Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), philosopher, poet and political leader, was born in Sialkot, a small town in the Punjab, which is now a province of Pakistan. In 1927 he was elected to the Punjab provincial legislature, and in 1930 he became president of the Muslim League. In addition to his political activism, Iqbal was considered the foremost Muslim thinker of his day. His poetry and philosophy, written in Urdu and Persian, stress the rebirth of Islamic and spiritual redemption through self-development, moral and ethical integrity, and individual freedom. Iqbal was also given ;the title of Sha‘er-e Mashriq (“Poet of the East”).
Iqbal’s contribution to the Muslim world as one of the greatest thinkers of Islam remains unequalled. In his writings, he addressed and exhorted people, particularly the youth, to stand up and face life’s challenges boldly. The central theme and main source of his message was the Qur’an.
Iqbal regarded the Qur’an not only as a book of religion (in the traditional sense) but also as a source of fundamental principles upon which the infrastructure of an organization must be built as a coherent system of life. According to Iqbal this system of life, when implemented as a living force, is ISLAM. Because it is based on permanent (absolute) values given in the Qur’an, this system provides perfect harmony, balance and stability in society from within, and security and a shield from without. It also provides personal autonomy and opportunities for the development of character and personality for everyone within the guidelines of the Qur’an. Thus, in Iqbal’s opinion, Islam is not a religion in which individuals strive primarily for a private relationship with God, in the hope of personal salvation (as expected in secular conceptions of religion), although that sometimes happens too. Iqbal firmly opposed theocracy and dictatorship, and regarded them as against the free spirit of Islam.
Iqbal was at his eloquent best when he addressed young Muslims:
Ghareeb-o-saada-o-rangeen hai daastaan-e-Haram
Intiha uss ki Husain, ibtada hai Isma‘il
“The noble path [history of Islam] is full of simple lessons of devotion, honesty and commitment, whose culmination is Husain and beginning Isma’il.”
Iqbal’s vision was that young Muslims should aspire to become the ideal of Islam and humanity, whom he describes as God’s vicegerent (Khalifatullah): one who absorbs within himself and demonstrates as many of God’s attributes as possible. Iqbal compares and contrasts this ideal with that of Nietzsche’s godless superman and of that extreme individualism that is promoted by pseudo-secularism, democracy and commercialized capitalism. Iqbal’s Mu’min is a firm believer in God, Who endows him with seemingly superhuman powers. This Divine endowment of self-confidence and dynamism elevates the Mu’min to the highest human potential. Once a Mu’min attains enlightenment, as God’s vicegerent on earth, he or she fulfills his divine mission of establishing justice on earth out of God’s infinite Mercy and boundless love and grace:
” O believer! Raise your Khudi (self, character, sense of self-respect, etc.) so high that God Himself, before making any decision, asks you what will please you.”
Iqbal used the metaphor of the shaheen (falcon or eagle) mainly in reference to young Muslims, to symbolize the concept of constant struggle in order to contribute to the Islamic cause of serving humanity at large. He contrasted the untiring pursuit of this goal with the life of the parasitic vulture, who survives on animal carcasses without the dignity of effort. He stated that Islam encourages Muslims to travel constantly like falcons in order to resist over-dependence on an easy, comfortable way of life:
“The falcon is a self-reliant member of the shifting world of birds; therefore he does not build his nest on a fixed spot”.
Iqbal described vividly the pitfalls of modern Muslim and western societies, and at the same time offered immense hope to the young who were willing to embrace his vision and heed his advice. His imagery of the dawn to come is emphatic: “See your present in the light of the past.” Iqbal emphasized that “the New Age that will soon emerge the world awaits in eagerness”. Iqbal’s message was very clear: he meant that the “New Dawn” could only come from the modern youth who are capable of overthrowing the shackles of external (western/imperialist) materialism and reawakening their inner fire (love of God).
Iqbal continued this fervor eloquently, praying to his Lord for the young of his people:
“Give the young, O Lord, my passionate love for you!
And give them the Eagle’s force to fly and see!
O Lord, I pray that You vouchsafe to them
The power of vision that You have given me.”
The greatest advice of Iqbal to humanity is: Have a heart like Jesus, thought like Socrates, and a hand like the hand of a Caesar, but all in one human being, in one creature of humanity, based upon one spirit in order to attain one goal: become a human being who attains to the heights of political awareness in his time. Iqbal achieved this to the extent that some people believe him to be solely a political figure and a liberated, nationalist leader who was a twentieth-century anti-colonialist.
Iqbal went to Europe and became a philosopher. He came to know the European schools of philosophy and made them known to others. Everyone admitted that he is a twentieth-century philosopher, but he did not surrender to Western thinking. On the contrary, he conquered the West. He was devoted to Rumi and a disciple of his, without in any way compromising his allegiance to the authentic dimensions of the Islamic spirit. Sufism says “As our fate has been predetermined in our absence, if it is not to your satisfaction, do not complain”. Or, “If the world does not agree with you or suit you, you should agree with the world”. But Iqbal the mystic says “If the world does not agree with you, rise against it!”
Iqbal was frustrated with the dualist education system because it was divided into ‘secular’ and ‘religious’ education even in the Muslim world. He complained that this partition failed to fulfill the mission of producing falcon-like young Muslims: “I am seriously disappointed with those in charge of running our schools, because they are training them to lead a life of lowly and aimless wandering devoid of any serious devotion to a worthy cause.”
Iqbal rejected outright the idea of separating politics and human relations from faith, ethics and morality. He was bitter about the hollow rhetoric and rituals adopted by Muslims and their traditional leaders: “The religious elite have lost all the wealth of spirituality and wisdom; who is the temptress that has robbed them of such a valuable commodity?” Iqbal firmly believed that the divorce of religion and politics was antagonistic to the spirit of Islam: “Be it the royalism of monarchs or the jugglery of the democrats, if one separates religion from politics one is left to face the barbarism of Genghis Khan.”
Iqbal foresaw what most Muslims face in the modern world: dependence on alien ideas and ideologies, and eventually subjugation to the whims of their leaders. Iqbal realized that, given the technological superiority of the imperialist powers and the opportunities and challenges that globalization provides, the Ummah would suffer not only from an inferiority complex and slavish mentality, but also from the malaise of learnt helplessness.
Iqbal regarded as myopic nationalism, patriotism restricted to narrow geographic borders, and democracy in the liberal-western style: to him all are the new gods crafted by mankind for self-delusion. He compares these ‘isms’ to old pagan gods and goddesses: “Human beings are still trapped in the same old magic of idolatry, whose armpits are still hiding the images of gods of the primitive era.”
As we approach the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world are preparing to replenish their spiritual reservoirs. There is no better time for all Muslims, especially the young, to heed Iqbal’s emphasis on the essence of the “morning wail”. Iqbal asks us all to explore the “secrets of the self” (asrar-i-khudi). The “morning wail” has a special significance in Iqbal’s thought. It refers to the practice of spiritual exploration through nightly prayers and reflection on the message of the Qur’an at the break of dawn.
While most of the world slept, Iqbal’s spiritual and mental awareness gave rise to restlessness: the spark, the inner fire that is so vital to a young Muslim – indeed any Muslim – in order to aspire to a strong commitment to truth and justice.
Today, promotion and propagation of peace and nonviolence amongst the people and our community is the most important and essential duty. Unfortunately, Islam is entangled among inability of ‘Ulamā’ and ignorance of the Muslim public, on the one hand, and inefficiency of some statesmen, on the other hand. We must make people believe that Religion is nothing unless “Love”, “Kindness” and “Friendship”.
All Iqbal’s poetry portrays the conflict of sin and righteousness in which his poetry comes to the rescue of mankind. Thus whatever we may have of the prophetic role of a poet, Iqbal was a prophetic poet. It has been argued and established that the language of poetry is that of art and delicacy, and at the same time is the most effective form for promoting the peaceful thought and conciliatory deeds. Now we understand why Iqbal chose the language of poetry for his immortal and effective message to the nations generally, and to the Muslim community particularly. It must be noted that the emergence of Islam is desired, not as a conquering force, but as a force of liberation as it did in the past.
(The writer is Resident Doctor at Acharya Shri Chander College of Medical Sciences and Hospital Jammu and an activist /educator at Unacademy,India’s largest online education platform.)