Allama Iqbal: An Intellectual Giant

Allama Iqbal was born in November 1877, in Sialkot, a small city in British ruled Punjab. His father was a devoutly religious man and Iqbal attained the basic education of the deen from a local madrassa. He studied Philosophy and Law in England before completing his doctorate in Germany. Prior to this educational sojourn to Europe, Iqbal had been a talented yet typical poet, writing about abstract notions such as love, freedom and nationalism. In fact his poem, Saray Jahan se Acha, Hindustan Hamara (Our India is the best in the world) continues to retain its popularity in modern day India.

With this mindset, he travelled to Europe in 1905 enrolling at Trinity College, Cambridge University. It was in England, and his subsequent stay in Munich until 1908, that Iqbal began to appreciate the true beauty and comprehensive nature of the deen of Allah SWT. He famously wrote in his poem Tulu-e-Islam (The Rise of Islam), “Muslman ko Muslman kar diya Toofan-e-Maghrib ne” (the Muslim was solidified in Islam by the storm of the West), having been afforded a first-hand look at the thought and behaviour of the Europeans.

It is tempting to detail all of his musings upon Islam but the limitations of discourse do not allow such expansive rhetoric. This piece will look at a select few poems and writings, trying to deduce Iqbal’s vision of Islam as a comprehensive system of governance and life. In this arena, the subjects of secularism, democracy, capitalism, Muslim fraternity and nationalism will be highlighted in the vision of Iqbal. It must be acknowledged that he did not possess a flawless ideology upon the deen’s governance and he did attempt to formulate an aligning exercise within the deen and the modern systems of governance. In his essay on Islamic Political Thought, he detailed the dangers of both secularism and theocracy. He was acutely aware of allowing the monastic mullahs total control over the political process and warned against this practice in a vociferous manner.

Nevertheless, his writings upon the concepts used to disease this ummah, namely nationalism, democracy, secularism and capitalism were unequivocal and beautifully constructed. Central to this thought pattern is Iqbal’s staunch belief that there was no dichotomy between the deen of Allah and mainstream politics, one not being complete or correct without the other. A couplet from his collection of poems, Bal-e-Jibril, states “Jalal-e-badshahi ho ya jamhoori tamasha ho; Juda ho deen siyasat se to reh jati hey changezi” (whether it is the royalty of the Kings, or the facade of the democrats; if you separate the deen from politics, you are left with the barbarism of Ghenghis Khan). In fact, this secular ideology was the driving factor behind his interest and involvement in political Islam. In his address to the conference of the All-India Muslim League in 1930, he stated “politics have their roots in the spiritual life of man. It is my belief that Islam is not a matter of private opinion. It is a society. It is because present day political ideas, that appear to be shaping themselves in India (Muslim), may affect its original structure and character that I find myself interested in politics“.

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