How can Iqbal’s message be useful to present day Muslim youth in a practical way?
Allamah Iqbal Seminar on democracy and Muslim society
9th Nov 2013
European Muslim Initiative For Social Cohesion
First of all, thanks for the invitation to present my views in this Forum. Iqbal Academy has done a lot of good work in introducing and presenting Allamh Iqbal in Denmark and among a special section of Pakistani community in Denmark. For that it should be commended. IKS and CEIT also should be thanked for joining forces in bringing Iqbal´s message to a wider audience in the country of Søren Kierkegaard. Having said that it is also vital to state that I am absolutely not an Iqbal expert or even a passionate reciter of his poetry as many Urdu and Persian speakers are. In this meeting, we are lucky to have many eminent Iqbal scholars and poets of repute.
I was however fortunate to be blessed with a father who was an educationalist and an Iqbal lover. Through his writings, translations and talks, I learnt what I could in my teens.
As an observer of the society’s development and as a human rights campaigner, I look at Iqbal from a humanistic perspective and his message as a mean to bring the social change around us. Iqbal himself mentions that in the introductory statement to his famous book” Secret of the Self” in these words; “ Poerty is not the purpose of this book nor is beauty worshipping and love its aim. Mine is a fire-tempered song”.
Coming back to the topic at hand; How can Iqbal’s message be useful to present day Muslim youth in a practical way?, we need to define in a very non-emotional and in a matter of fact manner;
1. What is Iqbal´s message?
2. Who are the present day Muslim youth?
3. What are the practical ways, we can utilize
Iqbal’s poetry is basically a flame of religious fervour, in this case of Islam’s bygone days, the longing to return back to the purity of the Islam, its pristine message of action and the elevation of self to a higher degree.
The great Indian diplomat, Mr. K.P.S. Menon wrote in 1925 in the Indian Review;
“ Iqbal is a Muslim. His message is intended for his co-religionists, wherever they are. He has a Pan-Islamic outlook and as such knows no bonds of a country, tribe, nation or even family. To him, Muslims are like the rose with many petals but one perfume.”
At the same time, Iqbal cries that Muslims are dispersed, backward and strangers to one another.
Iqbal talked about the reunion of Muslims, a reunion, not in flesh but in spirit, a reunion based on love of the Prophet.
Iqbal has a clear solution as to how Muslim reunion can be achieved. He asks for a ruthless self-assertion by shaking himself free from the corrupting influences around him.
At the same time, the self-realisation can only be achieved in this world without worrying after death and by getting rid of Mullahism. He has nothing but contempt for the “Traffickers of Religion”.
Iqbal’s fearless self assertion is ; Obedience to the law of nature, self control and God’s commands.
Now the questions arise;
Is Iqbal’s message universal because Islam is a universal religion?
Is Iqbal’s message of “self-assertion” applicable today?
In theory, it is possible but it is a uphill battle in this time and age of consumerism, secularism and especially Islamophobic atmosphere, which has gone berserk and is out of control on the name of freedom of expression.
Although, for various practical and philosophical reasons, I am not a big believer in the idea of a Muslim Ummah, which Iqbal talks about and the present day Muslim youth are subscribing more and more, I have also noticed through my travels and inter-faith work that there is such a thing called: Muslim awareness among youth. All it needs is direction, logic, vision and action.
Allama Iqbal has addressed the youth several times, directly as well as indirectly. We see that laved Nama begins with a prayer to Allah. And that prayer ends thus:
"I am utterly despaired of the old generation hence I address myself to the day which is yet to dawn. By that day he means new generations who had yet to appear on the surface of earth. My Prayer is that Almighty Allah makes my words for younger generation easy to understand. Make my deep sea fordable for them and meanings of my verses become clear to them without much effort.
So what we have?
1. Allamah Iqbal has many messages to youth of both genders, in his philosophy, poetry and lectures. Let us use that to energise that part of the community.
2. Allamah Iqbal’s poetry is philosophical revelations and has universality in certain aspects. We should make use of his poetry, which deals with human development, societal issues and a citizen’s responsibility towards the well being of the whole society. The focus of our discussions should involve Pakistan, Muslims but above all humanity as a whole.
Today in the west, there is a great awakening with respect to spirituality, role of religion, inter-faith realities and inter-cultural co-existence. It is partly due to the availability of huge information coming through the social media, interest in Eastern philosophy and no less the strong visible presence of Muslim communities in USA and Europe.
Many bookshops are full with books about and of Maulana Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Firdausi, Hafez, Rabindranath Tagore, Krishnamurti, Khalil Gibran and many more. Unfortunately, Iqbal is still placed in some libraries, special interest bookstores and in the homes of URDU and Farsi speaking elite. This limited visibility of Iqbal’s message is not due to the message but the insufficient promotion of Iqbal by those who are entrusted to do this job.
The reception and understanding of Iqbal’s messages vary, according to the circumstances, audiences and time, these were delivered. Place of the origin and the complexity of the language also played a large part in the somewhat restrictive universality of what this great thinker and messenger was conveying. But its essence remained intact: the love of the creator by the creations, common heritage of humanity, one destiny for the spirit, rebellion against the Status Queue – political, religious and societal and questioning the entrenched interests of normality are very valid and timely. But what, I have seen, heard and experienced most is, that people in the west are titling towards words, which appeal to the heart and not so much to the intellect.
3. The intellectual level of the work done on Iqbal in the west, appeals to a very limited group. To make it global or at least western, the experts should revise their efforts and look at Iqbal from a new angle, which would appeal to the common man’s humanity, has a more universal appeal and is translated in various languages, with easy following discourse.
4. Religious aspect of Iqbal’s message should include that part of religion, which fulfils people’s socio-economic needs and not only spiritual needs. For example, there is a debate going on among many Muslims groups in Denmark, if they should vote in the national election. Imam Naveed Baig has written a beautiful article in KDB where he explains in details, what Islam’s position is on democracy and participation.
How to move forward with Iqbal’s message?
Since Iqbal’s main message is directed towards the Muslims of yesterday and today, it also is their duty to explain it to the wider public in a non- exclusive and according to the realities of time.
1. The work on Iqbal should have two-prong strategy. A well meaning and an already aware group (to a large extent) should continue as it is. This good work should however be extended to the wider audience, both among Pakistani youth as well as Danish public and minority groups like Iranians, Afghanis and Indians. This can be done by seminars, conferences, cultural arrangements and debate evenings. These debates can be societal issues, culture and literature, as well as religion and morality.
2. Youth who are well versed in Danish, should take part in public debates in newspapers, blogs, facebooks and Internet. There is a huge amount of discussion taking place, where they can contribute, not only from a religious angle but also from a common sense and societal point of view, which in my opinion is weighty and timely.
3. To achieve the maximum outcome from the available talents – young and old, females and males), Iqbal Academy can make sub- working groups to deal with specific issues. That will make it more purposeful, engaging and even better researched.
Topic and issues, which can be discussed in today’s Denmark
• Should Muslim communities obey the local laws and tradition?
• What are Shariah laws and can these be modified/ amended according to time, local requirements and new interpretation?
• Is Islam as a religion compatible with western democracy ideal or is western form of democracy any place in Islamic system?
• Human rights in Islam – fact or fiction!
• Islamophobia – does it really exist?
• Did Islam spread by the unique force of its message or the sword?
• Quran teaches violence, extremism and war. What is the concept of Jihad?
Allama Iqbal wanted youth to be efficient, up and doing, tough and resolute. He was despaired of the old generation. He impinged his hopes on the young generation who could be made to unlearn as well as learn afresh. And this is why he prayed with utmost sincerity and tenderness of feeling in a couplet.
"Grant the youth my sighs of early morning. Furnish again these tiny Eagles with strong wings. My only prayer to you, my Lord, is that the Light of my vision be instilled in them.