By Khwaja Ashraf & Shafat Maqbool
Allama Iqbal, the most extraordinary philosopher and poet of the Indian subcontinent was born at Sialkot Punjab in 1877 and died at the age of 60 on 21 April 1938.His political thought is deeply embedded in his broad and comprehensive Islamic conception of tawhid, the unity of God, the unity of life, the unity of the ummah, and the unity of humanity. His rejectionist approach towards secularism, materialism, western democracy and nationalism is based upon his concept of tawhid. His philosophy of selfhood (khudi) and its related concepts like ‘man of belief’ (mard-imomin), ‘perfect man’ (mard-i-kamil), and his conception of the Islamic social order and divine vicegerency are not only interrelated to each other but also are steeped in his dynamic conception of tawhid.
Iqbal stressed that Islam was a practical means to make the principle of unity a reality in humanity’s intellectual and emotional life, and tawhid supplies the foundational principle of world unity. By portraying Islam as a practical means for making the principle of tawhid a living factor, Iqbal suggested that Islam unites and integrates all aspects of life into a unified whole. In other words, Islam totally disagrees with the artificial division or compartmentalization of life into ‘religious life’ and ‘worldly life.’ This unified and holistic perception of life is the exact opposite of nationalism, and bifurcate the life into ‘worldly’ and ‘religious’ domains.
Iqbal, at several places, elaborated Islam’s unified approach to life. He stated that according to the law of Islam there is no distinction between the Church and the state. The state with us is not a combination of religious and secular authority, but it is a unit in which no such distinction exists. Unlike Hegel, Iqbal did not have to make a synthesis of “reason” and “spirit” in order to form a state. For him, the state by itself is spiritual because all that is secular is spiritual in Islam. Iqbal has asserted that unlike secularism and nationalism, Islam provides a balance in life by joining matter and spirit into a harmonious entity for the success here and in the Hereafter. Since Islam makes not much division between state and mosque, it demands ultimate loyalty to God and implies that His laws prevail in all spheres of life, including the political, which further implies the supremacy of Shariah. Iqbal wrote that Islam demands loyalty to God, not to thrones. And since God is the ultimate spiritual basis of all life, loyalty to God virtually amounts to man’s loyalty to his own ideal nature.
Contrary to this loyalty, nationalism demands supreme loyalty to the nation-state. Since nationalism is basically secular, behind its division of life into ‘religious’ and ‘worldly’ realms lies the division of loyalty: one to the state and another to God. Moreover, in the case of a clash between loyalty to God and loyalty to the state, nationalism says that loyalty to the state must prevail. The rationale for such a view is that nationalism, being a political concept, demands political loyalty to the state and would like to see the state’s laws prevail over all other laws. Iqbal criticized this. In the present-day political literature, however, the idea of nation is not merely geopolitical: it is rather a principle of human society and, as such, it is a political concept. Since Islam also is a law of human society, the word ‘country,’ when used as a political concept, comes into conflict with Islam. This clearly shows that political principles and the laws of a nation state according to Iqbal would clash with Islamic principles and laws, because Islam would like to see its own principles and laws work and prevail in all of a society’s institutions, including political institutions.
The rejectionist approach of Iqbal towards nationalism was based on the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions. He was fully aware of the fact that the nation-state that would emerge from the secular ideology of nationalism would clash with Islamic law and would become an “idol” to be obeyed fully and worshipped by the people. Tracing the origin of nationalism to Machiavelli’s views, Iqbal referred to him as: “That Florentine worshipper of Untruth.” He pointed out that Machiavelli blinded the eyes of the people and wrote a new code of guidance for rulers, thereby sowing the seeds of war and conflict.
Iqbal had explained these divisive and mischief-making characteristics of nationalism in the context of the Indian subcontinent and in general terms. He pointed out that if nationalism was accepted in the subcontinent, Muslims would have two wrong ways before them: The Muslims as a nation can be other than what they are as a ‘millat’ and Muslims would have to forget Islam as a complete system of life. Iqbal pointed out how the leaders of the Hindu majority community persuade Muslims to believe that religion is a private affair. During the time of Iqbal, when the subcontinent was under British imperialism and he was expressing such ideas on nationalism and other ideologies, Muslims then were in a very critical situation. Some Muslim leaders and organizations were associated with the Indian National Congress, led by M. K. Gandhi, in order to attain the common aim: independence. They held the opinion that after independence, Muslims would be able to represent themselves in the decision-making bodies and their rights would be duly protected by the newly constitution of the independent nation.
An important organization of Muslim scholars, like the Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Hind and its leadership, held almost the same opinion. As its president, Hussain Ahmad Madani, and his supporters developed the theory of ‘united nationalism’ (muttahid-a-qaumiyat) as opposed to the ‘the two-nation theory’ (do qauminazaryya) of the Muslim League. According to Madani, Muslims should join the hands with the Hindus, since both communities regardless of their religions, are one Indian nation with one homeland. Another well-known leader, Abul Kalam Azad, who initially had rejected secularism and nationalism, later made an accommodative entry and advocated the idea of a united nationhood. He also joined the Indian National Congress and was convinced that Muslims in an independent India would be fully protected.
Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi, a pioneer of the contemporary Islamic resurgence, was the one who refused to do so and rejected nationalism on the grounds that it was antithetical to Islam. Hence, like Iqbal and unlike Madani and Azad, Mawdudi’s approach to nationalism was that of a rejectionist. He contended that Nationalism can take birth only from cultural nationality, and everyone who has eyes could see that the people of India do not constitute a cultural nationality.
Iqbal, like Iqbal Mawdoodi, asserted that Nationalism and Islam are so incompatible to each other that if one flourishes the other will decline. Iqbal believed that replacing western democracy for western imperialism would not make much difference to the Muslims in the subcontinent. Although, the opinion of Iqbal was not based on communalism; rather it was based on his perception of Islam as an all-pervasive social order that accepts no division of life, unlike nationalism. It was mainly for this reason that Iqbal appears to propose the formation of a separate Muslim identity in 1930.
Iqbal has stressed upon the fact that, the main concept that unites all Muslims of diverse social, linguistic, ethnic, territorial, and other backgrounds into one unified and open-ended community is the ummah. This concept also is inspired by the concept of tawhid. For this reason, Iqbal rejects the principle in nationalism that emphasizes the social, linguistic, and similar differences among people to form nationalities in order to shatter human unity. He pointed out that ‘the inner cohesion’ of the Islamic ummah does not lie in ethnic or geographic unity, not in the unity of language or social tradition but in the unity of the religious and political idea or in the physiological fact of like-mindedness. The writings of Iqbal suggest that as long as the nation-state continues to be secular, the clash of loyalty seems destined to continue. Iqbal has stressed upon, for this very reason, the need to make the Shariah-supreme in any Islamic political entity and the necessity and urgency to continue to carry out the Islamic mission of Divine vicegerency to raise the ummah above ethnocentric and nationalistic differences.
The recent turmoil across the globe vindicates the everlasting validity of his ideas for a prosperous and peaceful world. The horrific events of Nazi Germany, the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda or the Stalinist Russia and Moist China would not have occurred if the calls of Mohammad Iqbal had been adhered to. At a time when European values, sense of justice and philosophies were looked at with awe and appreciation by the people of the Orient, Allama Iqbal revived interest in the core Islamic values of peace and progressive civilization.
—The authors are Doctoral Candidates at Department of History& Department of Commerce, Aligarh Muslim University. The authors can be reached at: khwaja.hist @gmail.com