Questioning the Relevance of Iqbal

Oxford Dictionary defines “Relevance” as “the fact of being valuable and useful to people in their lives and work”. Relevance is an interesting concept. It is also a very useful one. Granting the certificate of relevance to a theoretical concept is the ultimate nod of approval. Conversely, refusing to acknowledge the relevance of an ideology or concept is the death sentence for it.

At best, labeling an ideology or philosophy as irrelevant is a license to store it somewhere in a way forgotten relics are stored in the museums. At worst, it is a license to burn books and the people who hold those books dear. In some cases, the former is only the first step towards the eventual latter end.

The Great Iqbal

Iqbal is a world-renowned philosopher, thinker, and ideologue. He is also revered as the intellectual father of Pakistan and its Islamic ideology. His electrifying poetry has brought revolutions in Pakistan (1940s), and Iran (1979). Iqbal can easily be designated as the foremost philosopher and apostle of modern Islamic nationalism of the 20th century and beyond. His ideas represent the strongest intellectual bastion of modern Islamic nationalism. Not for nothing, the likes of Dr. Ali Shariati, Maulana Maududi, and Allama Mohammad Asad singled out Iqbal as a mentor and an inspiration.

For Pakistan, Iqbal is indisputably as important as Marx was to the Soviet Union. Discredit Iqbal, declare his ideology as irrelevant and you will succeed in destroying the relevance and justification of the existence of Pakistan. It’s as simple as that! So, those who want this country destroyed, or at least warped beyond recognition (akin to the conversion of Minas Ithil into Minas Morgul in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) have their work cut out for them.

It’s not just about Pakistan though. Pakistan is just a country struggling to achieve Iqbal’s vision.

Iqbal’s vision is so much larger than the present Westphalian state of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Love, reverence, and relevance of Iqbal are not confined to the state of Pakistan. Iqbal finds an abode in every heart which beats with the rendition of La Ilaha ilallah.

From Turkey to Bangladesh, from the sands of Arabia to the snows of the Karakoram, Iqbal galvanizes the minds, bodies, and energies of those who have given themselves over to the cause of Islamic justice, Islamic freedom, and Islamic revolution.

As Dr. Ali Shariati put it very succinctly in his book “Iqbal – The 20th Century Reformer”:

“It is no accident that when Iqbal’s name is mentioned and the possibility arises that our Muslims will come to know Muslim visages like his, fear grips those who live off the ignorance of the people, who are afraid of consciousness, who are the guardians of the darkness, sleep, and indifference of Muslim societies and who are responsible for maintaining the masses as herds of sheep, for it is they who are threatened.”

Verily, those who wish to keep the Muslims indolent and enslaved fear Iqbal more than all the weapons possessed by all the armies of Muslim countries combined.

How Iqbal’s Relevance Is Being Questioned?

Now that we have established the who and the why of questioning Iqbal’s relevance, let us discuss how Iqbal’s relevance is being questioned. Actually, it’s being done on two levels. One, targeting Iqbal as a person. Two, targeting Iqbal’s ideas. An example of the first can be observed in a lecture given by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy. Dr. Hoodbhoy tries to use spurious arguments to declare that Iqbal was not a philosopher and personally he was a confused soul who was a nationalist on one day and an Islamist on the other.

It seems a bit strange for a physicist to oust a Ph.D. in philosophy (a degree which Hoodbhoy never earned) from the ranks of philosophers. Maybe renowned philosophers like Professor Arnold, Bergson, and Ali Shariati were wrong to recognize and respect Iqbal as a fellow philosopher. Maybe all should accept Dr. Hoodbhoy as an authority on who is a philosopher and who isn’t since he is such an omniscient fellow?

But is it just Dr. Hoodbhoy’s boundless arrogance that blinds him, or is a deeper play at work here? After declaring Iqbal as a non-philosopher, Hoodbhoy continues on to declare him a confused soul. “Which Iqbal are we to believe as legitimate? The one who wrote the “Tarana-e-Hindi” and “Naya Shavala”, or the one who wrote the “Tarana-e-Milli” and “Wataniyat”? asks Hoodbhoy. Now here’s something very revealing. Anyone even remotely familiar with Iqbal knows that in the early days Iqbal was indeed a nationalist but after 1908, he became an unabashed advocate of Islam as the foremost basis of identity and nationhood for all Muslims. The work of Iqbal during his nationalist phase consists of a few poems in the Bang-e-Dara and constitutes less than 5% of his writings. Lastly, Iqbal himself repudiated his early infatuation with the idea of secular Indian nationalism just as he decisively and unambiguously repudiated Qadiyaniyat and the unionist party. Even a physicist like Hoodbhoy couldn’t be ignorant of these facts which destroy his assertion of Iqbal’s intellectual confusion decisively. Then why does he utter it? It’s because of the fact that Hoodbhoy is not just a simple bitter, arrogant, ignorant fellow bent on iconoclasm as a strategy of self-aggrandizement. He is also a person bent on discrediting Islam as a political force. He is also bent on destroying Pakistan as an ideological state. That’s why later in the same lecture he says that he greatly fears the ideology of Iqbal!

Basically ilk like Hoodbhoy hopes to destroy Iqbal, and Pakistan through enlisting a very valuable and powerful ally: Our ignorance and indolence. He very cleverly tells a seemingly plausible lie that will fall apart with the slightest bit of research because he knows that the vast majority of us wouldn’t bother to do the slightest bit of research!

It’s ultimately our own laziness and ignorance that endangers the ideological and physical foundations of Pakistan. If we just try to objectively analyze the charges laid on Iqbal by these vessels of foreign imperialism, these slaves of the West, these “intellectuals”, we will discover that their arguments are hollow, their reasoning is spurious, and their intent is malicious.

For instance, let us examine some common charges laid on Iqbal by this clique. They declare Iqbal a misogynist, but Iqbal declares in Rumuz-e-Bekhudi:

What Muslim reckons her (womankind) a servant, nothing more,

No part has (he) won of the Book’s wisdom.

It’s just that these purveyors of hackneyed thought cannot envision concepts like feminism or women’s rights other than the ones propagated by the west. Well, if we are to accept the societies that have industrialized the objectification and sexualization of women as the sole legitimate defenders of women’s rights, then we might follow suit and reject all other ideas in this domain. But if we do possess a functioning brain, and if we aren’t bribed into becoming peddlers of lies and deceit, then we will find ourselves in unison with Iqbal in completely denouncing these hypocrites and sellouts. Iqbal has eloquently described the reality of these “intellectuals” in Rumuz-e-Bekhudi:

Thy mind is prisoner to others’ thoughts,

Another’s music throbs within thy throat,

Thy very speech is borrowed, and thy heart

Dilates with aspirations not thine own.

Similarly, Iqbal’s refusal to accept science as God has been used to pander to the lie that Iqbal was against scientific education, and Iqbal’s justifiable equation of Fascism and colonial Imperialism as forces of darkness and carnage has been used to propagate the lie that Iqbal was pro-fascism!

In this article, I have sufficiently, and objectively exposed and discredited those who have used lies and spurious arguments to question Iqbal’s relevance. But does proving ignorant ilk like Hoodbhoy wrong prove the relevance of Iqbal? Well, tearing a false allegation to bits is useful to vindicate one’s point of view but I won\’t stop here. In the next article, I will objectively analyze some of Iqbal’s ideas and examine whether they are relevant in the present day and age, or not.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times

Dr. Syed Hassaan Bokhari

Dr. Hassan Bokhari, a professional with expertise in medicine, history, and research, offers a unique perspective shaped by his passion for history and contemporary affairs. He can be reached on X @SHBokhari13.

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