Re-reading history: Who wants to be enlightened by Iqbal?

Published: November 9, 2012
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Iqbal's philosophy is a tool for training the minds for looking into the conscience of nations and humanity. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHEED

Iqbal's philosophy is a tool for training the minds for looking into the conscience of nations and humanity. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHEED

LONDON: 

Iqbal was on his way to the Third Round Table Conference, which was going to be held in London at the end of 1932.

In Bombay, a representative of the Roznamah-e-Khilafat asked him on his position if the Hindu majority of British India accepted 13 out of the 14 points of Jinnah but did not concede to separate electorates. Iqbal replied, “In my opinion, the Musalmans do not want to give up separate electorates…” The representative asked what Iqbal would say if the Muslim majority thought otherwise at the forthcoming conference. Iqbal’s answer was, “Then I, too, shall abide by that decision and will not work against it.”

In a nutshell, this is how Iqbal was different from most of the educated ones who live in his country today. On an issue which he regarded to be a matter of life and death for Islam in India, he was willing to “abide by” the decision of the nation, even if the decision favoured what he considered to be collective suicide.

Seeking consensus, and respecting it, was a principle he upheld not only as a politician but also as a poet, philosopher and social activist. Even when proposing the birth of a new state, which appeared to him to be “the final destiny” of his people, he started his presidential address by saying: “I propose, not to guide you in your decisions, but to attempt the humbler task of bringing clearly to your consciousness the main principle which, in my opinion, should determine the general character of these decisions.”

This may explain to a great extent why his legacy is so enduring.  It may also explain why it has been misunderstood so monstrously by academics, alike in Pakistan and the West.

We tend to find a definite ideology in his writings, whereas he is more of an educator. His philosophy is a tool for training the minds for looking into the conscience of nations and humanity. Since this conscience is ever-changing and always bringing forth new possibilities unknown before, we can only call it a dynamic ideology—if we must call it an ideology at all.

The basic principles, which he offers to us for seeing the world, may be divided broadly into five domains of knowledge: history, art and literature, politics, religious thought and education (and various fields associated with each of these). Even a cursory look at the fundamental principles propounded by him in any of these domains would show us how our outlook on the world is exactly the opposite of how he wanted us to view things.

For instance, the two fundamental principles of history, according to him, are that the entire humankind is evolving like a single organism and that this evolution can only lead to perpetual improvement on the whole (see, for instance, the fifth lecture in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam).

Ironically, we do not see our times in this light and that brings us in a conflict with Iqbal’s take on literature. According to him, literature is like a collective dream that comes true. Therefore, the purpose of literature is to present an ideal world—it should give us imagined situations where things get sorted out due to the true potential hidden in human beings.

Hence, politics itself can seldom change destinies. Politics, good or bad, can do nothing more than turning into reality the dreams or nightmares which people have chosen through literature. “Nations are born in the hearts of poets,” Iqbal wrote in his private notebook in 1910. “They prosper and die in the hands of politicians.”

Therefore, the ‘Unity of God’ is not a dogma to him. “The essence of Tawhid, as a working idea, is equality, solidarity, and freedom,” he famously stated in the sixth lecture of the Reconstruction. Elsewhere, he expanded the concept into a book-length Persian poem.

The most daring implication of this last statement is that the three highest ideals over which the Western civilisation has consensus (equality, solidarity and freedom) are the very essences of Muslim faith “for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life.” If so, then the much-touted “clash of civilisations” is an impossibility in our times, and a figment of somebody’s imagination. The real problem must be something else, somewhere else.

The real promise of Iqbal as a teacher is that he can help us locate that real centre of problems in our time, and to correct the problems with the least resentment to the many.  Khurram Ali Shafique is the author of Iqbal: an Illustrated Biography (2006) and offers online courses in Iqbal Studies for Iqbal Academy Pakistan. [email protected]

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (15)

  • I.
    Nov 9, 2012 - 12:37PM

    Great man,great poetry!!Recommend

  • ZQ
    Nov 9, 2012 - 12:50PM

    Whatever message iqbal wanted to convey he did through his poetry. No need for further enlightenment.

    Recommend

  • Afzaal Khan
    Nov 9, 2012 - 1:09PM

    Thank you for such good article.

    Recommend

  • Sidewinder
    Nov 9, 2012 - 4:25PM

    thanks for giving us the song ”Saare jahan se achcha Hindostan hamara” among others…

    Recommend

  • S
    Nov 9, 2012 - 5:27PM

    Iqbal’s philosophy is a tool for training the minds for looking into the conscience of nations and humanity

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Nov 10, 2012 - 5:42PM

    @ZQ

    Very mature comment.

    Recommend

  • Cynical
    Nov 10, 2012 - 5:56PM

    Anybody should think twice before buying an idea, any idea “for which even the least enlightened man among us can easily lay down his life.”

    Much has been said and done in glorification of ‘laying down life’. No more.

    Recommend

  • debal
    Nov 12, 2012 - 9:26PM

    @Cynical

    Very well said. When life is miserable, one can fancy all the peace and happiness in death.

    Recommend

  • Nov 12, 2012 - 11:16PM

    Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this article!

    There’s a lot to explore in this brief article, including Iqbal’s two fundamental principles of history mentioned by Mr. Khurram Ali Shafique. Those are, alone, amazing.

    If literature is to come true, and manifest in the hands of politicians, then it seems we (the whole world) have been looking at the wrong thing to try to create a better world.

    Express Tribune editors…I do hope that you cover more of Iqbal’s vision in other articles.

    All good wishes,

    robert

    Recommend

  • Akbar
    Nov 13, 2012 - 11:59AM

    Interesting and thought provoking article.
    Poets and Politician plays a vital role in the prosperity of Nation but I am just thinking how practical it is in the current scenario / situation of the world…
    any way thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

    Recommend

  • Saleena Karim
    Nov 13, 2012 - 4:40PM

    ” … we can only call it a dynamic ideology—if we must call it an ideology at all.”

    Well said. To the best of my knowledge Iqbal himself never utilised the word ideology.

    Recommend

  • Waseem
    Nov 19, 2012 - 8:12AM

    It is a concise and wonderful article. It is quite difficult to encompass Iqbal in a few paragraphs, yet the author has done an amazing job.

    When Iqbal answered, “then I, too, shall abide by that decision and will not work against it”, the reader has to sink in the importance of these words. My respect for Iqbal increased ten folds, and I thank the author for that.

    Being a student of Iqbal, I have come to realize that he is a bridge between the Last and Final Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and the contemporary world. Despite his advancement, the post modern human still behaves as a pagan — same psyche only the tools have changed. Iqbal can take a person back to the spirit of the message of Mohammad (S).

    For that, first requisite is to free yourself from all man-made chains.

    One again, thank you for this.

    Recommend

  • Dec 8, 2012 - 5:06AM

    Iqbal proved time and time again,he was one of the greatest poet thinker,philosopher in his time.His answer to the representative,if majority of Muslims thought otherwise about his remark that the Mussalmans do not want to give up separate electorates,what would Iqbal say,he without any hesitation replied ‘then I too will abide by the decision and will not work against it.’
    What a brilliant reply!

    Recommend

  • javaid bashir
    Jan 1, 2013 - 5:37AM

    Ibal was a major urdu poet and a natiunalist leader. He evolved aas a philosopher and thinker His messaHe wrote poetry and gave vent to his feeligs. The Shikwa and Jawab Shikwa are epic poems giving the true state of affairs of Muslim Ummah. He aroused patriotic feelings and longing for te future glry. He wanted to wake them up from slumber and deep depressiom cast over them like some spell.
    ge was clear to the muslims to unite together and work for the ummah. He as perturbed iver the co wanted to wake tem up from this deep slumber and neglectndition of Islamic World. . He wanted to wake them up from this deep slumber, to do their duty.He wanted to imbibe te spirit by inducing the courage to look for the future glory.
    He dreamt of an ingependent natin for muslims of Indo-Pak. He wworkdon the national agenda through out hi his life.
    He helped uaid realise this dream , and both the man shaped the destiny of mulims in Indo = Pak subcontinent. they created Pakistan , and made his dream come true Now it is for us to build a prosperous and progressive Pakistan. To give it its status of importance in the world

    We must follow the ork ethics of the great leader of ours uaid-i- Azam. It is time to fullfil ttheir dreams and mae their wishes come true. We must bring back the past glory.

    Sincerely,
    JAVAID BASHIR
    ATTOREY AT LAW

    Recommend

  • javaid bashir
    Jan 1, 2013 - 5:58AM

    Ibal was a major urdu poet and a natiunalist leader. He evolved aas a philosopher and thinker His messaHe wrote poetry and gave vent to his feeligs. The Shikwa and Jawab Shikwa are epic poems giving the true state of affairs of Muslim Ummah. He aroused patriotic feelings and longing for te future glry. He wanted to wake them up from slumber and deep depressiom cast over them like some spell.
    ge was clear to the muslims to unite together and work for the ummah. He as perturbed iver the co wanted to wake tem up from this deep slumber and neglectndition of Islamic World. . He wanted to wake them up from this deep slumber, to do their duty.He wanted to imbibe te spirit by inducing the courage to look for the future glory.
    He dreamt of an ingependent natin for muslims of Indo-Pak. He wworkdon the national agenda through out hi his life.
    He helped uaid realise this dream , and both the man shaped the destiny of mulims in Indo = Pak subcontinent. they created Pakistan , and made his dream come true Now it is for us to build a prosperous and progressive Pakistan. To give it its status of importance in the world
    Javaid bashir
    We must follow the ork ethics of the great leader of ours uaid-i- Azam. It is time to fullfil ttheir dreams and mae their wishes come true. We must bring back the past glory.

    Sincerely,
    JAVAID BASHIR
    ATTOREY AT LAW

    Recommend

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