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Iqbal’s Philosophy of Nationalism

Iqbal's Philosophy of Nationalism

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”— Al Hujurat 49:13

In a tradition in Abu Dawud, the Apostle of Allah is reported to have said:

“He is not from amongst us who calls for asabiya (tribalism/ nationalism) or who fights for asabiya or who dies for asabiya.”

Dr Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the Poet of the East and a great Muslim ideologue, having delved deep into the shambolic predicament of the Muslims, took to diagnosing the causes responsible for the Muslim eclipse, and suggesting panaceas to cure them. He was very much distressed to see the Muslims jumping on the bandwagon of the West, and blindly aping the Western civilization which, by its very nature, was infused with the brute materialism. Iqbal took up most of the ideologies stemming from the West that were in vogue those days. Nationalism was among such concepts gaining a widespread currency amongst the Muslims. After careful study, Allama made a passionate plea against the Western notion of nationalism exhorting the Muslims to stay away from it.

Iqbal devoted a considerable part of his philosophical thought to the idea of ‘who constituted a nation, and on what grounds?’ It is interesting to note that before his flight to Europe, he subscribed to the Western Territorial Nationalism. However, during his 3-year sojourn there (1905-1908), Iqbal blossomed from an Indian nationalist to a Pan-Islamist, cherishing a nation, Ummah or Millat cemented by the bounds of Tauheed (Oneness of Allah), and this remarkable shift was largely due to his extensive investigation into the Western philosophy, and partly because of the prevailing political realities in India.

From the following two couplets, the shift from one line of thought to the other is quite eye-catching:

سارے جہاں سے اچھا ہندوستاں ہمارا
ہم بلبلیں ہیں اس کی، یہ گلستاں ہمارا
مذہب نہیں سکھاتا آپس میں بیر رکھنا
ہندی ہیں ہم، وطن ہے ہندوستاں ہمارا

The best land in the world is our India;
We are its nightingales; this is our garden.
Religion does not teach us to be enemies with each other:
We are Indians, our homeland is our India.
Then, in the recast version, Iqbal raises the cry:

چین و عرب ہمارا، ہندوستاں ہمارا
مسلم ہیں ہم، وطن ہے سارا جہاں ہمارا

China and Arabia are ours; India is ours.
We are Muslims, the whole world is ours.

Allama Iqbal believed that Islam constituted a Millat which transcended all artificial barriers of caste, creed, race and territory. As regards the Indian Muslims, they, he held, cannot be assimilated into a Hindu-dominated Indian political nationalism. While advocating the repudiation of the political nationalism, and espousing the ‘Cultural Nationalism’ based on religion, Iqbal was well-cognizant of the fact that nationalism, as it was understood in the West, demanded an affiliation to a particular territory without having anything to do with the cultural values of the people.

Furthermore, West’s aggressive nationalism fostered antagonism, and bad blood among the nations. Even during his lifetime, Iqbal was appalled at the unprecedented mass destruction wreaked during WWI only on the grounds of nationalism.

In contrast, the cultural nationalism describes people as a nation held together by their inwardly-felt sharing of religious and cultural values. Iqbal’s cultural nationalism in terms of India was mainly a desire to facilitate his vision of the reform of the existing Muslim social and economic order. This was done by mobilizing masses, at least, in the areas wherein the Muslims constituted a numerical majority.

Iqbal, while clarifying the nature of conflict between nationalism and Islam, wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru:

“Nationalism in the sense of love of one’s country and even readiness to die for its honour is a part of the Muslim’s faith; it comes into conflict with Islam only when it begins to play the role of a political concept and claims to be a principle of human solidarity demanding that Islam should recede to the background of a mere private opinion and cease to be a living factor in the national life.”

It may be noted here that Iqbal’s proposition was that the nationalism was a problem for the Muslims only in those countries where they were in a numerical minority – such as India. However, Islam accommodates nationalism in the countries where they were numerically large enough to assert their right to order their individual and collective lives in accordance with the decrees of Shariah.

Iqbal in his poem titled “Hussain Ahmad” on the concept of Islam and nationalism launched into a strong condemnation of the thesis of Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani who insisted on territorial nationalism. Iqbal wrote:

سرود بر سرِ منبر کہ ملت از وطن است
چہ بے خبر زمقام محمدِ عربیﷺ است

“He [Husain Ahmad of Deoband] preached from the pulpit that the Muslim nation can exist by devotion to one’s country!
How ignorant he is about the teaching of Muhammad Arabi (PBUH)!”

In another poem “Wataniat (Yani Watan Bahesiat Aik Siasi Tasawwur Ke)” [PATRIOTISM (As a Political Concept)], he wrote:

یہ بت کہ تراشیدۂ تہذیبِ نوی ہے
غارت گرِ کاشانۂ دین نبوی ہے

This idol which is the product of the new civilization
Is the plunderer of the structure of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) Deen

Allama Iqbal also discerned in the very DNA of nationalism a well-calculated imperialistic design of Europe to enslave the nations, and shatter the religious unity of the Muslims.

اِن تازہ خداﺅں میں بڑا سب سے وطن ہے
جو پیرہن اِس کا ہے، وہ مذہب کا کفن ہے

Country is the biggest among these new gods!
What is its shirt is the shroud of Deen (Religion).

Moreover, Iqbal was particularly antipathetic towards West for its cutthroat materialism, so natural it was for him to seek spiritualism in any concept. He said:

“I am opposed to nationalism as it is understood in Europe. Because, I see in it the germs of atheistic materialism which I look upon as the greatest danger to the modern humanity.”

In the opinion of his son, Dr Javaid Iqbal, “Allama envisaged an international Islam when he stated that Islam was neither nationalism, nor imperialism, but a ‘commonwealth of nations’ which welcomed racial diversity, and ever-changing geographical demarcation for reference only, and not for constraining the social horizon of its members.”

قوم مذہب سے ہے، مذہب جو نہیں، تم بھی نہیں
جذبِ باہم جو نہیں، محفل انجم بھی نہیں

Unto a nation faith is life, You lost your faith and fell,
When gravitation fails, must cease concourse celestial.

Iqbal’s appreciation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is sometime cited to insinuate that he was disposed to secularism, and territorial nationalism. However, in reality, that’s not the case, for the context he admired Turks was from the vantage point of Ijtihad. He was a diehard champion of the principle of movement and dynamism in the structure of Islam, which was never a static pack of some rites and rituals, but was a living force, apt to be acclimatized to ever-changing environment. According to Iqbal, the movement of reform initiated by Mustafa Kemal, despite many flaws it had, was wholesome in general, and to be encouraged as an illustration of how Muslim thought might be reactivated.

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