Understanding the Genius

Iqbal Institute of Culture and Philosophy organized three-day International Seminar on the theme “Allama Iqbal’s Contribution to the Promotion of Urdu, Persian, Philosophy, Art and Scientific Thought” in the month of March, 2020, at Gandhi Bhawan Auditorium, Kashmir University. It was the first International Seminar in the four decade history of the Iqbal Institute.

The seminar was attended by several faculty members, scholars, researchers and intellectuals, not only from the Kashmir University, but from the country and abroad as well. Around 80 papers were presented on the various aspects of the themes in various languages such as Urdu, Persian, English and Kashmiri. Dr Ehsanollah Shokrollahi, Director of Persian Research Centre, Iran, who was to be the Chief Guest on the occasion could not attend it due to Covid-19 pandemic.

The seminar saw thoughtful presentations by scholars, teachers, and students from various parts of the country. The special feature of the seminar was that it witnessed the usage of multiple languages by the presenters such as Urdu, Persian, Kashmiri and English.

The themes which were dealt with were equally thought-provoking and touched various facets of modern culture such as Women Rights, Democracy, Faith and Reason, Literary value etc. Not only this, the seminar also provided platform to enquire and deliberate upon the comparative study that can be conducted between Iqbal and other Western as well as Indian Philosophers, be it Iqbal and Goethe, Iqbal and Tagore, Iqbal and Ghazali, Iqbal and kant , Iqbal and Gandhi etc.

Much was debated in the Seminar and it came out clear that studying Iqbal and his Philosophical contributions is need of the hour. Why so? Firstly, there are emerging questions and problems in front of the Muslim society with the changing times.

The answers to these questions are not possible through the literal understanding of the text, and so the use of reason becomes important for interpretation of various issues like polygamy, women rights education and so and so forth. Iqbal talks about and cover mostly each of the issues, be it the proper methodology for the application of reason, women issues, modernity and related problems.

Secondly, it’s not just for the Muslim society but Iqbal’s philosophy can be read and used in light of the interest for the larger humanity. He has set the new benchmarks for understanding religion and science and their amalgamation; his in depth analysis of the problems which arise from modern civilization and how to deal with them runs throughout his poems and writings.

His criticism of nationalism as a dividing ideology seems to be more relevant today in the wake of COVID 19 Pandemic, when the world needs to unite and the nation-states need to rise above from their narrow self -interests to fight this epidemic.

Despite so much significance of Iqbal’s philosophy, not so much work is carried out in the academic and intellectual spheres, as we see work on other philosophers of the subcontinent such as Tagore, Gandhi, leave aside the comparison with the western Philosophers.

I see two kinds of hurdles here: First, the thought-process level. During my research work, I experienced some facts about the Study of Allama Iqbal. First is the general understanding about Iqbal in the subcontinent. There is a tendency of understanding Allama Iqbal as a politician, who just gave the concept of Pakistan (which I would call a narrow understanding of the Philosopher).

But we fail to acknowledge his contributions as a great poet-philosopher who has something to offer to both Philosophy of Science as well as Philosophy of Religion. We usually follow singular approach instead of comparative approach while writing and understanding his philosophy. These are the reasons that Allama Iqbal is not known much and cherished as people like Kant, Nietzsche, Gandhi etc.

Second hurdle is structural in nature. It is only after I started my research in the field that I came to realize Iqbal study is usually missed in Universities, Colleges and school whereas the persons ranging from Tagore, Gandhi, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan to Kant, Nietzsche, Locke etc., are studied as part of curriculum, leave aside the separate Centres for the same.

We need to broaden our approach towards understanding Iqbal’s Philosophy. Iqbal has something to offer, not only to Muslim society but to humanity at large.

The Seminars like such are needed as it provides a platform to revisit Iqbal’s intellectual endeavors. The seminars like such are need of the hour as it provides one with the platform to revisit and ponder upon his intellectual endeavors.

Iqbal has deeply dealt with the moral and philosophical questions which are becoming more important now keeping in view the emerging crisis of modern societies all across the globe. Also, there is a need to promote research in comparative study of philosophers such as Iqbal and Nietzsche; Iqbal and Tagore; Iqbal and Gandhi as we will find similarity of one or the other theme like modern civilization, Humanism, Science, Religion among them. The reason is simple.

The basic concern of each of the philosophers is to throw light on the ills of the society and provide solutions.  Moreover, it will result in richer contribution in the academic field. Only then the Iqbal study will gain more and more significance not just at the national level but at the International level. It can begin from here. From Iqbal Institute of Culture and Philosophy. During my first visit to the Institute some three years back, I came to know about some of its lesser known aspects. Iqbal Institute of Culture and Philosophy is one of its kinds in the country.

I appreciate the fact that the Institute is not just restricted to research in Iqbal’s Philosophy; but promotes research in comparative study of philosophers such as Iqbal and Nietzsche as well as different religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. Along with that, Allama Iqbal  is not just studied from a narrow perspective, but the Institute provides the platform to look, study, understand and analyze the philosopher from varied perspectives, right from his views on khudi (self-hood) to women related issues.

But there is also a need to write more and more about Iqbal’s work in all the major languages like Urdu, Arabic, Hindi and particularly in English. As scholars like Nietzsche would have never be known to the world at large without his contributions in English language.

At last, it can be said that Iqbal’s teachings and his philosophical discourse need more diversified approach, to put him into proper perspective, a perspective which is disconnected from narrow and conservative interpretations.

There is thus a dire need to contemporarize Iqbal’s teachings by employing various methodologies as well as insights and also by bringing various other philosophers and philosophical teachings face to face with Iqbal’s own philosophical discourse. Iqbal Institute of Culture and Philosophy is rightly working on that path. 

Mehak Sharma, CPS, Jawaharlal Nehru University