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An airport, university, countless schools and roads – the list of places and institutions bearing the name of Allama Iqbal goes on and on.
Iqbal came to prominence in a time when the Muslim World was in apparent decline. Spain was long gone. The Mughal Empire was dead. For Muslims in his native British India, Iqbal’s poetry was a rallying call to rise; extremely relevant for his times on a socio-political level. 76 years after his death, however, his relevance needs to revisited.
Iqbal was not a capitalist. He wasn’t a socialist. He criticized both systems, but unfortunately, did not provide any answer as to what the ideal system is. His literary work also reeks of a non-progressive attitude towards the standing of women in our society, where he advocates motherhood as a woman’s most important role.
Also, some of his best literary work leaves one with more questions than answers. His ‘Mard-e-Momin’ advocates a return to the sword, but then he also talks about Khudi, a spiritual non-violent state of self-actualization.
“Sar Shak-E-Chashm-E-Muslim Mein Hai Neesan Ka Asar Paida
Khalil-Allah Ke Darya Mein Hon Ge Phir Guhar Paida”
(The effect of the spring‐rain is born in the tears of the Muslims.
Pearls will be born again in the sea of the Friend of God.)
Many people had been ranting about our shair-e-mashriq (poet of the East) Allama Iqbal rolling in his grave at the (mis)treatment due to the ‘controversy’ over how to celebrate/commemorate/observe his birth anniversary. I, on the other hand, had another vision flitting through my mind’s eye.
No, it wasn’t of him holding a pansy in his hand, muttering ‘Pakistan loves me, loves me not’, while plucking at each petal. I could envision him sitting calmly in his chair, legs neatly folded, with a hint of a smug smile on his face, saying,
“So, you thought you could forget me, eh?”
Like many other pieces of Iqbal’s poetry, this Stanza too lends support to the incorrect singular world view where Muslims are the exalted ones. His concept of a virtually omnipotent Muslim has stark similarities to Friedrich Nietzsche ‘Superman’. He envisioned a Muslim world devoid of divisions, one where all components come together to form a powerful, indestructible force. In his poem ‘Shikwa’, Iqbal shapes the world in a classic clash of civilizations.
The Islamic Mard-e-Momin strives to achieve martyrdom, thus reaching the pinnacle of human hierarchy. It is thus no wonder that verses by Iqbal have become synonymous with the Pakistan military’s academic and philosophical discourse.
The issues with Iqbal’s relevance today are the singular concepts of faith, progress and spirituality that he penned down in his lifetime. He was a product of his time, his soul-stirring poetry hitting home with the Muslims of pre-partition India. He wrote what the Muslims wanted to hear, and he did it brilliantly.
“Shan Ankhon Mein Na Jachti Thi Jahan Daron Ki
Kalima Parhte The Hum Chaon Mein Talwaron Ki”
(The pageantries of mighty kings to us were shows that mattered not,
Beneath the shade of blades unsheathed in Kalima we glory sought,)
This lends support to the angst-ridden reactionary version of Islam that has become synonymous with Pakistan. It was relevant before pre-partition since Muslims in the subcontinent needed an emotional boost and Iqbal did so very well, but this stanza, among a host of others, just doesn’t fit in the modern world. This is partly the problem with reading into and agreeing with what Iqbal wrote on a philosophical and socio-political level over three quarters of a century ago.
Singular concepts of faith, progress and spirituality do not hold water in the modern way. They have long been rubbished and replaced by pluralism and diversity. We live in a world where a singular world view, regardless of whether it is entrenched in hyper nationalism or overzealous religious identities, is a recipe for disaster.
We have seen Pakistan go through this decade after decade. The singular approach which built up aggressive religious fueled nationalism to counter the perceived threat by India, the singular approach which promoted national unity over provincial diversity both pre and post 1971 and the singular approach which sowed the seeds of anti-minority sentiments.
The Mard-e-Momin was relevant back when Muslims in the subcontinent were fighting for independence. His Falcon was relevant when Muslims in the subcontinent needed to rise and reach a stage of self-actualization. Back then, Muslims were the minority in an area that welcomed Iqbal’s message with open arms.
In 2014, that is not the case. Times have changed. Socio-political dynamics have changed, and most importantly, the world around us has changed. The Mard-e-Momin of the post-modern world spews nothing but hate.
It is because of these factors that the celebration of Iqbal as a visionary is incorrect. His ideas have not stood the test of time and they lend some unfortunate support to the many evils facing Pakistan on a socio-political and economic level.
A critical review of Iqbal is necessary in order to highlight not only the limitations of his ideological prowess, but also acknowledge that doing so does not downplay his talent as a wordsmith.
There has been far greater discussion and awareness about the national poet and philosopher in these few days than is done over the entire year. People were arguing whether Iqbal Day should or should not be a public holiday.
Within those arguments, selections from his poetry and essays were peppered for good measure. This was done across the pro and anti-holiday divide, so in my opinion, the benefit still accrued. But really, did we need the confusion about the public holiday to gain so much traction?
It’s true that the prospects of a long weekend have always been very enticing, but the needless controversy that erupted over whether or not schools and offices would be open gave the people more anguish than relief. Parents were especially stressed by the dithering between yes and no on part of the government officials.
Social media exploded with memes on the topic and then of course, the politicians, always looking to spark controversy to assert their importance, jumped into the fray. The one-upmanship, of the show of ‘more loyal to Iqbal than you’ spectacle also resulted in the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) announcing a holiday on November 9th, despite the fact that it had been taken out from the list of gazette holidays.
Some educational institutes kept the parents on tenterhooks till the last moment. Did all this serve any purpose? What was the idea of suddenly starting to protest for its restitution on the eve of the day itself? The list of gazetted holidays is issued at the start of the year.
Why didn’t anyone speak up at that time if they had a problem with it being declared a working day? At least then there would have plenty of time to hash the issue out and come to a decision.
We must also see whether these ‘holidays’ serve any purpose? Are we really commemorating them with a purpose in mind? Or do we just need to know well in advance whether to stock up on DVDs or book farm-houses and beach huts in advance?
This doesn’t even work in a half and half situation where schools are closed and offices are not, as that presents a bigger problem for parents to manage the children in their absence, unless they too have to miss work per force. All in all, a pretty complicated situation.
Surely, all those clamoring for a holiday were not planning to have ‘lub pey aatee hai dua’ recitals, were they? So, what is it that has suddenly made cancellation of Iqbal Day as a public holiday the cause of so much heartburn?
How much of Iqbal’s philosophy did we imbibe when we did get the day off?
What happens on all the holidays that are given to commemorate different eminent personalities?
How many of us think about Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan on December 25th and think of a personal or national course correction?
Do we know more about Shah Abdul Latif’s beautiful teachings or the universal message of Rahman Baba or Data Ganj Baksh because they too have their ‘days’?
Do we really know the significance of Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s first prime minister, whose death anniversary also used to be a partial public holiday?
Maybe the only way that holidays would have any meaning attached to these personalities would be if they were not a holiday, like when Independence Day used to be celebrated in schools. The parents may have had an off, but they had to dress the children in the national dress and drop them to school for special assemblies, programmes and celebrations because of which the school children learnt of the significance of the day.
Maybe more than a commemoration, we need a dedication of that day to the personality. Iqbal Day could be also be commemorated through activities dedicated to talking about his thoughts and his poetry.
How does a mere holiday honour such personalities?
After all, what Iqbal wrote about is still relevant to the Pakistan of today. He needs to be talked about. People need to think about what he wrote. That can only happen if concerted, conscious efforts are made to bring the discussion in the mainstream, not by giving people an extra day to sleep in late.