Q. l Critically evaluate the factors which led Allama Muhammad Iqbal from an Indian nationalist to Muslim nationalist? Discuss.
Ans:. Iqbal’s Critique of Secular Nationalism Muhammad Iqbal has been hailed as an eminent modern Muslim poet and philosopher. Educated in law at University of Cambridge’s Trinity College (1906), and in philosophy at Maximilian University of Munich (1908), Iqbal articulated a philosophical and poetic vision of Islam, along with a critical evaluation of the achievements and limits of Western civilization, with an explicit attack on nationalism. By his own admission, Iqbal was among the first ones to broach the topic of nationalism in India .13 Along with Mawdudi, Iqbal entered the debate on nationalism in late 1930s at the height of the worldwide fervor of nationalism. This was the time when Arab Muslims had rebelled and colluded with the European powers against the Ottoman rule over their lands. In addition, the Turkish leadership itself had dismantled the institutional framework of the centuries-old Muslim Caliphate, shocking South Asian Muslims and galvanizing many of them for the restoration of the Caliphate.
The international fervor of nationalism was reflected in the national fever at home in South Asia as the nationalist movement continued to make gains. Faced with a burgeoning nationalist movement spearheaded by Hindu revivalists, socialists, and Muslim theologians affiliated with the Association of Indian Scholars, all promoting a nationalist vision, Iqbal criticized secular nationalism from a spiritual perspective. Iqbal’s basic philosophical outlook is exposited in his famous lectures, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. In his basic theological insight, Iqbal presents God as the Ultimate Ego whose incessant creative activity issues forth individual egos or selves, carrying different intensities of consciousness from the minutest of subatomic particles and quanta to human self-consciousness, all of whom go to make up the universe. From this follows Iqbal’s basic statement on anthropology: issued forth as a result of divine creativity, the human ego is essentially spiritual, unencumbered by the limitations of time and space, and therefore, imbued with the divinely-induced tendency toward free and creative activity.
The greater fulfilment of man’s spiritual essence translates into the greater realization of one’s ego-potential , whose climax is an affective14 union with God in the form of religious experience. I say affective and not mystical or religious so as to avoid conflating Iqbal’s sense of spiritual experience with the traditional mystical modes. In Iqbal’s sense, affective experience still retains the intense emotionality that accompanies religious experiences, yet, at the same time, the affective holds a necessary and intimate relation with the rational. In the second instance, the human ego is also earthbound due to its biological constitution and terrestrial existence, thereby destined to operate within the limits of space and time.
History, as the activity of earthly forces, therefore, forms the arena proper for the realization of human ego-potential as exemplified by the examples of the prophets in the Qur’an. Explaining the unity of the spiritual and the historical in the mission of Prophet Muhammad, Iqbal notes that the Prophet returns [from religious experience to the ordinary world] to insert himself into the sweep of time with a view to control the forces of history, and thereby to create a fresh world of ideals . is the awakening, within him, of world-shaking psychological forces, calculated to completely transform the human world. This statement holds the key to Iqbal’s integration of spiritual anthropology, political theology, and critique of nationalism. As the arena of realization of the spiritual quest, the historical movement presents repeated encounters with finite “forces of history” aligned with “fresh world of ideals” and, as Iqbal mentions later, “fresh loyalties” . In other words, the spiritual quest in its evolution ascends from stage to stage, creating new ideals demanding fresh loyalties.
In this journey, earthbound historical forces represent challenges to be overcome and transcended, and nationalism is one such challenge. Failing to transcend the national ideal and loyalty deviates the spiritual quest, thereby arresting the ultimate realization of human ego-potential and, by extension, Muslim identity. This implies that nationalism presumes an anthropology of its own, one which, on the one hand, remains indifferent to man’s spiritual essence, and, on the other hand, misinterprets him as a national being, mistaking servitude to the nation as the climax of his ego-potential. Iqbal’s anthropology stands in stark contrast to the nationalist anthropology, as Iqbal presents the human individual as a spiritual being capable of transcending all earthly limitations. Accordingly, as
“an emotional system of unification it [Islam] recognizes the worth of the individual as such, and rejects blood-relationship as a basis of human unity. Blood-relationship is earth-rootedness. The search for a purely psycho-logical foundation of human unity becomes possible only with the perception that all human life is spiritual in its origin. Such a perception is creative of fresh loyalties without any ceremonials to keep them alive, and makes it possible for man to emancipate himself from the earth”
For Iqbal, nationalism is materialistic in that it is “associated with the body and the world of dimensions” in its relation to its geographical [and, let us add, linguistic and racial] factors . “Earth-rootedness” pulls humans down and pegs them to the world of gross matter, which divides humanity along earthly concerns. For humanity to unite together, nothing less than the infinite spiritual ideal will do. A corollary of the spiritual ideal is the spiritual equality of all humans which determines the “psycho-logical foundation of human unity,” that is the unity of human spiritual origins, which in turn determines the spiritual “worth of the individual as such.” Herein lies the foundational difference between Iqbal’s anthropology and secular nationalism. Iqbal’s spiritual anthropology locates the basis for the universal dignity of all human beings without regard to earthly factors. Spiritual universality then leads to a universal vision of society and politics, whereas nationalism can never offer dignity to all humanity due to its particularity, nor can it truly attain universality as universal nationalism is oxymoronic. Ali Qasmi thus aptly labels Iqbal’s vision a “spiritual democracy encapsulating the whole world” , while Masud describes Iqbal’s vision as a “framework for the theology of modernity focused on the autonomy of self” . In Iqbal’s words, “Islam does not aim at the moral reformation of the individual alone; it also aims at a gradual but fundamental revolution in the social life of mankind, which should altogether change its national and racial viewpoint and create in its place a purely human consciousness” (Iqbal 1930) as opposed to a national consciousness.
In other words, Islam is inherently supranational and nationalism must not be allowed to arrest its supranational potential. Taken as a premise, Iqbal’s spiritual anthropology logically projects a political theology as its necessary consequence. Iqbal was not against a healthy form of patriotism in the sense of one’s affection for one’s homeland. He held this sense of patriotism as incumbent on every Muslim as expressed in a famous Muslim proverb: ‘love of one’s nation is part of faith.’ So much so that one should be willing to lay down one’s life for one’s homeland. However, nationalism that Iqbal here criticizes is one that claims the nation as “a principle of human society and as such, it is a political concept” (Iqbal 1973). To assert nationalism as a political concept is to underscore its ideological dimension. Thus, as a political principle or an ideology, nationalism becomes the foundation for organizing the whole of public life that eventually affects the private sphere, including spirituality, and in Iqbal’s perspective, a change in spirituality is a change in a Muslim’s essential identity. In other words, where nationalism becomes the organizing principle of collective life, religion must necessarily withdraw within the narrow scope of privacy, and cut off from the totality of life, withers away and dies. In contrast, Iqbal asserts that Islam is “an ethical ideal plus a certain kind of polity … a social structure regulated by a legal system and animated by a specific ethical ideal” (Iqbal 1930). This is because in
“Islam God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other”
Nationalism, in contrast,
“suggests a dualism which does not exist in Islam” .
To reject nationalism’s religious/secular, private/public, and spirituality/politics dualisms amounts to rejecting secularism. In the Islamic sense, “that is secular is, therefore, sacred in the roots of its being,” Iqbal proclaims. If nationalism is “essentially a secular form of consciousness,” as Greenfeld noted, then it is antithetical to Islam as conceived by Iqbal. Hence, when “Islam will be reduced to an ethical idea with indifference to its social order as an inevitable consequence,” the eventual outcome due to nationalism’s extension in both private and public, and its accompanying effects on religiosity, that critics like Iqbal see nationalism as competing with Islamic ideals and loyalty . Once taken root among a people, nationalism engenders a social pathology. For, absent the religious tie, a principle of national unity still needs to be discovered, recourse is then taken to the distinctions of race, language, and land, all of which inevitably sow seeds of hatred, animosity, and exclusion, not only among nations, but among different communities within a single nation. Both nationalism and atheistic socialism, at least in the present state of human adjustments, must draw upon the psychological forces of hate, suspicion, and resentment which tend to impoverish the soul of man and close up his hidden sources of spiritual energy .Surely the present moment is one of great crisis in the history of modern culture.
Stated differently, the great crisis of nationalism is spiritual, a result of its social pathology. When Iqbal turns to nationalism in his spiritual-theological perspective, he discerns the functioning of the modern nation as an idol or a deity, as it competes with divine authority and loyalty. This is nowhere more conspicuously expressed than in Iqbal’s poem “Nationalism” Iqbal opens the poem with a hermeneutical insight: In this age the wine, the cup, even Jam is different The cup-bearer started different ways of grace and tyranny The Muslim also constructed a different Haram of his own The Azar of civilization made different idols of his own Country possible only with the perception that all human life is spiritual in its origin. Such a perception is creative of fresh loyalties without any ceremonials to keep them alive, and makes it possible for man to emancipate himself from the earth”
For Iqbal, nationalism is materialistic in that it is “associated with the body and the world of dimensions” in its relation to its geographical and, let us add, linguistic and racial factors . “Earth-rootedness” pulls humans down and pegs them to the world of gross matter, which divides humanity along earthly concerns. For humanity to unite together, nothing less than the infinite spiritual ideal will do. A corollary of the spiritual ideal is the spiritual equality of all humans which determines the “psycho-logical foundation of human unity,” that is the unity of human spiritual origins.
Both nationalism and atheistic socialism, at least in the present state of human adjustments, must draw upon the psychological forces of hate, suspicion, and resentment which tend to impoverish the soul of man and close up his hidden sources of spiritual energy Surely the present moment is one of great crisis in the history of modern culture.
Iqbal comes to oppose nationalism to Islam, and presents Islam as the proper Muslim alternative to nationalism. Iqbal is thus exhorting his readers to a battle between Islam and nationalism. This theological hermeneutic divides the world into two ideological camps: pure monotheism (tauh. ¯ıd) versus all other ideological manifestations destructive of monotheism. To adopt nationalism in all earnest is tantamount to sinning against God, and the destruction of Islam. Accordingly, Iqbal’s recommendation to the Muslims is to destroy the neo-idol in order to save their religion in its totality. Iqbal ends the poem thus:
God’s creation is unjustly divided among nations by it
The Islamic concept of nationality is uprooted by it
Iqbal saw nationalism not only as a threat against the Muslim world’s sorely needed unity, already divided among nations, but also a shattering of human unity. On this point Iqbal agrees with Madani that nationalism was deployed by the West as a weapon to divide Muslims into warring camps. However, unlike Madani, Iqbal’s prescription does not call for appropriating nationalism as a weapon against the West. Iqbal saw nationalism by its very nature as earthbound hence limited, therefore, divisive and exclusionary, unequipped to serve the cause of restoring Muslim or human unity.19 Iqbal’s idealist philosophy dreamt of a universal theological humanism. In contrast to nationalism and racism, Iqbal’s vision approaches Prophet Muhammad as “a universal figure, rather than an Arab.”20 Prophet Muhammad was thus a universal prophet bearing the universal monotheistic message of Islam. As Majeed notes, upon God’s oneness Iqbal founds the unity of all humanity, because “all are equal before this universal God, this potential equality can become the basis for a society which in principle transcends race and ethnicity”. Iqbal’s universal political theology and his critique of spirit of nationalism made composite nationalism’s arguments unpalatable to him.