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Old Wednesday, November 09, 2005
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Default Iqbal: a mirror of Indian Muslim psyche

Iqbal: a mirror of Indian Muslim psyche

By Prof Sharif al Mujahid

Today is Allama Iqbal’s birth anniversary.

MULTIDIMENSIONAL are Iqbal’s thoughts as are his intellectual forays and philosophical shifts at various times in his four-decade long active career as a poet and philosopher. Yet all said and done, it was given to the renowned Professor Hamilton A.R. Gibb to provide a perspective on how to look at him. This Gibb did in his Chicago lectures (1946) on “Modern trends in Islam” which have since been published under the same title.

In this he perceptively observes, “Perhaps the right way to look at Iqbal is to see in him one who reflected and put into vivid words the diverse currents of ideas that were agitating the minds of Indian Muslims. His sensitive poetic temperament mirrored all that impinged upon it — the backward looking romanticism of the liberals, the socialist leanings of the younger intellectuals, the longing of the militant Muslim League for a strong leader to restore the political power of Islam. Every Indian Muslim, dissatisfied with the state of things — religious, social, or political — could and did find in Iqbal a sympathizer with his troubles and his aspirations and an adviser who bade him seek the way out by self-expression.”

This means that despite being a creative thinker, Iqbal was addressing the situation at hand. The ideas he enunciated, though intrinsically creative in themselves, and abiding in appeal beyond a particular time and place, were yet primarily meant to salvage the bleak Muslim situation in India and the world at large. This makes Iqbal, in a sense, oriented towards the Indian Muslim psyche and situation.

This framework makes his periodic forays into discussing and suggesting solutions to the problems of the Muslim world at large and his consuming concern with the “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” (1930) — a logical extension of his role as a modern Muslim ideologue, attempting to analyze and see Muslim India’s problems and predicament on a wider canvas and in a total context. After all, Iqbal regarded India, if only because of the Muslim numerical strength, as “the greatest Muslim country in the world”, to quote his own words. These tasks, both critical and onerous as they were, he fulfilled squarely.

His emotion-leaden and soul-lifting poetry was the medium Iqbal chose to bring his people a new awareness of the depths of degradation to which they had fallen, to diagnose their ailments, their predicament and the prime cause of their decline, and to warn them of the dire consequences if they failed to mend themselves in good time. A more effective medium he could not have possibly chosen.

For one thing, poetry is the most powerful medium for touching the deepest emotions of a people and for driving a message into their subconscious. For another, the Indian Muslims had been among the most poetry-oriented people in the world, with a long tradition of readily taking to heart what was written in verse. Political orations may stir an audience into action, but their impact is bound to be restricted to a particular audience, and dissipate with time and events. In contrast, a poetic message seeps through the ethos of a nation, working on its psyche all the while.

Hence Iqbal achieved through his poems what a thousand speeches could not. But for the silent mental preparation that had gone on for long decades, the people would not have responded to the call of political leaders — in this case, especially of Jinnah during the 1937-47 epochal decade. No wonder, the pandals of the League sessions from Lucknow (1937) onwards were plastered with Iqbal’s couplets, calling on Muslims to rise and take their destiny in their own. Iqbal was quoted oft and on to rouse Muslims to a new awareness of their destiny. All this had an electrifying effect on the audience since Iqbal, though generally complex and couched in an appropriate idiom, was, straightforward and yielded clear guidelines.

Besides being a poet of extraordinary merit, Iqbal was a thinker of a high order. Thus, while Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Mohammad Ali and Jinnah provided political leadership to Muslims, Iqbal took upon himself the task of setting the intellectual tone for Muslim thought and action. (previously, this was done by Sir Syed’s, writings and the Aligarh school). In addressing himself to this task, Iqbal brought a revolution in Muslim thinking at various levels; he also made a significant contribution to keeping them stolidly anchored to their pristine ideology and historical legacy.

His role in awakening the Muslims to a new consciousness began in 1899 when he recited a poem at the annual session of the Anjuman-i-Islam, Lahore. His moving “Nala-i-Yatim” was symbolic of the echoing cry of the faceless masses of the Indian Muslims, who had long felt themselves sidelined neglected.

Like Syed Ahmad Khan and Jinnah, Iqbal had started out as an Indian nationalist, but ended up at the threshold of Muslim nationalism. While the former two came at this threshold directly, Iqbal did it via the pan-Islamism route. With Muhammad Ali, he shared the passion for pan-Islamism. In terms of ideological orientation, these three trends at various stages in Iqbal’s poetic and public life represent his point of convergence with the three most important political leaders Muslim India had produced during the ninety years of British imperial rule (1858-1947). When Iqbal sailed for Europe in 1908 for higher studies, he had gone there as an Indian nationalist, but he returned in 1911 as a pan-Islamist. His European sojourn had acted as a catalyst, enabling him to look at events and developments in a wider perspective. Thus, he came to be disillusioned with the very concept of nationalism, which had spawned inequality and discrimination (even as the European credo of laissez-faire had between man and man) and bred racial discrimination.

What pained him most was the impact of nationalism on various Muslim countries, eroding the pan-Islamic concept, enfeebling the Muslim world and laying it open to European aggression, and exploitation. To the ailments the Muslim world was afflicted with, Iqbal found the solution in Islam and its message. In order to reach the innermost recesses of their consciousness, he invoked the past glory of Islam, telling Muslims of the accomplishments of their ancestors. In so doing, he tried to fight off the prevalent slough of despondency, raising drooping spirit of Muslims and replacing it with a sense of soaring confidence.

Next, he grave them a message of hope. He told them that they could still redeem themselves if they could only recapture their soul and regain their pristine moral and spiritual values. He emphasized the imperative need to develop human qualities and the right type of character. He attributed their degeneration to their taking to a life of passivity and resignation for several generations. That debilitating trend could be reversed by opting for initiative and endeavour which, he believed, Islam stood for. To him, an active, struggling non-believer was preferable to a sleeping Muslim.

But if Muslims were to be beckoned to a new destiny, they must first be confirmed as Muslims and they must own up their pristine values. This was all the more necessary in the context of the rise of positivism and skepticism, which posed a serious challenge to the modern Muslim.

To Iqbal, “the task before the modern Muslim is to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past”. And this crucial task he undertook in a series of lectures since compiled as “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930).” In these he argued that Islam represented a philosophy of action, for faith without action was a life bereft of any significance.

A true Muslim should always be on the move: he should have an energetic and an active interest in the material reality around him; he should cultivate the sciences and mould the forces of life rather than submit to them. To him, “here on the path halt is improper,/As in rest remains concealed the death;/Only those on move have gone ahead./And who tarried get to be trampled!” Again: “from Khizr you should ask the secret of life,/ Through ceaseless efforts all things exist here!”

That mnas toil and labour, ceaseless efforts and relentless exertions alone will lead to success — to new vistas, greener pastures and goals. He wished Muslims to become dynamic, enterprising and assertive as in early Islam. He wished them to realize, own up and raise their “khudi”, and his doctrine of ‘self’ was meant to strengthen through moral and intellectual power lying within oneself which can enable him to master the world around, besides fulfilling Allah’s will.

Thus, Muslims could remain Muslims and yet enjoy the fruits of modern science and civilization. Yet another crucial task still remained — that is, to spell out the destiny for Indian Muslims. This Iqbal did in is Muslim League Allahabad (1930) address. Here, for the first time, he set out to delineate and address their psychic needs and political aspirations. As a piece of political discourse this address was unique: it spelt out in some detail the intellectual justification for the Muslims’ aspirations for a separate nationhood and a separate national existence.

Seldom does a poet exert such profound influence on the course of history and in changing the destiny of a nation. But Iqbal did because his accomplishments extended far beyond the realm of mere imagination and into the sphere of objective realities, because in the final years of his eventful life he donned the mantle of an ideologue, besides being a national poet.

And, to be sure, all of Iqbal’s efforts throughout the whole span of his active life were directed towards the regeneration of Muslims and the resurgence of Islam.

The writer was founder-director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy (1976-89), and authored ‘Jinnah: Studies in Interpretation’.
"The race is not over because I haven't won yet."

Adil Memon
Police Service of Pakistan (P.S.P)
37th Common Training Program
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