The Political Philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal: Islam and Nationalism in Late Colonial India
THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF MUHAMMAD IQBAL – book Sample
About the book – THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF MUHAMMAD IQBAL
Thisbook reflects-upon the political philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal, a towering intellectual figure in South Asian history, revered by many for his poetry and his thought. He lived in India in the twilight years of the British Empire and, apart from a short but significant period studying in the West, he remained in Punjab until his death in 1938.
The book studies Iqbal’s critique of nationalist ideology, and his attempts to chart a path for the development of the “nation” by liberating it from the centralizing and homogenizing tendencies of the modern state structure.
These were highly relevant and often controversial issues during the years leading up to independence, and Iqbal frequently clashed with his contemporaries over his view of nationalism as “the greatest enemy of Islam.” In rejecting post-Enlightenment conceptions of religion, he constructed his own particular interpretation of Islam that would provide solutions to all political, social, and economic ills.
In many ways, his vision of Islam – forged through an interaction with Muslim thinkers and Western intellectual traditions – was ahead of its time, and since his death both modernists and Islamists have continued to champion his legacy.
[T]he tyranny of imperialism struts abroad, covering its face in the masks of Democracy, Nationalism, Communism, Fascism and heaven knows what else besides. Under these masks, in every corner of the earth, the spirit of freedom and the dignity of man are being trampled underfoot in a way of which not even the darkest period of human history presents a parallel. The so-called statesmen to whom government and leadership of men was entrusted have proved demons of bloodshed, tyranny and oppression. . . .
After subjugating and establishing their dominion over weaker peoples, they have robbed them of their possessions, of their religions, their morals, of their cultural traditions and their literatures.
Muhammad Iqbal, New Year’s message broadcast on All-India Radio, 1938.1
In Iqbal’s poem, ‘Shua-i-Umeed’ (‘Ray of Hope’), the sun laments that despite its rays continually showering light onto the earth, the earth remains enveloped in darkness.
Whereas the West is engulfed in the smog produced by its machines, the East, though still possessing an inner light, lies in a deadly slumber. Declaring that there is no pleasure in shinning upon barren sands, the sun calls on its rays to forsake the earth. A solitary rebellious ray, however, implores the sun to allow it to continue to shine on the land of India until its people were not stirred from their sleep. The hopes for the revival of the East, the ray pleads, were centred upon the awakening of this land. This is, after all, the land that has been irrigated by the tears of Iqbal.2
By critiquing prevailing socio-political ideologies and mentalities and re-examining Islam in light of the modern context, Iqbal sought to pro- vide a message of physical and intellectual empowerment not only for Muslims but for the colonised East in general.
Reflecting the view of a number of his contemporaries, Iqbal felt that as India had the largest Muslim population in the world and had engaged more directly with western thought – primarily in the form of western education – Indian Muslim intellectuals were uniquely placed to shape an Islamic response to the modern age.
Unlike the modernists who called for the adoption of modern or west- ern political ideals and institutions, Iqbal conceived of colonialism as a totalitarian exercise of power that extended into the realms of ideology and culture. He thus warned that calls for the inculcation of western civ- ilisation, thought and institutions would only serve to perpetuate ideo- logical domination. Iqbal strove to shape an empowering interpretation of Islam, one that challenged both the ‘traditional’ interpretations of the ulama and the socio-political thought of the modernists.
Whereas he dis- missed sections of the former as unable to respond to the challenges of modernity, he accused the latter of being captivated by western or mod- ern thought. This culminated in his reconstruction of Islam as a complete system that could be contrasted with western or modern ideologies such as nationalism and socialism. Implicit in such an interpretation of Islam was a rejection of the public-private dichotomy and the separation of power and religion which characterised post-Enlightenment conceptions of religion.
The emphasis on action and power in Iqbal’s writings and his call upon Muslims to shape a modern interpretation of Islam inspired a number of intellectuals across the Muslim world. Contrasting the rev- olutionary message of Iqbal’s poetry with the work of other Muslim poets of modern India, the prominent Indian Muslim leader and jour- nalist Muhammad Ali called for Iqbal to be hailed by Muslims as the ‘singer of our rising’.3
Iqbal’s attack on artistic, philosophical and reli- gious trends of self-pity spurred a number of intellectuals who sought to shape a dynamic Islamic revival. Indeed, Muslim figures from across the religious and political spectrum have claimed to be inspired by Iqbal’s action-oriented message.
Amongst those who have drawn from Iqbal’s work are figures commonly called ‘Islamists’. Key archetypes of Islamism like Ghulam Ahmad Parwez, Maududi and Shariati have acknowledged Iqbal’s influence in the development of their thought.
Islamism and Islamist are, of course, highly contested categories.4 Piscatori’s definition of the Islamists as ‘Muslims who are committed to political action to implement what they regard as an Islamic agenda’ is adhered to here as it allows for differences in opinion over what constitutes the ‘Islamic agenda’ as well as diverging forms of political action.5 It should be noted that many of the Islamist figures who claim to be inspired by Iqbal developed strikingly different Islamic agendas from each other.
Three aspects of Iqbal’s work were particularly influential in the development of Islamist thought: his critique of the basis of western systems of socio-political organisation, stress on the need for a spiritual interpretation of the universe and his rejection of the demarcation between religion and politics.
Iran presents a particularly interesting case where Iqbal’s work was drawn upon by intellectuals who were grappling, on the one hand, with the physical and intellectual domination of the West and, on the other, with the position of Islam in the state. This was especially the case in the years leading up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and since.
Because much of Iqbal’s poetry was in Persian, he attracted a readership in Iran, where he is popularly known as Iqbal Lahori. Iranian figures who have drawn from Iqbal in developing their own approaches towards Islam and politics include Shariati, Abdolkarim Soroush (a leading critic of conser- vative elements within the Shia ulama) and the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In fact, speaking at the opening session of the First Conference on Iqbal in Tehran in 1986, Khamenei stated that in its ‘conviction that the Qur’an and Islam are to be made the basis of all the revolutions and movements’ Iran was ‘exactly following the path that
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