“Unbeliever is he who follows predestination even if he be Muslim. Faithful is he, if he himself is the Divine Destiny”—Allama Muhammad Iqbal
Sialkot in the province of Punjab in Pakistan is an industrial city that is famous for manufacturing and exporting sports and surgical goods. According to ‘The Economist’ the city stands out for its entrepreneurial spirit and productive business climate which reflects in the fact that the city boasts of the country’s first privately owned public international airport. Other than these attributes, perhaps the most enviable facet of the city is that it is the birthplace of famous personalities. These include among many, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Justice Javid Iqbal, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Kuldip Nayyar, Waheed Murad, Rajendra Kumar, Ghulam Ali, Zaheer Abbas, Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Khawaja Asif, Gulzarilal Nanda and Shoaib Malik but the credit of being a shining star and one of the most inspiring persons of the twentieth century goes to none other than the Poet of the East, Allama Dr. Muhammad Iqbal. If Sialkot is the place of his birth, Lahore has the unique privilege of being the custodian of his mortal remains.
Iqbal is a highly revered personality in Pakistan. In fact, he is considered as the first person who conceived the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian Sub-continent. Although his political ideology was quite different from that of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was inclined towards a united India, Iqbal did manage to convince the Quaid to represent the cause of the Muslims of the Sub-continent in a more emphatic manner.
Due to the significance of Iqbal’s role in creation of Pakistan, he maintains a much idolized position in the public’s eye, which by itself can be a source of some problem. An idol is considered god and god is perfect therefore any criticism of Iqbal as a human being invokes a lot of resentment, sometimes amounting to blasphemy. Here one needs to be realistic in the sense that after all, the gentleman was a human with his strengths and weaknesses and while we appreciate the multi-dimensional attributes of this great man, we should respect and overlook his flaws, thus implying that all his excellent work should not be swept aside because of a few fallibilities.
To some—the likes of Syed Abul Hassan Nadwi who wrote in his book “Glory of Iqbal” that there were certain ideas of Iqbal that he did not agree with—he may have been a controversial figure but to many his literary contributions are a treasure trove of vast knowledge and immense wisdom. While his PhD thesis titled “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia”, discusses the development of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality (metaphysics) in Persia, Iqbal gained prominence for the lectures he delivered in Aligarh, Madras and Hyderabad, compiled and published in 1930 in a book form “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.”
For Iqbal, the fourteen hundred years that elapsed since the advent of Islam had caused such a sandstorm of interpretations and deviance from the true spirit of the religion that he desired a fresh appraisal of the intellectual foundations of the Islamic philosophy in order to settle the sands of uncertainty and adopt a more pragmatic approach in the light of modern developments. He was raised in a traditional orthodox family, had the opportunity to travel to Europe for his doctorate, had closely observed the western society with all its pros and cons, had meticulously studied the works of various philosophers and Sufi poets and after deep contemplation drew his conclusions. He did not belong to that class of people which blindly swallows the pills of indoctrination. He writes:
Guft deen e aamiyan? (He asked: what is the religion of the common man?)
Guftam Shuneed (I said: whatever he listens)
Guft deen e aarifan? (He asked: what is the religion of the educated one?)
Guftam keh deed
(Javed Nama) (I said: whatever he himself sees)
There can be no qualms about the power of knowledge that remains an unfathomable ocean for the insatiable seeker who feels his ignorance growing stronger the more he dives into its depths. For Allama Iqbal this enormity of enlightenment was so overwhelming that he could not resist the temptation of pouring out these thoughts one after the other, in his lectures, prose and poetry. He was not viewing these ideas with borrowed spectacles of the less informed but through his own vision of comprehension. Traditional explanations of the Holy Quran did not seem to go well with him, therefore he wanted a fresh review of Islamic philosophy in accordance with modern trends.
As observed by William Owen Carver [seminary professor, writer, and founder of the Southern Baptist Historical Society]: “His [Iqbal’s] aim was “to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments of human knowledge.
Such was his insight into the ‘forbidden’ realms of Islamic thought that an orientalist and a professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford could not but remark: “From the Qur’anic law of inheritance which makes the share of the male equal to that of two females the superiority of the male over the female has been inferred; such an assumption would, Sir M. Iqbal observes, be contrary to the spirit of Islam.”The Qur’an says: And for women are rights over men similar to those for men over women.”
Dr. Edward Hulmes [a Fellow of the Maryvale Institute in Birmingham, England and a Member of the Centre of Theological Inquiry at Princeton in the United States] notes “One of the author’s [Iqbal’s] motives was to encourage his fellow countrymen to explore their own cultural roots after years of British colonial rule. But his aim was also to transcend the limited boundaries of national identity in order to ‘build bridges’ between peoples of different cultures and religious traditions.”
Although some orthodox scholars may have wished that these lectures should never have been published but there is no denying that this book has been a source of inspiration for many including Iranian scholar, Dr. Ali Shariati Mazinani (1933-1977), who received his doctorate in sociology (focused on sociology of religion) in 1964 from Sorbonne University, Paris. He is held as one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century. This verse of Iqbal:
Deen-e-kafir fikr o tadbeer-e-jihad (Infidel’s religion relates to contemplative investigation)
Deen-e-mulla fi sabeelillah fasaad (Mulla’s religion is mischief in the name of Allah)
seems to have had an impact on Ali Shariati that can be discerned from his following lines: “Our mosques, the revolutionary left and our preachers,” he declared, “work for the benefit of the deprived people and against the lavish and lush… Our clerics who teach jurisprudence and issue fatwas are right-wingers, capitalist, and conservative; simply our fiqh is at the service of capitalism.”
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)