IQBAL -- THE UNIVERSAL POET
IQBAL -- THE UNIVERSAL POET
(by Miss Shamim Anwar)
We all talk about the greatness of Iqbal. A lot has been written on him and some of his work has been translated. In future, people and scholars in greater numbers will realise the nature of his contribution to humanity, which is eluding the petty-minded politicians and even some intellectuals of today. I am using the word "humanity" because he speaks for humankind and not specifically for any particular group.
I do not claim to be a scholar on Iqbal, I do not even know proper Urdu, leave alone Persian, However, I owe a tremendous lot to Allama Parwez in the understanding of Iqbal and I shall attempt to convey this understanding in the light of the fact that this programme is primarily arranged for the students as active participants. As a retired teacher, I know the problems that students face in the infamous course of "Pakistanstudies", So I shall keep that in view.
The greatness of Iqbal lies in the fact the he challenged, in the light of the Quran, the onrush of certain socio-economic and political concepts that are dominating human thoughts, worldwide. Concepts such as "nation-state", "secularism", "western democracy" and "capitalist economy" evolved through European experience, were first established in the Americas, and then the non-Western world in Asiaand Africa.
Unfortunately, the political, economic and above all, intellectual dominance of the West, inevitably makes the former subject races adopt these concepts unthinkingly and uncritically by way of blind imitation. Iqbal is one of the lone examples, who although influenced by these concepts in his youth, soon rejected them, having lived in Europeand critically watched and studied the global scenario.
While admitting the European Renaissance Spirit (he himself was a Renaissance Man) he was concerned about the course it took. Leading to bloody wars of Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the identity of Universal Christendom was lost and its place was taken by territory (`desh'), language, race and traditions, euphemistically called "culture". Thus was Europe spilt into innumerable nation-states, so much so, that following suit, there are now 180 "nation-state" members of the U.N.O. this splintering of humanity is simply based on whether one is tall or short or stocky, black or white or brown, the nose flat or short, eyes straight or slanting, etc. Further, each one worships its own territory as the best in the world, as if the rest was created by the devil; each one prides on its own cuisine showing off ones `seekh-kabab, pulao, lentils, roast-meat or puddings. The slogan is "my country, right or wrong". The situation is pathetic and below human dignity. Iqbal's clarion call was that the whole planet earth was beautiful and it was a one single global home for one human family. If there is to be any division of humankind, it is on the basis of values alone. This is the only area of activity where humans can make fundamental choices; the rest is passive and accidental by birth. It is a pity that being committed to values is considered being conservative and communal, while the worship of `desh' is modern!
With the nation-state comes along the issue of "secularism", again considered as a very modern idea. Sure, if it is basically getting rid of priesthood in churches, temples and mosques, it would be a splendid achievement, but what has happened is that the baby has been thrown away with the bathtub. To divorce values from our public life, to indulge in Machiavellism and become the biggest of devils as Cavour, the Italian unifier said about himself, is no achievement indeed. The worse part of it is that human personality has been spilt into two, the two half's of us moving in different, almost opposite directions. If this is not schizophrenia, what is it? Iqbal spoke about the "whole Man" and the unity of life. His `mard-e-momin' or a developed personality pulsates in unison, without any spilt into personal and public behaviour.
Now, having lost the sense of values, the standard of right and wrong became subject to the majority vote. What may be right today could become wrong tomorrow just because 51 votes wee reduced to 49. In other words it is one man who decides the fate of a whole people, and this is supposed to be democracy. For example, the value that all human beings, irrespective of any consideration, race, sex, country or language, are equal and honourable can be overturned by a majority vote, is a possibility that is frightening. This is a Quranic permanent value, and even if not a single vote is in its favour it remains that truth and a fact in human existence. No doubt the freedom of expression in spoken and written word, the sense of participation through elections and the institution of debate and exchange of views are laudable on going accomplishments, all the more so since they were acquired through trial and error. But the essence of democracy is still missed out. The evil lies at the root of "Power"; whether it lies in the "king's will" or the "general will". Power is not a human characteristic, no one has the right to exercise power over others, not even 51 over 49. It all ends up in tyranny. Thus Iqbal concludes that power lies in ht Quranic permanent values the source of which is divine. Power is divinity, the source of universal creation and universal laws, concrete or abstract.
Talking of European experience, a series of revolutions toppled not only the mighty kings but also the whole enervating feudal structure. This is itself was a tremendously liberating and energizing exercise. But it was followed by mechanized industry and capitalist economy, based on materialistic philosophy of life. Man, a mere extension of the animal is allowed to amass wealth, this being the incentive to work. Profit is his aim, he seems to live for it and die for it. It is like a bottomless pit, for after all humans have the potential to live for greater things. Matter is a base to stand on, not the aim of life. So the race goes on, ending in imperialism, subjugation of one over the other. Formerly, it was a visible "political" imperialism; today it is an invisible "economic" imperialism. The whole system, its basis and its incentives are exploitative, cruel and ruthless. As a consequence, Iqbal's Quranic insight warned the world of the First World War and later, The Second World War. His call was that the resources of the earth, or for that matter, the earth itself, is a Divine creation and possession. In His infinite bounty, He has left it open and free for humankind, to be used and enjoyed, not to be possessed. Any one claiming possession challenges Divinity as His rival. This is where we all go wrong and we all suffer.
How can this suffering be alleviated? The human race feels ever so unprotected. Following the Quranic direction, Iqbal's aim was to establish a strong and resourceful centre that could challenge the injustices rampant in different shapes and forms. After all, it is high time that groups of people somewhere thought in terms of humanity and protected the un-protected worldwide, under the guidance of Quranic permanent values. Seeing from these angles, it would be more appropriate if Iqbal was described as the "Universal Poet" rather than the "Poet of the East" as we have been so far. There is no East or West in the Quranic perspective. Humanity is an integrated one whole, composed of integrated, whole individuals. Thus describing him i.e. Iqbal as a "Universal Poet" from now onwards.