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Islamic Personalities ( 21 Sept 2023, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Wasn’t Iqbal Wrong In Denouncing Western Style Democracy And Freedom? Hasn't His Romantic View Of Brutal Despotism In The Name Of Khilafat Radicalised Our Ulema And Youth, To The Present Ruination And Irrelevance Of Islamic Civilisation?

By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef, New Age Islam

21September 2023

Knowledge Production In The Atmosphere Of Democracy,  Liberalism, Openness, Freedom And Respect For Human Rights, Is The Fountainhead Of Western Power And Unprecedented Influence In The World

Main Points:

1.    Surprisingly,  despite his call for reconstruction of Islamic theology, and theological views that would get any other Muslim to be denounced as a heretic, he remains the favourite philosopher of our ulema due to his regressive political views.

2.    Iqbal was a superb poet, but his political views have radicalised Muslim ulema and damaged Islamic civilisation.

3.    The critique of the West by Iqbal and his adherents must be carefully examined and scrutinized by all those who want Islamic civilisation to once again acquire relevance.

4.    Because Western society has both advantages and disadvantages, Muslims must interact with it and should not completely reject it.


Dr. Muhammad Iqbal


Iqbal, the greatest Urdu poet, and philosopher no doubt was a genius and the greatest mind Muslim India has produced in recent times. He went to England and did his Ph.D. on “Metaphysical Roots of Iranian Tasawwuf” from Oxford. And since it was necessary to have a good knowledge of German to complete the doctorate in a Philosophical domain, that is why, he went to Germany to learn German and have a degree in it from Munich. In Germany, Iqbal encountered a beautiful and genius German woman scholar Ema Vegenast. There was a good conversation between the two on many occasions, letters were exchanged. Even after returning from Europe, Iqbal continued to write her letters from India. Some people even say that there was an affair between the two. It is possible because Iqbal married a lowly educated woman at his early age, and was not satisfied with his marital life. But here we do not have to discuss this issue.

Iqbal greatly influenced Muslim thought in India and Iran as well. One of the main ideologues of 1979’s so-called Islamic revolution of Iran, Ali Shariati was very impressed by Iqbal’s Persian poetry and thought. Pakistanis wrongly and disputedly call him the ideological and visionary father of their nation.

Iqbal remained in the West and experienced first-hand the merits and drawbacks of Western civilisation.

Iqbal inaccurately prophesied the early death of European civilisation, as you can see in the following couplet, and was not it a self-deceit or illusion!

تہماری تہذیب خودآپ اپنے ہاتهون سے خودکشی کرے گی

جوشاخ نازک پہ آشیانہ بنے گا ناپائدارہوگا  

(Your civilization will commit suicide by its dagger,

for, the house built on a fragile foundation is always weak and frail.)

Though Iqbal was a thinker and a versatile philosopher yet in his political views he seems to me, tending to be a romantic and unrealistic person. He had a nostalgic approach to the obsolete Caliphate system as he was a firm believer in an autocratic rule. We can cite his famed couplet here:

چاک کردی ترک ناداں نے خلافت کی قبا  سادگی اپنوں کی دیکھ اوروں کی عیاری بھی دیکھ

تا خلافت کی بنا دنیامیں ہوپھراستوار           لاکہیں سے ڈھونڈکراسلاف کا قلب وجگر

(The ignorant Turk has torn the mantle of the Caliphate, look at the simplicity of Muslims and see too the cunning of the others., bring forth the hearts of the ancestors from anywhere, so that the foundations of the Caliphate can be rebuilt again.)

It must be admitted that there is aversion towards God and dislike of traditional religion in the West, the discourse of atheism is more powerful than that of religion. Atheists use Darwinian evolutionary theory to support and cement their ideology of negation of a supernatural being or creator of the Universe. Nudity and obscenity are on the rise. But there is no coercive aspect in it. That is why it fosters a culture of free thinking. And this freedom as summum bonum is a great source of strengthening Western civilization.

Iqbal had read the West closely and made sharp comments on Western civilization. But the same Iqbal also remarked:

نے ز از رقص زنان بے حجاب                                            قوتِ مغرب نہ ازچنگ و رباب

 ازہمیں آتش چراغش روشن است                                     قوتِ مغرب از علم و فن است

   (The power of the West does not come from the harp and musical tools and not from the dance of naked women. Rather the strength of the West comes from knowledge and art, their lamp is enlightened from this fire.)

We see that Iqbal and his staunch follower Maulana Maududi were wrong in the assessment of Western civilization. Though Iqbal was a bit honest in confessing and giving some credit to this civilization as we quoted above. Yet in his Urdu poetry he treated Western civilization with utmost bitterness and unusual harshness as once he remarked:

        اٹھاکرپھینک دوباہرگلی میں                   نئی تہذیب کے انڈے ہیں گندے        

(The eggs of the new civilization are dirty so throw them out in the street)

Iqbal was anti-democracy; he mocked with this polity by saying:

جمہوریت وہ طرزحکومت ہے کہ جس میں                       بندوں کوگناکرتے ہیں تولانہیں کرتے

(Democracy is a form of government in which the people are counted and not weighed)

How many rivers of dust and blood has the West passed through, to reach modern democracy? How many sacrifices have its thinkers, artists, writers, and scientists made to get rid of the clutches of the tyrannical monarchy and the oppressive church, regardless of all this, democracy is a devilish curse for Iqbal, what a surprise!

There is a poem in his anthology: Iblis ki Majlis Shura (Consulting body of Satan) in which Iblis(Satan) tells one of his disciples that democracy is our creation:

ہم نے خودشاہی کوپہنایاہے جمہوری لباس               توسمجھتاہے کہ آزادی کی ہے نیلم پری

(We have worn the kingship a democratic dress, you believe that it is a beautiful Fairy of freedom!)

In religious circles of Muslim masses, Iqbal has been received like a prophet, that is why, even though there are several academies and organisations in Pakistan and India specifically dedicated to studying Iqbal, it is unacceptable to criticise or examine his ideas. Iqbal’s poetry was translated into Arabic too, and through it one can trace his impact on Arab scholars and thinkers.

No one can deny that the Western civilization still is a dominant civilization of our times. It is still flourishing and a leading force in the world of economy and global polity and culture. Notwithstanding the big clams of Islamists and many predictions makers for the West to be declining very soon, there is no big sign of its nearby fall or decay. Contrasting of it the house of Islam is in disorder, as many Muslim countries are always fighting each other in Asia and Africa as well. Some Mid-Eastern countries and small sheikhdoms in recent times have made a tremendous developmental drive on materialistic grounds. For example, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain Qatar, et al are witnessing an upsurge in development, prosperity, and emergence of big malls and skyscrapers, etc.

Yet, this phenomenal growth and developmental model is also based on a Western capitalist model not on an Islamic model.

Compare that to the occurrence of radicalization, religious dogmatism, sectarian conflict, rising intolerance, animosity towards others, and widespread religiosity devoid of a genuine spiritual or religious sense. People more frequently follow their traditional tribal cultural ethos and rituals in many Muslim cultures and refer to them as Islamic traditions, like in Afghanistan. Many YouTubers and clerics are naively converting people to false beliefs like the return of a Messiah, Mahdi, or the emergence of a monster called Dajjal, etc. Contrast this with the most palpable civilizational values of the West such as honesty, justice, equality, valuation of merit, respect of other’s faith, rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of faith, and of course dignity of humans. These values are now very deeply rooted in Western societies and are playing a pivotal role in preventing that civilization from falling.

For Maulana Maududi, who never travelled to the West and only visited America to meet his son, a doctor there, for treatment of his terminal illness, Iqbal served as an inspiration. Maulana Maududi produced a body of anti-Western writing unmatched by anybody in the modern age. He sees nothing positive in the West. He published many books since he was a skilled, eloquent, and rapid Urdu prose writer. And because there are most contemporary educated people in Jamaat-e-Islami, the hatred of the West was instilled in his audience and readers and through them to general Muslims like poison. Similarly, Syed Qutb was influenced by Maulana Maududi in the Arab world. Although he stayed in America for two years on an education tour he also saw nothing but very negative aspects of Western society as he mentioned later in his famous memoir اميركة التي رائيت (The America that I Saw). After his return and joining the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, he lashed out against the West in his powerful Arabic prose.

Both were followed by more rigid and narrow-minded Maulvies, second-hand writers, columnists, preachers, and scholars. The result was a severe kind of hatred and disgust, blended with ignorance, jealousy, and enmity toward West permeating the Muslim mindset. This enmity and negative mentality spread throughout the Muslim societies around the world.

The Islamic world was ruled by European imperialism when Iqbal composed his poetry and Maududi wrote prose, thus it is but logical that their ideas were widely embraced. After that time, however, their glorification should have been stopped and their ideas ought to have been subjected to a critical and impartial examination.


A regular columnist for New Age Islam, Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef is a Research Associate with the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU, Aligarh.


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