Do We Own Iqbal?

Riyan Rashid

Being Kashmiris we feel proud that Iqbal belongs to us. But in real sense, we see that there is no space for him outside conference halls, seminar rooms and mosques. Though he inspired Kashmiri people against slavery under Dogra rule, yet there is a lot to get inspired from him. His concept of selfhood, punctuality, embracing inductive scientific spirit, rejecting idolatry of past /personality cults have not been imbibed by neither Muslim world nor Kashmiris. Saying that we own Iqbal is a point of debate. While we own Iqbal but we reject his philosophical, theological, mystical, and socio-political concepts, which is a thing of moral contradiction.

Iqbal gave a number of concepts which if applied could have changed the society from worst to the best. His concept of Selfhood, Complete man, Continuous effort needed a deep understanding and application.

Being people of comprehension we are not able to well understand the massage of Iqbal.  During his life he had to face all kinds of fatwas and other kinds of oppositions. He had an apprehension that his lectures will be misunderstood so he did not write them in Urdu. Many of us know him just by some verses which we have heard from pulpits.

William O Douglas (Associate Justice in United States Supreme Court) has understood the universal appeal of Iqbal as:

[Iqbal is] great for his passionate condemnation of weak will and passiveness, his angry protest against inequality, discrimination and oppression in all forms i.e., economic, social, political, national, racial, religious, etc., his preaching of optimism, an active attitude towards life and man’s high purpose in the world, in a word, he is great for his assertion of the noble ideals and principles of humanism, democracy, peace and friendship among peoples.

Iqbal was inspired by the great Sufis of past and called for a more spiritual understanding of time and history. Iqbal considered history as a source of knowledge. Iqbal saw rise of west in this light. He said that west has progressed because they have understood history well. We lack this understanding as we just go on judging things. Iqbal stood for a Sufi approach to Islam (his critical appraisal and re-adaptation of certain traditional Sufi notions not withstanding) and we are still debating orthodoxy of Sufism. His Sufi interpretation of hell and heaven, ascension and Mahdi, mard-i-mumin and a host of other notions have not been generally well understood or well received.

He argued for self which was politically conscious and wanted to resist colonialism and imperialism in all its forms and guises. Iqbal has been discussed from a Muslim or Pakistani nationalist viewpoint but all we have failed to engage with the deeply troubling existential question of living as a self in the post-edenic world. While we read him as a philosopher but forget him as a theologian. Many of the influential Muslim thinkers considered Islam as just an ideology. But Iqbal and Nasr being among the greatest Muslim perennialist thinkers currently living- have pointed out that how this is a misleading notion. Today’s Muslim world is facing serious political problems. These problems could have been solved by being good students of Iqbal’s Madras lectures. For Iqbal the most important problems are imposed constructions of nationalism, capitalism and thoroughly secularized anthropology at the back of modern political and economic thought. Iqbal used to say that we are not in this world to earn money.  He wanted that Islam should be understood in existential terms rather than through ideological lenses.

We possess a huge army of scholars who study Iqbal but how many of them can be called scholars of Reconstruction or how many have sound credentials in metaphysics or philosophy or esotericism or even modern social and economic thought currents to have a moral ground for talking about Iqbal? We conduct a large number of seminars and conferences and every year we celebrate Iqbal day. The need of the hour is to check whether we are imbibing anything from these celebrations or not. We don’t go for critical analysis of Iqbal’s legacy as if he had not encouraged it.

Who was Iqbal? Was he a party man or needed advocates? We have yet to move from parastish-i-Iqbal to tafheem-Iqbal Aale Ahmed Surooer complained long ago. Iqbal the poet too can’t be properly understood without having good familiarity with great mystical thought current information such works as Kitab-ul-Tawaseen, Fusoos-al-Hikm, Maktoobaat of Sirhindhi and number of other metaphysical works of Sufi metaphysicians.

Thus there is no problem in saying that Kashmir’s scholarly community and intelligentsia have a very little to put forward as grateful sons of Iqbal’s ancestral soil to the world. They have neither been able to produce good quality books or research papers nor been able to conduct serious seminars on such issues as the issue of political sovereignty, the definition of self, appraisals of legalistic-Scholastic approaches to Iqbal and Islam, spiritual interpretation of universe in a post-religious/metaphysical world or securing justice in the world of capitalism. We have just read Iqbal from the angle of partition politics. As the sons of the Iqbal’s ancestral soil, if we really want to offer anything to this great philosopher,theologian, poet and more than that an Islamic scholar, we need to organise movements based on his insightful reading of Islam and modernity rather than arrange more sermonizing parties. Today’s Kashmir is far different from what could have Iqbal’s expectations regarding it. He would have never expected Kashmiris begging for subsidies, destroying natural resources, purchasing abnormally, building big houses, privatizing education and healthcare and investing in banks instead of indigenous industries. Azadi is no longer a fashionable discourse as unemployment, or any other issue. Sovereignty and independent mind demands spirit. Iqbal’s existence belongs to a culture of science and philosophy and we lack those things. Now what is the need of the hour is to educate ourselves and our society in science and philosophy and to get out of the superstitions and black magic etc.

Charity begins at home. So on this Iqbal day, let all of us take an oath to change our society and make it a moral one. All what is needed is to change ourselves so that we can see the change which we expect in others.

Riyan Rashid is a Law student at Department of Law, University of Kashmir.  

(Ideas expressed in this article are authors own.)

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