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Iqbal’s Concept of Democracy

Iqbal's Concept of Democracy

The worldwide acclaim Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), a revered poet-philosopher and a visionary leader, commanded from both the Eastern and Western critics bears a vivid testimony to his great stature, and earns him the place occupied by very few in the literary world. Whilst chief source of his repute is his timeless poetry, his philosophical thought, too, is no less catchy. The fact remains that the scheme of his philosophy cannot be touched upon in isolation from his poetry, and his poetic genre largely teams, inter alia, with political philosophy. 

Analyzing Iqbalian Democracy vis-à-vis Western Democracy

Induced by his extensive inquiry into the new emerging trends in the West, which held the Muslim worldIqbal's Concept of Democracy spellbound, Iqbal picked apart the contemporary Western civilization as rotten to the core. The social and political institutions based on a civilization that was barren of ethical and spiritual elements could not take root. To him, any system resting upon a moral, ethical foundation was agreeable, and durable. An ideology born out of the womb of atheism could never refine and elevate the human thought.

Iqbal singled out democracy, nationalism and imperialism as the most infernal banes befallen the humanity. He denunciated the contemporary Western democracy which he strongly believed was deceptive and fraud. He took to his writings to apprise the Muslims of the inherent flaws the cult of democracy was beset with. He branded democracy a mirage which had wrecked more mayhem than any good to human beings.

It may be noted that Iqbal’s views on diverse facets of democracy remain scattered over various sources of his work; therefore, a painstaking enterprise has to be undertaken to make a compact yet comprehensive picture of his philosophy.

Assumptions of Western Democracy

Before we look into to Iqbal’s thesis, here is a brief overview of the theoretical and practical implications of the Western democracy to form a realistic opinion on its pros and cons:

The technical complexities emanating from the nuances of the term make it increasingly difficult for scholars to reach a consensus on its indicators and their extent. Obviously, scientific experimentation in a laboratory to gauge the degree to which its indicators, say, sovereignty devolving on masses, are in place, cannot be executed. Democracy having wide and varied connotations always evades evolving a universally plausible definition. In its ideal form, it guarantees liberty and equality for subjects to pursue their socio-economic life in accordance with their capabilities, ensuring that their rights are not trampled by external forces.

Corry and Abraham in “Elements of Democratic Government” list the following indicators indispensable to a democratic culture:

(1) Respect for individual personality
(2) Individual freedom        (3) Belief in rationality
(4) Equality                            (5) Justice
(6) Rule of law                       (7) Constitutionalism

Nonetheless, every political system, however repressive, ostentatiously takes pride in asserting itself as democratic. Even the authoritarian regimes have designated themselves as ‘democratic’ or ‘people’s governments’. The oft-quoted definition by Lincoln ‘democracy being the government of the people, by the people, for the people’ is mostly tabled by the protagonists of democracy. Again, given the stark contradiction between theory and practice, the word ‘people’ itself becomes all the more hazy, as to who exactly is denoted by ‘people’, and in what manner the government is to be formed and by whom, and how common man’s interests are to be perfectly articulated and integrated.

Iqbal’s views on Democracy

Allama Iqbal’s outlook on all walks of individual and collective life was out and out Quranic. He didn’t budge an inch to discredit any creed nourished beyond the purview of Quran and Sunnah. Obviously, being a Muslim, Iqbal might have weighed his views up heavily from the vantage point of his religion, but that is not to suggest that he was swayed by a jaundiced eye in his treatment of the other ideologies. In fact, he stretched his arms wide open to embrace those aspects of democracy he saw finely in line with the tenets of Islam and canons of rationality. As a matter of fact, his was the thesis that the Western representative institutions were misleading, and he had the strongest arguments to support his assertion.

1. Absence of Ethical Element

Democracy as understood in the West is devoid of a spiritual and ethical basis. Grounded in materialistic base, it paves the way for the unscrupulous and dishonest politicians to cling on to the ladder of power. The absence of moral and spiritual values renders democracy repulsive.

In Bal-e-Jibril, Iqbal says:

جمہور کے ابلیس ہیں اربابِ سیاست
باقی نہیں اب میری ضرورت تہ افلاک!

For fiends its rulers serve the populace:
Beneath the heavens is no more need of me!

In Zabur-i-Ajam, Iqbal has heaped scorn upon democracy in the strongest terms noting that by inventing democracy, the West has let loose a monstrous demon. The democracy the West bangs on about frenziedly wears around its neck the beads of imperialism threaded with aggression and capitalism.

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