Recovery of Iqbal’s lost legacy

Published: November 10, 2011
The writer is professor emerita of the University of Louisville, Kentucky

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

Charles Dickens’ immortal book A Tale of Two Cities begins with the following unforgettable words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”.

The times we are living in today are strikingly similar to those described above by Dickens. A fierce battle is raging between forces of good and forces of evil. Pakistan’s recent history is a stark illustration of this struggle.

In Pakistan’s troubled past there appears to have been much more darkness than light, though Pakistan is proudly proclaimed by many to have been Allama Iqbal’s ‘dream’. Unfortunately, very few Pakistanis understand the content of this ‘dream’, which was the outcome of a lifetime of deep thinking and feeling, study, creativity and prayer.

Iqbal’s ‘dream’ was that Indian Muslims have a state in which they could preserve “the culture of Islam inspired by a specific ethical idea”. By ‘the culture of Islam’ Iqbal did not mean the actual cultural practices of Muslims, but an ideal value-system based upon the ethical principles enshrined in the Holy Quran and actualised by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Iqbal believed that the ethics of Islam were integrally connected to its polity. He became involved in politics because he believed that “politics have their roots in the spiritual life of man… 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”.

In my view, Iqbal’s thought is Pakistan’s most important and valuable intellectual legacy. It is a great pity that this legacy has not been embraced or internalised as it should have been. From Iqbal, Pakistanis could have learnt, and still can learn, so much, for as Zakir Hussain, a former president of India, has observed: “What is it that Iqbal does not give to him who seeks? He gives strength to the weak and a meaning to strength. He awakens the urge for a full, all-round, harmonious development of personality, for the devoted and selfless service of social ideas which alone make life worth living. He gives to the pale anaemic calculations of the intellect the possibility to draw upon the unlimited resources of emotion and instincts, disciplined, chastened, ennobled by faith and by creative activity”.

Pakistan, today, is beset by a myriad of problems having a markedly adverse effect on the daily lives of the vast majority of Pakistanis who are experiencing unprecedented trials and tribulations due to massive misuse and mismanagement of the country by its rulers. Undoubtedly, urgent and serious attention must be paid to resolving these problems. However, it is critically important for Pakistanis to recognise that at the root of the country’s visible and tangible problems is an intellectual and moral crisis that is the result of the erosion of the vision of Allama Iqbal and the Quaid-e-Azam on which Pakistan had been founded. It was this vision that created Pakistan. It is this vision that can save Pakistan and safeguard its future.

Iqbal’s precious legacy has to be recovered in order to make Pakistan what it was intended to be. In the darkness that engulfs Pakistan today, Imran Khan is the only leader who speaks truth to power, boldly and fearlessly. He is — first and foremost — a reformer who entered politics, as Iqbal did, to ensure that politics remains rooted in ethics. He is the only leader in Pakistan who is able, today, to recover Iqbal’s lost legacy. He is called upon to do so as he embarks on his history-making journey. I wish him courage and strength as he goes forward in his quest.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 11th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Falcon
    Nov 10, 2011 - 11:54PM

    Thanks for writing this. Finally, something traditional and encouraging from our intellectuals. My first response after reading this was to pinch myself and ask, am I dreaming or is this article really published on ET??


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 11, 2011 - 12:05AM

    Great article and great end on great Imran Khan god bless Allama Iqbal ke shaheen ko.


  • Jehanzeb
    Nov 11, 2011 - 1:07AM

    This is the genius within the innocence of hope. It’s not blind to negative possibilities, just willing for greater ones.


  • Hedayat
    Nov 11, 2011 - 4:31AM

    Iqbal’s dream has certainly turned out to be a nightmare. Well, I guess, you can afford to romanticize him sitting in a far away land, while we are living through it like zombies.


  • Max
    Nov 11, 2011 - 5:34AM

    With all due respects, I have to disagree with the lady. This triangular relationship of Iqbal’s dream, land of Islam/Islamic virtues, and Pakistan has been overplayed. The facts are otherwise.
    Can the lady tell me how many lives were lost, how many women were violated, how many sufferings the people had to experience on the both sides of the divide? All this just for one dream? How would you feel if you are uprooted from your ancestral homes and living in cramped refugee camps for years. The only way out was if you could bribe a settlement officer.
    It may be a dream for Mr. Iqbal, but for rest of us it proved to be a nightmare. Let us not play with emotional words. Let us be realistic and look back at our misdeeds.


  • Mirza Aslam Beg
    Nov 11, 2011 - 6:05AM

    IQBAL’s philosophy of “khudi” does not suit the rulers of Pakistan. His emphasis is on moral and ethical values, action instead of rituals, equal rights and justice. For this reason the rulers of Pakistan systematically removed the books on Iqbal from the syllabus. Iqbal is not taught in Pakistan anymore. If an honest government is placed at the helm of affairs, the first thing they should is to start teaching Iqbal at all levels – starting from Class-1. Iqbal’s poems for children will be extremely helpful in character building. What can be more ironical than the fact that Government College University Lahore, where Iqbal was a student and a teacher latter, has Iqbal Chair but they do not teach Iqbal any more. There used to be an honors course on Iqbal but students are no longer interested in this course.


  • Ahmed
    Nov 11, 2011 - 6:24AM

    I think the author has it all backwards. Iqbal and Jinnah are the causes not the solution for all the problems our country is in. Creating a country based on religion is fundamentally flawed. Combine that with the naturally authoritarian bend of Islam, i.e., my-path-is-the-only-path attitude, and you have a dynamite with a short fuse waiting to blowup. Thankfully the fuse took 64 years, enough time for our Bengali friends to bail out of this bizarre experiment in human engineering. Now, thanks to Iqbal’s wrong headed ideas, we are left on the sinking ship with a bunch of fundamentalist yahoos.

    Yours in disappointment



  • Mirza
    Nov 11, 2011 - 9:09AM

    The day I found out that Iqbal was living on British master’s stipend, all his teachings of “Khudi” for others sounded hypocritical. In fact there was a letter by Iqbal written to his masters that the amount of stipend is small and should be increased. How could a wazifa khwar of colonial masters be our guide? No wonder Imran Khan is also using other people’s money and has never worked for a living all his life! On the contrary, Jinnah had a brilliant career and did not live off the other people’s money. The leaders have to set an example and lead from the front. Let me finish with Iqbal’s poetry where he never used the word Pakistan yet he is called the champion of Pakistan. Saare jehan se acha Hindustan humara.


  • Science Times
    Nov 11, 2011 - 10:32AM

    We never forget Iqbal’s anthem, “Sare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara”, where he said “Mazhab nahn sikhata, apas main bair rakkhna, Hindi hain hum, watan hai, Hindustan hamara”. I suspect that these sentiments would make him an enemy of Pakistan, today.


  • faraz
    Nov 11, 2011 - 10:35AM

    Iqbal on the coronation of King Edward:

    May the ‘Homa’ announce our good fortune,
    For our Emperor was crowned today!
    The people of India have sworn loyalty to him;
    Our hearts are dedicated to the dust of his feet !


  • faraz
    Nov 11, 2011 - 10:58AM

    Iqbal on women rights. Aurat Ki Hifazat (Zarb-e-Kaleem)

    Neither purdah, nor education, whether new or old
    Only Man can protect the femininity of womanhood
    The Nation that does not grasp this living Truth
    Will soon see the Sun set upon it

    So the rise and fall of empires is connected to women!


  • spacedoutwriting
    Nov 11, 2011 - 11:57AM

    @Science Times:

    Tarana-e-hind, the song you both quoted is what I would sing in school (across the border) and is also the Indian Army’s marching song. How’s that for irony? See this.


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Nov 11, 2011 - 12:18PM

    @Science Times:

    Read Jawaab-e-Shikwaa, and you will see Iqbal completely destroying the perverse ideology of secularism, which liberals hold dear.


  • Sheheryar
    Nov 11, 2011 - 2:26PM

    I couldn’t agree more with Falcon.


  • Qamar
    Nov 11, 2011 - 3:38PM

    @ Abdul

    and whats wrong with secularism? in a secular countries people from all walks of life are free to enjoy their life to the max, people are free to speech, people are free to think, even muslims can practice their religion freely, cant say the same thing about an islamic country for minorities!

    so when liberals get irked about islamic country they have the right to do so, and its completely justified! muslims have no reason to get irked when they hear the word secular, coz it doesn’t stops them in practicing their religion!


  • Ali Tanoli
    Nov 12, 2011 - 7:52PM

    @Abdul Rehman Gillani
    We need islam in secularism.


  • observer
    Nov 13, 2011 - 11:35AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    We need islam in secularism.

    Interestingly , Rescu(e) Islam or ‘Secur(e) Islam’ are anagrams derived out of Secularism. Perhaps Secularism is needed to Rescue and Secure Islam. Think over it.


  • Abdul Rehman Gilani
    Nov 14, 2011 - 2:07PM


    Dear, isnt that envisaged in the basic principles of Islam, which define the Islamic welfare state?


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