Returning to the topic of nationalism, Iqbal writes: “In majority countries Islam accomodates nationalism; for there Islam and nationalism are practically identical; in minority countries it is justified in seeking self-determination as a cultural unit.” (Islam and Ahmadism p.53)
The quote reveals not only Iqbal’s ignorance but also his short-sightedness, for he had earlier claimed regarding nationalism: “In Turkey, Persia, Egypt and other Muslim countries it will never become a problem.” (ibid p.52)
The truth is, as events in the 20th century and now into the 21st century have manifested, nationalism in even Muslim-majority countries is often in conflict with Islam, meaning, Islamic values, Islamic/religious identity and pan-Islamic solidarity. Nationalists in Muslim-majority countries like Turkey, Iran and Egypt increasingly view Islam as a foreign religion with subversive potential that should, at the very least, be restricted and stripped of its dynamism so as never to pose a threat to the modern and nationalist projects. In the nationalist’s mind, the loyalty of every citizen must first be to his nation (Turkey, Iran, Egypt, etc.) and not to any religion. The universalism of Islam, its tendency to de-racialize and de-nationalize its adherents, is extremely disconcerting for the nationalist who truly understands the reality of Islam. Iqbal claimed that nationalism would “never become a problem” in Muslim-majority countries, yet history has proven him decisively wrong. The clash between nationalism and Islam is ongoing in countries like Turkey, Persia and Egypt. The lines dividing Islamists and nationalists are quite evident. This is why it is so ironic for me that some of the so-called Islamist thinkers, the likes of Dr. Israr Ahmad, Ali Shariati, and even Khamanei, celebrate Iqbal without deep introspection into the reality of his ideas.
The second part of Iqbal’s quote on nationalism “in minority countries it is justified in seeking self-determination as a cultural unit” is clearly a reference to the Muslim minority in India. Iqbal is regarded as one of the architects of so-called “Muslim nationalism” that formed the basis for the demand for the creation of Pakistan. But it is important to note that Iqbal wanted self-determination for the Muslim minority of India “as a cultural unit” and not as a religious-based community or nation. This explains why he was particularly focused on the Muslims of northwest India, as they share a common culture, and not the Muslims of the Bengal. It was precisely this idea of the Muslim minority constituting a “cultural unit” attaining self-determination that created the internal contradiction of Pakistan, inevitably leading to its breakup in 1971. The imposition of the Urdu language, an important characteristic of Muslim “culture” in the northwest, upon the East Bengal, was a result of Iqbal’s notion of Muslim self-determinism as a “cultural unit” and not a religious unit. Apart from religion, the Muslims of West Pakistan and East Pakistan shared very little in common in terms of culture. Thus, the so-called Muslim nationalism of Iqbal is not Muslim nationalism at all, for it is restricted to the culture and now geography of northwest India and necessarily excludes the rest of the Muslim Umma.