The reclaiming of Iqbal’s ‘dream’

Published: April 20, 2011
The writer is professor emerita of the University of Louisville, Kentucky

The writer is professor emerita of the University of Louisville, Kentucky

Today, as the death anniversary of Allama Iqbal is being commemorated through public rituals and proclamations, one should ask if today’s Pakistan bears any resemblance to his ‘dream’, which was the outcome of a lifetime of deep thinking and feeling, study, creativity and prayer. To understand this dream, one must know its historical context and remember that Iqbal lived his entire life under British rule and at a time when western imperialistic nations had colonised much of the Muslim world.

With the advent of colonialism, Muslims lost not only political power but also economic opportunity and cultural autonomy. Nowhere was this felt more acutely than in India where, though a minority in a Hindu-majority land, Muslims had had a powerful presence historically. In 1857-58, a section of the British Indian Army revolted against the British, who apportioned the greater share of the blame for this occurrence to Muslims and instituted openly discriminatory policies against them. This caused Muslim fortunes to reach their lowest ebb in the 1860s and 1870s — a fact which made many Muslims wary of associating Islam with politics and who restricted it to a practice of personal piety and ethics.

Deeply concerned about this mindset, Iqbal took pains to demonstrate to his fellow Muslims that Islam could not be limited in such a way. In his presidential address to the All-India Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930, he stated: “It cannot be denied that Islam, regarded as an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity — by which 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.” Iqbal reiterated the same idea in his presidential address at the annual session of the All-India Muslim Conference in Lahore in 1932: “Politics have their roots in the spiritual life of man. It is my belief that Islam is not a matter of private opinion. It is a society, or if you like, a civic church. It is because present-day political ideals, as they appear to be shaping themselves in India, may affect its original structure and character that I find myself interested in politics.”

What mattered supremely to Iqbal was “the culture of Islam” — an expression he used frequently to refer not to Muslim cultural practices but to the value-system based upon Islam’s highest ethical ideals. His dream of Pakistan was of a Muslim state in which the ethical principles of Islam and the political system which derived from them were organically related. In his view, a political system which lacked an ethical foundation would lead to ‘Changezi’, or tyranny of the worst kind.

During his lifetime, Iqbal’s great challenge was to explicate to his fellow Indian Muslims why Islam could not be limited to ethics. If he was living today, he would have faced a very different challenge. One needs to ponder what Iqbal would have said to the Pakistani leaders who are so preoccupied with politics that ethics means nothing to them.

Iqbal had pointed out insightfully, “Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians.” The nation that was born in Iqbal’s heart has been all but crushed by most of Pakistan’s politicians. Today, being deceitful, dishonest, untruthful, unethical and conniving has become a fine art in Pakistan, where power-grabbing by means of Machiavellian intrigues and machinations is common. It is no wonder that Iqbal has been systematically eliminated from Pakistan’s educational curriculum and young Pakistanis have little, or no, knowledge of his message. The major reason for this abysmal reality is that Pakistan’s morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt rulers fear that Iqbal’s iconoclastic voice, which rejected every form of totalitarianism, injustice and untruth, is still powerful enough to shatter their crystal palaces. It had to be silenced or relegated to obscurity if their nefarious purposes were to be achieved.

Iqbal’s vision and voice, which changed the destiny of Indian Muslims, is what is needed today to liberate Pakistanis from the chains that bind their bodies, hearts, minds and souls. Young Pakistanis must reclaim Iqbal’s dream and undertake the responsibility for actualising it.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2011.

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Reader Comments (38)

  • Ashutosh
    Apr 20, 2011 - 11:08PM

    The nation was not crushed by Politician. Rather it was crushed by its own people. What cost Pakistan paid for its freedom? There is no free lunch in life. If Pakistan wants to live in an illusion that its freedom fighters were only revered Iqbal and Zinnah it is making a serious mistake. So one must learn from history.Recommend

  • Apr 20, 2011 - 11:23PM

    Are you not conveniently ignoring the military dictators who have ruled the country for over half its lifetime by appropriating blame on Pakistani politicians? Politicians today are the product of a generation of manipulation, pull stringing and horse trading, whose constituency wasnt amongst their voters, but the powers that be in Rawalpindi or the ubiquitous “Establishment”Recommend

  • faraz
    Apr 20, 2011 - 11:25PM

    Iqbal was a “liberal fascist”. He admired Turkish secularism and in his famous lectures, “The Reconstruction of Religious thought in Islam” he wrote:

    “The truth is that among the Muslim nations of today, Turkey above has shaken off its dogmatic slumber, and attained to self-consciousness. She alone has claimed her right of intellectual freedom; she alone has passed from the ideal to the real -a transition which entails keen intellectual and moral struggle. To her the growing complexities of a mobile and broadening life are sure to hiring new situations suggesting new points of view, and necessitating fresh interpretations of principles which are only of an academic interest to a people who have never experienced the joy of spiritual expansion… Most Muslim countries today are mechanically repeating old values, whereas the Turk is on the way to creating new values. He has passed through great experiences which have revealed his deeper self to him. In him, life has begun to move, change and amplify, giving birth to new desires, bringing new difficulties and suggesting new interpretations. The question which confronts him today, and which is likely to confront other Muslim countries in the near future is whether the Law of Islam is capable of evolution-a question which will require great intellectual effort, and is sure to be answered in the affirmative…”. Recommend

  • Fahad Raza
    Apr 20, 2011 - 11:26PM

    “Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die in the hands of politicians.”
    Allama Iqbal (R.Aleh) has become more relevant than any other Philosopher of Modern times.Recommend

  • Apr 21, 2011 - 12:26AM

    “It is my belief that Islam is not a matter of private opinion.”

    Did Iqbal say this? Then Pakistan is definitely following his lead where Islam permeates everything from the cricket field to politics. He would be proud of how oriented the present-day Pakistanis are towards their religion.

    however with due respect, what Iqbal and others who attempt to bring religion into the public sphere forget is that along with religion comes equally heavy doses of hypocrisy and he would not have been considered so highly in present-day Pakistan being a first-generation Muslim.Recommend

  • John
    Apr 21, 2011 - 12:30AM

    “Iqbal’s vision and voice, which changed the destiny of Indian Muslims”

    Which certainly did, by not following them. Recommend

  • VS
    Apr 21, 2011 - 12:43AM

    Please don’t make a prophet out of Iqbal.

    If even after 63 years, you have not understood mixing religion with state is a mistake, then the case is helpless.

    Look around, so many countries from New Zealand to South Africa to Brazil to China (Pakistan’s best friend, indeed) to Norway to Canada to….so on… are doing perfectly fine without bringing religion into public space..! Thats slippery slope downwards, which may look harmless initially, but leads to a deep gorge. Recommend

  • T R Khan
    Apr 21, 2011 - 1:02AM

    Iqbal abhorred theocracy and yet, today his foremost admirers are the wily mullas. Recommend

  • Gautam Arya
    Apr 21, 2011 - 4:57AM

    “With the advent of colonialism, Muslims lost not only political power but also economic opportunity and cultural autonomy. Nowhere was this felt more acutely than in India where, though a minority in a Hindu-majority land, Muslims had had a powerful presence historically.”

    It always amazes me, which “muslim presence” are you talking about? Vast majority of muslims in the indian subcontinent are actually Hindu/Buddhist converts. Why these conversions happened is another issue (although I think it was combination of oppressive caste system in hindus+decent social and political mobility for the converts as being important reasons). Coming back to point, these “muslims” who ruled india were not “muslims” from the subcontinent(except Tipu Sultan and Haider Ali), instead they were mostly outsiders who spoke turkish/arabi/farsi (none of them are indian languages) at home and in courts. I seriously dont understand how indian/pakistani muslims can lay claim to that legacy as if THEY were the rulers ( This may be a bit far fetched but I would even argue that they were the most thoroughly conquered people, in that, they not only gave up militarily to invasions but also sold out on religion)Recommend

  • Joginder
    Apr 21, 2011 - 6:28AM

    The author states: “In 1857-58, a section of the British Indian Army revolted against the British, who apportioned the greater share of the blame for this occurrence to Muslims and instituted openly discriminatory policies against them.” This is not supported by contemporary British records. If anything, the “Poorbeahs” i.e. Biharis were blamed for the most part and almost all of the Bengal Native infantry regiments having Purbia sepoys were disbanded. Biharis, regardless of religion or caste, were thereafter kept out of the army until Independence. To blame economic ills arising out of illiteracy and religious dogma can hardly be blamed on others. If that were so, it begs the question: who is discriminating against Muslims in your country now? Politicians today, Hindus yesterday, Britishers the day before; how many more scapegoats are needed?Recommend

    Apr 21, 2011 - 7:43AM

    Its only IQBAL who can bridge the religous extremists and liberal thoughts.Only philosophy of Iqbal can save PAKISTAN.Recommend

  • Cherish Raj
    Apr 21, 2011 - 8:36AM

    @Fahad Raza:

    Maybe for Pakistan. Not for the worldRecommend

  • kumar shiv
    Apr 21, 2011 - 9:17AM

    if a poet like Iqbal could lead funeral prayers for ghazi iluminidin( whom we can equate with todays murderer of salman tahseer) we know what autocracy islamic thought is?? Pakistan has faithfully followed this path.Recommend

  • Adnan
    Apr 21, 2011 - 9:57AM

    After 73 years, Iqbal still alive in heart of People and will forever. Vision & mission of Independency raise by IQBAL comes true in hand of our Great Quaid but after this reverse gearing activiate.Both politician and military regime responsible of today Pakistan.Recommend

  • Apr 21, 2011 - 9:59AM

    First of all, all Muslims were not against the British at the time of 1857 war as in Awadh, Sunni Muslims did not want to see a return to Shiite rule, so they often refused to join what they perceived to be a Shia rebellion. However, some Muslims like the Aga Khan supported the British. The British rewarded him by formally recognizing his title.The Sikhs and Pathans of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province supported the British and helped in the recapture of Delhi. So this is not a mere blame game. Furthermore, for God’s sake stop this Islam is the only source to unite the Muslims in the world. The creation of Bangladesh was the result of this dogma that only Islam could united the east and west wings of Pakistan. Recommend

  • Shaheena
    Apr 21, 2011 - 10:38AM

    I think so Iqbal forgot to add Wardi walli politicians also. Recommend

  • Uma shanker
    Apr 21, 2011 - 10:45AM

    @Muzaffar Ali:
    “The Sikhs and Pathans of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province supported the British and helped in the recapture of Delhi.”

    A quick correction that it is Sikhs & Baloch and not the Pathans that fought from the side of East India Company.Later when British won the battle a victory tower was erected at Kamla Nehru ridge,near old subji mandi,Delhi.This monument is 15 minutes away from my home.The monument provides the details of killed and wounded European and native soldiers separately.It is surprising that almost equal number of natives gave life as Europeans in this battle siding East India Company.Chronicles tells us that these Sikh and Baloch soilders were rewarded lands post 1857.Recommend

  • Moazzam
    Apr 21, 2011 - 11:27AM

    Iqbal was full supportive of having religious influence in state affairs. But we need to understand that Pakistan current administrative debacle is not result of having religion interference in law of land. It is result of having poor implementation of existing law by regime.
    We have been unable to sentence Liaqat Ali Khan, Zia, Benazir Bhutto murderes. Infact Religious state is total oppposite what we have in Pakistan. It is efficient in bringing justice to people which bring less crimes in society. Saudi Arab and Middle east has less crime record as compared to many western countries.
    I personally feel killer of Salman Taseer should be hanged openly according to Law of land, but one cannot expect this from existing government who are still unable to find killer of Benazir, their party leader. Recommend

  • T R Khan
    Apr 21, 2011 - 12:41PM

    On the death of Queen Victoria Iqbal said:

    The Monarch’s coffin is on the move, Get up Iqbal, (and grind thyself to dust)
    Then spread thy dust on funeral route, Thy reverence for the Queen to prove.

    What’s in a name, ‘tis tragedy supreme
    We’ll name this (tragic) month as Muharram

    They say, “It’s festival of Eid, today“, Who cares about Eid, be that as it may!
    O God, (if Thou to prayer listeneth), Do grant that we be visited with death!

    O India! from thy head is lifted now, The Wing of God’s Mercy,
    Gone is now, one who shared thy people’s grief,

    Now heavens shake as mourners for her cry,
    ‘Tis the funeral of Thy Adornment, now gone by!

    Is this the ‘culture of Islam’ that Iqbal frequently talks about?Recommend

  • Sameer
    Apr 21, 2011 - 1:25PM

    I feel that it is high time for the Pakistanis to stop living in foolish / dream paradise. Lets face the reality. The religion was first exploited by British to achieve its own geo political ambition by creating Pakistan. The religion was used by Pakistani politicians / ruling elites to achieve their own selfish goals i.e. looting the country. The same religion was further use by armed forces to control entire resources of the country.
    In the process average Pakistani become victim of religion manipulation.
    It is high time for Pakistani to realize that in this era, religion does not matter much. Look at Muslim world and secular societies.
    The mad obsession with religion will only bring death, destruction and poverty and nothing else. Lets concentrate on economic development of average Pakistani by providing good education, trade and commerce. Recommend

  • faraz
    Apr 21, 2011 - 1:30PM

    On the occasion of King George V’s coronation, Iqbal read out a poem entitled ‘Our King’:

    It is the height of our good fortune,
    That our King is crowned today

    By his life our peoples have honour,
    By his name our respect is established.

    With him have the Indians made a bond of loyalty,
    On the dust of his footsteps are our hearts sacrifcedRecommend

  • blah
    Apr 21, 2011 - 2:09PM

    Well thats the bad thing about dreams isnt it you always wake up!Recommend

  • Khalid
    Apr 21, 2011 - 3:58PM

    We are not dreaming, we have ruled 1300 yrs like that without so called western democracy. Muslims have thier own system. And we muslims like to make our state a muslim state because we have faith on our religion, every thing regarding governing a country is defined in our Holy book. No other religion has that in their books, No wonder why dont they talk about religious state. All muslims may have not been following Islam perfectly but it doesnt mean that Islam has flaws. Offcourse if you are not making your state based on your majority religion or any other religion this means you dont have faith on your religion or it doesnt have solution to run state. Being secular doesnt make everyone equal. You have to prove it. Not by making A muslim President you can claim that everyone is even. Gujrat riots, Kashmir issue, christian slaughters explains much of it. I am not saying evryone is culprit but elite class thinking is the culprit who makes foriegn policy. Indian muslims say that in Pakistan muslims kill muslims. yes offcourse where there is 97% muslims population the crime is suppose to happen like that. but not on the basis of religion , its on political and personal basis unlike massacres in India where 100 People burnt alive because they were “Muslims”.Recommend

  • Wasil Arain
    Apr 21, 2011 - 7:36PM

    Iqbal had a confused mind, blurred vision and a regressive outlookand his dream was a product of these three ingredients.

    Some people like Ms. Hassan finding no better use of their western education and fair articulationturn to Iqbql from time to time to fill their own concaves resulting from incapability to acknowledge and appreciate the superior values independent any ancient or organized belief system embrased and being embraced by so many nations and countries.

    Most of the posts in this behalf are found heartening which show that the web of regressive thinking is increasingly losing its hold.raising hope that sooner than later this nation will also comeout of the rut.Recommend

  • Sanjeev
    Apr 21, 2011 - 8:05PM

    @ Khalid – Thanks for pointing out the black episode in India ….. but India still treats its minority in a better way when compared to West Pakistan did to East Pakistan aka Bangladesh.

    A country with more than 120 crore…is still a work in progress, but we have more cohession among us then few periods of collusion. (based on religion or caste).

    A major reason for Indian Muslim being behind vis a vis other religions in India.. is the cream layer that left their weakend brethern for Pakistan. (Teachers, lawyers, Armed forces, doctor…bureacrats went to Pakistan leaving mostly the uneducated muslim behind….so they had a slow start in India….but i am sure in a decade they too will catch up and be the best in the world).

    Religion can be a bedrock of civilization but cant be the only dimension for a country, so Iqbal quest was for a better civilization……!!!!Recommend

  • Gautam Arya
    Apr 21, 2011 - 11:53PM

    ” we have ruled 1300 yrs like that without so called western democracy.”
    Who are “WE” here? they were certainly not indian/pakistanis (read my earlier post)..besides 1300 years is a gross exaggeration!!..may be the area that is pakistan today was ruled for 1000yrs (by arabs/persians etc not by themselves)…pakistanis cannot even govern themselves could they rule for 1000 yrs…lolRecommend

  • Dream became a nightmare
    Apr 22, 2011 - 2:00AM

    First of all Iqbal (acronyms) might have been a great poet but his ideas of building a nation solely based on religion have proved to be a disaster. This was an experiment and 65 years and the anticipated trajectory is enough to say that this was a failed experiment.

    Pakistan needs to keep all its islamic poets away from governance and take a HARD look at its constitution and arrive to the modern secular world. Keep islam in your hearts and homes. Don’t mix it with state affairs. Recommend

  • M M Malik
    Apr 22, 2011 - 11:19AM

    For a deeper insight on Iqbal; a must reading is the rarely available book “Mazloom Iqbal” by Iqbal’s nephew Sheikh Ijaz Ahmad.Recommend

  • Ibn Warraq
    Apr 22, 2011 - 1:11PM

    Forget these fake scholars. Just read Tarek Fatah‘s
    Chasing a Mirage – The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State.
    And don’t read the censored Pakistani edition. Just download the international edition for free.Recommend

  • C M Naim
    Apr 22, 2011 - 6:44PM

    The learned doctor writes: “Iqbal’s vision and voice, which changed the destiny of Indian Muslims, is what is needed today to liberate Pakistanis from the chains that bind their bodies, hearts, minds and souls. Young Pakistanis must reclaim Iqbal’s dream and undertake the responsibility for actualising it.”

    Does she include the Muslims of India in her considerations? Or does she only think of those who live in what was once known as West Pakistan? Was the change for the better all around? Of course, the non-Muslims who had peacefully lived in the Pakistan regions don’t matter to her at all. Recommend

  • Khalid
    Apr 23, 2011 - 4:03AM

    @Gautam yeah “WE” means muslims. we have ruled 1300 yrs. We are having problems with governing because we adopted democracy which is only media and elite driven. but we are still running it and for 3 years …better than India… India Media cannot stand up against govt.. but we can… Judiciary cannot challenge Army but we can….. If there is a riot against a minority indians can only condemn but in Pakistan we do strikes until culprits are arrested….. we have 3% non muslims in our country and 3% quota non muslims are working on quota and also other than quota. and next… Iqbal and @ Wasil he wasnt confused may be you havnt read his poetry completely cas if u have read it, u may have read “Iblees ki Majlis e Shoora” where he blasted the loopholes of democracy. He was very clear in his point of view. even if u just read his speech of Ilah Abad 1932. He clearly said about his dream of Muslim estate consisting punjab , Balochistan, frontier sindh and Kashmir. He was confused when he wrote Shikwah but he also wrote Jawab e Shikwa when he got his answers. There is a reason why his poetry has been translated in 80 languages.Recommend

  • Arijit Sharma
    Apr 23, 2011 - 5:43AM

    @Khalid: ““WE” means muslims. we have ruled 1300 yrs.”

    It used to be “We Muslims have ruled you for a 1000 years” – since when did it become 1300 ?

    Nations come under foreign rule or are subjugated by others – case in point Hindus and Jews. What you really need to ask is where Hindus and Jews stand today vis-a-vis Muslims today.

    You many want to question Hindu achievements – but can you deny the fact that the Jews have been whupping countries in the middle east since 1948. Recommend

  • Mirza Aslam Beg
    Apr 23, 2011 - 7:49AM

    The main problem is that like-minded people do not bother to write their comments to endorse what has been stated in the article. Those in disagreement do not fail to voice their views.

    In this case, the negative views expressed, in fact, are due to a profound misunderstanding and rejection of Iqbal. These negative comments prove the author’s contention that there is a huge conspiracy to prevent Iqbal’s message from reaching the masses.Recommend

  • Hasan
    Apr 23, 2011 - 4:13PM

    Iqbal has been forced fed to us since the day we are born yet he fails to make any mark in the society in general. It is pretty clear by now to the living that Iqbal isn’t going to work out. This is despite that Iqbal is portrayed to us selectively almost as a divine figure who is so pro Islam and pro Muslims that it hurts. No one mentions Iqbal’s continuous praise for the British and getting the Knighthood as result of his flattery. At least I can’t think of any service that Iqbal did for the society in general to deserve the title from the British.
    If anyone has truly followed Iqbal’s trait that is our politicians who say one thing in the presence of the British/Americans and another thing in front of the public in general; so Iqbal’s legacy lives on.
    Why is Iqbal’s poetry attributed to the liberation struggle for Pakistan? Iqbal died in 1938 and the 1937 general election when Iqbal’s influence was the most Muslim League lost spectacularly and it needed up with only one member in the Punjab legislative assembly. So much for Iqbal’s contribution towards Pakistan movement. Recommend

  • Khalid
    Apr 24, 2011 - 6:50PM

    @ Arijit.. for ur information…. Muslims didnt only ruled India till second worldwar many european countries were under Ottoman Empire… Yes your write Jews and Hindus achievements cannot be denied but what is the root cause of those achievements have you ever thought about that. why didnt you started researching 4000yrs ago(correct me if) when your religion got started. We started conquoring the world just after the Final revelation. Those centuries which are named DARK AGES by the west ..were actually the Golden Era of muslims. Jews and Hindus could never have achieved whithout having access to Muslim Universities at that time. Still Muslims arent even allowed read those books which were looted from India, Baghdad and Spain…. I am not saying that Hindus doesnt have scholars or scientists, they had contribution in the past but number of muslims scientists is far more…..
    “Man would have reached moon 100 yrs earlier if Spain never had fall”Recommend

  • Abhinav
    Apr 25, 2011 - 5:42PM

    I was reading tarana-e-milli written by Iqbal (on wikipedia) and following couplet caught my eye. Can any learned reader explain what it means?

    dunyaN ke but-kadoN meiN pahlaa woh ghar KHUDA kaa

    hum uskey paasbaaN haiN woh paasbaaN hamaaraRecommend

  • Khalid
    Apr 27, 2011 - 2:55PM

    But there was no house of Allah Before Khana E kaaba. All there was , was Mandirs, CHurches, or other forms of worship places. Kaaba was only place decalared as the house of Allah in the Holy Quran. Also when Makkah was invaded by Hazrat Mohammad PBUH, he destroyed all the Idols inside the Kaaba. but not outside. CAs still till that time people wre worshipping idolss inside Kaaba as a amedium to communicate GOD but there was no clarification of it. Muslims use to do sajdah towards Jeruslam Masjid al Aqsa Mosque but later Direction was changed towards Kaaba. and it was declared house of Allah. No religion before has mention the house of its god.Recommend

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