Iqbal: His many faces

He subscribed to the Western form of democracy and endorsed voting rights of individuals while opposing women’s emancipation. Validating the Soviet wave of Marxism and supporting the 1917 Russian revolution he profoundly believed that religion and politics are inseparable.

Despite his reputation as a poet-philosopher committed to the vision of Islamic renaissance, Allama Iqbal’s ideological arenain fact has many faces that sometimes appear paradoxically opposed to each other in his work and poetry.

He subscribed, for instance, to the Western form of democracy and endorsed voting rights of individuals while opposing women’s emancipation. Validating the Soviet wave of Marxism and supporting the 1917 Russian revolution he profoundly believed that religion and politics are inseparable, promoting theocracy as an acceptable political system in Islam.

He openly rejected Mulla-ism declaring that the institution has no place in Islam while he astoundingly praised Afghani Mullas in one of his poems. He rejected Sufism throughout his Urdu and Persian poetry but demonstrated an unconditional love and affection to the great practicing Sufi and poet of Iran, Moulana Rumi in his poetry.

While these diverse ideological renderings of Allama Iqbal portray him as a liberal thinkerin his thoughts and poetry, the rightwing politicians in Pakistan, who declared Iqbal as an infidel during his lifetime, conveniently rediscovered him as an illustrious Islamic ideologue after independence. In doing so, they leave no stone unturned in proving that it was Iqbal who envisioned their brand of a fundamentalist Islamic state.

Pathetically, it appears that progressive intellectuals and politicians have totally disowned Iqbal to the extent that they do not even dare to invoke his progressive thoughts and poetry in their intellectual and political discourse these days, let alone embrace him as a progressive philosopher-poet.

In fact, a substantial portion of his poetry, Persian and Urdu both, negates all forms of exploitation of the downtrodden, opposes capitalism and rejects imperialism altogether. These poems clearly demonstrate his ideological commitment to liberalism, if not socialism or Marxism.

Sibte Hasanin his article “Iqbal’s Concept of Man” argues that although Iqbal was not a socialist, he opposed capitalism and exploitation of workers and the disadvantaged at all levels. In his words “He (Iqbal) also exposes the nature of the present social superstructure and strongly criticizes the bourgeois state, bourgeois nationalism, bourgeois democracy, bourgeois religion and bourgeois culture” (Pakistan Progressive, Winter 1984-85).

In the same article, Sibte Hasan also quotes Pundit Nehru who declared “During his last years, Iqbal turned more and more towards socialism. The great progress that Soviet Russia made attracted him.” In Iqbal’s poetic collection Baal-e Jibreel, published in 1936, he appears no less than a revolutionary and progressive poet in three sequel poems. In the last poem of this trilogy, for sure he appears as a committed socialist:

Arise and awake the poor of this world

Shaking the walls and doors of the affluent

Let the blood of slaves warm up

With the command of willpower

Let the frail sparrow fight the mighty eagle

Here comes the glorious dawn to the downtrodden

Burn the fields that pay no peasant

Leave no drape

Between the creator and the created

Remove the old man from the temple!

In the wake of increasing fundamentalism, violence and social chaos of today, it is this hidden face of Iqbal’s progressive thought, poetry and philosophy that needs to be extensively explored and researched.

In Iqbal’s own words:

It’s fine to have your own magnificent view

But what’s the use of vision that

Fails to see the real thing?

(From Viewpoint Online)

  2 comments for “Iqbal: His many faces

  1. Asima
    April 17, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Great Article. Thank you for writing this

Comments are closed.