بسم الله الرحمـن الرحيم
والصلاة والسلام على نبيه الكريم
وعلى اهل بيته الطيبين الطاهرين المظلومين
The second part of Iqbal’s paper, Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal was published in the Hindustan Review (vol. 20, no. 120) in August 1909. In this second part of the paper, Iqbal focuses more on the political. After citing some Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him & his family) concerning the necessity of obedience to the Amir and particularly the Hadith about killing the one who makes a counter claim to leadership when the Muslims have already united behind a leader, intending to break their unity thereby, Iqbal derives the following political lesson: “Those among us who make it their business to differ from the general body of Musalmans in political views ought to read this tradition carefully” (p. 168). Ironically, a careful reading of the tradition cited by Iqbal does not necessarily confirm the political thesis he wishes to substantiate from it. Firstly, it is obvious that Iqbal is addressing forms of political dissent by individual or small groups of Muslims from the general body in British India. Here context is key, because the traditions cited by Iqbal regarding obedience to the Amir of the Muslims and sticking with the general body of the community, etc., obviously do not apply to situations in which the Muslims are a conquered people, ruled by and subject to a foreign, non-Muslim government, and there is no agreed upon Amir to lead the Muslims in such a situation. Secondly, these traditions do not condemn peaceful political dissent from mainstream political views of the general body, but only actual dissension meaning rebellion or refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Amir. The pious Salaf of this Umma eschewed the evil of rebellion against the Muslim ruler, but they never shied away from political dissent from the government’s un-Islamic policies and behavior.
Concerning the issue of personal liberty, Iqbal writes: “the interests of the individual as a unit are subordinate to the interests of the community as an external symbol of the Islamic principle. This is the only principle which limits the liberty of the individual, who is otherwise absolutely free” (p. 169). Iqbal is wrong on both counts. There are situations in which Islam respects an individual’s liberty even if it is at odds with the community’s material interests. Islam in fact declares as “sacred” the blood, wealth and honor of every individual Muslim. Even if it is argued that socialism or the redistribution of wealth, beyond what Islam already mandates in the institution of Zakat, is in the greater interest of the community, an individual’s wealth cannot be seized without his consent, for it is sacred and inviolable. Furthermore, Iqbal claims that this is the only principle which limits individual liberty, forgetting the fact that there are other principles which place certain restrictions on individual liberty, most prominently the divinely revealed Law of Islam. Unless each and every law of Islam which restricts an individual’s liberty can be reduced to upholding the broader community’s interests (which cannot be done), Iqbal has no leg to stand on when he claims that the community’s interest is the only principle which limits the liberty of the individual.
Regarding democracy, an altogether un-Islamic political system, Iqbal falsely claims, due to his fundamental misunderstanding of what exactly democracy is, that “the best form of Government for such a community would be democracy, the ideal of which is to let man develop all the possibilities of his nature by allowing him as much freedom as practicable” (ibid). But this is a description of liberalism and not necessarily democracy. Democracy is not inherently liberal, nor is maximum freedom and liberty one of its necessary features. Indeed, majoritarian democracies tend to place severe restrictions on individual liberty and at times even descend into outright fascism. Due to his woeful ignorance, Iqbal claims that the Rightly-Guided Caliphate was a democracy: “Their democracy lasted only 30 years” (ibid). Here, Iqbal has confused democracy with a form of government in which leadership is not hereditary, rather the leader is elected, but that too by a certain class or group of men. There certainly was no universal suffrage in the thirty year duration of the Rightly-Guided Caliphate.
Many of Muslim intellectuals and thinkers, especially with a religious bent of mind, the so-called “Islamists”, who hail and celebrate Iqbal, would be horrified to read his statement concerning the British Empire in this paper: “The permanence of the British Empire as a civilising factor in the political evolution of mankind is one of our greatest interests. This vast Empire has our fullest sympathy and respect…the spirit of the British Empire that makes it the greatest Muhammadan Empire in the world.” (pp. 169-170)
Although it is not my purpose to comment on this somewhat excessive and exaggerated praise by Iqbal of British imperialism, nevertheless, the reader should note this example of an obvious contradiction in the political worldview of Iqbal.
Iqbal condemns religious adventurism as one of the great harms to the organic unity of Islam (p. 171). I have dealt with this point more extensively in my refutation of Iqbal’s paper Islam and Ahmadism. The truth is, what Iqbal identifies as “religious adventurism” is a code for the work of religious revivalism that inevitably results in disunity within the ranks of the general body due to the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are either ignorant of the actual teachings and principles of Islam. As a result they are drowning in all sorts of innovations and heresies, especially in the time and place in which Iqbal lived. Any individual Muslim reformer who rises and criticizes the beliefs and practices of the general body which have become normative is bound to create controversy. Yet truth cannot be sacrificed on the altar of communal cohesion and unity.