The Relevance of Iqbal

Note: This article is a sequel of the first article published here, titled ‘Questioning the Relevance of Iqbal.’

The last article discussed the people who are questioning the relevance of Iqbal, and their motives. This article will venture to briefly discuss some of Iqbal’s pivotal ideas so that the objective reader can decide whether Iqbal is relevant today, or not.

How to decide whether some concept is relevant? Well, first of all, the concept has to be theoretically, logically, and ethically correct. It needs to have philosophical coherence as well in order to be deemed correct. Second, it has to be practical. Concepts that are theoretically alluring but practically implausible rarely do anyone much good. So, a concept or philosophy has to be practically plausible in the present-day time and space for it to be relevant in the present day and age. Third, it has to be worthwhile. Worthwhile means that the concept has to be cost-effective in the sense that the effort spent in implementing it is worth the reward reaped in the end. If a philosophy scores high on these three criteria then it should be deemed as being highly relevant.

Now that the framework for judging Iqbal objectively is clear, we can move forward and discuss some of the ideas of the sage. Iqbal was a philosopher who focused both on the individual and the collective/nation. Like Aristotle or Nietzsche, Iqbal also created the portrait of an ideal man. But the qualities Iqbal ascribed to that ideal man were also transferrable and recommended on a collective and national level. So, when studying the traits of Iqbal’s ideal man, we need to keep in mind that Iqbal meant these traits to be exhibited by the ideal state as well. Then, there are some ideas that were meant only for the nation/collective.

To begin the discussion, there are six core ideas meant both for the individual and the collective and three ideas meant only for the collective/nation.

Faith in Allah, and Love for the Prophet (S.A.W.)

We live in a world based on the phenomena of cause and effect. Every event has a preceding event(s) that caused it, every creation has a creator behind it etc. But the question that perplexed many a thinker and philosopher was the problem of the first cause. The first cause cannot be explained on the basis of the cause and effect phenomena. A device that can be, and has been, used for the discussion and explanation of the first cause is the use of “a priori” knowledge. A priori knowledge is a type of knowledge considered to be true without being based on empirical experience or observation. A priori concepts have been used by many philosophers to serve as the bedrock of their whole epistemological enterprises and core ideas. Iqbal has also used an a priori form of knowledge to serve as the core idea of his philosophy. He has declared “La ilaha ilallah Muhammad Rasool Allah” the ultimate truth behind all philosophy, all ethics, all politics, and all the world. According to Iqbal, only on the basis of this core idea can the theoretical and philosophical questions of mankind be sufficiently (though not completely, on account of the limited faculties of humans to observe and analyze phenomena outside the ambit of the five senses and the binary mode of thinking inherent to humans) solved. Only on the basis of this core idea can the ideal man, ideal society, ideal state, and the ideal world be created.

This a priori faith in Allah and his prophet (S.A.W.) is essential for the relevance and application of all the other ideas of Iqbal. That is why only those belonging to the Islamic faith can truly partake of Iqbal’s stream of ideas. Others can find parts of Iqbal relevant, they can appreciate his sublime intellect but they can never grasp his wholesome concept of the universe without accepting this core idea. So, in all fairness, we can say that the relevance of Iqbal in the true sense is mostly confined to those who subscribe to the notions of Tawheed and Risalat.

That is why Iqbal says in his poem “Mazhab” (Bang-e-Dara):

اپنی ملت پر قیاس اقوامِ مغرب سے نہ کر
خاص ہے ترکیب میں قومِ رسولِ ہاشمی

ان کی جمعیت کا ہے ملک و نصب پر انحصار
قوتِ مذہب سے مستحکم ہے جمعیت تری

دامنِ دیں ہاتھ سے چھوٹا تو جمعیت کہاں
اور جمعیت ہوئی رخصت تو ملت بھی گئی

Muslims cannot conceive of a nationhood divorced from Islam according to Iqbal.

They cannot create a viable nation based on the idea of ethnic, linguistic, or racial solidarities like the West. If they do so, they will only create a weak and cheap imitation of the West because Islam is unequivocally opposed to promoting the ethnic/racial/linguistic identities over the identity based on the Islamic faith. Therefore, according to Iqbal, whenever Muslims attempt to emulate the West in this regard they will only create contradictions and confusion within the nation which will inhibit national unity and hence, the formation of a nation in the true sense. Iqbal’s prescience can be easily gauged from the failure of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Despite garnering immense popularity by advocating “Arab Nationalism”, his enterprise foundered miserably and his personal magnetism proved completely unable to resolve the fundamental contradiction between Universalist Islam and ethnic Arab nationalism. On the other hand, the Iranian revolution has endured by prioritizing Islam over the ethnic Persian identity.

Spirituality over Materialism

Iqbal is a fervent advocate of the superiority of spirituality rooted in faith over prosperity rooted in materialism. As an astute philosopher, Iqbal was clearly able to separate the governing dynamics from the outward signs and symptoms of events. He vehemently rejected materialism and the resultant prosperity as the goal of a nation. In Iqbal’s view, the path to individual and national greatness has nothing to do with the abundance of material or riches, rather it’s the utter indifference to material prosperity which frees the individual and the nation to unlock its hidden potential. Instead of prosperity, Iqbal identifies “Faqr” as the essential requirement before a quest for independence and greatness can be started. Failure to embrace Faqr results in humiliation and slavery.

کیا گیا ہے غلامی میں مبتلا تجھ کو
کہ تجھ سے ہو نہ سکی فقر کی نگہبانی

مثالِ ماہ چمکتا تھا جس کا داغِ سجود
خرید لی ہے فرنگی نے وہ مسلمانی

Egypt and Pakistan are glaring examples of nations who have repeatedly compromised their principles, independence, and honour in the pursuit of material prosperity. Egypt recognized Israel in 1979 because, in the view of the then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, it was better for Egypt to build up her economy with American help. This compromise on everything Egyptians held dear failed to even bring about prosperity for Egyptians. Sadat failed to realize that mere outside help cannot bring material prosperity, only hard work and organization can do that. The immense national motivation required for this purpose in a society composed of Muslims can only be brought about by a spiritual strength rooted in faith. Since Sadat destroyed any chance of creating that motivation by supplicating before the Americans and the Zionists, he only managed to add humiliation to the material poverty of Egypt.

Iqbal, in contrast, holds up Ali (R.A.) as the model of an ideal individual and the Islamic state of Medina as the model of an ideal state, which showed the world how greatness can be achieved on the basis of spirituality even when one is stricken by immense material privation.

In our own day, we can easily appreciate the debasement of Arabs at the hands of a few Israelis despite the fact that the oil wealth has granted huge economic muscle to the Arabs, if we view the scenario by utilizing the lens of Iqbal’s seminal philosophy.

تری خاک میں ہے اگر شرر تو خیالِ فقر و غنا نہ کر
کہ جہاں میں نانِ شعیر پر ہے مدارِ قوتِ حیدری

Confidence and Self-reliance

Seek not thy daily bread from the bounty of another,

Seek not water from the fountain of the sun,

Lest thou be put to shame before the Prophet

On the Day when every soul shall be stricken with fear.


Confidence and self-reliance are central to Iqbal’s concept of Khudi. Faith and spirituality lead to the development of confidence in the self, which in turn leads to complete self-reliance. Without possessing this confidence, the chains of slavery cannot be broken because slavery is more of a psychological condition than a physical one. One who emancipates oneself in the mind will surely find a way to break the physical chains. On the other hand, one who is enslaved in the mind doesn’t need to be bound by actual chains of the master.

In Iqbal’s view, education on the basis of faith and spirituality is essential for the creation of individual and national confidence. Only after this confidence is created, a bid for true independence can be made.

Iqbal has been labeled by his detractors as a reactionary who was opposed to modern education. Nothing can be further from the truth. What Iqbal actually opposed was the poison of intellectual slavery that was (and is still) being disbursed as “education” by imperialists of the West, and “Uncle Toms” of the East.

سینے میں رہے رازِ ملوکانہ تو بہتر
کرتے نہیں محکوم کو تیغوں سے کبھی زیر

تعلیم کے تیزاب میں ڈال اس کی خودی کو
ہوجائے ملائم تو جدھر چاہے، اسے پھیر

تاثیر میں اکسیر سے بڑھ کر ہے یہ تیزاب
سونے کا ہمالہ ہو تو مٹی کا ہے اک ڈھیر

It is clear that Iqbal only means the non-scientific part of education here. The part which tells us to worship every thought that came out of the west and reject everything of ours as redundant, irrelevant, or reactionary. Iqbal here is primarily concerned with the mass education system. It is a well-known fact that the mass education system was developed as an essential ingredient of the modern nation-building exercise. Basically, every modern state sought to educate its masses so that by virtue of that specifically tailored education inhabitants of the state will be transformed into citizens emotionally invested in the state and its core principles. Even those states who sought to gain scientific knowledge from the West guarded the other parts of their education system intently. Japan and China stand out as a couple of shining examples that gained scientific knowledge from the West but preserved the specific national facets of the education system. As a result, the Japanese and Chinese never experienced the obsequiousness and intellectual slavery which is endemic in most Muslim societies of today as a result of completely submitting their education systems to foreign models.

Constant Struggle

Be void of fear, grief, and anxiety;

Be hard as a stone, be a diamond!

Whosoever strives hard and grips tight,

The two worlds are illuminated by him.


Confidence is primarily an internal state. Its abode is inside the mind. Its external or physical manifestation is expressed in the form of constant struggle according to Iqbal. In other words, it can be said that struggle is the visible aspect of Khudi. Confidence provides the impetus for struggle whereas struggle provides protection, and validation (through tangible success) to confidence. Patience is essential for ensuring the sustainability of struggle. Fear, grief, and anxiety are internal inhibitors of struggle which are initially combatted through confidence and later eradicated through validation provided by the success of the effort. Until success is attained, both confidence and struggle are maintained through reliance on faith and spirituality.

“We shall certainly test you by afflicting you with fear, hunger, loss of properties and lives and fruits. Give glad tidings, then, to those who remain patient.” (Al-Baqarah: 155)

Faith, spirituality, and confidence stand on weak ground in the absence of struggle. It is only through patient struggle that the external enemies are kept at bay so that the Muslims can proceed with their nation-building in peace. Iqbal wants us to be stoic, steadfast, hard, indefatigable, and invincible because he knows the practical reality that even the most sensible concepts can be blown away through the sheer exercise of might. Ideologies and beliefs have to be guarded otherwise the timid and the weak will proliferate and destroy the edifice from within in collusion with enemies from without.

Iqbal also knows that such an austere struggle cannot be maintained without a proper perspective. Those who want to struggle in service of his philosophy must first understand that this philosophy is completely divorced from the banal material rewards offered by life. He wants us to appreciate that life is not merely a sum of days, hours, minutes, and seconds. It’s an affirmation of the divine spirit which granted free will to humans as the vicegerents of God. The status of God’s true vicegerency can only be attained through constant struggle, and this attainment (instead of the banal and transient rewards like material prosperity or worldly power) is the sole rationale behind all the toil and struggle.

برتر از اندیشۂِ سود و زیاں ہے زندگی
ہے کبھی جاں اور کبھی تسلیمِ جاں ہے زندگی

تو اسے پیمانۂِ امروز و فردا سے نہ ناپ
جاویداں، پیہم رواں، ہر دم جواں ہے زندگی

زندگانی کی حقیقت کوہکن کے دل سے پوچھ
جوئے شیر و تیشہ و سنگِ گراں ہے زندگی


No wonder the champions of freedom and democracy sprung to action as soon as the Egyptian masses tore the chains of dictatorship and slavery in 2011. As soon as the West realized that the Egyptian Muslims’ notion of freedom was markedly different from the West, the champions of freedom and democracy didn’t rest until they had replaced the democratically elected government with a new, blood-thirsty dictatorship completely indebted to the West for its mere survival!

The word “freedom” has been much warped and adulterated by a certain country claiming the leadership of the “free” world. According to it, freedom is defined as the complete subjugation of all individuals and nations to the American social, economic, and ethical notions. Anyone who doesn’t fall in line is an enemy of “freedom”. Well, if we consider that definition as correct, we can label Iqbal as an enemy of “freedom”. But unlike intellectual slaves of the west, we have a much better concept of freedom thanks to philosophers like Iqbal. To us, freedom means freedom from imperialism, freedom from hackneyed thoughts, freedom from economic exploiters, freedom from external military coercion, freedom from intellectual slavery, freedom from injustice, and freedom from anyone and anything under the Sun. Only Allah is our master. We declare freedom from everyone except Him, we don’t accept any authority but His, and we don’t bow to any other but Him. As the famous Egyptian ideologue, Syed Qutb declared, “Islam is a universal declaration of the freedom of man from servitude to other men and from servitude to his own desires, which is also a form of human servitude; it is a declaration that sovereignty belongs to Allah alone and that He is the Lord of all the worlds.”

بدل کے بھیس پھر آتے ہیں اس زمانے میں
اگرچہ پیر ہے آدم، جواں ہیں لات و منات

یہ ایک سجدہ جسے تو گراں سمجھتا ہے
ہزار سجدے سے دیتا ہے آدمی کو نجات


Many renowned philosophers have attempted to define the “ideal” or the “super” man. The famous German philosopher Nietzsche even went as far as declaring that preparing the ground for the formation of Superman (Ubermensch) was the most important task and the reason for the existence of humanity itself!

Iqbal, who did imbibe some of Nietzsche’s thought, also came up with his own notion of superman. Iqbal’s Shaheen, possessing the core ideology of faith, spiritual strength, confidence, a capacity for unwavering struggle, and a capability to attain and guard true freedom for himself and others is the ideal man. Completely independent, fearless, and determined to crush the forces of evil (Batil), Iqbal’s Shaheen is ready to soar boldly and lead mankind to freedom and glory under Allah.

وائے نادانی کہ تو محتاجِ ساقی ہوگیا
مے بھی تو، مینا بھی تو، ساقی بھی تو، محفل بھی تو

شعلہ بن کر پھونک دے خاشاکِ غیر اللہ کو
خوفِ باطل کیا کہ ہے غارتگرِ باطل بھی تو

بے خبر! تو جوہرِ آئینۂِ ایام ہے
تو زمانے میں خدا کا آخری پیغام ہے

Unlike Nietzsche’s mythical superman, Iqbal’s Shaheen is firmly grounded in history. Ali ibn Abi Talib (R.A.) is one vivid example of the quintessential Shaheen. Through history, Iqbal makes it clear that the status of Shaheen is attainable, and its attainment by some among Muslims is absolutely necessary so that the nation can attain its destiny on Earth under their leadership. It was this understanding of the attributes of Shaheen that led Iqbal to believe, very early on, that a certain Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the only Muslim politician of note capable of leading the Indian Muslims to freedom. Bereft of outward religiosity, Jinnah seemed an odd choice given Iqbal’s affinity with Islam. But Iqbal was a practical philosopher whose gaze was astute enough to pierce through superficial attributes of personality. He recognized that the outwardly anglophile Jinnah possessed the confidence, capacity for struggle, and an incisive independent mind required for this role. All that was needed was to bind him more closely to the core ideology of faith and the rest would take care of itself. Similarly, Iqbal also quickly recognized that despite their considerable achievements, Mustafa Kamal of Turkey, and Reza Shah Pahlawi of Iran weren’t capable of serving in the roles of Shaheen.

نہ مصطفیٰ نہ رضا شاہ میں نمود اس کی
کہ روحِ شرق بدن کی تلاش میں ہے بھی


Now, three of Iqbal’s ideas primarily concerning the nation will be discussed:

Iqbal’s detractors have bizarrely tried to portray that Iqbal was a sympathizer of fascism. This charge can only be laid on Iqbal by one who is either ignorant of fascism, or Iqbal, or both. Fascism is a political philosophy that emphasizes extreme nationalism linked to race, language, and land. Most famous fascists include Hitler and Mussolini both of whom defined their politics as grounded in the concept of their race’s superiority over all others. Racialism was an essential tenet of fascism. Basically, fascism was just an extreme, racialist, and authoritarian form of nationalism.

On the other hand, if we study Iqbal’s thoughts on nationalism (and hence fascism) rooted in the notions of race, land, or language, we find him vehemently opposed to it.

Iqbal declares this worship of race, lineage, and land as little more than repackaged paganism.

He identifies this as the root cause of oppression, tyranny, economic exploitation, and unjust wars. Iqbal’s prescience can be gauged from the fact that he predicted these horrific results of nationalism and fascism long before these ideologies led to the Second World War in which humanity experienced the greatest carnage seen in history.

Instead of fascism and nationalism, Iqbal advised mankind to turn towards the concepts of Islam which reject attributes acquired through the accident of birth (race, place of birth, and lineage etc.) as the basis of nationhood and advocate the morality inherent in Islam as the only worthy basis of nationhood. He invites people of all races, regions, and ethnic groups to join the Islamic quest for social justice, equality, and universal fraternity. He exhorts people of all races to reject racism, tyranny, imperialism, and exploitation.

ان تازہ خداؤں میں بڑا سب سے وطن ہے
جو پیرہن اس کا ہے وہ مذہب کا کفن ہے

یہ بت کہ تراشیدۂِ تہذیبِ نوی ہے
غارت گرِ کاشانۂِ دین نبوی ہے

بازو تیرا توحید کی قوت سے قوی ہے
اسلام تیرا دیس ہے تو مصطفوی ہے

Islamic Unity

ایک ہوں مسلم حرم کی پاسبانی کے لئے
نیل کے ساحل سے لے کر تابخاکِ کاشغر

جو کرے گا امتیازِ رنگ و خوں، مٹ جائے گا
ترکِ خرگاہی ہو یا اعرابیِٔ والا گہر

نسل اگر مسلم کی مذہب پر مقدم ہوگئی
اڑ گیا دنیا سے تو مانندِ گردِ رہگذر

Nationalism is an archaic, tribalistic, and a somewhat pagan force in Iqbal’s view but it has its uses in some cases. For the nations of the West who had divorced religion from politics (rendering them akin to Genghis Khan in morality), nationalism did serve as a viable (though vile) ideology for nation-building. After all, Genghis Khan was very successful in building an empire on the skeletons of his countless victims. Iqbal does acknowledge these “merits” of nationalism, but he decrees that even these “benefits” of nationalism are unattainable for those who call themselves Muslims. Basically in Iqbal’s view, Europeans, Hindus, and others can build viable and strong nations on the basis of nationalism but Muslims can never do so unless they renounce Islam utterly. If Muslims were to attempt it, they would earn nothing but humiliation and the attempt will end in abject failure. Only Islam can supply Muslims with a viable ideology for the attainment of greatness and glory in this world according to Iqbal.

History supports Iqbal. All successful Muslim States and Empires from the Rashidun Khilafat to the Ottoman Empire espoused Islam as their ideological cornerstone. None of them was built on nationalism divorced from religion. In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Muslim rulers attempted to imitate the West but from Mohammad Ali of Egypt to the Arab Nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser to the apostle of “enlightened moderation” General Musharraf all failed. Only Kemal Ataturk met some success but his “secular and democratic” Turkey had to be protected through many military coups. After Ataturk’s death, almost all the elected governments of Turkey tried to bring Islam back into the Turkish polity, and they have succeeded to such an extent that the Turkey of today seems almost completely alien to Kemal’s vision.

Why did Iqbal believe that nationalism wouldn’t ever work for Muslims? Simply because Islam is a universal force that cannot be limited racially, ethnically, or geographically.

Islam declares all Muslims equal in rights and responsibilities and this notion spells death for nationalism. Islam’s universality doesn’t stop at abjuring nationalism. It further postulates that all Muslims, being members of a single nation, have to identify their social, economic, political, and strategic priorities in consonance with the Vision of global Islamic unity. Just as the disparate German states were welded into a Unified German state in 1871 on the basis of German unity, Iqbal envisions Muslims creating such a Union on the basis of Islam. Only then can the oppression of Muslims from Kashmir to Palestine be stopped.

By falling for the Western concepts of ethno-linguistic nationalism, Muslims have themselves barred their way to achieving wealth, power, and glory in this world (and success in the next). Our enemies will always like to see us divided, and at each other’s throats. Their nefarious designs can only be thwarted if we reject the senseless imitation of others and follow the path illuminated for us by our own luminaries like Iqbal. We don’t need Tagore (who even opposed the creation of a university for Muslims), Marx, Rousseau, or Bernard-Henri Levy to tell us what we should do. We have Iqbal, Ali Shariati, and Qutb.

A hundred nations thou hast raised from one,

On thy own fort made treacherous assault.

Be one; make visible thy Unity;

Let action turn the unseen into seen;

Activity augments the joy of faith,

But faith is dead that issues not in deeds.


Global Revolution

ستیزہ کار رہا ہے ازل سے تا امروز
چراغِ مصطفوی سے شرارِ بولہبی

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”

~ Mao Tse Tung

As Mao aptly put it, revolution is not something for the faint-hearted. It’s the culmination of a hard struggle that can only be attained through relentless theoretical and practical faith in ideology. All of Iqbal’s ideas are means to this end.

A revolution. A global revolution. An Islamic revolution! A revolution to free man from all servitude. A revolution to strike down the modern idols of materialism, nationalism, fascism, consumerism, and exploitative capitalism.

The quest between good and evil is as old as time. The lamp of Mustafa (S.A.W.) has been locked in eternal combat with the hellish flame of Abu-Lahab. After the attaining of Islamic unity, we will be in a position to launch a global revolution to wash away paganism, imperialism, injustice, and tyranny from this world. This is the goal of our community. This is the ultimate success that our struggle promises. Iqbal is upbeat, Iqbal is optimistic, Iqbal is raring to go.

Communism, socialism, liberalism, and many other –isms have been tried and found wanting. Iqbal wants the Islamic caravan to once again tread the roads that pass through Badr, Uhud, Hudaybiya, Hunain, Yarmuk, and Qadisiyyah. Once again he wants to see the social justice where even the son of Caliph Omar couldn’t escape the punishment for breaking the law. Where elites like the Governor of Egypt were chastised for arrogantly claiming superiority over the native Copts. Where knowledge and effort, instead of lineage and wealth determined one’s status in society. Iqbal has sounded the Clarion Call, when will the caravan answer?

توحید کی امانت سینوں میں ہے ہمارے
آساں نہیں مٹانا نام و نشاں ہمارا

تیغوں کے سائے میں ہم پل کر بڑے ہوئے ہیں
خنجر ہلال کا ہے قومی نشاں ہمارا

سالارِِ کارواں ہے میرِ حجاز اپنا
اس نام سے ہے باقی آرامِ جاں ہے ہمارا

اقبال کا ترانہ بانگِ درا ہے گویا
ہوتا ہے جادہ پیما پھر کارواں ہمارا

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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