Iqbal: Nationalism, Islamism & Muslim Nationalism

Published in Hilal English

Written By: Prof. Sharif Al Mujahid


In particular, Iqbal was struck by three things which were at the heart of European life, thought and civilization. First, he realized the vast potentialities of science whose mastery had given Europe its eminence and mastery over the world, and led Europe to an increasingly fruitful life of ceaseless effort and progress. Second was the restless activity of the people in Europe, their energy, their initiative, their immense capabilities for innovation and invention, and their resolute will to work for the amelioration of the common man. Third was the credo of capitalism and nationalism, which dominated Western life, both individually and collectively, and had led to such cut-throat competition between man and man, and between nation and nation. While he admired and applauded the first two aspects, he was irretrievably dismayed by the third one. His dismay was compounded when he found that Europe was also swayed by racial prejudice.

 

Under the impact of nationalism and in order to build up their own separate nationalistic altars, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Iranians and the Arabs had tended to emphasize their particular racial origins and their racial separation from each other. This, in turn, had ravened the Islamic Ummah concept, enfeebled the Muslim world, and had, in consequence, laid it all the more open to Western aggression, exploitation and designs, as never before.

 

Islamic or Muslim nationalism is a via media between unadulterated pan-Islamism and unalloyed nationalism. A blend of these two competing ideologies, Muslim nationalism, while recognizing the multiplicity of nations within Islam, strives to promote the solidarity, identity of outlook, and close cooperation between the various Muslim nations on the basis of their religious affinity and cultural coherence.

 

Shaikh Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was a man of great many ideas – sublime and serene, dynamic and romantic, provocative and profound for most of the time. He was both a great poet and a serious thinker at the same time but in poetic works lies enshrined most of his thought. Platitudinous to say, but important to note is the basic fact that a poet is essentially a man of moods, commanding a sort of poetic license, which is scrupulously denied to a prose-writer. Since a poet usually gives utterance to his reactions, often charged with emotions, to a given situation, his utterances and ideas need not always be compatible with one another. Such was the case with Iqbal as well.


However, since Iqbal is acclaimed national poet and his poetry had a profound impact; Pakistan emerged as a country and as a nation over the decades. His poetry and messages are both complex and profound, therefore there is a dire need to understand them in perspective and carry it forward to new heights of interpretation. Unless we do this we would be at a tremendous loss.

 

iqbalnational.jpgDuring his poetic career, spanning some four decades, Iqbal had imbibed, approved, applauded and commended a great many ideas – ideas which occupied various positions along the spectrum on the philosophic, social and political plane. Thus, at one time or another, he commended or denounced nationalism; propagated pan-Islamism and world Muslim unity; criticized the West for its materialism, for its cut-throat competition and for its values while applauding the East, its spiritualism and its concern for the soul; and condemned capitalism as well, while preaching “a kind of vague socialism”. On the one hand, he steadfastly stood for “the freedom of ijtihad with a view to rebuild the law of Shari’at in the light of modern thought and experience”, and even attempted somewhat to reformulate the doctrines of Islam in the light of twentieth century requirements, he, on the other hand, also defended the orthodox position and Indian Islam on some counts. Though “inescapably entangled in the net of Sufi thought”, he yet considered popular mysticism or “the kind of mysticism which blinked actualities, enervated the people and kept them steeped in all kinds of superstitions” as one of the primary causes of Muslim decline and downfall.


It is rather common knowledge that prior to the paradigmatic shift Iqbal had undergone during his sojourn in Europe (1905-08), his thought and poetic outpourings beginning with his maiden presentation of Nala-i-Yateem to an attentive Lahore audience at the annual moot of the Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam in 1898, were dominated by the triad philosophies of mysticism, romanticism and nationalism. This early phase was characterized by three categories of poems – (i) ghazals and lyrics (e.g., Gul-i-Pashmurdah), (ii) romanticist and nature-poems (e.g., “The Himalayas”, “Kashmir” and “On the Bank of Ravi”), and (iii) patriotic and nationalistic poems.


It were the last set of poems that had made Iqbal famous in the initial years. Largely inspirational in nature, they were meant to arouse and motivate his fellow countrymen of all denominations. To this category belong Hindustan Hamara, Hindustani Bachoon Ka Qaumi Geet, Naya Shiwala, and Taswir-i-Dard. To Iqbal Singh, a renowned biographer of Iqbal, Hindustan Hamara “remains to this day [1947] the best patriotic poem written by an Indian poet in modern times”.


More importantly, the shift from ghazals to nationalistic poetry was not merely a change of subject, but also a radical shift in Iqbal’s tone and tenor. From giving expression to his subjective feelings, he had moved on to giving utterance to the mood of the nation. The individual mood of the poet gave way to the collective mood of the people, and Urdu poetry, thus, came to be introduced to performing a higher function – such as the criticism of the people’s life-style, their ideas and myths that had brought them to such a sorry pass. To an abrupt end, however, did this nature-lover and nationalist phase come during Iqbal’s three year sojourn in Europe (1905-08).


During these years Iqbal had pursued his studies seriously, specializing in philosophy and law, earning a degree in philosophy from Cambridge, a doctorate from Heidelberg, and a law degree from Lincoln’s Inn in 1908.


There was, of course, nothing unusual about it because students from the subcontinent had gone to England to earn degrees, both before and after Iqbal. But what puts Iqbal in a different category was that unlike other students and visitors to the West he refused to be overwhelmed by the overpowering glitter and awe-inspiring grandeur of the West. Unlike others, he went beyond and behind its facade. His sensitivity as a poet enabled him to see much further than the usual run of students and visitors, his penchant for keen observation and his grounding in Western philosophy enabled him to study the West, its pros and cons, rather seriously and critically.


In particular, Iqbal was struck by three things which were at the heart of European life, thought and civilization. First, he realized the vast potentialities of science whose mastery had given Europe its eminence and mastery over the world, and led Europe to an increasingly fruitful life of ceaseless effort and progress. Second was the restless activity of the people in Europe, their energy, their initiative, their immense capabilities for innovation and invention, and their resolute will to work for the amelioration of the common man. Third was the credo of capitalism and nationalism, which dominated Western life, both individually and collectively, and had led to such cut-throat competition between man and man, and between nation and nation. While he admired and applauded the first two aspects, he was irretrievably dismayed by the third one. His dismay was compounded when he found that Europe was also swayed by racial prejudice.


In any case, his live contact with Western life, his grounding in Western philosophy, and his initiation into modern Western thought had acted as a catalyst, enabling him to perceive things in a wider perspective and in clearer terms. From the vantage point of a European base, Iqbal could easily see that the onward march of nationalism had bred racialism in several Muslim countries. Under the impact of nationalism and in order to build up their own separate nationalistic altars, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Iranians and the Arabs had tended to emphasize their particular racial origins and their racial separation from each other. This, in turn, had ravened the Islamic Ummah concept, enfeebled the Muslim world, and had, in consequence, laid it all the more open to Western aggression, exploitation and designs, as never before.


And this obviously disillusioned Iqbal with the nationalist credo beyond repair. Not only had the political misfortunes of the Muslim peoples, but also their civilizational decline goaded his thinking towards pan-Islam. In this ideal did Iqbal see the salvation of the Muslim world, even as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-1896) had a few decades earlier. Thus, Iqbal who had left India as a staunch nationalist returned to it in 1908 as a firm believer in Islam and in an integrated Ummah.


And for now, Iqbal’s world was the Muslim world – the vast stretch from Morocco to Indonesia, inhabited by scores of peoples and races, but spiritually linked with each other, with a common moral consciousness and ethical code, cultural ethos and civilizational mores, indeed with a distinct weltanschauung.


This obviously caused a paradigm shift in Iqbal’s thinking and posture. Iqbal, who had left India in 1905 as nationalist, returned to it in 1908 radically transformed – all the way, for now he was a pan-Islamist and almost a puritan. Not that he loved India and Indians less, but that he loved Islam and its ideals more. In a conceptual sense, he was, consciously or otherwise, treading the seldom trodden path delineated by Albert Schiller, the German philosopher, when he proclaimed, “I write as a citizen of the world who serves no prince. I lost my fatherland to exchange it for the great world. What is the greatest of nations but a fragment?”


This credo, inter alia, is also symmetrical at another level, with one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) sayings, “The whole of this earth is a mosque (unto me)”. In tandem, Iqbal would, for now, say, “Every country is our country because it is the country of our God”. The fatherland to which he now owed supreme allegiance to was the Muslim world.


Thus, Iqbal gradually came to take upon himself the immense task of poet-prophet. No wonder, his poems came to shift ground to keep pace with the newly developed phase of his thinking. No wonder, he sang the glories of Islam and Muslims, for now.


For the outside world, his nostalgic piece on Sicily, which he penned as the ship carrying him back home glided past the southern shores of the once Arab dominated island, heralded Iqbal’s intellectual development taking a new turn in the direction of Islam. The sight of the island on the occasion reminded Iqbal of its glorious Arab past, propelling him to break out into a touching elegy. Sadi, the famous Persian poet, had once bitterly cried over the brutal destruction of Baghdad in 1258. Ibn Badran, the renowned Moorish poet, had lamented pathetically over the fall of Banu Ayaz in Andulusia; and Dagh Dehlawi had mourned touchingly on the blood sack of Dehli in 1857. For now, it was Iqbal’s turn to focus the search-light on the desolation of Sicily, once a proud center of Islamic civilization in the west. The first three bards, long entrenched in their own right in the literary history of their respective languages, had done their elegies movingly and magnificently. And Iqbal could do no less.


And, with the years, Iqbal’s poems would increasingly reflect troubles and travails of the Muslim world. Not inexplicably though, they would, also mirror the agitated mood of the Indo-Pakistani Muslims over the troubles. To quote Hamilton A.R. Gibb, the famed orientalist and an insightful observer, “Iqbal 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 the impinged up on it. Every Indian Muslim dissatisfied with the state of things – religious, social or political – could and did find aspirations as an adviser who bade him seek the way out by self expressions.”


Perhaps, nothing reflected his new ideological orientations as did his famous Tarana-i-Milli (Islamic anthem), and his soul stirring poem on Trablas (Algeria). The Tarana-i-Milli composed in the same meter and rhyme as the erstwhile Tarana-i-Hindi, was, in effect, a public statement of Iqbal’s adoption of Schillerian credo. To Iqbal, for now, his focus of interest and attention was the sprawling world of Islam – that vast stretch of land that spanned the extensive swathes of territories from Mauratia on the northern eastern shores of Atlantic to Indonesia on the western most edge of the Pacific. Moreover, a land which was inhabited by scores of races and people that are organically and spiritually linked with one another that are imbued and informed by a moral consciousness of their own, a consciousness inspired by an ethical code, cultural ethos and civilizational mores. This newly formulated passion for the world of Islam demonstrated beyond doubt how far afield had Iqbal travelled ideologically from his early phase, when he had sung so eloquently about his motherland, and put India on a pedestal higher than Egypt, Greece and Rome.


Above all, what Iqbal had wished for was that Muslims and the people of East should come into their own at all costs. He bemoaned that warmth had departed from the soul of the East. “It knows not what the task of living is”. On his own role, he adds, “I found the (Muslims) lands lacking in the spirit of life. I breathed my own spirit into thee.”


Despite his advocacy of pan-Islamism, Iqbal was a keen and insightful observer of Muslim affairs. Hence he could not escape perceiving the harsh fact that his panacea of pan-Islam in its idealistic and classical form was not propitious or relevant to his own age – i.e., in the 1920s. For one thing, several Muslim countries had opted for nationalism and for politics based on asabiyat – i.e., racial and/or linguistic unity. For another, they were looking up to a nationalist altar, and seeking nationalist solutions to their problems. Indeed, nationalism was a dominant fact of life in almost all the Muslim countries.


Iqbal could not have possibly ignored all this – and much more. “True statesmanship”, he told his audience at the Allahabad League session (1930) “cannot ignore facts, however unpleasant they may be. The only practical course is not to assume the existence of a state of things which does not exist, but to recognize facts as they are, and to exploit them to our greatest advantage.”


Hence it seems but logical that deeply concerned as Iqbal was to see the Muslim people remain firmly anchored to their pristine Islamic legacy and heritage, he tried to resolve the conflict between nationalism, the fact of life, and pan-Islamism, the ideal towards which he would like to see them strive. Thus, Iqbal, like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, arrived at the concept of Islamic – but, more accurately, Muslim nationalism.


Islamic or Muslim-nationalism is a via media between unadulterated pan-Islamism and unalloyed nationalism. A blend of these two competing ideologies, Muslim nationalism, while recognizing the multiplicity of nations within Islam, strives to promote the solidarity, identity of outlook, and close cooperation between the various Muslim nations on the basis of their religious affinity and cultural coherence.


Iqbal, the ideologue, who had diagnosed the malaise of the Muslim world in his famous Reconstruction, came to the conclusion that “For the present every Muslim nation must sink into her own deeper self, temporarily focus her vision on herself alone, until all are strong and powerful to form a living family of republics. A true and living unity, according to the nationalist thinkers, is not so easy as to be achieved by a merely symbolical overlordship. It is truly manifested in a multiplicity of free independent units whose racial rivalries are adjusted and harmonized by the unifying bond of a common spiritual aspiration. It seems to me that Islam is neither nationalism nor imperialism but a league of nations which recognizes artificial boundaries and racial distinctions for facility of reference only, and not for restricting the social horizon of its members.”


Thus, in his Allahabad League address (1930) Iqbal finally arrived after a long odyssey of some three decades, after the “Nala-e-Yateem” Indian nationalistic phase, at the consolidated Muslim Northwest State (a province) in India’s Northwest region – if only to find a territorial basis for the deflated population based Muslim nation in India. It is significant to remember that few studies have chronically traced out Iqbal’s proposal to the core.

 

The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor, who has recently co-edited UNESCO’s History of Humanity, vol. VI, and The Jinnah Anthology (2010) and edited In Quest of Jinnah (2007); the only oral history on Pakistan’s Founding Father.
 
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