During his stay in Europe, he realized the real meaning of life. He said, ‘my forefather spends their lives in search of God, But I am spending my life in search of man’, writes Iqbaliat scholar Aijaz Ahmad Lone
Great persons make great contributions and on that account, they are remembered for all times. Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.
Iqbal became great on the basis of his works. He stands today in the rank of sociologists, economists, as well as an educationist and a great philosopher. Iqbal is considered as a great poet of the world and a practical thinker who exercised considerable influence on the minds of people throughout the world. His philosophy is not passive contemplation but something with practical ramification. His approach to problems of life is original and offered sound solutions to great problems.
The year’s 1905 to 1908 characterized by the virtual explosion of intellectual activity in Iqbal. He studied at Lincoln’s Inn and qualified in 1908 as a barrister-at-law. He read philosophy and Persian literature at Cambridge University and graduated in 1907 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Iqbal was a keen observer of world affairs and its social orders. During his stay in Europe from 1905 to 1908, he had fully realized how his countrymen and his own community were leading a miserable life in comparison with the people of the west. So, soon after his return from Europe in 1908, he seriously thought over the problems of the downtrodden humanity in general, and the Muslim community in particular.
Muslims at that period over the world lagged too much behind in the march of nations of the west not only economically or politically, or scientifically, but, almost in all spheres of life. Scientifically, Muslim nations were mostly under-developed, intellectually unproductive; politically not united; economically unsound and morally no better. Moreover, he observed that poverty, pugnacity, passivity, laziness, suspiciousness, and disorganization had crept deep everywhere in their individual as well as social life.
The religion in which they used to believe, as key to all their worldly and heavenly wellbeing, had merely remained a history of the past. They had loosened their faith in the religion, and its vital spirit had taken refuge in ritualism, fanaticism and fatalism. Above all, they had lost their cultural roots, and had become so demoralized and overwhelmed by the miraculous progress of the west that they no longer had any faith in their own cultural norms and values, their thinking power had blocked, so they had stopped to think out any constructive thing for themselves, and had begun to cherish alien ideas, and even started to relish imported rations and fashions.
It was at this juncture that Iqbal gave a clarion call to arose and awaken the Muslims and the downtrodden people. All over the world, from their deep slumber and self-oblivion, and thus, he inculcated in them a new philosophy of life, which ultimately brought about a renaissance in the Muslim world and in most of the Afro-Asian nations under the dominance or influence of the western colonial powers.
Thus it can be safely said that Iqbal’s interest in a fresh interpretation of Islam, in the light of the recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge, was primarily meant for social and cultural progress and not for the sake of his academic interest alone.
The decay and decline in Islamic intellectual thought, according to Iqbal, set in five hundred years ago when the doors to Ijtihad, scholarly debate on our religion and its traditions, were closed, the Quranic principles- which for Muslims are eternal principles- needs constantly to be re-interpreted in the light of new knowledge.
Iqbal as a young man awakened the nation by his Islamic poetry and soon presented a valuable work in philosophical verse. Asrar-o-rumuz came as a message of revolutionary change in Muslim society. In those days Muslim character had deteriorated and religion had ceased to inspire the new superficial class with its artificial props. The message of Iqbal was a new source of moral support and energy.
With the influx of modern civilization and thought, new problems sprang up. The new generation was getting away from religion, and eastern civilization was at a discount. Iqbal, who was well versed in Islamic thought and who had been educated on western principles, proved himself a reliable leader for the guidance of Muslims, and Muslim society certainly owes a great debt to him for the present awakening of Islam, especially the Indian subcontinent.
Iqbal’s concern with the international aspect of the problems of Muslims was deep-seated. The poet’s lectures on Islamic subjects and his interviews with responsible leaders of thought in England and Germany showed the earliest signs of his interest in the international affairs of Islam.
The poetry of Iqbal is mainly philosophical and the questions relating to religion, culture, race and civilization, women empowerment, values and norms, government, the progress of women, literature and arts, and world politics, were all of equal interest to the poet. He always concentrated his attention on human destiny and for his particular interest in Islam; he rightly deserved to be called the awakener of Muslims.
Iqbal is one of those who had enough to say on questions of race, culture and civilization, and as a thinker of great insight, his views are of particular importance although some of his ideas appear to be moving quite at tangent to some of the recognized views prevalent to-day in western society. The attitude of Iqbal towards modern civilization is that of a critic, whose criticism is certainly constructive. He does not hate western civilization merely because it is modern but approaches it through the human experience of centuries and the test he applies to it is the expression of the human self and the stability of cultural edifice in reference to the reality that governs through change and performance.
Iqbal’s view on life is dynamic and regards the conquest of human nature as inevitable for the development of the human ego, but the conquest of nature is only a means to an end. The extreme type of materialism, which has driven man to attach far greater importance to matter than is necessary, is not a happy sign of human progress.
Material civilization, as it has won the name, has confused the meaning of ultimate reality. The materialistic consider man to be a machine –a view which is responsible for the lack of the spiritual element in modern civilization. According to Iqbal, the ultimate reality is spiritual, and the activities and inclinations of the modern mind point to the danger ahead. The wholesale disregard for the spirit has had a disastrous effect on man.
Iqbal, the undaunted thinker who’s philosophical thought urged the oppressed masses around the Muslim world of contemporary times, like, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, Burma, Middle East, and particularly the holy-land of Palestine to revolt against all forms of totalitarianism – religious, political, cultural, intellectual, economic or any other – was the vital force that was needed to free the Muslims from their internal shackles’ and external bondage. Iqbal’s words, his voice, his message, constituted a grave threat to those power-wielders in around the world who wanted to keep the people subservient, so that they would not challenge them or claim their own rights.
To ensure the fulfilment of their purposes they had to silence Iqbal’s anti-authoritarian voice as much as possible. The relegation of Iqbal’s vision and message to obscurity was, therefore, not by accident, but by design. It is difficult to find a poet or thinker of Iqbal’s calibre who has championed the cause of justice for the oppressed Iqbal has great relevance in the contemporary world. It is a need of the time, because the honour of humanity is at stake. The preachers of human rights are abusing humanity. Masses of men are being trampled ruthlessly under the heavy feet of the powerful. There is a dearth of love in the world these days. Iqbal is a messenger of love. His message of love is universal.
(Author is a post-doctorate research fellow at the University of Kashmir’s Iqbal Institute of culture and Philosophy. Ideas expressed are personal.)