Misunderstanding_in_understanding_of_Iqbal’s_philosophy — Afzal Razvi


“Sir Mohammad Iqbal, in spite of his learning and his wide reading is no mere echo of other man’s ideas but is distinctly an original thinker.”  Sir Thomas Arnold

Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a distinguished poet, a brilliant scholar and a gifted philosopher, but, above all else, he was a true visionary. Pakistan was fortunate to have him as its ideological founder. It was at the Allahabad session of the Muslim League in 1930 that Iqbal became the first politician to articulate the two-nation theory that ultimately led to the creation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947.

This paper aims to highlight Khalid’s misunderstanding of Allama Iqbal’s philosophical thoughts and his philosophy. She admits in her article and acknowledges that ‘he was the greatest romantic poet that this land ever produced’. But at the same time, she forgets that his philosophy is in his poetry. Asrar-o-Romooz and Javed Nama perhaps the most significant works of Allama Iqbal in which he philosophically presented his doctrine of Self (KHUDI).

In this paper we are much concerned with Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s poetry as well as his prose, because his poetry is the creative amalgamation of the Islamic thought, western philosophy, mysticism and Indo-Pak heritage.  Therefore, at times we refer to his poetic interpretations to support our view as Allama Iqbal used both his poetry and prose to express his thought and doctrine. He was worried at the critical state of Muslims suffering all over the world. After fastidiously studying Islam, he was able to identify the underlying factors leading to this downfall. In his presidential address on 25th session of the All India Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930, he says:

I have given the best part of my life to careful study of Islam, its laws and polity, its culture, its history and its literature. The constant contact with the spirit of Islam, as it unfolds itself in time, has, I think, given me a kind of insight in to the significance as a world fact.  

Allama Iqbal not only focused on Islam but was also knowledgeable in several religions and their schools of thought. Undoubtedly, Allama Iqbal’s philosophy by and large represents the Islamic way of life. Even so, he appreciated and valued any idea of action and activity from any school of thought. He was against the idea of isolation and segregation that cuts man off from the social system and makes him a pessimist. Therefore, he condemned the platonic theory and advocates the life of pure contemplations.

As far as Allama Iqbal’s view on tasawwuf (mysticism) is concerned, he was not opposed to it as some people believe, he was only against the depraved form of mysticism that he had seen around him under the Persian and Greek influences.

Allama Iqbal knew that some people couldn’t understand his view of tasawwuf, it is therefore, he had to write a letter to Aslam Jairajpuri when he came to know that Pirzada Muzaffaruddin criticised his view of tasawwuf. He says:

Pirzada Muzaffaruddin did not understand my real intent at all. If tasawwuf means sincerity of action (and this is what it meant in the earlier centuries of Islam), then no Muslim should object to it.  Yes, when tasawwuf tends to become philosophy and, under non-Arabian (ajami) influences, involves itself in hair splitting discussion about the system of our universe and the existence of God, then my soul revolts against it.

As mentioned previously, it is evident that Allama Iqbal had a profound understanding of religion. In his first lecture titled “Knowledge and Religious Experience”, when he comes to the doctrinal sides of religion, he mentions professor Whitehead’s definition of religion, ‘a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended’.

And he further says:

It is obvious that the general truths which it embodies must not remain unsettled. No one would hazard action on the basis of a doubtful principle of conduct. Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science.… But to rationalize faith is not to admit the superiority of philosophy over religion. Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is of such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its own terms.

Research shows that students of Iqbaliyat are aware of Allama Iqbal’s remarkable versatility and they try to grasp its true significance in order to gain an appraisal of his greatness. But few appreciate the fact that this versatility, while it leads to a large increase in the number of writers on Allama Iqbal, also increases the number of his critics, as each critic deals with a precise aspect of his multi-factorial intellect. This is opposed to a holistic view which is often required to grasp the many concepts propagated in the Allama Iqbal’s philosophy. However, this is it is important to understand that criticism often helps in aiding our knowledge and understanding of a phenomenal thinker of the modern time whose prominence we often misjudge.

It must also be stated that this increase in the number of critics is likely to add to confusion if the critics disregard relevancy in their writings. To illustrate this, we have only to mention that Allama Iqbal was a great poet, a great philosopher, a leading politician and a religious reformer. Now a critic trying to discuss his philosophy deliberately refers to his “Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam”. We were shocked to read the following lines in Salma Khalid’s article:

In the ‘Reconstruction’ Iqbal uses Quranic verses extremely irresponsibly to prove his points on history, biology, physics, mathematics and what not. He was the modern originator of the harmful attitude that Muslims have since badly suffered from – their tendency to ‘discover’ everything in the Holy Quran while the rest of the world works its brains off day and night trying to unravel the workings of the universe.

Those who do not like the stand Allama Iqbal took in religion, start discussing his Qur’anic references without having any qualification in this area. Such writers void us of relevant knowledge and only fuel further confusion. Allama Iqbal was such a great reformer and philosopher that:

ہزاروں سال نرگس اپنی بے نوری پہ روتی ہے
بڑی مشکل سے ہوتا ہے چمن ميں ديدہ ور پيدا

Hazaron Saal Nargis Apni Benoori Pe Roti Hai
Bari Mushkil Se Hota Hai Chaman Mein Didahwar Paida

For thousand years the narcissus was lamenting its lack of luster;
With great difficulty the one with true vision is born in the garden

There are so many verses in the Holy Quran that can be presented to support our point of view but only couple are enough to mention here, Allah almighty says in surah al-Isra and Aal-i-Imran respectively:

Say: “Surely, if mankind and jinn were to get together to produce the like of this Qur’an, they will never be able to produce the like of it, howsoever they might help one another. (17:88)

Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. (3:189)

The above mentioned and many other verses of challenge appear in the Holy Quran, challenging mankind to find one even one mistake in it. People have unsuccessfully attempted to refute the literary perfection and scientific truths existing in this holy book. And then the Holy Quran offers that there are signs for those of understanding. Certainly, Allama Iqbal had an excellent understanding of the Holy Quran and therefore he made connections and referred to the verses of the Holy Quran very responsibly in his “The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam”.

Based on this, Salma Khalid’s arguments lacks merit and understanding of Allama Iqbal’s vast philosophical knowledge. One can only justify such an article as a cheap publicity stunt in the form of “pseudo-liberalism”. Nevertheless, it is good news that the number of critical writers on Allama Iqbal is growing, but if their criticism is to serve any useful purpose it is imperative that our evaluation must be based on that aspect of Allama Iqbal with which the critic is competent to deal with. Classification of the critical literature on Allama Iqbal is, therefore, necessary to facilitate the scholars to judge the significance of a critique. Luckily for us in the case of Allama Iqbal most of the criticism, if not all, can be recognised to definite periods, and while these periods cannot be considered as strictly wrapped, and in many cases, they overlap one another, nonetheless their boundaries can be more or less noticeably recognised.

Regarding the article published in “The News” International on Friday November 9, 2018, it is pretty much clear that the article has been written under the inclusive inspiration of Smith and Gibbs works on Allama Iqbal. (Both English authors were Iqbal’s critics)

The echo of the charges made by Cantwell Smith author of Islam in Modern History (1947) and Sir Hamilton Gibbs author of Modern Trends in Islam (1957) was heard during the past century and several of their followers tried to criticise Allama Muhammad Iqbal likewise. Unfortunately, some of them were from Pakistan like Khalid but their negative criticism failed to undermine the true and unique philosophy of Allama Iqbal.

We were also astonished to read the below line in which she denied the proven genius of Allama Iqbal and ignored the viewpoint of the Western scholars who studied Allama Iqbal and have paid tribute to his intellect. She says:

Letting Iqbal entirely off the hook and attributing the problem mostly to the state has been the tendency in influential segments of the liberal intellectuals and in the Marxist left in Pakistan, which suddenly discovered in Iqbal a philosophical genius that they had failed to spot before …

Professor Nicholson introduced Allama Iqbal to the West by translating Asrar-i-Khudi in English. In his introduction to the translation he pays homage to the wisdom of Allama Iqbal in these words:

Everyone, I suppose, will acknowledge that the substance of the Asrar-i-Khudi is striking enough to command attention. In the poem, naturally, this philosophy presents itself under a different aspect. Its audacity of thought and phrase is less apparent, its logical brilliancy dissolves in the glow of feeling and imagination and it wins the heart before taking possession of the mind. Many passages of the original are poetry of the kind that once read is not easily forgotten.

Professor Arberry of Cambridge has translated the quatrains contained in Payam-i-Mashrīq and published these translations as Tulip of Sinai. He also translated the ghazals contained in Zabur-i -Ajam published these as Persian Psalms and translated Javid Namah in English verses as well. In a message to Bazm-e-Sukhan (Iqbal Society), Karachi, Arberry once wrote:

Iqbal’s doctrine of the indestructible significance of the individual contains a message of hope and inspiration in these days when the rights and duties of individual men are so gravely threatened by materialistic conceptions of an all-powerful state. His doctrine of the place of the individual in society, with his interpretation of the term society to mean the whole community of right believing men and women, is no less important as a corrective to nihilist tendencies in contemporary thought. His message is of universal appeal and application.

The great French Orientalist, Massignon did not write much on Allama Iqbal, but has paid highest tributes to him in his masterly introduction to the French translation of “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” by Eva de Vitray-Meyerovitch.

The American author, Northrop has not written much on Allama Iqbal, but has made frequent references to him in his books on philosophy.

A reference must be made to the excellent review of Allama Iqbal’s “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” by Dr. Sprengling, in The Christendom of Chicago, in 1936. Dr. Sprengling considered Allama Iqbal in a class with the greatest Western philosophers.

The above discussion and references have made it clear that Allama Iqbal was not only rich in poetry, but he was rich in his philosophy too. Therefore, I suggest Khalid must continue reading of Allama Iqbal’s books of poetry (as she already has admitted his poetry is rich in thoughts), his letters to different authentic personalities on different issues and his speeches delivered on different occasions. And finally, she needs to re-read his “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”. I am sure she will find it very useful if she reads it in the light of Quranic interpretations.

The writer is the author of “DAR BARG-E-LALA-O-GUL”-A Botanical Study of Iqbal’s Poetry and Prose. Lives in Adelaide Australia, works in the Department for Education and president of Pakistan-Australia Literary Federation (PALF) Inc.

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