By Aftab Ahmad, New Age Islam
03 June, 2014
Iqbal is one of the poets and thinkers of Islam who greatly influenced the Islamic thought, particularly of the sub continent. He was the first Muslim leader (he was also a Muslim League leader) to demand a separate state within India. Later Jinnah whom Iqbal wrote a number of letters expressing his political views demanded an independent state carved out of India. Iqbal’s view on western democracy criticizing and opposing democracy also had many takers in the then Indian sub continent,. Many of Iqbal’s couplets and poems criticizing the democratic form of government influenced the political thought of later generation of Muslims on both sides of the sub continent. Many such couplets have become very popular and are a part of the political discourse of Muslims. Thus, it is necessary to understand the true nature of Iqbal’s criticism of democracy. Does he really criticize and oppose democracy as a form of government or a political theory or does he have a pragmatic and modern approach to democracy based on Ijtihad?
Firstly, he criticizes democracy because in a democracy individuals are counted and not weighed. He is averse to the quantitative aspect of western democracy.
Jamhuriyyat Wo Tarz e Hukumat Hai Ke Jisme
Bandon Ko Gina Karte Hain Taula Nahin Karte
(Democracy is a form of government in which people are counted not weighed)
Iqbal feels that the western democracy is only an old wine in new bottle and a modern form of monarchy and dictatorship. He thinks in democracy the state becomes a toy in the hands of capitalists and the people are exploited as they were under despotic rules.
Hai Wahi Saaz e Kuhan Maghrib Ka Jamhuri Nezam
Jiske Pardon Me Nahin Ghair Az Nawai Qaisari
(The democratic system of the West is an old musical instrument that sounds like despotic rules of the old days)
Secondly, Iqbal opposed democracy because it adopts secularism as state religion. Iqbal thinks that religion, Islam should be the state religion. Removing religion from the affairs of the state is a death knell for the society as without religion the society will go haywire.
Meri Nigah Me Hai Ye Siyasat La Deen
Kaneez e Ahrman Wa Dun Nihad Wa Murda Zameer
(In my view, this kind of politics is no- religious. It is a mistress of Satan and devoid of morals and conscience)
Iqbal is also against the unlimited liberty and freedom of thought democracy grants to its citizens. He says that all the people of a country do not have Fikr e Khudadad (natural wisdom). People with low intelligence can be misguided by the capitalist propaganda and can support a wrong or unethical cause such as same sex marriage or legalizing prostitution.
Azadi E Afkar Se Hai Unki Tabahi
Rakhte Nahin Jo Fikre Tadabbur Ka Saliqua
He Fikr Agar Kham to Azadi e Afkar
Insan Ko Haiwan Banana Ka Tariqua
Go Fikr e Khudadad Se Roshan Hai Zamana
Azadi E Afkar Hai Iblees Ki Aijad
These are the reasons why Iqbal thought that western democracy was not the right form of government for the Islamic world and the liberalism of the west if not checked could prove counterproductive to the Islamic world. In one of his lectures, he explained his views on liberalism in the following words:
“We heartily welcome the liberal movement in Modern Islam but it must also be admitted that the appearance of liberal ideas in Islam constitutes also the most critical moment in history of Islam…Further our religious and political reforms in their zeal for liberalism may ever stop the proper limit of reform in the absence of a check on their youthful fervor.”
Thus, Iqbal becomes so critical of western democracy that he likens it to Satan who conspires to destroy the Islamic society. Western democracy is to him Kaneez e Ahrman (mistress of Satan).
Iqbal opposes western democracy also because it is based on the concept of nationalism. He condemns nationalism as it is against the spirit of Islam. He feels that nationalism is not compatible with Islam. Islam discourages any attachment to one’s homeland. In his view, a Muslim should be free of any territorial attachment.
Ho Qaid E Maqami To Natija Hai Tabahi
Rah Bahr Me Azad E Watan Surat E Mahi
Hai Tark E Watan Sunnat E Mahbub e Ilahi
De Tubhi Nabuwwat Ki Sadaqat Pe Gawahi
(Settling in a place is destructive. Be like a fish in water. Leaving the homeland is Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh).
In Taza Khudaon Me Bada Sabse Watan Hai
Jo Pairhan Iska Hai Wo Millat Ka Kafan Hai
(Among the latest gods, the biggest is nationalism. Its robe is the burial cloth of the community)
However, Iqbal’s criticism and opposition of western democracy does not mean that he was opposed to the very idea of democracy as a form of government. He only opposed democracy based on western ideals that are antagonistic to the spirit and principles of Islam. Therefore, he advocates the concept of Spiritual Democracy which would have a qualitative not quantitative approach. In a letter to R. A. Nicholson he writes:
“The kingdom of God on earth means the democracy of more or less unique individuals presided over by the most unique individuals possible on the earth.”
Such a kingdom of God based on Islamic principles, Quran and Sunnah is called Islamic democracy by Iqbal. In the preface to his book, Asrar e Khudi, Iqbal writes:
“Islamic Democracy is a spiritual principle which is based on the proposition that every individual is gifted with some traits and qualities which can be developed through the formation of a certain character. Those who accomplished great achievements in the initial phase of Islam were also common people.”
In his letter to Jinnah on May 28, 1`937, Iqbal writes:
“… Accepting social democracy for Islam in an appropriate form and according to Shariah will not be something new or revolutionary but will be akin to reverting to the original purity of Islam.”
Iqbal also ponders over the compatibility of Khilafat with modern Islamic world as he considers it an ideal for Muslims as it protects the sovereignty of God on earth but going by the fate of Khilafat at the hands of the Umayyads, Abbasids and Ottomans, he had a second thought on Khilafat as a form of government for the modern Islamic world.
Therefore, he supports the idea of spiritual democracy or social democracy as an ideal form of government for Muslims which will be based on the Quran and Sunnah as its constitution and Shura (body of elected members) as the Executive body.
It thus becomes clear that Iqbal did not oppose or criticise democracy as a form of government but only democracy based on the western ideas of unlimited liberalism, secularism and capitalism.
Aftab Ahmad is a columnist for New Age Islam. He has been studying the Holy Quran for some time.