Iqbal strongly protests against Western political institutions and theories. He has written against Western Democracy in several places. In Bang-i Dara (p. 296), he says

[In the West the people rule, they say
And what is this new reign?
The same harp still, the same strings play
The despots’ old refrain.]

In Payam-i M’ashriq (p. 158), he says:

[Avoid the democratic path, become slave of a mature man,
for two hundred donkeys’ mind can’t replace one man’s thought.]

Here in these verses, too, Iqbal repeats the same condemnation of Western democracy. But we must understand the real import of this denunciation of democracy.

Democracy, in Europe, came to take its shape as a result of certain economic factors. The flourishing merchant class and industrialists, in their ambition to control the sources of wealth, raised the banner of revolt against the absolute power of kings and rulers, but they hid their original motive of economic exploitation under the garb of people’s interests. They claimed to fight for the cause of common man’s rights while, as a matter of fact, they wanted power for themselves in their own economic interests which did involve exploitation of the poor and the weak.

As regards democracy in which power is held in the hands of true representatives of the people who feel themselves responsible before God, Iqbal is its greatest exponent. His lectures on “Islam As A Moral and Political Ideal,” and “Political Thought in Islam,” which later on were reproduced in several collections of Iqbal’s writings, show clearly that Iqbal stood for real and pure democracy. The following quotation from Iqbal’s note. “Muslim Democracy” will clear all misgivings in this respect:

“The Democracy of Europe-overshadowed by socialistic agitation and anarchical fear-originated mainly in the economic regeneration of European societies. . . . The Democracy of Islam did not grow out of the extension of economic opportunity, it is a Spiritual principle based on the assumption that every human being is a centre of latent power the possibilities of which can be developed by cultivating a certain type of character. Out of the plebeian material Islam has formed men of noblest type of life and power.”2

In the West, democracy developed out of fear of the common man by the privileged classes and devised by them to maintain their privileges under the garb of people’s rule. Iqbal, therefore, advises the people of the East to repudiate political theories of the West, if they wish to maintain their separate cultural identity.

The Muslim community, unfortunately, in his days, lacked true leaders: those who are truly spiritually oriented, whom Iqbal calls people of the heart. Those who claim to be leaders of their community are Muslims only in name; they are motivated solely by selfish interests and personal ambitions. The need of the time is, in Iqbal’s views, to sink within the depth of one’s being, maintain contact with the spiritual sources of one’s life and attain, through self-discipline, spiritual strength and fortitude.

The colonial occupation of the subcontinent for so long a time has affected adversely the normal growth of the people. Born and bred in slavery, they have been rendered incapable of breathing in a free atmosphere, having been uprooted from the natural soil of their cultural heritage. True faith and life are possible for free men only.

1.         Eng. trans. by V. Kiernan, Poems from Iqbal.

2.         New Era, 28 July 1917, reproduced in S.A. Valid, Ed., Thoughts and Reflections of Iqbal, p. 83