamic thought. He took up the challenge of emancipating the superb idealism of Islam from the medieval fancies of theologians and legists10 with a rare insight. Explaining the sociopolitical implications of the central concept of Tauhid in Islam, Iqbal argued: 

It demands loyalty to God, not to thrones. And since God is the ultimate spiritual basis of all life, loyalty to God virtually amounts to man's loyalty to his own ideal nature.11

In order to transform the principles of equality, solidarity and freedom into living actualities, Iqbal articulated and unfolded the ideology of a separate Muslim nationalism as opposed to the idea of a composite Indian nationalism. There is no question of bifurcation of spirit and matter in Islam. Hence, the rejection of the modern western concept of the duality of church and state. This unapologetic rejection showed the way to Muslim India of the creation of a separate Muslim homeland in the Indian subcontinent. He argued in 1930 that: 

"The nature of the Prophet's religious experience, as disclosed in the Quran, however, is wholly different… It is 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. The rejection of the one will eventually involve the rejection of the other. Therefore. the construction of a polity on national lines, if it means a displacement of the Islamic principle of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim."12

Iqbal pinned his hopes for the regeneration and self-realization of Islam on the proposed Muslim homeland which is to be finally assimilated in an independent and powerful family of sovereign Muslim republics. He was confident that the Muslim state of his aspiration would provide an opportunity for Islam: 

"to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilize its law, its education, its culture and to bring them into closer contact with its original spirit and with the spirit of modern times."13

Owing to its geopolitical importance and because of some pristine qualities of its inhabitants, Afghanistan exercised a fascination over Iqbal. He considered Afghanistan the heart of Asia as well as a vital commercial and cultural link between Central Asia and Central Europe: 

`A world of clay and water
Is Asia with the Afghans as her heart;
Their weal, their woe, is Asia's weal and woe;
So long as the heart is free, the flesh is free.
Or else it is a straw placed in wind's path.14

During the brief interregnum of Bacha-i-Saqao, chaotic conditions prevailed in Afghanistan. This caused distress to Iqbal. The situation in Afghanistan troubled Iqbal to the extent that he approached Nadir Shah with a token sum of Rs. 10.000 to wage war against Bacha-i-Saqao in order to put Afghanistan, once again, on the path of stability and progress.15 Nadir Shah did succeed in restoring peace and order. He sought guidance from Iqbal in matters relating to educational and cultural reforms. Iqbal paid a short visit to Afghanistan and recorded his impressions about and aspirations in Afghanistan in his Persian Masnavi Musafir. Before he could give some tangible form to Iqbal's ideas, the king was assassinated. Among Iqbal's Afghan themes is a series of twenty illuminating Urdu poems entitled Mehrab Gul Afghan ke Afkar (The Ideas of Mehrab Gul Afghan). Mehrab Gul is an imaginary poetic personality combining Afghan racial and historical traits with passionate pan-Islamic aspirations. His message to Afghans is to rise above racial distinctions and tribal affiliations and weld themselves into a strong and formidable nation, never forgetting their link with the wider Islamic world.
It is a strange coincidence that the greatest Persian poet of the twentieth century was, at first, erroneously identified by the Iranians as an Afghan poet. This may have been because the name and fame of Iqbal first reached Iran through his poetry published in Afghan journals. Iqbal's prestige was enhanced in Iran with the creation of Pakistan. Muhammad Taqi Bahār, the poet laureate of Iran composed a long poem as a tribute to him, in which he declared that: 

Iqbal has made this century his own
A hundred thousand he surpassed alone.16

A number of books on Iqbal have been written in Persian and countless poems venerating him have been composed by the Iranian poets since 1947. But in imperial Iran, only his poetic craft remained the centre of attraction until 1970 when Husyniya-yi-Irshad17 organized an international conference in Tehran. This was the first time Iqbal's revolutionary ideas came into sharp focus in the Iranian society. It may be pointed out that some sectarian voices were raised against the holding of a conference in honor of a Sunni poet-philosopher but these were silenced by Ali Shariati, the ideologue of the Iranian revolution. Shariati delivered a series of lectures highlighting Iqbal's role in reawakening Muslims to Islam's revolutionary destiny. These lectures were published in a book entitled Ma-wa-lqbal (Iqbal's relevance to us) and were widely circulated. The highest tribute that Shariati paid to Iqbal was that Iqbal's role in our age is similar to the intellectual role played by Ali, the fourth righteous Caliph, in the first century of Islam. Shariati's main contribution was his linking of Iqbal's thought to the revolutionary upsurge in the Iranian society. Today, we find the roof of Husyniya-yi-Irshad in Tehran decorated with Iqbal's verses: his poetry is being taught at all levels of education; his pictures are conspicuous in the streets along with the pictures of Jamal-ud-Din Afghani and Imam Khomeini. The former President Sayyid Ali Khamene'i asserts that:

“Iqbal belongs to this nation and this country… Today the major part of Iqbal's teachings directly concerns us, and some part of it is also relevant to the world that has gone our way so far and has to understand it in the same manner as we did. Our people have translated into action his doctrine of the selfhood. They have invigorated it and have brought it into action in the world of actuality… The Muslim peoples are anyhow in need of comprehending the meaning of selfhood; especially eminent Muslims, whether they are politically active or culturally creative, need to embrace Iqbal's message.”18

More than eighty years after his death, Iqbal continues to be a living phenomenon. His popularity and prestige are constantly growing.
After revealing a democratic and egalitarian political ideal within Islam, Iqbal concentrated all his energies to show how this ideal can be transformed into actuality. From his address at Allahabad in 1930 to his polemics with Hussain Ahmed Madni on the question of Muslim nationalism in 1938 – the year he breathed his last – Iqbal remained constantly busy in the Quranic state. In 1932 appeared Javed Nama. In this poetic drama, Iqbal described his spiritual journey from the earth to the presence of God. In the sphere of Mercury, he came across the spirits of Jamal-ud-Din Afghani and Said Halim Pasha, and unfolded the concept of the Quranic state, which is an ideal so far unrealized in Islamic history and dormant in the mind and conscience of man. The Quranic state cannot be built upon any regional or racial or groups’ loyalty. It would not accept personal rule, and would equate the concept of the caliphate with the service of humanity. In this ideal state, man's viceregency of God would fulfil itself and honor its trust by acknowledging that the ownership of all land (i.e., means of production) vests in God, and by accepting that, man's duty is to produce wealth for the benefit of all humanity.19
The same year, Iqbal delivered his presidential address at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference. Impressing upon the Muslims the need to open the doors of ijtihad, he observed: 

“It can still create a new world where the social rank of man is not determined by his caste or color, or the amount of dividend he earns, but by the kind of life he lives; where the poor tax the rich, where human society is founded not on the equality of stomachs but on the equality of spirits, where an Untouchable can marry the daughter of a king, where private ownership is a trust and where capital cannot be allowed to accumulate so as to dominate the real producer of wealth. This superb idealism of your faith, however, needs emancipation from the medieval fancies of theologians and legists. Spiritually we are living in a prison-house of thoughts and emotions which during the course of centuries we have woven round ourselves… The whole community needs a complete overhauling of its present mentality in order that it may again become capable of feeling the urge of fresh desires and ideals.”20

The realization of such an ideal state and society, in which there is neither theocracy nor aristocracy, demands renunciation of privileges and monopolies that circumstances have placed in the hands of exploiters. In his polemics with the advocates of imperialism, Iqbal's central point of reference and chief source of inspiration was always Muhammad Al-Mustafa, who is the rallying point and the principal source of unity of the Muslim world.

The writer is an eminent scholar and has served as the former Rector of International Islamic University, Islamabad. He frequently writes for newspapers and other print media.
E-mail: [email protected]

1.   Javed Nama.
2.   Syed Abdul Wahid, ed., Thoughts and Reflections of Iqbal, Lahore (1973), p.212.
3.   Shamloo, ed., Speeches and Statements of Iqbal, Lahore (1973), p.63.
4.   Al-Arz-o-Lilah (The Earth is God's) Poems from Iqbal; translation by V. Kiernan, London (1955), p.43.
5.   Thoughts and Reflections, eit., p.216.
6.   Dar. B.A., Letters and Writings of Iqbal, Karachi (1967), interview to Bombay Chronicle, p.58.
7.   Zeno, Cultural Notes, Dawn, Karachi, 24 June 1983.
8.   ibid.
9.   ibid.
10. Thoughts and Reflections, cit., p.213.
11. Iqbal, The Reconstuction of Religious Thought in Islam, Lahore (1962), p.147.
12. Sherwani, Latif Ahmed, ed., Speeches and Statements of Iqbal. Lahore (1977), p.7.
13. ibid., p.13.
14. Iqbal: Javed Nama (Persian), translation By S.A. Vahid. Glimpses of Iqbal, p.131.
15. Glimpse of Iqbal, p.133.
16. Translation by S.A. Vahid in Riffat Hassan (ed. ►. The Sword and the Sceptre, Lohare (1977), p. 359.
17. Established in 1965. In Iranian religious life husayniya (in Shia Islam, centre for religious education) has been a common feature of all large and small Iranian cities, where they have existed besides mosques for public commenoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet, and the third Imam of the twelve Shiite at Karbala (AD 680). It is essential to note that husayniyas in Shiite Islam had supplemented the religious observances provided by mosques, where mostly formal religious practice such as congregational prayers were held. In husyniyas popular preachers were called upon to inform the masses didactically about the events that led to the tragedy of Karbala. Abdul Aziz Sachedina, in Esposito, John L., Voices of Resurgent Islam, New York (1983), pp.195-6.
18. at-Tawhid, Tehran, Vol.III. No.4, pp.129-53. 35. Jawed Nama, pp. 74-83, summarized by Aziz Ahmed, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, Oxford (1967), p. 159. 36. Speeches and Statements of lqbal, Lahore (1973), pp. 48-49.
19. Jawed Nama, pp. 74-83, summarized by Aziz Ahmed, Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, Oxford (1967), p. 159.
20. Speeches and Statements of Iqbal, Lahore (1973), pp. 48-49.

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