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Allama Iqbal: a critical perspective

By Abdul majeed Abid:

“Every generation has its own dreams and vision which it wants to accomplish without interference. Not imitation but freedom is required to build a new world. Therefore, an attempt should not be made to repeat but to make new history. People should be liberated from the shadows and allowed to flourish in a free society. Great leaders should be respected but not worshipped”.
(Dr Mubarak Ali)

Ibne Khaldun, the doyen of Muslim Historians, described History as a science and not an art. He was of the view that History should be objective, not subjective to the historian’s whims or the needs of the hour. The problem with later-day Muslim historians arose when they tried to “glorify” Muslim history and “re-invented” certain personalities as shining examples for the modern Muslims. This historical revisionism was at its peak during the 19th century and early parts of the 20th century.
Dr Mubarak Ali, in his book, “Taareekh ki Daryaft” (Exploring history) provided some glaring examples of historical revisionism from sub-continental history. The most famous religious figures from 15th to 18th century are supposed to be Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi(also known as Mujaddad Alaf Sani) and Shah Waliullah. According to Dr Mubarak, the hype about  Sheikh Ahmad was propagated by Maulana Manazir Ahsan Gilani and Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad while Shah Waliullah  was “re-invented” by Obaidulah Sindhi as he was searching for someone resembling Karl Marx in the Islamic world. Sheikh Ahmad was made out to be the nemesis of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Another very important source of such revisionism was famous novelist Naseem Hijazi. This trend of bending history according to the time was continued after creation of Pakistan. An “Ideology of Pakistan” was created during the 1960s. The father of that Ideology was designated to be Allama Mohammad Iqbal, poet and philosopher. (For more on the story of creation of this so-called Ideology, I recommend reading the book “Dau Qaumi Nazriya: Aik Taareekhi Jaiza” by Professor Amjad Ali)
As a part of Historical Revisionism, Allama Iqbal’s poetry was used to stir up emotions of Nationalism and Pan-Islamism. Thousands of books have been written on Iqbal, most of them in his praise and very few in critiques. I will try to present some aspects of Iqbal’s poetry that I consider to be erratic and anachronistic.
Iqbal himself can be categorized as a historical revisionist. He remained passionate about Pan-Islamism throughout his life. While the argument that all the adherents of a religious ideology should combine and form one entity is very promising but it is utopian at best. Iqbal, of all people, would have known that since the death of Caliph Usman, Muslims have NEVER been a single entity throughout history. In fact, more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims in the last 1400 years than by people from other faiths.
Iqbal’s idea of an all conquering  “Mard-e-Momin” is not very different from the “Superman” of Neitzche. Allama Iqbal also propagated the idea of Muslim Supermacism i.e. only Muslims deserve to lead the world. This approach has led to a national cultural narcissism.
There is no place for women in Iqbal’s poetry, echoing a patriarchal approach by the esteemed poet. According to Mohammad Haneef, Iqbal wanted Muslim youth to take refuge in Mountains and that Martyrdom should be our ultimate aim. Now that the youth (TTP) has taken up all these endeavors, we can’t even stop them because we always taught them to do so. Interestingly, the most remarkable work done by Iqbal were his lectures titled “Reconstructing Islamic thought”. We do not find any reference to those lectures in mainstream media or textbooks only because they don’t teach anything about following without thinking(Taqleed) rather they slam this approach. There are also many contradictions in Iqbal’s poetry regarding structure of State. Iqbal criticized Democracy, Capitalism and Communism but did not hint at what kind of state he perceived. This issue has been highlighted by Dr Javed Iqbal, Iqbal son, in his autobiography(Apna Garebaan Chaak).Iqbal wrote most of his poetry in either Urdu or Persian, while the majority of Muslim Population communicated in Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi or Pashto. According to figures collected in 1951, 54.6% people in Pakistan spoke Bengla, 28.4% spoke Punjabi, 7.2% spoke Urdu, 7.1% spoke Pashto while 5.8% spoke Sindhi. Keith Callard, Pakistan: Political Study, George Allen & Unwin, Oxford, 1957, p. 181). We declared Iqbal as our national poet despite the fact that fewer than 8 per cent of Pakistani people spoke Urdu as a first language(1981 national census). Iqbal’s so-called plan for Pakistan(due to which we credit him as the “dreamer/thinker of Pakistan, wrongly because 64 such suggestions had been publicly presented before 1930) did not include East Pakistan which was the hub of Muslim political activity in United India.

Due to so much diversity in the message of Iqbal, many elements have tried to use his poetry for their own agendas. Mullahs(clergymen), whom Iqbal opposed all his life and actively wrote against, blatantly used Iqbal’s message of Pan-Islamism for their own purposes.
In recent years, Iqbal’s poetry has been used for propaganda-mongering by Glenn Beck of Pakistan, Zaid Hamid who did two shows namely ‘Iqbal ka Pakistan’ and ‘Iqbal the Mysterious’ eulogizing the “mystic” aspects of Iqbal and attributed all kind of supernatural powers to Iqbal.
According to Nadeem Farooq Paracha, writer and blogger, “ I sometimes feel, a non-critical stance towards Iqbal’s work in this country has actually damaged his standing. He was a product of his time and well suited to compliment what was going in the minds of Indian Muslim men in the first half of the 20th century. But was he a visionary? I don’t think so. I don’t think his work is as relevant today as it is made out to be. Certainly not in a post-modern world where the notions of universalism based on certain singular concepts of faith and progress have long crumbled and given way to a healthy respect and need for democracy, pluralism and diversity.”

Despite all the above-stated criticism, I cannot deny the importance of Allama Iqbal as a poet and as a Philosopher. All I am saying is that we need to project a balanced image of Allama Iqbal and refrain from deification a mortal man. We also need an objective approach towards history so that our future generations do not suffer from paranoia as we are. We should also encourage constructive criticism of Iqbal and leave behind the notion that saying anything about Iqbal is akin to blasphemy.

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21 Responses to "Allama Iqbal: a critical perspective"

  1. Milestogo United States Safari iPhone says:

    Better late then never.

    This is a universal verse for all faiths.

  2. Sikander Canada Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Nice endeavor, i look forward to other critiques of Bacha Khan (failed politician and “leader”), Mujib Rehman (assassinated by his own people and stooge), Jinnah (who’s yet to be defined), Nehru (hard-headed, delusional character), Gandhi (megalomaniac). I might have to keep on looking forward to real critique on pakteahouse…

  3. hiob Germany Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    A scoundrel can camouflage himself as a poet, a quisling can present himself as a liberator, a megalomaniac as a philosopher-king, an arrogant person as a statesman, a history-sheeter-cheater as a great leader, a mumbler-jumbler as a religious scholar etc. and there will be always enough many opportunists, bootlickers, idiots, minions and cowards to adore him and put him on a pedestal.

    That is the trauma and the dark interior of this black-box religion from Arabia since 1400 years. Of honesty no sign of any life. Even the corpse of honesty has been powdered into the dreary desert sand.

    Thus you end up creating a rogue state of quislings for quislings as a scourge and molestation upon the following generations who are born-imprisoned into it and see no way out except to resort to wanton violence, self-deceit and hate-anger towards “others” as the only “life elixir”.

    If the creator-god had not been a sadist-cynic things would not have come thus far.

  4. Isaac Notwen United States Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:
    seems very appropriate, somehow.

    magine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the “Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again.” Hamish is shocked and declares that “No Scotsman would do such a thing.” The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again and this time finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing.”
    —Antony Flew, Thinking About Thinking

  5. Salman Saadat Saudi Arabia Internet Explorer Windows says:

    I absolutely agree with your last para….but quoting bloggers (Nadeem Paracha) as your critique on Iqbal does not strengthen your point of view at all. It would have been nice if u had brought up commentary from people who actually have researched on Iqbal’s work in perspective of history.

  6. Ajad Cheema United Kingdom Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Dekhna taqreer ki lazat key jo us ney kaha
    Mein ney jaana goya yeh bhi meray dil mein hai
    Kudos to author of this artcle!

  7. Thomas United States Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    All histories, ALL of them, are propaganda…… The human species has not progressed sufficiently to be objective… Too many hidden motives, hidden delusions….hidden hopes and we should not forget FEAR!

    Check out this: U.S. Judge wants t6o give historical documents to the POLICE in Northern Ireland… Those who told the truth could end up in PRISON, the liars go free….. Such is history…

    “A federal judge in Boston has turned aside a motion by the trustees of Boston College to quash subpoenas that order them to turn over recordings of former members of the IRA to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

    The recorded materials must be turned over to the judge by today, Wednesday.

    Last June, the Jesuit university filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Boston to, according to a statement at the time, “quash the subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office as to the release of certain portions of the University’s Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.”

    The archive, which covers the thirty years of the Northern Ireland Troubles, is stored on campus in the college’s Burns Library and is comprised in large part of interviews conducted by journalists Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre over a five year period between 2001 and 2006. Interviewees were offered anonymity for as long as they lived.

    One of the interviewees, Brendan Hughes has since died but another key interviewee, Dolours Price, is still living.

    The legal assault against the library’s walls began with a request to the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston from the PSNI earlier this year. The U.S. attorney’s office in turn presented the university with a sealed subpoena intended to obtain evidence linked to murders in Northern Ireland, some of them as far back as four decades ago.

    In his ruling, Judge William Young did not order Boston College to immediately turn over the materials to federal prosecutors.

    Instead, according to a Boston Globe report, Young said in his 48-page ruling that he would review the materials and decide on the next step, writing that the subpoenas were made in good faith, and were relevant to a non-frivolous criminal inquiry.

    Last June, in its motion, BC stated: “We are asking the court to weigh the important competing interests in this matter. Our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.”

    When the story first broke, BC spokesman Jack Dunn said that the university was concerned over the possible ramifications for its oral history project, the safety of those interviewed for the project “and the peace process itself.”

    Dunn said that Boston College’s “sole interest” in the process of compiling the archive on the Troubles was “the preservation of the truth and to support peace in Northern Ireland.”

    Dunn, told the Globe that the university was, however, pleased with the judge’s ruling.

    “While the motion to quash the subpoenas was denied, the court, in agreeing to review the research materials granted [the college] what it was seeking by promising to determine what materials, if any, are relevant to the criminal investigations,” he said.

    Judge Young, according to the report, acknowledged some of BC’s concerns, but added that the recordings were relevant to investigations of crimes including murder and kidnapping. He also said the United States had an obligation under a treaty with Britain to turn over the materials.

    “These are serious allegations, and they weigh strongly in favor of disclosing the confidential information,” Young wrote in his decision.

    In a statement, Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre, whose motion to intervene in the case was rejected by the court, said: “We are naturally disappointed but we confidently expect BC to take up Judge Young’s implied invitation to lodge an appeal.

    “One way or another this fight will go on. There are very important issues at stake – legal & political – that could adversely affect vital and essential U.S. interests, both domestic and international. Not least among the latter is the Good Friday Agreement in which President Clinton, Senator Mitchell and virtually the entire American body politic invested so much energy, time, effort and not least their personal and national prestige to bring a seemingly intractable and bloody conflict to an end.

    “As anyone familiar with the background to this case can attest, the enforcement of these subpoenas has the real potential to create an immensely destabilizing political crisis in Northern Ireland.

    “It comes at a time when the British government is refusing to properly investigate allegations of murder connived at by its own security and intelligence services. The double standards involved in all this will send a clear and unmistakable message to everyone in Northern Ireland, a message that reverberates down through the sad, tragic and bloody history of Ireland’s relationship with Britain.

    “It would be an event of extraordinary irony that a decision of a court in a country which expended so much political capital to secure peace in Ireland could threaten all that was achieved over so many long and difficult years.

    “Given Boston College’s long record of nurturing a resolution to the conflict, as well as the solemn assurances to protect confidentiality given to those involved in this oral history project, we therefore look forward to an early announcement of the college’s intention to appeal.”

    Moloney and McIntyre are being supported in their battles against the subpoenas by a number of Irish American organizations including the Brehon Law Society and Irish American Unity Conference.”

  8. rex minor Germany Google Chrome Windows says:

    This reminds me of a story I heard several years ago. A bar keeper in a Moscow hotel asks a black american hotel guest, excuse me Sir, are you an irish man? Is’nt being black not bad enough?

    Rex Minor
    PS this was before the current American President visit to Ireland and claimed his kinship on account of his white mother.

  9. rex minor Germany Google Chrome Windows says:

    This reminds me of a story I heard several years ago. A bar keeper in a Moscow hotel asks a black american hotel guest, excuse me Sir, are you an irish man? Is’nt being black not bad enough, replied the guest?

    Rex Minor
    PS this was before the current American President visit to Ireland and claimed his kinship on account of his white mother.

  10. AM Pakistan Google Chrome Windows says:

    @salman saadat
    i’ve quoted from other people as well, If u are interested in reading more critique about Iqbal,Professor Ali Abbas Jalalpuri wrote some of the best of it.

  11. hiob Germany Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Iqbal eulogized the muslim killer who had assassinated Pandit Lekh Ram as hero of islam. Even one such incidence shows that islam had made Iqbal into a scoundrel. In Iqbal’s Pakistan killers of non-muslims will be called heroes. How do you change that?

  12. imran mirza Pakistan Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Qadianis and indians having a party…..same old stuff
    how can one accept qadianis to be pro-Pakistani when their gang leader mirza qadiani is buried in qadian india?????

  13. The Raaj 2 Germany Google Chrome Windows says:

    imran mirza wrote:

    how can one accept qadianis to be pro-Pakistani when their gang leader mirza qadiani is buried in qadian india?????

    You Pakis, you are really one of a kind, when it comes to logic! He-He!

    One could counter and say, “How can one consider Muslims to be pro-Pakistani when their gang-leader Muhammad is buried in Medina, Saudi Arabia!”

    One may say, when Muhammad died there was no Pakistan! Well same is the case with Qadian. When Mirza Ghulam Ahmad died then too there was no Pakistan! He died in 1908. Pakistan was part of British India. Qadian was in the same country as the forefathers of all the Pakis.

    Since Qadian was perhaps in the same country as the forefathers of all the Pakis from today, perhaps Mirza Ghulam Ahmad should be considered much closer to Pakistanis, than say Muhammad, who is buried 3500 km away, whereas Mirza is just buried 100 kms from Lahore!

  14. Sachbol United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    The Raaj 2
    Pakistani dont have forfathers but Fourfathers
    And Fourth one is by the turn , Persia, Afghanistan, Japan and UK. It is based on the divine formula revealed by Islamic Godhood for distriubting Booty, Khum or Maal-e Ghanimat. As you can see, their Godhood made in te image of 6th century medieval manhood have come up with high standards in distributing women, children and wealth and actively participate in the game of winning Zar, Zoru and Zameen as highest spiritual ideals.

  15. As a native of Ireland I have witnessed the blood stained struggle of my young nation to enter into an era where the gun has finally been laid down,where young and old can go about their lives without fear and now have hopes and dreams and the rhetoric of hate,bigotry and siege mentality is finally being broken down after hundreds of years.I see all too clearly the reactions from your blogs,how your reasoned call for an open society that respects all peoples regardless of their race,your call for a nation which treats all faiths equally and a humanitarian dialogue be entered into provokes some very bitter responses. I have never observed you being disparaging of anyone.Yet this stirs up many similar responses of cliche tit for tat point scoring that I heard in the darkest times of my nations history.The terrible truth is that where vengeance rests in a cold heart people can and do justify anything, in the name of a God,for retribution,in the right of the State. I sincerely hope that your efforts to sow the seeds of peaceful reconciliation will find root as this IS THE ONLY lasting solution for peace.In my country these grew from the pleas and tears of mothers for their children.We yearned for peace, to stop the sickness and madness and barbaric hold of evil. Continued strength and patience in your voice for tolerance to be heard

  16. kaalchakra United States Internet Explorer Windows says:

    Irish brother, the violence within Pakistan is a relatively recent phenomenon – less than a decade old. Already, all Islamic militants based in Pakistan and ISI have successfully reached an agreement and announced that they will not carry out violence within Pakistan anymore, focusing rather their efforts on NATO.

    Now, please help us see what we can actually learn by making a serious comparison with Ireland situation (other than that the killing of one human being is quite equivalent to the killing of all mankind).

  17. The Raaj 2 Germany Google Chrome Windows says:


    Already, all Islamic militants based in Pakistan and ISI have successfully reached an agreement and announced that they will not carry out violence within Pakistan anymore, focusing rather their efforts on NATO.

    kaalchakra, tell me something, are you a Pakistani living in America? It seems so, because you’re putting this up as great progress towards peace from the side of Pakistanis! Now they will be hitting NATO!!!! :-o

    other than that the killing of one human being is quite equivalent to the killing of all mankind

    What is this bullshit!
    Such a verse is NOT PRESENT in the Quran, though it is widely used by Islam-apologists! The verse in question is in the past tense, and it is directed at the “Children of Israel” and not at Muslims at all!
    Can you stop ascribing things to Islam that are not there!

    Now, please help us see what we can actually learn by making a serious comparison with Ireland situation

    Who is us? Is it the Pakistanis of various sects, or is it Indians and Pakistanis?

  18. hiob Germany Internet Explorer Windows says:

    to kaalchakra

    Pakistan was born out of violence and threats of violence. This violence and these threats have a 1400 year old history. You can’t suddenly separate the Pakistan idea from its arabian-turkish maraudery roots. There may have been some lulls in this violence. Even Jinnah threatened (1946) rivers of blood if Pakistan was not given. Pakistan is born out of muslim violence instigated by islam and out of lies written in the islamic history narrative.

    Muslims agreeing to not carrying out acts of violence against each other spells more violence against non-muslims.

    Where is there a muslim who says: “God is all-mighty and all-knowing and just and hence we muslims don’t need to use weapons, violence, threats, lies at all.” Even Mohammad did not say that. He too practised and instigated muslims to more violence, ruthlessness and banditry.

    This is show the basic hypocrisy in islam. Islam is an arab-made political imperialist totalitarian ideology and not a religion that leads humans to believe in a good-natured god. They may pose like that, but that is not their real belief or plan of action or goal.

    Those who praise islam are a danger to mankind due to the misleadment which they cause.

  19. Husainfive Canada Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    While calling for
    objectivity the writer himself is mostly subjective about the personalities he has chosen to critique and reinventing
    history himself. Iqbal was not an historian but a visionary and a poet. These
    people per force have to rely on symbolism and often hyperbole
    to express themselves. To be fair, Iqbal’s contribution should be viewed in
    this light. Whatever his shortcomings, there is no question that he lit the
    fire of Muslim nationalism in India which ultimately led to the creation of
    Pakistan. There was no other visionary of his stature in India at the time
    Muslim or non-Muslim. 

    When Iqbal referred
    to ‘ummah’ he did not specifically call
    for a politically unified state but for common brotherhood unified in faith.
    All the wars among the Muslims had political or hegemonic
    basis that did not affect the unity of faith. What is wrong if Iqbal strove
    for an Islamic ideal except that it does not appeal to the western oriented
    half-literate elites in Pakistan? He never espoused religious extremism
    and vehemently condemned and ridiculed the mullas. To accuse him of fathering
    TTP terrorists is preposterous.

    Naseen Hejazi was a
    novelist who used history as background to place his characters. To accuse him
    of ‘revising’ history is meaningless for he did not write history.

    Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi was not
    an invented figure. Like so many others at the time he too feared that Islam in
    India was losing its essential character and called for its revival —- hence
    the title mujjaded-alfe-sani.
    The movement had a profound effect that many believe saved Islam in India.
    Nemesis or not, Jehangir (not Akbar) put him jail in 1619 fearing the threat he
    posed because of his ideas.

    In the same way, to belittle
    Shah Waliullah is to belie history. He too was deeply perturbed at the Muslim
    decline in India and actively sought to revive their fortunes. He felt that
    Muslims had deviated too far and lost their way. The solution according to him
    lay in reverting to the basics. The movement he led had a profound influence on
    Muslim thought that lasted more than a century. It gave rise to such figures as
    Syed Ahmed Shaheed, Haji Shariatullah, Dadhu Mian and Titu Mir who caused much
    concern and trouble for the Sikhs and later the British.

    Only 8 per cent of Pakistanis
    may speak Urdu at home but almost all of them understand it. This is true even
    for much of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and even India. Bengali is spoken and
    understood only in Bengal, nowhere else. Did this not make Urdu the natural
    choice for Pakistan’s national language rather than Bengali?

    It is patently false that ‘
    more Muslims have been killed by other Muslims in the last 1400 years than by
    people from other faiths.’ What to speak of the last fourteen
    hundred years, in the last twenty years alone the West has killed more Muslims
    than the number that died perhaps in all the earlier wars —- 3 million in
    Iraq alone, a similar number in Afghanistan both by the Russians and Americans.
    After 1857 the British went on a killing spree in India that lasted for more
    than two years. An estimated ten million remained unaccounted for after this,
    the vast majority of them Muslims. More than one million Muslims were butchered
    by Hindus and Sikhs in East Punjab in 1947. These are documented figures and
    there is much more. At no time in all of  history did Muslims kill even a
    fraction of this number of Muslims and non-Muslims combined anywhere.

    If the writer can associate
    with, ‘ post-modern world where the
    notions of universalism based on certain singular concepts of faith and
    progress have long crumbled and given way to a healthy respect and need for
    democracy, pluralism and diversity’,’ whatever that means, would it not reasonable to grant Iqbal and his
    followers the understanding and accommodation to have a vision that is diverse
    and different? Criticism for the sake
    of criticism has no meaning.

  20. paktea Pakistan Unknow Browser Unknow Os says:

    @da7bb2a9f94e4782162af1ead4187e2b:disqus  Unfortunately, you have raised some good points but you have used your own opinion while I have properly referenced the “Shah Waliullah” and “Ahmad Sirhindi” points. The way you have thunk is exactly why Dr Mubarak Ali had to write that book, you have read whatever has been propagated by our textbooks and revivalist authors, without going to the original sources. 
    Regarding Naseem Hijazi you have painted a very black and white picture that he is a novelist. I admit that he is but half the people I know, started reading about muslim history BECAUSE they had read Naseem Hijazi earlier. He is a Phenomenon, not just your ordinary novelist. 
    In matter of Urdu, how can you justify that ALL of them understood Urdu? I have based my findings on the census reports published in 1951 and you have just used common logic which probably is not the best tool in an intelligent debate.
    Regarding “Muslims have killed more muslims” thing, I might be wrong but I might be true. Did you know that during the 90 year reign of Banu Umayya, ELEVEN major battles were fought in which lacs of people died? In 2 instances even Khaana Kaaba was bombarded with stones, later most of Khaleefas were assassinated by OTHER muslims, Right after conquering Spain, the conquerers started infighting and even at the end(in 14th century) this trend continued..and please spare me this myth that Iqbal was the FOUNDER of Muslim Nationalism in India, NO he was not. 
    Try not to use your OWN assumptions to argue against authors(not talking about myself) with much more knowledge than we have. 

  21. Great Collection Of Urdu And English Shayaris And Quotes. Latest Shayari And Poetry Collection Of Dr. Iqbal Sahab.
    beautiful quotes by dr. iqbal sahab

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