"The weak lose themselves in God; the strong discover Him in themselves." ~ Allama Iqbal

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Origins of a Human & Social Ideal according to Iqbal

In 1930, Iqbal delivered a famous presidential address (known also as the Allahabad Address).  In it are many gems worth deep consideration for anyone who wishes to take practical steps of improving the world.  He is, in this presidential address, speaking to other Muslims.  He is, today, through this presidential address, speaking to me. 

I offer the following as my perceptions of just some of its value for today's modern person.  I offer this as a student of Iqbal, and thus my perceptions are my own, with any mistakes or misguided understandings totally attributable to me.

In this address, Iqbal shares what is clearly a serious concern for him:

"Do not think that the problem I am indicating is a purely theoretical one. It is a very living and practical problem calculated to affect the very fabric of Islam as a system of life and conduct. On a proper solution of it alone depends your future as a distinct cultural unit in India. Never in our history Islam has had to stand a greater trial than the one which confronts it today. It is open to a people to modify, reinterpret or reject the foundational principles of their social structure; but it is absolutely necessary for them to see clearly what they are doing before they undertake to try a fresh experiment."

I find it significant that Iqbal is not arguing for or against any particular sect.  He is, instead, stating, with obvious urgency, that the problem will "affect the very fabric of Islam as a system of life and conduct."  That is a far more foundational concern than whether one believes in this or that sect-based dogma, and is, instead, an argument (as I see it) for a complete reappraisal of the context itself and the direction he apparently saw it heading.

Iqbal makes an argument for what I believe is a major way Islam can contribute to the world outside Islam.  It is also, of course, applicable for Muslims themselves for revivification of ideals within their own social contexts.  It relates to how nations identify themselves.  This self-identification of nations is a root from which springs all manner of worldly conditions. 

Studying this address from Iqbal makes more clear why, in the west, we have such an apparent split between church and state, and why we (not just in the US, but many nations of the world) now find ourselves with a narrow identity according to geographical borders and racial lines.

As Iqbal writes, "If you begin with the conception of religion as complete other-worldliness," then, in this context, it is no great leap to see how man - with a universal view based upon seeing the material world as profane and man as inherently flawed - constructed for itself mankind-derived forms of political organization.  In this context, largely denying the sanctity of man and the world, and with the absence of a political ideal resting upon a divinely revealed truth, there was, as Iqbal states, "the complete displacement of universal ethics of Jesus by the growth of a plurality of national and hence narrower systems of ethics."

One can turn to Islam for a very different universal understanding, and thus a potentially very different outcome in human organization and politics.  As Iqbal writes in this address:

"Islam does not bifurcate the unity of man into an irreconcilable duality of spirit and matter.  In Islam God and the universe, spirit and matter, church and state, are organic to each other. Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of a world of spirit situated elsewhere. To Islam matter is spirit realizing itself in space and time."

I personally find this a powerfully profound statement.  This is particularly the case with regard to its practical application to human social organization and politics.  With no separation between spirit and matter, and with the latter being merely a concrete manifestation, in space and time, of the former, the organization and well-being of social mankind are directly sourced from, and are a potential expression of, a divine root.

With this understanding intact, that is, that humans are not divorced from the stars (to which even modern science can attest to the material basis), there is, then, no need to find "expression through varying systems of polity evolved on national lines, i.e., on lines which recognize territory as the only principle of political solidarity."  A different ethic, applicable to human, social, planetary, and universal contextual understanding, already exists. 

According to this Islamic understanding of spirit and matter being one and the same, there is, then, no separation between the spiritual and temporal.  A so-called separation of church and state is impossible with this divinely sourced view of the Universe.  As Iqbal writes, " Man is not the citizen of a profane world to be renounced in the interest of a world of spirit situated elsewhere."   With this in mind, spirit is found here, not elsewhere, and thus spiritual ethics are the guiding principles upon which persons and nations may define themselves.

I wonder how others in the world would feel about Iqbal's aforementioned concerns and views.  Have they been addressed?  Are they still a serious issue?  I suspect that Iqbal might feel that Muslims, or Christians, or any other social unit - racially, geographically, and nationally self-identified as such - cannot save us.  People, then, don't really save the world.  Islam can, however, save people.

I suspect that Iqbal's views on a nation's education revolve around some of these same points.  One doesn't produce good citizens simply by training them intellectually to take jobs doing things that, at the same time, undermine the character of a nation.  To do so is to ignore the aforementioned divinely sourced context in which people find themselves.

One may learn from Islam this freeing from geographic, racial, and nationalistic limitations.  The freeing comes from identifying, uplifting, and coming to a consensus about the value of shared ideals and principles.  Divinely revealed and humanly interpreted and applied, this is a lesson I believe Iqbal has offered the world, if only it would listen.  Without this emphasis, Iqbal notes:

"At the present moment the national idea is racialising the outlook of Muslims, and thus materially counteracting the humanising work of Islam. And the growth of racial consciousness may mean the growth of standards different and even opposed to the standards of Islam."

If I understand Iqbal correctly, I hear him saying that human experience is a divinely rooted experience, and hence can/should constitute a basis for the integrity of a nation ("It is individual experience creative of a social order.").  Empowering the individual with an Islamic ideal of solidarity directly contributes to the vitality of his/her social environment.  In the end, it is indeed not about the individual but about the social unit, coalesced around shared principles, and evolving through time toward a better world.

For me, Iqbal speaks strongly to the need (and potential) for the world today to grasp this dramatically different orientation.  Islamic and non-Islamic nations today exhibit jealousy and defiance toward one another based upon their conflicting views of the Universe, all couched in the language of territory, race, sectarianism, etc.  If we really, truly, desire to create a world of cooperative understanding, and even peace, I believe Iqbal provides a plan on how to go about creating such conditions. 

Go here to read the full Allahabad Address.

Many thanks are due to the generous and expert tutelage of Mr. Khurram Ali Shafique in the many high quality study opportunities he offers through the Marghdeen Learning Centre, his The Republic of Rumi blog, in association with Iqbal Academy Pakistan, the International Iqbal Society, and others.  With his guidance, the very important vision and philosophy of Iqbal are reaching many people.


  1. Thanks robert for this powerful piece of imaginative analysis.

    1. Greetings Sir,

      Thank you very much for your visit.

      All good wishes,


  2. Yes, thank you very much. It's a very profound analysis. I would suggest that you shorten it a bit, into 900 words or so, and send for publication in a Pakistani newspaper. I would be glad to help you.

    1. Thank you Sir.

      Yes, shortening is always my challenge :).

      All good wishes,