Debate on whether Iqbal was religiously driven

Published: July 12, 2012
Iqbal firmly believed that out of human spirituality, material action could take place, but he also argued that material change was only possible through material action, which had to be informed from in-depth studies of sociopolitical issues, not just religion.

Iqbal firmly believed that out of human spirituality, material action could take place, but he also argued that material change was only possible through material action, which had to be informed from in-depth studies of sociopolitical issues, not just religion.


During a lecture by author Salahuddin Darvesh titled “Fikre Iqbal ka Almia” (The Tragedy of Iqbal’s poetry), a heated debate broke out on whether Iqbal’s poetry was religiously driven.

The focus of the lecture, organised by the Islamabad Cultural Forum, was whether the poet’s works imparted messages of passivity to Muslims or if he used Islam as an identifying tool so his readers could strive to  bring change in their lives and the promised land – Pakistan.

Darvesh’s stance was the former, as he posited that in contrast to other thinkers and poets of the time from around the world who used scientific and sociopolitical inquiry, Iqbal’s premise was based on Islamic ideology.

Darvesh argued that this focus on theology instead of inquiry set the Pakistani community back as it hindered theoretical progress.

“Even now, instead of developing our own thought processes and disciplines, we have to import them because we didn’t develop our analytical base before partition or after,” he added.

Ashfaq Saleem Mirza, who moderated the question and answer session, argued that Iqbal had a somewhat Islam-centric view as he saw Muslims as the pioneers of deductive thought and renounced the inductive thought of the Greeks and empiricism of the likes of Francis Bacon.

However, Mirza added that Iqbal’s reconstruction of religious thought was quite varied from his poetry. “He tried to prove the validity of Islamic thought through the diction and style of modern poetry. In that sense, his style was scholastic.”

The contradiction of Iqbal’s content to form was acknowledged, but Foreign Ministry Director Mahmood Akhtar argued that he used contradiction to make the concept of pro-activity more relevant to Muslims by using Islamic terms the public was familiar with.

“His basis for inspiration was the Quran and the life of the Prophet’ (PBUH), but his main message was for  Muslims  and to make them feel empowered through Islam,” he explained.

He registered his disagreement with the notion that Iqbal perpetuated passivity through his poetry, saying that Iqbal portrayed mankind, particularly Muslims, as co-workers in the shaping of ideas, humanity and the universe.

As a retort, Darwesh said Iqbal firmly believed that out of human spirituality, material action could take place, but he also argued that material change was only possible through material action, which had to be informed from in-depth studies of sociopolitical issues, not just religion.

He further noted that Iqbal’s poetry often focused on the solitary journey of man to be one with God rather than calling for making the existing world a better place through communal discourse and action.

In order to explore this debate more fully, next week’s lecture will be headed by Mahmood Akhtar, who will explain his viewpoint further at the TVO house.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Raza Khan
    Jul 12, 2012 - 11:55AM

    He was far from religion! He believed in humanity, tolerance, love, etc.


  • Zaki
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:19PM

    Religiously driven or not, what one person said in the past should not be taken as a guide for the entire country that is as diverse as Pakistan.


  • Awans
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:27PM

    Confused Nation and I am pretty sure they will be confused in the next 1000 years as well.


  • Fahad Raza
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:30PM

    Its more like I don’t know but i tell ya kinna Gossip about a Phiospher..


  • Karachiite
    Jul 12, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Even if Iqbal was religiously motivated I doubt he’d have taken pride in the way we Muslims have associated ourselves with terror and intolerance now. Iqbal must be rolling in his grave at the current situation of Pakistan and how we have nearly turned it into a failed state.


  • faraz
    Jul 12, 2012 - 1:31PM

    People must read his lectures on Reconstruction of Religious Thought, instead of his ambiguous poetry which can be molded in any shape


  • Taoo
    Jul 12, 2012 - 1:56PM

    For sure it was. The kind of poetry he is known for doesn’t come from human intelligence.


  • Ezaz
    Jul 12, 2012 - 2:32PM

    Pakistan is maturing. Whenever I see questions about Islam, West, way of life, religion etc etc it gives satisfaction. At last we have started exploring long held believes. If Islam is universal (which I believe is), it will survive all sorts of analyses. But the point remains that we are going through renaissance in our thoughts. After this period, we, as whole, will be more educated about our believes and reasons for holding them.


  • Truth bites
    Jul 12, 2012 - 3:14PM

    There is no ambiguity in Iqbal’s message, who cares about this debate.


  • NM
    Jul 12, 2012 - 3:50PM

    It’s very encouraging that people are starting to discuss, and disagree over, things. this is what we need: to be able to disagree with each other respectfully. I wasn’t at the event, so I don’t know whether the discussion was civilised or not, but this could plant a seed of a very heartening trend.


  • Jul 12, 2012 - 4:03PM

    @Raza Khan: whats the difference between religion and the attributes you mentioned in your comment? They are all part of religion.


  • Ali tanoli
    Jul 12, 2012 - 4:49PM

    E,T is great first its start it Mr Jinnah want it a secular pakistan and cant prove it and now Allam Muhammad Iqbal was not a reliegouse guy and may be he want it a socialist country hahah Recommend

  • elelmentary
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:02PM

    @JaySabir: Religion is God-centric i.e everything must go round Him,not human-centric.In religion ultimate aim is to please Him not humanity.


  • elementary
    Jul 12, 2012 - 5:32PM

    Iqbal was greatly inspired by German philosopher Neitszche,and borrowed many of his ideas and gave them Islamic Flavour.
    For example Idea of “Marde Momin” very closely mimics that of “Ubermensch” or suprman of Neitszche.
    Similarly symbol of “Shaheen” as ultimate role model is also seen in Neitszche’s work,where he refers to “blond hair beast of Prey” meaning Lion and exalts and glorifies the attributes displayed by it.

    Iqbal also seems in alignment with Neitszche’s idea that conflict and war is inevitable and only those who are well prepared and strong will survive through it and the meek and the weak will simply perish. “Hai Jurm-e-Zaeefi ki saza marg-e- Mafajaat”.

    Neitszch’s division of morality into slaves ( the meek and the weak) and masters ( strong and courageous) based on biology also impressed Iqbal. “Kargas ka jahaan aur hai shaheen ka jahan aur.”

    However ,Neitszche’s philosophy was (mis)used by Hitler to unleash one of the worst terrorising regimen in recent history—- the Nazism.


  • Sultan Mehmood
    Jul 12, 2012 - 10:56PM

    Dude, it’s hard to believe you are talking this in 2012. These ACCUSATIONS were made at the time of Iqbal, and he categorically denied them. And the idea you talked about can also be found in many other thinkers is one way or the other. E.g. Philosopher Kings/Guradians/Peasants in Plato, and idea like a super being can be found in many of Mslim Sufis like Masoor and Ibn-e-Arabi.

    BTW, If you can prove so many claims in one paragraph, it is a given that you’re wrong. I am very sure that you were convinced by a similar short argument which I have heard many time from many ignorant people. Please do a complete research before showing off pseudo intellectualism.


  • elementary
    Jul 13, 2012 - 12:58AM

    I am a great fan of Iqbal’s poetical abilities and one can hardly not be impressed by his dynamism,which verged at times at ruthless adventurism.” Jo kabooter par jhapatnay main maza hai aye pisar wo maza shayad kabooter ke lahoo main bhi nahin!!”

    Iqbal’s other great inspiration was Rumi, whom he often called his spiritual mentor.

    Concept of sublime transcedental love as portrayed by Rumi was a great impact on him. However his love ” Ishq” is much more proactive and dynamic seeking to conquer the world. “Ishq ki garmi se hai Maarkaa-e- kaainaat”.

    Iqbal can hardly be accused of passivity rather quite the opposite. “palatna jhapatna ,jhapat kar palatna lahoo garm rakhnay ka hai ik Bahana”.

    His political philosophy however ,like that of Neitscazhe, can be (mis)used to establish dictatorial regimen leaning towards Fascism.


  • Jul 16, 2012 - 7:20PM

    You are repeating ideas of Dr. Mubarak Ali. Where is fascism in Pakistan?


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