Imagining Pakistan III: Iqbal

Posted by sepoy on August 13, 2004 · 6 mins read

What can I say about Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938)? I went to school at the height of Islamization policies of General Zia. Khol Ankh Zamin Dekh, indeed. In Zia's Pakistan, and to this day, Iqbal is the ideologue of Pakistan, the imagineer of the Castle of Islam. We read the meagre selections in our textbooks, wrote essays on his brilliance and recited from memory banal verses of poetry. I never liked him. Seemed too cold or too distant. Like the brilliant asshole who has all the answers. Where was the pain?
I returned to Iqbal much later. Started reading his persian works, his Reconstruction - and I discovered the halting steps towards knowledge, the agony over the fate of a nation and the struggles to understand a complex Muslim past. I appreciate Iqbal much more now. He still does not impact me like Faiz but I understand him. But this Iqbal is far different than what the state of Pakistan wants it's children to learn. So very different.
For example, let's take his address to the All India Muslim League on Dec 29, 1930:

I have no doubt that if a federal government is established, Muslim federal state will willingly agree for purposes of India's defense, to the creation of neutral Indian military and naval forces. Such a neutral force for the defense of India was a reality in the days of the Mughal rule. Indeed in the time of Akbar the Indian frontier was, on the whole, defended by armies officered by Hindu generals. I am perfectly sure that the scheme for a neutral Indian army, based on a federated India will intensify Muslim patriotic feeling, and finally set at rest the suspicion, if any, of Indian Muslims joining Muslims from beyong the frontier in the event of an invasion.

Federated India? Joint defense forces? Don't tell MMA.
Some background: Iqbal came from humble Punjabi origins. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge; went to Heidelberg and got his doctorate in Philosophy from Munich and passed the Bar at Lincoln's Inn. During his stay in Europe (1905-1908) he sought to reconcile the dominance of Western civilization with the problems confronting Muslims and, akin to Hali, concluded that only a revival of fundamental Islamic principles, Equality, Self Empowerment, Justice, Tolerance, could arrest the decline. Except it was the path of the Mystic not the path of the Mullah which led to those principles.
Today's selection is chosen mainly because it existed in a nice translation and I feel lazy. But it does highlight the same theme that Hali expounded upon - the role of mullahs in society. It is from Bang-e Dara . Go read below the fold.

Piousness and License (Zuhd aur Rindi )
The story of a Maulvi I shall relate
My wit, I should admit, is no blank slate!
Renowned he was for his Sufistic ways
High and low deferred to this initiate.
Islamic law, heíd say, hides in mystic depth
Like meaning, beneath what words seem to state.
His heartís cup ran over with pious wine;
In the dregs omniscience lay in wait!
Of his miracles he would freely boast
His following might thereby escalate!
A long time he lived in my neighborhood:
An old bond between saint and reprobate!
He asked of a friend of mine: ìOf Iqbal,
That dove in meaningís box-tree, please relate:
How well does he follow Islamic law?
Though better than Hamdaniís his verses rate
Hindus arenít infidels to him, I hear;
Does philosophy bring tolerance so great?
Thereís a little Shiëism in his nature
Iíve heard him praise Ali, and exaggerate!
Music, he thinks, is a part of worship:
Does he mean our faith to calumniate?
Mixing with loose women brings him no shame
An old habit our poets perpetuate!
Heíll sing at night and read scripture at dawn
A secret here, I fear, I canít penetrate!
But Iíve heard from my disciples that his youth
Like the white dawn, is immaculate.
What a sum of contradictions is Iqbal
His heart a wise book, his nature insatiate
Versed in impiety and Islamic Law
Like Mansur on Sufism heíll expostulate.
The essence of this character escapes me
Is it some other Islam he'd originate?
In brief, he span out his prosy sermon
Spicing with verbal art what heíd narrate.
In this city word soon spreads everywhere;
I've heard my friends also join this debate.
Once when this pious man met me on the street
This old matter surfaced in our tete-a-tete.
"My critique was fueled by love," he said,
"And my duty Islam's path to inculcate."
ìAnd I have no objection,î I returned,
ìWeíre neighbors: youíve a right to remonstrate.
My head is bowed in deference to you
Humility has aged my youth of late.
That my real nature perplexes you
Does not your omniscience inculpate.
My own gaze reveals me to be obscure
My thoughtís sea is too deep for me to translate.
I too would see Iqbal, and in this loss
Of self have wept for my estranged state.î
Iqbal too is a stranger to Iqbal:
And this is no jest; by God the most great!

Translated by Rafey Habib (Annual of Urdu Studies, 2002)


Moiz | August 14, 2004

my friend people oppose things because they are ignorant of them. if you fail to understand Iqbal and his ideology this doesnt at all lessen his place in the leading pholosophers of the world its just that you don't understand. Get some fresh air and a new start on Iqbal i assure you a new world will dawn upon you. (btw i dont say that MMA or any other party or the present chanting about Iqbal in our books are true he is much more than that)

sepoy | August 14, 2004

moiz: as i said in my post...i do.

Procrastination | August 14, 2004

Happy Independence Day To all Pakistanis. And to Indians tomorrow. I don’t have the time to write something for the occasion, but Chapati Mystery has a few posts discussing some personalities: Altaf Hussain Hali Muhammad Ali Johar Muhammad Iqbal Chapati Mystery also ha...

chanda | November 14, 2006

Iqbal was a great philosopher rather I should use the word " GREAT MAN" and to understand his ideas there are special minds because he was not an ordinary man to be understood by ordinary people. As far as I have understood him, I am really impressed,convinced and agreed by his thoughts

Dancing Cobra | May 07, 2007

hi there, very nice excerpt. I also managed to surprise some of my pakistani colleagues by telling them that the national song of the modern Indian republic has words composed also by Allama Iqbal. Plus currently I live in Heidelberg, and there is a street along a swish northwards of the city- Iqbal Ufer, or Iqbal Bank (as in river-bank- Iqbal Kinara). Thanks for beautiful artwork! d_c