Who Owns Iqbal?

Do we have a moral right to own Iqbal while we largely disown his theological, philosophical, mystical and socio-political legacy?


We are proud that Iqbal belongs to us but we have no space for him outside seminar rooms or mosques. His pain for Kashmir’s slavery inspired our leaders against Dogra rule but is yet to inspire against the real ruler – transnational Capital or world military-industrial complex disguised as nationalist or developmental ideologies. His proposals for fortification of self through love (ishq), saying yes to time, embracing inductive scientific spirit, resisting idolatry of past/personality cults have all been rejected by Muslim world in general and Kashmiris in particular. Do we have a moral right to own Iqbal while we largely disown his theological, philosophical, mystical and socio-political legacy? We are not even studying him properly. His key work The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is generally Greek to most of our literary critics or Iqbal scholars (not to speak of general populace). His key terms or ideas appropriated from Sufi metaphysics and traditional heritage can’t be really understood without good background knowledge of a host of disciplines for which our academic institutions are ill equipped.
Iqbal died as a tragic figure whose message was either not understood well or distorted. He is not understood even today. He was reviled in his life and had to contend with all kinds of fatwas and other kinds of oppositions. He didn’t write his great lectures in Urdu for fear of being misunderstood. His most daring thoughts were not taken seriously. He was hijacked by various ideologues and most people know him through some verses heard from pulpits. There is a huge Iqbal industry but little engagement with the issues he grapled with and he asked us to debate and resolve. He fought for Ijtihad and that continues to be a taboo word today. He argued that Islam is a spiritual democracy and the question of time is the question of life and death for us. But we are still struggling with a legalistic mindset that only issues edicts on all kinds of key issues. Taking cue from great Sufis of the past he argued for a more spiritual understanding of time and history (we may recall Ibn Arabi who said that every event is a message. Iqbal saw rise of West in this light). History, he emphasized as one source of knowledge and we are today mostly judging it rather than understanding it. Who cares to read it even? How many of us have seen multivolume works of Toynbee or Hobswan or more accessible and lively Will &  Ariel  Durant. Iqbal stood for a Sufi approach to Islam (his critical appraisal and readaptation of certain traditional Sufi notions not withstanding) and we are still debating orthodoxy of Sufism, an issue that great Ghazzali had clenched much before. 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 a politically conscious definition of self and sought to resist imperialism in all its guises. We discuss him from a Muslim or Pakistani nationalist perspective but have failed to engage with the deeply troubling existential question of living as a self in the post-Edenic world. He, read philosophically rather than theologically, transcended West vs East/Islam and many similar binarisms but we are still construing the world in terms of West vs. Islam binary (Hamid Dabashi in his brilliant Resisting the Empire has shown how this binary thinking is a problematic and obsolete construction). For many influential Muslim thinkers Islam is an ideology. Both Iqbal and Nasr – arguably amongst the greatest Muslim perennialist thinkers currently living – have pointed out how this is a fallacy. For seriously engaging with political problems that the Muslim world is facing we all need to be good students of Iqbal’s Madras lectures. For Iqbal the most important problems are imposed constructions of nationalism, Capitalism (khuda ki basti dookan nahi ha) and thoroughly secularized anthrolpology at the back of modern political and economic thought. He pleaded for Islamic – to be understood in more nuanced existential terms rather than through ideological or theological lenses – view and took head on the dominant discourse of secular nationalism.
We have a huge army of Iqbal scholars but how many of them can be called Reconstruction scholars 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? How many seminars or Iqbal days have been devoted in our academic institutions to Iqbal the philosopher, Iqbal the writer of Development of Metaphysics in Persia or Reconstruction? How come we see mostly familiar faces and eloquent sermons rather than deep critical engagement with Iqbalian legacy in our academic institutions as if much water has not flowed from 1938 and iqbal disdn’t encourage criticism? Was Iqbal 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 informing such works as Kitab-ut-Tawaseen, Fusoos-al-Hikm, Maktoobaat of Sirhindhi and number of other metaphysical works of Sufi metaphysicians. It can be safely said that Kashmir’s scholarly community has little to offer as grateful sons of Iqbal’s original soil to the world either in terms of quality books or research papers or serious seminars on such issues as the issue of political soverignty, the definition of  self in a pluralist world, appraisals of legalistic-scholastical approaches to Iqbal and Islam, ijtihad-mutlaq, spiritual interpretation of the universe in a post-religious/metaphysical world or securing justice in the world of Capitalism. As Kashmiris we have yet to disengage Iqbal from partition politics that appropriates him either way. We need to organize movements based on his insightful reading of Islam and modernity rather than arrange more sermonizing parties. We need to introspect what he would do if he visited Kashmir today that has no will to win a politically conscious self definition as it is begging for subsidies, destroying its land and water resources, purchasing abnormally huge number of cars, destroying both health and soul in immoral lavish marriage parties, building big houses, privatizing education and healthcare and investing in banks instead of indigeneous industries. Azadi is no longer a fashionable discourse as unemployment, gas crises etc. are haunting us and forcing to understand what soverignty and independent mind and spirit demand or mean. Iqbal is for a culture of science and philosophy and ours is largely a science and philosophy illiterate society. Let us pledge to educate  ourselves and our society in science and philosophy – and wage war against perhaps the second largest industry of occultistic cults and pseudoSufis dealing with djins, black magic etc. – on Iqbal day and initiate concrete measures.

Iqbal’s is world shattering message. Are we prepared to be transformed by it? He means revolution. We are content with saying rahmatull-lah aleh on him. For slaves of body and desires (our food habits/lavish wazwaans tell us) and slaves of mind (our divorce to philosophy from our academic instituitions and lives) Iqbal is deadly foe. That is why we have better ignored and disowned him.
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Lastupdate on : Thu, 8 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 8 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 9 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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