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Why Iqbal Still Matters Today

Allama Iqbal's message reminds us to reflect upon and understand the true teachings of the Quran

Sunday April 21, 2019 10:41 PM, Azher Quader

Allama Iqbal Death Anniversary

Mohammad Iqbal is a household name among South Asians in general. Many know him as an inspiring poet philosopher from the East. Equally many regard him as the Founder of Pakistan the one who originally conceived the idea and promoted the notion of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims to have. His love and adoration however is not confined to the Pakistanis. There are as many, if not more, Iqbal Societies in India as there are in Pakistan. Interestingly, not so well realized by most South Asians, he was a powerful influence in inspiring the over throw of the Shah regime in Iran through his Persian works.

Iqbal draws different emotions among different groups of people who cherish him for different reasons. To the progressive he is a prophet for change, to the revolutionary he is a voice for jihad, to the oppressed he is a beacon of hope, to the powerful he is a reminder on their responsibility for the weak, to the proud he is a teacher of humility, to the depressed and miserable he is a reason for optimism, to the lost and wandering he is a mentor and guide, to the dwellers in mediocrity he is a preacher for excellence, to the timid and fearful he is a source of courage.

Yet among the young Muslims born and grown in America and the west he remains largely a vague and distant figure, unknown, perhaps better stated, un discovered. The obvious reason can be traced to his works being in Urdu and Persian, and the non-familiarity of American Muslim youth with those languages. The irony remains that Iqbal’s message is primarily aimed at the youth on whom he pins all his hopes for the future of the community.

At Community Builders, we have frequently discussed the life and works of Iqbal because we believe Iqbal’s message is key to building individual character and personality, which in his terminology he calls 'khudi'. We believe that if enough individuals embrace his message and practice it, a foundation will be laid for the establishment of a strong and prosperous community from which can come future leaders in various walks of life.

His message reminds us to reflect upon and understand the true teachings of the Quran, removing the crusted cover of Ajami thought and interpretations that have obscured it’s message and made it lose its powerful life changing impact that it once had, over the Arabs of earlier times.

So why does this matter for us today, seeing that we all believe in the expected standards of believing in Allah, His prophet (pbuh), His Quran, His angels, the Hereafter and the pillars we so devoutly follow? But there is a difference in the way we believe and the way Iqbal insists we should believe.

Our belief is not the belief of a momin or a true believer he exclaims. The kind of belief in tawheed that animates us with passion so great he suggests, that would enable us to see beyond the racial, geographic and ethnic boundaries we draw, separating man from fellow man. The kind of belief in the Hereafter and the concept of accountability with such awe and fear, he says, that would inspire us to live a life of caring and compassion, forgiveness and mercy, service and sacrifice far greater than what we practice today. The kind of belief in the distribution of wealth he declares, which not only motivates us to live a life of moderation and austerity, but also fight for the elimination of poverty and dependence so that the economic rights of the poor are protected and preserved. Over a century ago he could see through the smoke screen of profit driven capitalism, the greed factor which would be its inevitable undoing, creating the enormous gaps between the rich and the poor we are seeing today here in America.

For Iqbal, the spiritual and the commercial domains could not mingle without compromising the religious dimensions of the spiritual experience. He wrote against the growing commercialization of the environment around the Kaaba, even in his times. Today not only have we normalized our Umrah experiences to become holiday experiences, we demand no less pleasures to feel within the mirrored and marbled sacred spaces we are building at home, where the spiritual is increasingly more difficult to find.

Iqbal’s call for living a life of action not reaction, of struggle not complacency, of engagement not withdrawal speaks very much to our needs and our present condition. Our lives are consumed with reacting to whatever we hear in the evening news. We clog the streets on ‘chand raaths’ but are nowhere to be seen when others march the same streets rallying for immigrant rights and for protections from police excesses. We say we believe in political engagement and empowerment but are woefully absent from making the small effort to get out and vote.

Iqbal’s remarkable capacity to self-correct himself, is evident in his ideological journey from nationalism to globalism. Today as we watch the world falling apart, inspired by the corrosive narrative of self indulgent nationalism, it is becoming increasingly obvious that policies promoting national interests alone without any regard for global concerns, are bound to result in greater conflict and increasing insecurities.

Trump’s obsession with border security, his attitude towards banning refugees and antagonizing immigrants, his withdrawal from international treaties and his blatant disregard for international relations, is an experiment in misguided patriotism, which Iqbal would have strongly disapproved of. In adopting globalism over nationalism, Iqbal was simply recognizing not only the responsibilities of individuals to one another as prescribed by the Quran, but also of nations to each other as a divine imperative for a peaceful world.

Finally, Iqbal believes in the essential dynamism of Islam, in its need to renew itself through ijtehad, in order to meet the changing circumstances within societies during the course of time. In the famous series of lectures “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam“ Iqbal declared:

“…but since things have changed and the world of Islam is to-day confronted and affected by new forces set free by the extraordinary development of human thought in all its directions, I see no reason why this attitude (finality of legal schools) should be maintained any longer. Did the founders of our schools ever claim finality for their reasoning and interpretations? Never. The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessor, should be permitted to solve its own problems.”

Posted below are few of Allama Iqbal’s writings pertaining to the issues referenced above, just to give the readers, especially the youth, a taste of his poetry, with an apology for those who are unable to read and understand in Urdu, for whom the English translation which is a very poor substitute for the original will be the best that can be offered:

Yaqeen Afrad Ka Sarmaya-E-Tameer-E-Millat Hai
Yehi Quwwat Hai Jo Soorat Gar-E-Taqdeer-E-Millat Hai

The certainty (of belief) of individuals is the capital for building the community;
This is the power which draws the portrait of the fate of the community.


Yaqeen Mohkam, Amal Peham, Mohabbat Faateh-E-Alam
Jahad-E-Zindagani Mein Hain Ye Mardon Ki Shamsheerain

Firm belief (in the Revealed Guidance), relentless action, a world conquering love—
These are the swords (and shields) of men in the battles of life.


Amal Se Zindagi Banti Hai Jannat Bhi, Jahanum Bhi
Ye Khaki Apni Fitrat Mein Na Noori Hai Na Naari Hai

By action life may become both paradise and hell;
This creature of dust in its nature is neither of light nor of fire.


Musalman Ko Musalman Kar Diya Toofan-E-Maghrib Ne
Talatum Haye Darya Hi Se Hai Gohar Ki Seerabi

The storm in the West made Muslims Muslims.
Pearls are produced in abundance from the very buffetings of the sea.


Tadabur Ki Fasoon Kari Se Mohkam Ho Nahin Sakta
Jahan Mein Jis Tamaddan Ki Bina Sarmayadari Hai

That civilization of the world, which is founded on capitalism,
Can never be become strong by spellbinding schemes.


Baraheemi Nazar Paida Magar Mushkil Se Hoti Hai
Hawas Chup Chup Ke Seenon Mein Bana Leti Hai Tasweerain

But it is difficult to create the insight of Abraham (A.S.);
Desire insidiously paints pictures in our breasts.


Butan-E-Rang-O-Khoon Ko Torh Kar Millat Mein Gum Ho Ja
Na Toorani Rahe Baqi, Na Irani Na Afghani

Break the idols of colour and blood and become lost in one community.
Let neither Turanians, Iranians nor Afghan remain.


Sabaq Phir Parh Sadaqat Ka, Adalat Ka, Shujaat Ka
Liya Jaye Ga Tujh Se Kaam Dunya Ki Imamat Ka

Learn again the lessons of truth, of justice and of courage
You will be asked some day to lead and be responsible for the affairs of your world.


Cheeno Arab hamaara, Hindosthan hamara
Muslim hain ham watan hai sara jahan hamara

China is our home, Arabia is our home, India is our home
As Muslims and believers in being one creation, the whole world is our home.


Mai naqusho bezaar hun mar mar ki silaon sey
Mere liye matti ka haram aur bana do

I am tired and unhappy with all this marble around the Kaba
Build me a a simple Haram from mud to worship at

[The writer, Azher Quader, is associated with Community Builders Council, Chicago. The above article is published to mark Allama Iqbal's death anniversary. He had died on April 21 in 1938.]

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