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Iqbal’s Poetry Is Well-Known, but What About His Prose Works?

By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

April 21, 2019

Iqbal’s poetry is well-known, but what about his prose works?

For most of his life, Iqbal dispensed his thoughts through his writings, both in prose and (mostly in) poetry—in English, Urdu and Persian; and that is why we see that a plethora of literature has been produced both on his poetry and political/ philosophical thought.

However, one sees a disparity and imbalance in highlighting Iqbal through his poetry and prose. Most of the studies focus on his poetry and his Magnus opus The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.

However, there are many other prose pieces by Iqbal which deliberate on different socio-religious and politico-economic aspects of Islam and Muslims. Most of these have been either ignored or less quoted/ studied when referring to his thought. In this direction, below is provided a succinct overview of Allama Iqbal’s some important prose works—both books and articles.

In prose, Allama Iqbal is famous for his magnum opus The Reconstruction: first published in 1930; republished in 1934; an annotated edition produced by M. Saeed Shaikh in 1984; and a new edition, with an Introduction by Javed Majeed of King’s College London, published in 2013, his dissertation “The Development of Metaphysics in Persia” (Cambridge, 1908); and Stray Reflections (1910; published in 1961).

Besides these, he has authored a number of articles on different religio-political and socio-economic aspects as well. All these writings, along with his letters and speeches, have been compiled, among others, by Latif Ahmad Sherwani in ‘Speeches, Writings, and Statements of Iqbal’ (first published, under his pseudonym “Shamloo”, in 1944, and 6th edition published in 2015).

Consisting of different writings of Allama Iqbal, as the title clearly depicts, Sherwani’s Speeches is considered, so far, “one of the most important collections of Allama Iqbal’s prose pieces”. Some of these writings (book, speech, and articles) of Allama Iqbal, on different religio-political and socio-economic aspects vis-à-vis Islam/ Muslims are:

‘Ilm al-Iqtisad (‘The Science of Economics’): A book on ‘Political Economy’, first published  in  1903, it is considered as “the first book in Urdu on Economics”. Through this book, “Iqbal showed”, for Riffat Hassan (An Iqbal Primer, 2005, p. 19 ), “his grasp of  the essentials of the subject and  his familiarity with contemporary ideas”.

Apart from its historical value, it helps us “in understanding Iqbal’s mind and in tracing the development of those socio-economic ideas which were later to become important elements in his philosophy”.

This book, which served as a beacon light for the next generation, established Iqbal, as Khwaja Amjad Saeed (in Pakistan Development Review, 41, 4, 2002, p. 974) claims, “first Muslim Economist of the then British Sub-Continent”. On 11th Nov 2012, Arjimand Hussian Talib published an article related to this book in GK, entitled “Iqbal, the economist, we ignore”.

“Idea of Caliphate in Islam”: Published in the Sociological Review (London, 1908) and later reprinted as “Political Thought in Islam” in Hindustan Review (Dec’1910, pp. 527-33 and Jan’1911, pp. 22-26), this essay throws light on Islam and polity. It focuses on the mode of selection of Chief in the Pre-Islamic Arabia, Islam and its rules for selection of the Caliph, Elective Monarchy (in Sunni, Shia, and Khawarij viewpoint), etc.

“Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal”: This essay was first published in Hindustan Review (Allahabad; in two parts; Vol. 20, No. 119 July’1909: 29-38, & 20, 120, Aug’1909: 166-171), and reprinted in, among others, Charles Kurzman’s Modernist Islam (2002; chapter 41, pp. 304-13). In this essay, Iqbal argued for “the progressive and egalitarian nature of Islam, in both the ethical and political realms”. Here he argued that there is “no privileged class, no priesthood, and no caste system”, and that “there is no aristocracy in Islam”.

“The Muslim Community—A Sociological Study”: This is originally a Lecture which Allama Iqbal delivered in the Strachey Hall of M. A. O. College (AMU, Aligarh) in the winter of 1910. It has been reproduced in Rafi-ud-Din Hashmi’s Tasanif-i-Iqbal (1977), and Sherwani’s Speeches.

Here Iqbal focuses on three inter-related aspects: general structure of the Muslim Community; uniformity of Muslim Culture, and type of character essential to a continuous national life of the Muslim community. He puts forth, among others, the proposition that the “religious idea constitutes the life principle of the Muslim Community”.

“Muslim Democracy”: Published in The New Era (28th July, 1917, p. 251), here Iqbal showed his criticism towards democracy, in its then prevailing form, and denounced and criticized it publicly. He has compared and contrasted the “Democracy of Europe” and “Democracy of Islam”—the former “overshadowed by socialist agitation and anarchical fear” and the later as “a spiritual principle”.

“Divine Right to Rule”: Published in Light (Lahore, 30th Aug’1928), in this article Iqbal explores the “theory of the divine right of kings”, claiming that it is “as old as the institution of kingship”. He mentions that according to this theory, both in the East as well as West, “the king … has been regarded as deriving his authority from God direct[ly]”. He explores its history to show how it was “justified”.

He throws light on the Prophet’s (pbuh) role as a ruler/ political leader, arguing that “History knows but one monarch whose rule over men may justly be called a rule by divine right and that one man was the Prophet of Islam [pbuh]”.

“Presidential Address at All India Muslim League”, Allahabad Session (Dec’ 1930): Commonly known as ‘Allahabad Address’, it is considered as a “very extensive review of the interaction among the British, the All-India National Congress, and All-India Muslim League, from the perspective of a Muslim thinker who was anxious about the political and cultural future of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent”.

This address, subsequently, came to be known as “the conceptual basis for the state of Pakistan”, and the basis of ‘Two-Nation theory’. It was in this address that Iqbal outlined a ‘vision’ of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in north-western India: “I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. … [This] appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India”.

All these writings of Allama Iqbal help us in understanding his political philosophy as well as his interest and appraisal of the socio-religious and politico-economic issues of his times. It is time to read Allama Iqbal through his prose, for it has been almost ignored.

Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Pulwama, Kashmir