9th Nov: Tribute to Allama Iqbal

Tauseef A Parray

DR Sir Muhammad Iqbal, aka Allama Iqbal (9th Nov 1877—21st April 1938) is acknowledged, as one of the most distinguished poet, philosopher, political thinker, and a dominant figure of 20th Century, globally. In Pakistan, he is admired and accepted as the ‘Mussawir-e-Pakistan’, ‘Mufakkir-e-Pakistan’, and ‘Spiritual Father of Pakistan’. Over the last century or more, one sees that a plethora of literature has been produced on Iqbal’s poetry, philosophy and political thought. Also, a number of scholars have thrown light on, and have discussed and deliberated on the prose works of Allama Iqbal. In 2013, Dr Tehsin Firaqi (one of the most renowned experts on Iqbaliyat) underlined that in order to understand Iqbal’s views on Islam-Politics (and especially his stand on Democracy) one must look into his prose pieces like “Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal” (1909); “Political thought in Islam” (1910); “Forms of Government, Modern Science and Democracy” (nd); and “Muslim Democracy” (1917). To this list may be added “Divine Right to Rule” (1928), and his ‘All-India Muslim League’ Presidential Address delivered in Allahabad (in Dec 1930).
Besides his poetry, the above mentioned prose pieces, along with his magnum opus The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (first published in 1930; republished in 1934; an annotated edition published in 1984; and a new edition, with a new Introduction by Javed Majeed of King’s College, London, published recently), are considered as the major sources for knowing Allama’s thoughts/views on Islam and politics in general, and his stand on democracy in particular. Allama Iqbal was a critic as well as supporter of democracy: while in his poetry he emerges as a staunch critic and strong opponent of (Western) democracy, in his prose the situation looks different. Though it is true that Iqbal’s stand on any issue cannot be studied, in isolation with his poetry, but it is also true that over the decades more focus has been on his poetry. That is why scholars, like Riffat Hassan and Dr Firaqi, are of the opinion that “Iqbal was a critic of democracy is well known” or “he [Iqbal] was a less-supporter, and more critical, of democracy”. In most of these writings, it is Iqbal’s poetry which is focused on; and this write-up, in this context, summarizes Iqbal’s views/ vision of ‘Islamic Political System’ and more specifically on ‘Islam and democracy’, based on his above mentioned prose-pieces, including
The reconstruction of religious thoughts. Some of his main views on this issue are: § “The best form of Government” for Muslim community (society), Iqbal believes, “would be democracy, the ideal of which is to let man develop all the possibilities of his nature by allowing him as much freedom as practicable”. § A strong advocate of freedom, individuality, equality, and brotherhood, Iqbal asserted that the best form of government is “democracy” because it is “the most important aspect of Islam regarded as a political ideal”. § Considering Islam as an egalitarian faith with no room either for a clergy or an aristocracy, Iqbal recognized the importance of ijtihad and argued “for its democratization and institutionalization in a popular legislative assembly thereby bridging the theoretical gap between divine and popular sovereignty”. § The “republican form of government”, for Iqbal, is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that are set free in the world of Islam. § Iqbal believed that Divine vicegerency is the representation of God on earth as revealed in the holy Qur’an and aims at the establishment of “the Kingdom of God on earth” meaning the “the democracy of … unique individuals”. § Calling it ‘Democracy of Islam’, ‘Muslim Democracy’ and/or ‘Spiritual Democracy’ Iqbal says: “The Democracy of Europe… originated mainly in the economic regeneration of European societies…. The Democracy of Islam [on the other hand] … is a spiritual principle based on the assumption that every human being is a center of latent power, the possibilities of which can be developed by cultivating a certain type of character”. § Iqbal favoured, and preferred the term, ‘spiritual democracy’, considering it the “ultimate aim of Islam”; and stresses: “Let the Muslim of today appreciate his position, reconstruct his social life in the light of ultimate principles, and evolve… that spiritual democracy which is the ultimate aim of Islam”. § Iqbal stated that “There is no aristocracy in Islam”; and believed that “the Muslim commonwealth is based on the absolute equality of all Muslims in the eyes of law. There is no privileged class, no priesthood and no caste system. Islam is a unity in which there is no distinction”. § Iqbal thus argued: “Democracy, then, is the most important aspect of Islam regarded as a political ideal”.
These statements, from his various prose pieces, reveal clearly Iqbal’s stand on Islam and democracy, and evidently show his support for democracy. However, Iqbal’s views on any issue can neither be based on his prose only, nor can be isolated from his poetry. Therefore, it is apt here to quote these statements of Prof(s) Zeenat Kausar (2001) and Mustansir Mir (2013), respectively, which clearly depict Iqbal’s overall approach to, and his stand on, this issue: “Iqbal’s acceptance of some democratic principles that are compatible with Islam does not mean that Iqbal has totally accepted democracy. The secular philosophy [of western democracy… is incompatible with Islam and is therefore rejected by Iqbal”; “Some of Iqbal’s poetry contains a scathing critique of democracy” for its philosophical dimensions especially, but “Iqbal was a strong supporter of the democratic principle and considered democracy an essential part of Islamic government”. From his overall approach to, and his stand on, this issue, it becomes evident that Allama Iqbal presents ‘a scathing critique of democracy’ in his poetry, while in his prose he considers democracy as ‘an essential part of Islamic government’—calling it ‘Democracy in Islam’ and/or ‘Muslim/Spiritual Democracy’.
—The writer has served as ‘Iqbal Fellow’ (2014) at IRD, IIUI and is presently working as Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, in Higher Education Department, J&K (India).

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