Mohammad Iqbal: A Manifestation of Self-reconstruction and Reformation

Developing Just Leadership

Ali Shariati

Sha'ban 11, 1426 2005-09-15

Occasional Paper

by Ali Shariati

If one were to reconstruct the form of Islam which has been made to degenerate in the course of history, re-assemble it in such a way that the spirit could return to a total body, transform the present dazed elements into that spirit as if the trumpet of Israfil were to blow in the 20th century over a dead society and awaken its movement, power, spirit, and meaning, it is, then, that exemplary Muslim personalities will be reconstructed and reborn like Muhammad Iqbal.

Muhammad Iqbal is not just a Muslim mystic (Aref) who is solely concerned with mysticism or gnosis as Ghazzali, Muhyi Din ibn Arabi, and Rumi were. They emphasized individual evolution, purification of the soul, and the inner illuminated 'self'. They only developed and trained a few people like themselves but, for the most part, remained oblivious to the outer world, having been almost unaware of the Mongol attack and the subsequent despotic rule and suppression of the people.

Iqbal is also not like Abu Muslim or Hasan Sabah or Saladin Ayyubi and personalities like them who, in the history of Islam, are simply men of the sword, power, war, and struggle and who consider the exercise of power and the defeat of the enemy enough to effect reform and revolution in the minds of the people and in their social relations.

Nor is Iqbal similar to those learned individuals like the Indian, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who imagine that no matter in what situation Islamic society be (even if it be under the domination of a British viceroy), it can be revived with modern scholarly interpretations or with 20th century scientific and logical commentaries on Islamic tenets and Quranic verses as well as through profound philosophical and scholarly research.

Iqbal is not among some Western people who consider science to be sufficient for human salvation, for evolution, and for the cure of anguishes. He is not one of those philosophers who thinks meeting economic needs is tantamount to meeting all human needs. Nor is he like his fellow countrymen, that is, the great Hindu and Buddhist thinkers who consider peace of mind and spiritual salvation to be transmigration or who consider the cycle of kanna to nirvana to be the fulfillment of the mission of humanity and who imagine that in a society, where there is one hungry person, where slavery, deprivation, and disgrace exist, one can still develop pure, elevated spirits and disciplined, educated people who have attained well-being and even a sense of morality !

No. Iqbal shows with his very being and with his school that thoughts which are related to Islam are thoughts which, while paying careful attention to this world and the material needs of humanity, also give the human being a heart as he himself says, "I find the most beautiful states of life in the yearnings and meditations of daybreak to dawn."

He is a great mystic, with a pure spirit, delivered of materiality and, at the same time, a man who respects and honors science, technological progress, and the advancement of human reason in our age.

He is not a thinker who debases science, reason, and scientific advancement having had his emotions aroused by Sufism, Christianity, the religion of Lao Tzu, or Buddha. Neither is he a proponent of dry science like the science of Francis Bacon or Claude Bernard which is limited to the discovery of relations between phenomena or material manifestations and the employment of natural forces for material life. At the same time, he is not a thinker who assembles philosophy, illumination, science, religion, reason, and revelation together in an incongruous way as some have done.

Rather, in his outlook and attitude towards this world, he regards reason and science in the very sense they are understood today as allies of love, emotion, and inspiration in the evolution of the human spirit, but he does not accept their goal.

The greatest advice of Iqbal to humanity is: Have a heart like Jesus, a thought like Socrates, and a hand like the hand of a Caesar but all in one human being, in one creature of humanity, based upon one spirit in order to attain one goal. That is, Iqbal himself: A man who attains the height of political awareness of his time to the extent that some people believe him to be solely a political figure and a liberated, nationalist leader who is a 20th century anti-colonist. A man who, in philosophical thought, rises to such a high level that he is considered to be a contemporary thinker and philosopher of the same rank as Bergson in the West today or of the same level as Ghazzali in Islamic history.

At the same time, he is a man we regard as being a reformer of Islamic society, who thinks about the conditions of human and Islamic society, a society in which he himself lives and for which he performs the jihad for the salvation, awareness, and liberation of Muslim people. His efforts are not just casual and scientific forms or of the kind that Sartre called 'intellectual demonstrations of political, pseudo-left-ists' but rather of the kind exhibited by responsible individuals. He strives and endeavors and, at the same time, he is also a lover of Rurni. He journeys with him in his spiritual ascensions and burns from the lover's flames, anguishes, and spiritual anxieties. This great man does not become one-dimensional, does not disintegrate, does not become a one-sided or one-dimensional Muslim. He is a complete Muslim. Even though he loves Rumi, he is not obliterated in him.

Iqbal goes to Europe and becomes a philosopher. He comes to know the European schools of philosophy and makes them known to others. Everyone admits that he is a 20th century philosopher, but he does not surrender to the West. On the contrary, he conquers the West. He lives with a critical mind and the power of choice in the 20th century and in Western civilization. He is devoted to and a disciple of Rumi to an extent that does not contradict and is not incompatible with the authentic dimensions of the Islamic spirit.

Sufism says:

As our fate has been pre-determined in our absence If it is not to your satisfaction, do not complain.


If the world does not agree with you or suit you, You agree with the world.

But Iqbal, the mystic, says:

If the world does not agree with you, Arise against it!

The world means the destiny and life of human beings. The human being is a wave, not a still shore. His or her being and becoming is in movement.

What do I mean? It is to be in movement. In the mysticism of Iqbal, which is neither Hindu mysticism nor religious fanaticism, but Quranic mysticism, the human being must change the world. Quranic Islam has substituted 'heavenly fate' in which the human being is nothing, with 'human fate' in which the human being plays an important role. This is the greatest revolutionary as well as being progressive and constructive principle which Islam has created in its world view, philosophy of life, and ethics.

The greatest criticism that humanism and liberal intellectuals have leveled and continue to level against religion is that because religious beliefs have been interpreted as being founded on absolute determinism or Divine Will, therefore, the absolute subjugation of human will, the human being is logically reduced to being weak in terms of free-choice in relation to the Absolute. If this were true, it would be a disgrace. It would be servitude and a means for the negation of power, freedom, and responsibility. It would be to submit to the status quo, to 'whatever will be, will be', to accept any fate which is imposed upon the human being in this world and to admit to the futility and uselessness of life.

As the past, present, and future events have been and will continue to be dictated by fate, in this view, any criticism or objection, then, or efforts to attain our hearts' desires or to change the situation, must be subjugated to 'whatever has been pre-destined for us'. In this way, the human being's ability to change, convert, and amend the status quo becomes impossible, unreasonable, and ill-advised.

But in the philosophy of Islam, although the One God has Absolute Power and is Almighty and although for Him is the Creation, Guidance, Expediency, and Rule over the universe, "His is the Creation and the Command," (7:54) at the same time, the human being, in this extensive universe, is considered in such a way that while one cannot dissociate oneself from the rule of God and from Divine Sovereignty, one can live freely.

A Muslim has free will and the power to rebel and surrender. Thus, he or she is responsible and the maker of his or her own image. "Every soul is held in pledge for what he earns." (74:38) "And the human being shall have nothing but what he strives for." (53:30)

In his mystic journey with the Quran, Iqbal attained this principle that is, authenticity of deed and responsibility towards human beings that which humanists, existentialist, or radicals endeavor to help humanity achieve by negating religion and denying God.

These people, quite rightly, see the religion and the God conceived by the minds of human beings to be incompatible with human freedom, esteem, authenticity, and responsibility whereas Islam, without resorting to philosophical justification and interpretation, clearly declares that "the day when the human being shall see what his two hands have sent before." (78:40)

With his attitude, his orientation to faith and his Islamic mysticism, Iqbal passed through all philosophical and spiritual stations of this age. It can be said that he was a Muslim migrant who appeared in the depths of the ocean of India and rose to the highest peaks of honor of the majestic European mountains, but he did not remain there. He returned to us to offer his nation—that is, us—whatever he had learned in his wondrous journey. Through his personality, I see that once again Islam in the 20th century presents a model, an example, for the anguished but confused generation which is aware of itself.

A polished spirit, full of Eastern inspiration, is selected from the land of the heart of spiritual culture and of illumination. The great thoughts of the West, the land of civilization, intellect, knowledge with the power of creativity and advancement are placed in his mind. Then, with all of this investment, he becomes knowledgeable of the 20th century.

He is not one of those reactionaries and worshippers of the past to have enmity towards the West and whatever is new, to oppose a new civilization without sound reason. He is also not like those who imitate and are absorbed in the West without having the courage to criticize and to choose. On the one hand, he employs science and, on the other, he senses its inadequacies and shortcomings in meeting spiritual needs and the evolutionary requirements of humanity. He offers solutions for its completion. Iqbal is a person who has a world view and he has developed philosophical spiritual interpretations which he offers the world and people, based upon it.

Iqbal is a person who bases his social school upon his world view and, then, offers his spiritual and philosophical interpretations to it. Based upon the culture and history which he is connected to, he develops a person based on the standard of an Ali, to the extent that the material for developing a human being in our century allows.

What does the standard of Ali mean? It means a human being with an Eastern heart and a Western mind. It means a person who thinks deeply and profoundly. It means a human being who expresses a beautiful and splendid love. It refers to a person who is well acquainted with the anguishes of the spirit as well as with the sufferings of life. It means a human being who both knows God and the people. It is a devotee possessing the light of knowledge who burns with love and faith and whose penetrating eyes never allow negligence and ignorance to prevail without questioning the fate of enslaved nations. It is a person who seeks reform, revolution, and change of mental attitudes. As a thinker, he realizes that the spiritless eye of science (according to Francis Bacon) is incapable of seeing all the realities of the universe. He also feels that a love sick heart attains nothing if it is only concerned with asceticism, self-abasement, and purification because a human being affiliated with society and affiliated to life and the material cannot disentangle the 'self' alone. An individual moves with the caravan of society and cannot choose a way separate from it.

This is why we wish to have a school of thought and action which both responds to our philosophical needs, and, at the same time, develops a thinking being who is accepted by the world, recognized by civilization, and the new culture of the world and not one alienated from us and our rich cultural resources. We wish for a school of thought and action which nurtures a human being who closely is aware of our culture and all of our good spiritual and religious assets, who is not alienated from the times, and who does not live in the 4th or 5th century. We long for it to develop a human being who can think, who has a scientific mind, yet does not remain negligent of the anguish, life, captivity, and hardships of his ummah. We desire the development of a human being who, even if he thinks about the real and material anguishes of humanity and about the present confusions and difficulties of human society or his society, he does not forget the ideal human being or the significance of the human being or the eternal mission of humanity in history and does not lower all human ideals to the level of material consumption.

All that we seek in these various domains can be seen in Iqbal because the only thing that Iqbal did and this is the greatest success of Iqbal as a Muslim in an Islamic society in the 20th century—based upon the knowledge he had of the rich new and old culture was that he was able to develop himself based on the model which his ideological school— that is, Islam, gave. This is the greatest success of Iqbal in an Islamic society in the 20th century.

We do not say he is a perfect human being. No. We do not say he is a symbolic person. No. He is a personality who had been reconstructed into a complete Muslim person and a perfect Islamic personality in the 20th century after his disintegration. This reconstruction is the beginning point from which we Muslim intellectuals must ourselves begin. We must feel our greatest responsibility to be in reconstructing ourselves and our society. Seyyed Jamal was the first who produced such a feeling of re-awakening: Who are you? Who were you? Iqbal was the first fruit of the seed of the movement which Seyyed Jamal planted in this ummah. The first product is a great model, an example, and our very awakening. As Easterners, we are affiliated to this part of the world. We are connected to this history. We are human beings confronted by nature and the West.

But what do we mean when we say Iqbal was a reformer? Can reform really save a society from all of its misfortunes, anguishes, and difficulties? Must not a sudden, severe, deep-rooted revolution take place in thought and in relation to society? When we say Iqbal was a reformer, those present, who are familiar with the expressions prevalent among the educated class, think reform means something opposite of revolution in a socio-political sense. Most often when we say reform, we mean gradual change or change in the super-structure and when we say revolution, we mean a sudden, abrupt change in the infrastructure, a total collapse and then total reconstruction. But when in these changes we say that Iqbal was a reformer, we are not referring to the slow and gradual change in society. Our intent is not gradual change or external reform but we use this word in its general sense which also includes the meaning of revolution.

When we say Iqbal was a reformer or that the great thinkers after Seyyed Jamal are known as being the greatest reformers of the century in the world, it is not in the sense that they supported gradual and external change in society. No. They were supporters of a Deep seeded revolution, a revolution in thought, in views, in feelings an ideological and cultural revolution. Iqbal, Seyyed Jamal, Kawakebi, Muhammad Abduh, Ibn Ibrahim and members of the Maqrib JamaA Association are great men who shook the East in the last one hundred years. Their reforms or, still better, re-forming revolutions, stand upon this principle for they believe individual reform is no longer an answer. It is an altogether different matter if reform effects society. A person can no longer think and live in a way which he has chosen himself, nor accept any influence from his age or his society and develop himself into a pure and real human being in a corrupt age and in a degenerate society for if this were to be, social responsibility and commitment would make no sense.


Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Use
Copyrights © 1436 AH
Sign In
Forgot Password?
Not a Member? Signup