Madani-Iqbal debate over pluralism

Published: January 22, 2011
The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore [email protected]

Should the state be named after its majority population — Islam and Hindutva — or should it be pluralist; staying away from religion and treating all citizens equally? This debate was engaged by a Muslim cleric, Husain Ahmad Madani, after his release from a jail in Malta in 1920. The very next year, he was imprisoned by the Raj as a part of the ‘Karachi Six’, at the height of Gandhi’s first movement of civil disobedience.

Barbara Metcalfe discusses an interesting argument that developed between Madani and philosopher Allama Iqbal over the nature of the state. The paper appears in Islamic Legitimacy in a Plural Asia: Edited by Anthony Reid and Michael Gilsenan (Routledge 2007). Madani was principle of the Darul Ulum at Deoband in India, from 1927 until his death in 1957. Allama Iqbal was to be the ‘philosopher of the Pakistani state’ after 1947, although he died much earlier, in 1938.

Madani’s most famous debate was with Iqbal in the late 1930s, unfolding in North Indian Urdu-language newspapers. Madani’s position throughout was to insist on the Islamic legitimacy of embracing a culturally plural, secular democracy as the best and the only realistic future for India’s Muslims. The cleric sided with the Indian Nationalist Congress; the Cambridge- and Munich-educated lawyer Iqbal insisted on a religiously defined, homogeneous Muslim society (p.86).

Madani insisted that his vision of a religiously plural society not only strategically best served Muslim interests, but that it also had clear Quranic sanction. In December 1937, at a political meeting in Delhi, Maulana Madani made a straightforward statement, “in the current age, nations (qaumain) are based on territory (autaan), not religion (mazhab)” (p.87). Iqbal answered with a versified attack that suggested that Maulana Madani, who held the highest training in the classical Arabic disciplines, was principle of the most respected seminary in India and a scholar with fluent spoken Arabic, did not know Arabic and was ‘singing’ out heresy from a ‘pulpit’.

Madani wrote a scholarly tract to prove his point. Iqbal had two grounds by which he justified this approach. The first, rather playful, was to cloak his modernism in the charisma of the holy man, deploying verses to present himself as nothing less than the wandering holy man, the qalandar, who, he wrote, knows only two words of Arabic — but those are la ilaha, ‘no other gods’. He implied that he had attained absolute knowledge of the One. Madani may have a vast Arabic vocabulary but he really knew nothing.

Today it will look odd that Madani defended the nation-state, the most fundamental premise of modem political life; and Iqbal was both pre-modern and post-modern in the stance he took. He rejected all nationalism, even as he came to favour political autonomy for religiously homogeneous populations.

Barbara Metcalfe writes: “In poetry and prose, Iqbal had, for decades, in company with a minor strand of other Indian intellectuals as well as with European and non-European critics across the globe, denounced the black side of modernity: competitive nationalism and its resultant militarism, imperialism and consumerism” (p.88).

With hindsight, Madani was right about the non-religious pluralist state based on one nation; Iqbal was right more profoundly about the folly of the modern state’s embrace of nationalism and nationalism’s high point, war. Pakistan erred in rejecting Madani’s non-religious state; it also erred in rejecting Iqbal’s criticism of nationalism.

India’s faltering pluralism tells us how far the Indian state has wandered from its goal; Pakistan’s fanaticism and intolerance tells us how far from Iqbal’s vision it has deviated. His son Javid Iqbal tells us that Pakistan has suffered after rejecting Iqbal’s advice of ‘reconstruction’ while considering the Sharia.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2011.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Noor Nabi
    Jan 23, 2011 - 1:15AM

    How does it matter whether Iqbal was right? The discourse he had with Madani was an intellectual exercise. Iqbal’s poetry, as his thought, was self-contradictory. One day he was talking about “saarey jahan say acchaa Hindustan hamaara” and the next day about the universal supremacy of the Muslims. The bottom line is that what emerged out of the struggle against the Brits i.e., Pakistan, has proven to be an unviable state. Bangladesh seceded in 1971 and Baluchistan is on fire. And let us not talk about the Durand Line. Recommend

  • Asad Badruddin
    Jan 23, 2011 - 1:38AM

    Mr Khalid, it is always a treat to read your columns. In this article you have alluded to a very important point; that Iqbal’s vision of using Islamic values precluded a reconstruction of Islamic thought to in light of changes in society because of modernity and the rise of the nation-state. It seems Pakistan has taken only the second part of his vision and not internalized the reconstruction. To be fair we have not had a philosopher of such stature to think about these religious issues and be able to market them effectively since the Allama either.Recommend

  • Emmon Khan
    Jan 23, 2011 - 7:04AM

    History has proved people like Hussain Madani and Abul Kalam Azaad right and people like Allama Iqbal and M.A.Jinnah wrong! This should be clear by now.Recommend

  • Sheikh Sarmad
    Jan 23, 2011 - 8:38AM

    excellent ..muslim states after the formation are taking the same trajectory…gravitating towards implementation of sharia but disintegrating in the process.Recommend

  • Jan 23, 2011 - 11:46AM

    The tragedy is the Madani’s of today continue to be out-voted in the popularity and the islamic credibility stakes. They are maligned as Indian spies, secularists (which I have come to realise is a bad word in Pakistan) and worse – non-Muslims. What people dont realise is that religion is a label that sits on us rather easily. Secularism comes with a conscious effort and it is a day-to-day decision sometimes. Secularists are therefore more vulnerable to the allegations of hypocrisy than are religious scholars. Recommend

  • ahmed
    Jan 23, 2011 - 2:08PM

    @ Emmon Khan.. are you talking about the history essay you wrote in high school??Recommend

  • Zainab
    Jan 23, 2011 - 3:00PM

    As an Indian I do not see any evidence of Indian Pluralism shrinking;rather post Gujrat riots it has become even more stronger. Just to keep Pakistani audience happy, author has made a sweeping comment that Indian Pluralism is faltering, which I do not think any Indian will agree with!Recommend

  • ThePalmist
    Jan 23, 2011 - 3:52PM

    An otherwise excellent article, spoiled by the required anti-India stab! To boldly claim, wihout offering proof that pluralism in India is in danger of disintegrating, was a cheap, feel-good shot. A Moslem is far better off in India than in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Tarique
    Jan 23, 2011 - 4:20PM

    Madni was the Pricipal of the Darul Ulum at Deoband in India and not the Principle.
    And though caliming that plurism in Indian is in danger is debatable but claiming that a Moslem is far better in India than in Pakistan is just a sheer verbosity.Recommend

  • Tarique
    Jan 23, 2011 - 4:25PM

    Well I would not agree with Khalid that Pluralism is faltering in India as in India now class struggle is much more furious than the emergence of different nationalistic identities.Recommend

  • Afridi
    Jan 23, 2011 - 7:30PM

    Very excellent analysis! Unfortunately, such voices of sanity like Madni no longer exist in religious circle of Pakistan. Had he been alive, he would have been dubbed as CIA or RAW agent. Recommend

  • Emmon Khan
    Jan 24, 2011 - 3:20AM


    My dear Ahmed, in our destorted and murdered history there is no mention of muslim intellectual giants like Hussain Ahmad Madani and Abulkalam Azaad! To find truth you have to go beyond Pakistani textbooks! Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jan 24, 2011 - 8:07AM

    @ Noor Nabi: I have some really good words for you but wouldn’t use coz of your name. The Sare jahan se acha was written by Altaf Hussain Hali. Get your facts straight prior to your pseudo scholarly replies. Recommend

  • Syed Arshad Kamal
    Jan 24, 2011 - 10:06AM

    Good Topic for Thought Provoking Discussion

    “Mullah Ko Jo Hai Hind may Sajdey Ki Ijjazat
    Nadan Yeh Samhajta Hai Kay Isalm Hai Azad”

    I think these lines were referred to the debate between Iqbal and Mulana Hussain Ahmed Madani. I want to know more about that debate. I do not judge who was right or wrong, my analysis is that Madani Shaib was more consistence as far as his palatial ideology was concerned.Recommend

  • Syed Arshad Kamal
    Jan 24, 2011 - 10:42AM

    strong textGood Topic for Thought Provoking Discussion

    “Mullah Ko Jo Hai Hind may Sajdey Ki Ijjazat
    Nadan Yeh Samhajta Hai Kay Isalm Hai Azad”

    I think these lines were referred to the debate between Iqbal and Mulana Hussain Ahmed Madani. I want to know more about that debate. I do not judge who was right or wrong, my analysis is that Madani Shaib was more consistence as far as his political ideology was concerned.Recommend

  • Syed Arshad Kamal
    Jan 24, 2011 - 1:02PM

    Sare Jahan Sey Acha was by Iqbal, beside that his another poem is Himalay , another from Iqbal “sach kah dun ai brahman gar tu bura na mane

    tere sanam kadon k but ho gaye purane

    apnon se bair rakhna tu ne buton se sikha

    jang-o-jadal sikhaya waiz ko bhi Khuda ne

    tang ake akhir main ne dair-o-haram ko chora

    waiz ka waz chora, chore tere fasane

    patthar ki muraton mein samjha hai tu Khuda hai

    khak-e-watan ka mujh ko har zarra dewata hai

    a gairat k parde ik bar phir utha dein

    bichron ko phir mila dein naqsh-e-dui mita den

    suni pari hui hai muddat se dil ki basti

    a ik naya shiwala is des mein bana den

    dunya k tirathon se uncha ho apna tirath

    daman-e-asman se is ka kalas mila dein

    har subah mil k gayen mantar wo mihe mihe

    sare pujariyon ko mai pit ki pila dein

    shakti bhi shanti bhi bhakton k git mein hai

    dharti k basiyon ki mukti prit mein hai”

    @CB Guy: Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 24, 2011 - 3:06PM

    @CB Guy:
    Afraid of blasphemy law????? :-)Recommend

  • Ani
    Jan 24, 2011 - 3:34PM

    Seemed like an interesting article until the habitual shot at India. Immaturity, lack of confidence – not sure what it is. Perhaps this makes Pakistani’s feel good in justifying things no matter how wrong they are. Indian pluralism is certainly not one of them. India is imperfect – very – but it seeks and builds a tolerant society for al it’s citizens. Yes, all. Madani or Iqbal? Iqbal and Maudidi won. When is Pakistan going to create a just and secular society for all including it’s minorities? Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jan 24, 2011 - 7:50PM

    @ amlendu: not really, Noor is one of ALLAH’s name’s and i can’t possibly imagine using any inappropriate words in a sentence where Almighty’s name is mentioned. As for the blasphemy law, i am sure i am one of the very few people who comment on it and know what it actually says. Its not a bad law, its interpretation and implementation may be open to debate.

    I would say one thing though, I am overly annoyed by self proclaimed “liberals” who are the worst kind of apologists i have seen. They shower praise on anything written in English using such diction that a common reader may struggle to comprehend at first. They think any piece that belittles Religious ideologies and Scholars is something as important as a holy scripture. They blame Mullah’s for everything, partly this may be correct in a lot of matters but still we have ourselves to blame for most issues.

    It is also becoming the norm that we love any writing that blasts anyone who ever did anything good for this country. No one reads Iqbal or tries to understand his message but every one loves to call him an alcoholic based on hearsay, something atleast i have been unable to find solid proof of. Quaid-e-Azam was also bad these days, even branded as a foreign asset. Obviously his services are easy to over look, we are a shallow nation and even more shallow are the supposed educated ones.

    Praising India to an extent that that it may appear that US and UK live of India’s paychecks is also cool now a days. India on more then a few occasions recently has shown ill intentions for Pakistan yet we as a nation are over awed by them. The 2nd World War started with Japan’s attack on China and 30 million Chinese were killed in a mere 10 years. To this day, Japan is unwelcome in China. So much so, often negative characters in cartoons are Japanese. I would not entirely endorse such level of propaganda hostility in our national policy, but to look at things with open minds. Being friendly is good for both countries but allowing their culture to seep in as if it is ours, its playing with fire and it would result in disastrous national identity crisis.

    In the end, its simple. we are born i this country for a reason, lets find it, lets stop being douche bags and lets get things right and cherish the good things. Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Jan 25, 2011 - 12:30AM

    @CB Guy
    Please check your facts again. Saare jahan say achaa was written by Iqbal (taraana-e-hind) and not Hali. I will not dignify your other comments with a response as you show a total lack of respectful disagreement.Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Jan 25, 2011 - 2:51AM

    @CB Guy

    For your benefit:–With-English-Translation–wbr-

    “Noor”, in the Arabic language, means “light”; it is one of the many attributes of God Almighty. Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 25, 2011 - 9:51AM

    @CB Guy:
    The fact of the matter is all the holy scripture was also written by men at some time. If you try to do some independent research you’ll be able to establish it. In any holy scripture all the imagery and stories are based on the society and the material world of that particular time and place. Why do you think the images of heaven in any religion so much resemble the dream world of that particular time and place and hell the nightmares. Another fact is that each holy scripture when it was written was berated at that time as blasphemy against the established holy scripture of that time. God has given you brain for some purpose, use it to think rather than just memorize (It is more of a CPU than hard disk).Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 25, 2011 - 11:09AM

    @CB Guy:
    I think “Noor Nabi” literly means Noor of Nabi, that is light of the prophet. (Noor Nabi, please correct me if I am wrong)Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jan 25, 2011 - 11:29AM

    @ N N: Apologizes for a wrong comment, I had read somewhere wrongly that it was by Hali. Though one day said something else and the other said something else, well i still respectfully disagree. Bang-e-Dara published in 1924 and Iqbal’s Vision of Pakistan was presnted much later. Even until 1929, Quaid-e-Azam were the biggest supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was the passing of Nehru Report which made his revisit his opinions and later on demand a separate country.

    @ amlendu: I think a lot on matters. I am not a very learnent man as far as the Holy Quran goes but if you have studied the Holy Book even a little, you would find many scientific references some of which have been proven only recently ( a couple hundred years is recent considering the Holy Quran was revealed more 1400 years a go). A lot of other matters are still to be understood. If you believe it was written by a man not a word of God, do you have an explanation how these scientific facts ended up in it? was there some secret large scale research going on or was it just a fluke? or was it not by a human after all. would like your opinions.

    And one more thing, unlike other holy scriptures, not even a single word of Holy Quran has changed in over 1400 years. Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 25, 2011 - 12:16PM

    @CB Guy:
    Two things:
    1. The scientific things you are mentioning are not much different than the prophecies of Nostradamus. As in the present day findings are used to show scientific truth in the old prophecies or scripture which were defined in very vague terms. If you think otherwise please provide an example. Also please do not try to reconcile holy scripture with science as these two differ a lot on the origin and age of universe and species to start with and you can not be selective about scientific truth. Either the scripture is fully scientific or not. But I think that is completely different debate.
    2. None of the scriptures have changed. That is the definition of scripture (It is written so it can not be changed). The interpretation or relevance may change but the written word does not change. Can you give any example of a scripture which has changed with the time. That is the problem with written word; it does not change with time. And when people try to reconcile it with changing time, distortions appear. If you don’t take the literal meaning of the written word but try to understand the logic behind it (Which is hidden behind the phraseology of the time in which the word was written) then only you will be able to truly grasp God’s message.

    And don’t think that I am saying that the essence of Koran is not God’s word the only thing is that it was written (In the physical form on a paper or whatever was the writing material in that day Arabia) by men. That is to say that the God’s words were spoken or reveled to some one and then someone literally wrote them down. When this physical process of writing happened the person enacting this deed wrote everything in that day’s phraseology and when you read the word you need to use your brain to separate the true word from the phraseology. I think that is why Islam requires one to study and understand the Koran for oneself and not rely on clergy.

    I think now you would understand that there is a difference between revelation of God’s word and writing it down for posterity. The first is an act of God and unlimited in its wisdom. The second is act of man and is limited by his imagination.Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    Jan 25, 2011 - 12:22PM

    1. What makes you conclude that Indian pluralism is faltering? Kindly explain.
    2. The real divide in India is not due to religion, but more of an urban vs rural divide. This divide is visible in all societies making a transition from an agrarian society to an Industrial society. (Men and women working in an industry under one roof and hence more interaction with other gender- a phenomena not acceptable to rural population) Also unlike in villages people mostly live in apartments in urban areas thereby creating new dynamics in social interactions.
    3. This urban way of living forces religion to be a more private affair (and rightly so)
    . In my opinion, as India/Pakistan or any country in transition phase will move towards a more pluralistic society.These situations are more in line of thinking with Madani than IqbalRecommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 25, 2011 - 12:31PM

    @CB Guy:
    Before you start accusing me of blasphemy for calling Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a person of limited imagination, let me clarify. The word of Allah was reveled to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but he did not write it down. He narrated it to his followers and they wrote it down in the form of Holy Koran. Now when He narrated the word of God, he had to keep in mind the ability of his followers to comprehend the word. So he had to use the phraseology and imagery of the time and place. SO the phraseology and imagery used in Koran was chosen keeping the target audience in mind.Recommend

  • AnIndian
    Jan 26, 2011 - 12:31AM

    Mr. Khaled Ahmed,

    As my fellow Indians Prasad, Zainab, and Tony Singh rightly pointed out: the rather crassly jumped-into conclusion: “India’s faltering pluralism” reveals a serious “intellectual shortcoming”.

    Being able to comprehend five Indian languages, having been personally associated with the Rural and Urban fabric of India all my Life, and having been brought up in the classic-melting-pot of south-Indian cultures, ie, Chennai: I know this is farthest from reality.

    I hate misinformation on “both sides of the border” sometimes perpetrated in a ulterior fashion.

    I also know, that at least in India, I wont be “prosecuted or executed” for being an Atheist.

    An Atheist Hindu.Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jan 26, 2011 - 11:38AM

    @ amiendu: I do not accuse people of Blasphemy, its not my job, its a mufti’s job. Now that you use the term limited imagination, i do not know what you mean by that, and then you said that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used phraseology? Kind of self contradictory, isn’t it?

    It is a known fact that Prophet (SAW) did not have the ability to read and write so how could something be written by an illiterate person, which even the greatest poets of the history couldn’t match?

    As for scientific facts, there are a couple of proven ones that I am aware of.

    Holy Quran has mentioned that the world is of the shape of an Ostrich Egg, which is pretty much the closet example one can find.
    Atom’s further sub-divisions have been mentioned in the holy Quran.

    If you are looking for more details, here is a link for you. . Recommend

  • amlendu
    Jan 26, 2011 - 2:17PM

    @CB Guy:
    Dude, try to read before you reply. I have written that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself didn’t write Koran, He narrated and his followers wrote it. It was this process of writing down in which the divine had to be wrapped in worldly so that ordinary people could understand it.
    I did not use the term limited imagination for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) but for his followers and masses of his time. To be understood by them He had to use the particular Phraseology. Try to use some gray cells and figure out what I have said. You have repeated all I had to say and then you say that there is contradiction. And last but not the least even a mufti can not condemn someone of blasphemy that is the prerogative of God Almighty alone.Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jan 26, 2011 - 5:25PM

    @ amiendu: I think you have this misconception that the message is divine but not the words. The words and the message both are from ALLAH who created the ordinary people and who knows what they would and would not understand. Recommend

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