Masood N. Khan M.D.

For decades Iqbal has been criticized by Muslim traditional religious scholars who saw in his philosophy an interpretation of faith that was not only unconventional but challenging to the age old definitions related to belief and action. Iqbal’s emphasis and emancipation of the concept of Ijtihad in Deen was specially an affront to their monopoly on Ijtihad. According to Iqbal, (Ijtihad) has always been denied ever since the establishment of the schools, in as much as the idea of complete ijtihad is hedged round by conditions which are well nigh impossible of realization in a single individual. When Iqbal’s lectures were published under the title “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” Maulana Suleman Nadvi, perturbed by their content remarked that he wished Iqbal had not published his lectures. Other conservative ulemas were not so polite in their criticism.

The opposition of the traditional Mullahs should logically assign Iqbal a place with those who question the contribution of orthodoxy in religion and argue that the narrow-minded dogmatism has with its record of violence, taken more of a negative role overall in the history of mankind. Such has been “the given” upon which the secularism is built and promoted as an ideology which among other things, immediately rushed to preach and implement the concept of separation of state and religion in order to put a check to violent atrocities committed in the name of religion .

This was the reason, many educated Muslims of secular inclination coming out of elite institutions of England during Iqbal’s time and later from Muslim Aligarh University established by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, also a reformist and bitterly opposed by conservative scholars, welcomed Iqbal’s poetry as a breath of fresh air in the suffocating traditionalism and ritualism that had engulfed Islam.

However, several decades later, it seems, the Muslim secularists have evolved into a tooth and nail opposition to Iqbal’s reconstruction of religious thought – a baffling paradox indeed! Either a new Iqbal has dawned upon them or the secularism itself has transformed into a narrow-minded rigid ‘anti-religion’ ideology. Since Iqbal’s poetry and philosophical writings frozen in history since 1938, are no more subject to evolutionary amendments, it is unfair to retrospectively redefine Iqbal based upon the conditions of the modern world. On the contrary it is very likely that the secularists of modern times have evolved insensibly into an inverse orthodoxy even though claiming to possess open-mindedness of an untheocratic mind.

The accusations leveled against Iqbal reflect more of their own dogmatism than Iqbal’s perceived scary flair for religion. The biggest misunderstanding lies in the very approach to poetry. The secularists and for that matter many rationalists fail to understand that ‘rhetorics’ are the beautiful garments of poetry in which ideas remain occult. To fathom these ideas one has to go beyond the matrix of words and peep into the emotional experiences the poet has gone through and has invited his audience to share. For example when Iqbal says:

نگاہ مرد مومن سے بدل جاتی ہین تقدیرین
(The vision of a believer can change the destinies )

To infer that Iqbal either literally means a supernatural power in the gaze of a believer or to erroneously think that Iqbal is promoting some kind of supremacist ideology for Muslims that is hateful of those who profess a different faith, is not only a pathetic failure of the very understanding of a poetic expression but also an injustice to the poet. One who shares with the poet the emotional experiences depicted in his poetic expressions, distilled out from the words, will enjoy in the above verse the ecstasy of extreme degree of self confidence that a human being experiences out of an unshakable faith in God. A self confidence that gives him a sense of control over his destiny. Alas the modern secularists seem to have lost this capability and have unfairly put Iqbal on trial because of their superficial entanglement with words and rationalism.

Iqbal’s relation with Islam is at emotional level. It revolves around two motivating concepts.

1. Belief in one God that gives human being strength of confidence and dignity of self esteem which he calls as ‘KHUDI’ or ‘SELF’ and 2. Spiritualism that should give human being dynamism of action as opposed to the ascetic, other-worldly and fatalistic spiritualism of Sufi ideology marked with inaction.

He compares the two in this verse.
یا وسعت افالک مین تکبہر مسلسل
یا خاک کی آغوش مین تسبیح و مناجات
(Either the call for action in the vastness of the heaven,
The pleas and praises to God made being glued to the earth)

In this regard Iqbal is definitely an Islamist and he has every right to be. The secularists unfortunately fail to recognize Iqbal’s love of Islam within his emotional dimensions and immaturely jump to the conclusion that he, like any other mullah, promotes fake supremacy of Islam dissociated from its emotional superlatives and dynamism of action, simply to degrade other faiths.

بیان اسکا منطق سے سلجہا ہوا
لغت کے بکہیڑون مین الجہا ہوا
His speech is articlated with logic, BUT entangled in the Verbose jargon of words.

مزہب ہے جس کا نام وہ ہے اک جنون خام
ہے جس سے آدمی کے تخیل کو انتعاش

(What you call ‘Religion’ is just an immature passion.
That can only give pleasure to human imagination)

The latest of the accusations leveled against Iqbal by the western-minded Muslim secularists is in the realm of politics not his poetry and that is his misunderstood proposal for creation of Pakistan. Though this is a reactionary accusation given the current situation in Pakistan, it is true that the political currents that led to formation of Pakistan were deeply affected by Iqbal’s stand for the rights of Muslims as a minority at a very critical time marked by receding British power and emerging dominance of Hindus in the united India. His justifiable concerns are expressed in his Allahbad address: “I would never advise the Muslims of India to agree to a system whether of British or Indian origin, which virtually negates the principle of true federation and fails to recognize them as a distinct political entity.” It was Iqbal’s view of religion defined by its dynamism of action that compelled him to play an active role in the political struggles of his time even though he could as well have remained an innocent bystander lost in his contemplative world of poetry. He says: “An act is temporal or profane if it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity of life behind it; it is spiritual if it is inspired by that complexity.”

In the given political conditions of his time, Iqbal was rightly obsessed with protection of the rights of Muslims with the underlying passion for complete freedom for all human beings in the true sense of the word, not simply change of masters in the name of liberation. To this end he proposed an autonomous region for Muslims in the north-west of India and eastern Bengal within a united federation of India. He wrote to Jinnah:

“A separate federation of Muslim Provinces, reformed on the lines I have suggested above, is the only course by which we can secure a peaceful India and save Muslims from the domination of NonMuslims. Why shouldn’t the Muslims of NorthWest India and Bengal be considered as nations entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India.”

Had Hindu-dominated congress realized the legitimate fears and aspirations of Muslims in the turmoil-stricken pre-independence India, Iqbal’s proposal would not have degenerated into a divisive two nation theory and partition of the country with immense bloodshed. In analyzing Iqbal’s political role, the secularists of today are unfair with Iqbal in two respects.

One, their critique of Iqbal’s political stand for Muslims in the given circumstances of his time, are brought to scrutiny decades later as a reaction to the detrimental state of affairs that exist in the present Pakistan. Secondly they have a telescopic view of the history as it relates to freedom struggle in which Iqbal is unjustly blamed for being the cause of the division of the country based on religion. It is short-sighted compartmentalization of history disregarding the fact that the events are always interlinked and need to be examined as such. It does not take into account the wider context of human rights, freedom and common good for India which motivated Iqbal to his proposal.

The secularism originated as a compassionate answer to the divisive forces of religion in the society. It upheld the notion that all religions should be free and there should be mutual respect among them in order for the society to function peacefully and compatibly with the modern world. However the modern secularists have unfortunately regressed into a dogma of anti-religionism where they oppose religion with the same bitterness and narrow-mindedness that all religions have for centuries resorted to, to denounce each other. In his famous Allahbad address December 1930 Iqbal comes across more secularist than the present day secularists :

“A community which is inspired by a feeling of illwill toward other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities.”

Poets, like any artist, are alive in the world of feelings and emotional experiences. Their rhetoric choice of words and expressions are meant to enable the audience to share their emotional experiences and thereby fathom the occult messages. It seems Iqbal wrote the following verse for the modern secularists who judge him with a calculative but shallow logic that devalues his beautiful poetic expressions to their apparent or literal meanings.

خدا تجہے کسی طوفان سے آشنا کردے
کہ ترے بحر کی موجون مین اظطراب نہین
(May God expose you to a storm,
for the waves of your ocean are devoid of the stir)