By G. Sabir for Iqbal Academy Scandinavia
Nature gives birth to great philosophers and poets when the need arises. Natural calamities, wars, epidemics, storms and earthquakes etc causing human sufferings have always given birth to creative minds. Plato was born in 420 BC when his country had almost been ruined as a result of Peloponnesian war. Iqbal was born in 1877 AD when the inhabitants of India were suffering from miseries and deaths while struggling for the Independence of their country from British rule.
The people of Muslim community of India were the worst hit. They were being crushed ruthlessly. At that time Iqbal’s poetry played miraculous role. It awakened the people from slumbering hopelessness, made them stood on their own feet. They were united and then fought courageously for Independence with the result that they achieved a free homeland for them within a few years time.
This means that despite being a creative thinker, Iqbal was addressing the situation at hand. The ideas he enunciated, though intrinsically creative in themselves and abiding in appeal beyond a particular time and place, were yet primarily meant to salvage the bleak Muslim situation in India and the world at large. This makes Iqbal, in a sense, oriented towards the Indian Muslim psyche and situation.
This framework makes his periodic forays into discussing and suggesting solutions to the problems of the Muslim world at large and his consuming concern with the ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ (1930) – a logical extension of his role as a modern Muslim ideologue, attempting to analyze and, see Muslim India’s problems and predicament on a wider canvas and in a total context. After all, Iqbal regarded India, if only because of the Muslim numerical strength, as ‘the greatest Muslim country in the world’, to quote his own words. These tasks, both critical and onerous as they were, he fulfilled squarely.
His emotion-leaden and soul-lifting poetry was the medium Iqbal chose to bring his people a new awareness of the depths of degradation to which they had fallen, to diagnose their ailments, their predicament and the prime cause of their decline and to warn them of the dire consequences if they failed to mend themselves in good time. A more effective medium he could not have possibly chosen.
For one thing, poetry is the most powerful medium for touching the deepest emotions of people and for driving a message into their subconscious. For another, the Indian Muslims had been among the most poetry-oriented people in the wold, with a long tradition of readily taking to heart what was written in verse. Political orations may stir and audience into action, but their impact is bound to be restricted to a particular audience and dissipate with time and events. In contrast, a poetic message seeps through the ethos of a nation, working on its psyche all the while.
Hence Iqbal achieved through his poems what a thousand speeches could not. But for the silence mental preparation that had gone on for long decades, the people would not have responded to the call of political leaders – in this case, especially of Jinnah during the 1937-47 epochal decade. No wonder, the pandals of the League sessions from Lucknow (1937) onwards were plastered with Iqbal’s couplets, calling on Muslims to rise and take their destiny in their own. Iqbal was quoted oft and on to rouse Muslims to a new awareness of their destiny. All this had an electrifying effect on the audience since Iqbal, though generally complex and couched in an appropriate idiom, was, straightforward and yielded clear guidelines.
Besides being a poet of extraordinary merit, Iqbal was a thinker of a high order. Thus, while Syed Ahmed Khan, Maulana Mohammed Ali and Jinnah provided political leadership to Muslims, Iqbal took upon himself the task of setting the intellectual tone for Muslim thought and action. (Previously, this was done by Sir Syed’s, writing and the Aligarh school). In addressing himself to this task, Iqbal brought a revolution in Muslim thinking at various levels, he also made a significant contribution to keeping them stolidly anchored to their pristine ideology and historical legacy.
His role in awakening the Muslims to a new consciousness began in 1899 when he recited a poem at the annual session of the Anjuman-i-Islam, Lahore. His moving ‘Nala-i-Yatim’ was symbolic of the echoing cry of the faceless masses of the Indian Muslims, who had long felt themselves sidelined neglected.
What pained him most was the impact of nationalism on various Muslim countries, eroding the pan-Islamic concept, enfeebling the Muslim world and laying it open to European aggression and exploitation.
To the ailments the Muslim world was afflicted with, Iqbal found the solution in Islam and its message. In order to reach the innermost recesses of their consciousness, he invoked the past glory of Islam, telling Muslims of the accomplishments of their ancestors. In so doing, he tried to fight off the prevalent slough of despondency, raising drooping spirit of Muslims and replacing it with a sense of soaring confidence.
Message of hope
Next, he gave them a message of hope. He told them that they could still redeem themselves if they could only recapture their soul and regain their pristine moral and spiritual values.
He emphasized the imperative need to develop human qualities and the right type of character. He attributed their degeneration to their taking to a life of passivity and resignation for several generations. That debilitating trend could be reversed by opting for initiative and endeavour which, he believed, Islam stood for. To him, an active, struggling non-believer was preferable to a sleeping Muslim.
But if Muslims were to be beckoned to a new destiny, they must first be confirmed as Muslims and they must own up their pristine values. This was all he more necessary in the context of the rise of positivism and skepticism, which posed a serious challenge to the modern Muslim.
To Iqbal, the task before the modern Muslim is to re-think the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past. And this crucial task he undertook in a series of lectures since compiled as ‘The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ (1930). In these he argued that Islam represented a philosophy of action, for faith without action was a life bereft of any significance. Seldom does a poet exert such profound influence on the course of history and in changing the destiny of a nation. But Iqbal did because his accomplishments extended far beyond the realm of mere imagination and into the sphere of objective realities, because in the final years of his eventful life he donned the mantle of an ideologue, besides being a national poet. And, to be sure, all of Iqbal’s efforts throughout the whole span of his active life were directed towards the regeneration of Muslims and the resurgence of Islam.
The question, ‘do we need Iqbal today?’ The reply is a clear ‘Yes’. It is a need of the time, because the honour of humanity is at stake. The preachers of human rights are abusing humanity. Masses of men are being trampled ruthlessly under the heavy feet of the powerful. There is dearth of love in the world these days. Iqbal is a messenger of love. His message of love is universal… the humanity needs him.. we do need him without any doubt.