Allama Iqbal’s words were the powerful source of guidance when the entire sub-continent was under the severe subjugation of imperialistic powers. Every morning, in many schools, children chant his prayer: My wish comes to my lips as supplication- May my life be like a lighted candle, O God!’. Iqbal’s words left a permanent imprint on the minds of the children who heard it. However, over time, this prayer ceased to be chant in the morning prayers of our schools, and today there are very few children who are familiar with it.
Though Iqbal lived in a historical context that was different from ours in several ways, what he said (and wrote) remains profoundly relevant to us and to our times. In fact, his message is more relevant and important today than that of any other Muslim thinker of the past and present not only because he faced the challenges of both traditionalism and modernity fearlessly, but also- and more importantly, because he had a profound understanding of the integrated vision of the Quran which he made the basis of his philosophy. This philosophy provides a comprehensive blueprint for how Muslims should live in accordance with the highest ideals and best practices of Islam.
Its aims are to change ground realities in the light of the ethical principles of Islam. These realities change with time but the framework remains constant and continuous to be a central point of reference and a guidepost for future generations. The place Iqbal occupies in the hearts and minds of Muslims is unparalleled. Such is the power and charisma of his imagination and his pen that he is loved by millions who might know only a few of his verses but are inspired and moved by them. Without doubt, Iqbal is the most quoted figure in Muslim intelligentsia, and his popular verses and favourite symbols, such as Shaheen, are known even to semi-literate People.
However, his philosophy, articulated through both poetry and prose, which should be taught in every educational institution in Muslim countries, has been virtually eliminated from the curriculum, and only a small number of students in specialized disciplines have the opportunity to study it.
Iqbal constantly referred to the Quranic verse, ‘verily God will not change the condition of a people till they change what is in themselves (Quran13:12). He was fully aware of the despair and despondency of Muslims who felt powerless to change their adverse circumstances and turned to prayer for an improvement in their lives. Iqbal had written much about the value of prayer but he believed that the way to change one’s destiny was through the development of Khudi. Iqbal’s philosophy, rich as it is in ideas and concepts, is fundamentally action-oriented and its goal was personal and social transformation inspired by the Quranic vision embodied in the proclamation, ‘Towards God is your limit’ (Quran 53;42).
Today when the youth are living in a society in which there is gaping ethical vacuum, they are in critical need of a deep and comprehensive education based on Iqbal’s multi faceted philosophy. Iqbal’s work can be a source of profound guidance to help young Muslims as they seek to understand the nature of their own identity and their own religion. His powerful words challenge them to become a Shaheen, which hunts for its food, rather than a vulture, which preys on the dead.
The flight of both birds is in the same atmosphere
But the world of the vulture is different from the world of the Shaheen
Iqbal, the great thinker, urged the oppressed masses to revolt against all forms of totalitarianism, imperialism, or cultural subjugation. Iqbal’s poetry was a forceful weapon which played a pivotal role in liberation of the Indian Muslims from their slavery and external bondage. The decay and decline in Islamic intellectual thought, according to Iqbal, set in five hundred years ago when the doors to Ijtihad, a scholarly debate on our religion and its traditions, were closed. The Quranic principles- which for Muslims are eternal principles-needed constantly to be re-interpreted in light of new knowledge. In the context of Ijtihad, Iqbal pointed out in his sixth lecture- of his outstanding lectures on the Reconstruction of religious thought in Islam- that in the modern times things had changed and the world of Islam is today confronted and effected by new forces set free by the extraordinary developments of human thought in all directions. Iqbal was on the opinion that ‘ all search for knowledge is essentially a form of prayer’ far from dismissing western scientific advances, he believed we should study them and incorporate their positive content in our paradigm for new community that would be informed by Islamic ideals as well as modern knowledge. Instead, we allowed the Muslim community to be stagnate.
We need understand Iqbal’s commitment to social justice and the pain he felt when he looked at the plight of the world’s indigent workers. His memorable verse addressed to God, in which he points out the discrepancy between the justice of God and the unjust plight of those who laboured hard for a meagre living, is meant , in fact , to jolt the conscience of those rich people who exploit the ones who labour for them.
You are Almighty and just, but in your world,
Intensely bitter is the life of the poor labourer
It is difficult find a poet or thinker of Iqbal’s calibre who has championed the cause of justice for the oppressed and wronged people of the world as passionately and consistently as he did. If we follow the Iqbal’s teachings, we can reverse the growing gap between the Westernised rich and traditional poor that help fuel ills and problems of a diverse nature.
—The author is a post doc research fellow at the University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org