You are unable to embrace the human; Why do you search for the Divine
Azher Quader M.D
It has become traditional for us to celebrate the thought and poetry of Allama Iqbal. Notwithstanding the power and wisdom of his thought, it may well be argued that much of the transformational capacity of his poetry has not been fully realized.
To be sure his influence on Jinnah which precipitated in the creation of Pakistan and his influence on Shariati as the ideologue for the Iranian Revolution is quite awe inspiring and significant, yet his influence on the masses or the man in the street as seen through the prism of time, appear sadly disappointing.
Iqbal today has become a literary legend whose poetry is recited and sung to throw us into states of rapture and ecstasy, yet fails to move us to deeds of uncommon love and devotion, which he preached. His emphasis on building the self, on grooming the soul, on lifting the spirit has been replaced by a culture of self indulgence, self promotion and egotistic self righteousness which denies the existence of the other.
He taught us to learn from our glorious past so we could create a glorious future, but instead we have chosen to remain frozen in time rejoicing where we have been and refusing to go where Iqbal asked us to go.
He showed us the way to break down the barriers of race and ethnicities and establish a community united in faith. Today we are divided by countless divisions in the name of faith, demolishing our sacred places and killing one another in the name of religion.
He preached the gospel of dignity, self worth and pride in poverty. Today we live with misery in poverty, suffering the indignities of rulers, both local and foreign, and have become the victims of perennial terror and insecurities.
He inspired us to a life of action, of proactive effort and productivity, of defiance against the forces of oppression and injustice. Today we distance ourselves from the problems of the world we live in, preferring instead to live in the cool shadows of our privileged, protected spaces.
He cautioned us against the teachings of the mullah which encourages us in the explorations of the obscure and in the promotions of the controversial. He warned us against the pursuit of the superficial, the love for the external, the embrace of the outward. Today we have adopted the external and chosen to be defined by our appearances, identified by the particularities of our tribal cultures, favoring to bask in the vanity of our learning and scholarship.
We delight in the building of mega mosques but show little concern to the building of people, the most precious resource we possess. Our houses of worship have sadly become places of conflict, corruption and crime.
We complain continuously over the words and deeds of those who hate us. We worry all the time regarding the rising tide of Islamophobia around us. Yet hate and bigotry has always been a companion of Muslim minorities from the earliest of times. They were not defeated by bill boards and flyers but by relentless engagement, by service beyond self, by compassion in the face of hostility, by patience, endurance and humility.
We have not yet learned to speak truth to power, to stand up for justice for all, not just for ourselves. We consider our rights to be our priority, the rights of others not our responsibility. We are passionate about our causes, but dispassionate about the causes of our neighbors.
We have not yet understood to respect the position of women in the world around us. We shoot at young girls wanting to go to school. We abuse young women when they come to work for us. We cannot even celebrate with them when they succeed and are awarded on the world stage, for their efforts and their services.
So clearly we have failed Allama Iqbal in a big way. We have to wonder though, how could that be if we claim to know him and love him as much as we say we do? How can we praise him so profusely yet dishonor him so profoundly? If what Iqbal says is what the Quran says, then as people of faith we have another score to settle. How could we truly be considered as people of faith? Where is the line in the sands of a living faith that separates our beliefs from our actions? Where in this poorly questioned, deeply buried underground is the never discussed domain of hypocrisy?
We all realize that Iqbal was an optimist at heart. His poetry is unquestionably uplifting for the soul. All great leaders inspire us through exhibiting optimism and providing hope. But hope alone cannot be the salvation for a community that refuses to act on its proclaimed beliefs. No celebration of Iqbal can truly honor his memory without a commitment to action. Much like the Quran we memorize and recite to little avail, singing the poetry of Iqbal without following its counsel will ever be able to change our destiny as individuals or as a people.
Only if we could be guided and inspired to bring change change in our lives as we reflect upon the poetry and writings of Allama Iqbal.!
__Azher Quader, MD is a board certified urologist in private practice with offices in Chicago and Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is Executive Director of the Compassionate Care Network (CCN), which is a provider network of physicians, dentists and allied health care workers formed to provide affordable health care services for the uninsured in Chicago and suburbs. He is also President of Community Builders Council, a community advocacy group promoting the importance of faith, family, finance, education, civic engagement, health and culture in building vibrant communities. He is a recipient of several community service awards.