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Iqbal: 20th century’s foremost Muslim philosopher

by on 11/09/2010

Source: RupeeNews.com

  • Sadi had cried over the destruction of Baghdad
  • Ibn-Badrun on the despoliation of Granada, and Dagh on the sack of Delhi.
  • Iqbal would now lament the desolation of Sicily. And he would do it as movingly, and as magnificently, as these three great bards.
  • With the years, Iqbal’s poems increasingly reflected the troubles of the Muslim world; they also mirrored the agitated mood of the Indo-Pakistani Muslims over these troubles. Perhaps, nothing reflected his new spiritual orientation as his famous Tarana-i-Milli (Islamic Anthem), and his soul-stirring poem on Trablas (Algeria).

allama-iqbal

Men like Iqbal are born, but in centuries. Indeed, Iqbal was the foremost Muslim philosopher of the 20th century. To quote Amir Shakib Arsalan, the world of Islam has not thrown up a thinker of his calibre during the last few centuries.

Born in 1977 in an intensely religious family of Kashmiri stock at Sialkot, Iqbal had ample opportunities to assimilate both eastern and western thought. His formal education included a study of Arabic, English literature and philosophy, besides social sciences. His quest for knowledge took him to Europe where he also became familiar with the groundwork of Western civilisation and with the current Western philosophic thought. He also taught philosophy for some years, and later earned his living through practice.
Iqbal made his debut as a rising poet in 1899, when he recited the Nala-i-Yatim (The Cry of the Orphan) at the annual session of Anjuman-i-Himayat-i-Islam, Lahore.

In the first phase of his poetic career, Iqbal was potently influenced by sufistic, romanticist and nationalist ideas. First, he sang of the mina (goblet) and saqi (wine-bearer) in the traditional style and in traditional forms. Second, he tried to introduce into Urdu the romanticist traditions of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Cowper and wrote on subjects concerning nature. Third, writing under a patriotic urge, he became the advocate of the emergent Indian nationalism. To this period belongs the Tarana-i-Hindi (The Indian Anthem), which according to Iqbal Singh “remains to this day the best patriotic poem in modern times.”

Iqbal considered the role of the poet in a nation the same as that of the eyes in the human body. “The eye cries if any limb is hurt; what a friend of the whole body it is!” he said once. And Iqbal wept at the calamities besieging India, mirrored his people’s troubles and translated their moods in his poems. He, thus, became not merely a champion of Indian nationalism. More important, he became a critique of life and existing conditions. He, thus, came to be hailed as the “National Poet of India”.

His studies and sojourn in Europe opened new vistas for him, enabling him to turn his back upon his previous orientation. First, his study of the development of metaphysics in Persia, the topic of his doctoral dissertation at Munich, showed him that tasuwwuf (mysticism) had no place in Islam. Sufism preached a life of negation: a passive, in place of an active life, resignation in place of endeavour. And Iqbal, now influenced by European thought, was all for endeavour, initiative and action.

Second, certain aspects of European life had a tremendous impact upon his sensitive and brilliant mind. He joyously admired the tremendous vitality and creativity of European life, the initiative, inquisitiveness, and confident restlessness of the people everywhere, to make the world better all the while. He also readily realised the tremendous possibilities before man, possibilities opened up by science, possibilities which were nevertheless undreamt of by people in his own country.

But he also found that undiluted capitalism, aggressive nationalism and blind racialism, prevalent in Europe, had undermined the very foundations of Western civilisation. He therefore, sounded a not of warning six years before the outbreak of the First World War:

O, dwellers of the cities of the West,
And that which you regard as true coin,
Will prove to be only a counterfeit.

Thus, while, on the one hand, he admired the West for its initiative and spectacular progress, he became, on the other, extremely disgusted with the European concepts of capitalism, nationalism and racialism, which divided mankind and encouraged endless competition and jealousy between nation and nation, race and race, and individual and individual. What, then, was the answer?

To Iqbal, Islam was the only answer. More than anything else, Islam envisaged a world brotherhood that cuts across racial, national and class affiliations. A brotherhood, which was not merely preached from the pulpit, but was also practised in daily life.

During early Islam, Umar, a proud Quraysh, Bilal, a freed Negro slave, and Salman, an Iranian, had stood on an equal footing, no matter what their race, colour, language, or country of origin. Islam also preached a sort of socialism – the greatest good of the greatest number. Its various injunctions worked towards levelling down, rather than exacerbating, economic inequalities. No wonder Iqbal came to embrace the Islamic ideal.

Thus, Iqbal, who had left India in 1905 as a nationalism and pantheist, returned to it in 1908 completely transformed: as a pan-Islamist and almost a puritan. Not that he loved India any the less, but that he now loved Islam and its ideals more. Albert Schiller had once proclaimed: “I write as a citizen of the world who serves no prince. I lost my fatherland to exchange it for the great world. What is the greatest of nations, but a fragment?” Such was Iqbal’s mood in his post European year.

The Prophet (PBUH) had once said: “The whole of this earth is a mosque (unto me).” Iqbal would now say: “Every country is our country because it is the country of our God.” The fatherland to which he now owned supreme allegiance was the Muslim world – the vast belt that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia and far beyond.

Iqbal took upon himself, to quote Dr Nafisy, the learned Iranian intellectual, the immense task of a poet-prophet. His poems now shifted ground to keep in line with his thinking; he now sang the glories of Islam and Muslims.
The first poem reflecting this stage of Iqbal’s intellectual and spiritual development was on Sicily. When the ship carrying Iqbal back to India passed near Sicily, the sight of the island reminded Iqbal of its glorious past under the Arab, and he broke out into a touching elegy. Sadi had cried over the destruction of Baghdad, Ibn-Badrun on the despoliation of Granada, and Dagh on the sack of Delhi. Iqbal would now lament the desolation of Sicily. And he would do it as movingly, and as magnificently, as these three great bards.

With the years, Iqbal’s poems increasingly reflected the troubles of the Muslim world; they also mirrored the agitated mood of the Indo-Pakistani Muslims over these troubles. Perhaps, nothing reflected his new spiritual orientation as his famous Tarana-i-Milli (Islamic Anthem), and his soul-stirring poem on Trablas (Algeria).

Iqbal wanted the Muslims and the people of the East to come into their own. He felt that warmth had disappeared from the soul of the East: “It knows not what is the task of living.” Addressing the East, he adds: “I found the lands lacking in the spirit of life. I breathed my own spirit into thee.”

Simultaneously, Iqbal stirred the Indian Muslims to their depths and to new consciousness of their inherent potentialities. Not only did he fill them with his own dynamism and faith, but he also envisioned for them a new horizon – a new destiny. And that was the concept of a Muslim homeland in the subcontinent.

Iqbal’s claim to be the foremost Muslim philosopher of the present age rests chiefly on his Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam (1930) wherein he tried “to rethink the whole system of Islam without completely breaking away with the past.” Actually, in these lectures, he tried to do what St Augustine had done for Catholicism several centuries ago.

His significance as a poet and thinker apart, Iqbal was also the ideologue of Pakistan. Even to this day, his presidential address to the Allahabad (1930) League stands out, as the foremost intellectual justification for the Pakistan demand.

To sum up, then, Iqbal is the foremost thinker in the modern world of Islam, who attempted a reorientation of Islam in the light of modern philosophical concepts. As a poet, he attained perfection in the two aspects of a poet – the prophetic and the artistic. And, lastly, as a seer, he gave a new destiny to his people. The great Muslim philosopher
By Prof Sharif Al-mujahid | Published: November 9, 2010

The writer is an academic.
A form of madness
M. ABUL FAZL

The ancient Greeks thought carnal love a form of madness. Maybe they were right. The Austrian poet, Rilke, says: “Every woman who passes by me leaves me with the feeling that she can give me infinite happiness.” The great German lyricist, Heinrich Heine, writes:

Avant que s’eteigne ma vie,
Avant que mon coeur ne defaille,
Je voudrais, une fois encore,
Briguer les faveurs d’une femme.
And ends many lines later:
Ah; connaitre encore une fois,
L’amour, le bonheur sans vacarme.

(I give the French translation because I did not find the English one. So this was the nearest I could get to the original, although poetry is, of course, untranslatable.)

Roughly, the above quoted lines would be:

“Before my life gives out,
Before my heart ceases to beat,
I would want one more time,
To solicit the favours of a woman.”

And:

“Ah to know once more,
The love, the happiness without fuss.”
Ghalib is more sedate:
Nahin nigar ko ulfat na ho, nigar to hai,
Ravani-e-ravish-o-masty-e-ada kahye.

Sufi Tabassum has explained these lines as: “Even though she does not respond to your love, you should still admire the qualities which make her so seductive, like her gait, her coquetterie.”

What a difference. Both the poets of bourgeois Europe, quoted above, live in a society conditioned by property and its exigencies. But, within those bounds, they express freely their desire for warmth, for that happiness, which only a woman can give. But the South Asian poet is reconciled to the fact that the woman he is attracted to is out of his reach or will presumably respond to his ardour only, if there is prospect of marriage.

It was this attainability, which not only made the woman more attractive, but also added to the man’s desire. However, it had also attached guilt to the normal sexual feelings, though one imagines our Semitic heritage of original sin made any sex inseparable from sin anyway. They came intertwined.

For example, Mir, when a teenager, was living in Delhi with his stepmother’s brother. There he had a love affair with the niece of his host. When it was discovered, the step-uncle threw him out of the house. What they did to the girl is not known, though, apparently, it was nothing drastic. Now, it did not occur to anyone, or if it did, it was forgotten, that the haramsara (women’s quarters) of those days were heavily populated with near and far relatives and maid servants of various grades. Mir could not possibly have entered it without being spotted. The girl must herself have made her way into his room, in fact, taken the initiative, the first time, to do so. The French philosopher, Michel Henry, put it well: “To exclude from the universe the sensitive qualities is to exclude sensitivity itself and, with it, all that is subjective and, thus, the life itself.” The great Muslim philosopher

By Prof Sharif Al-mujahid | Published: November 9, 2010. The writer is a retired ambassador.

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