I begin with a personal note. Iqbal has been my passion, my weakness and my love. His great wisdom poetry continues to be a source of my inspiration. I can never finish reading him as he reveals newer and newer depths on every new reading and this necessitates certain revisions of my position on certain aspects of his thought. He continues to challenge all straitjacketing and pigeonholing in this or that kind of a thought or ideology. Intellectually he is susceptible to divergent readings and could well be exonerated for emphasizing divergent readings at different times. Even though one could criticize certain of his formulations/ readings/conceptions one can’t ignore his seminal contributions in diverse fields. There are certain people who attempt to argue that Iqbal isn’t relevant today, that he was merely a poet and his philosophical thought is dated or inherently problematic. Iqbal has even been charged with being a reactionary thinker and an ideologue of Muslim fundamentalism. He has been criticized by certain Orientalists for his neoorthodoxy and conservatism. But these charges can be and have been convincingly refuted. But the question is why is Iqbal so deeply revered by common Muslims? Why are there many libraries, institutes and localities named after him? Why is Iqbal the most quoted Urdu poet in most circles?
I wish to highlight distinctive points of Iqbal’s greatness though it doesn’t mean that we cannot differ from him on many issues and that much water has flowed from the time of his death and retrospectively we are in a better position to be critical regarding certain of his fundamental theses, especially those of Reconstruction.
* Iqbal is the greatest poet-philosopher of Urdu language. There are one or two poets who may have excelled him as a poet but none who can stand above him as poet –philosopher.
* He is the only Muslim thinker who has evolved or formulated a distinctive philosophy of his own vis-à-vis modern philosophical thought for showing vital role of Islam in the modern age. There are many Muslim philosophers who have either repeated traditional philosophical thought or who have subscribed to Marxist and other view[points in formulating their philosophies. Iqbal remains rooted in tradition
* He is the most outspoken thinker of Muslim ummatism (community consciousness) in recent Islam
* Who else than Iqbal deserves the name of Hakeemul Ummat in the 2oth century Islamic world?
* His is the most original attempt to secure for Islam a privileged space in modern episteme that has been seriously taken by Western intelligentsia.
* He has been the most worthy successor of mystical or gnostic (irfani) poets who has been able to reach the masses in Urdu and Persian languages. His greatest contribution lies in this domain. Islam has been renovated and reinvigorated by Sufis and Sufi poets rather than by purely theological figures. He deserves, in certain sense, the title of mujaddid. Modern man can be converted either through a rigorously argued philosophical perspective or through the use of deeply moving poetry. Iqbal qualifies on both grounds. No traditional a’lim has been able to wield such an influence as Iqbal in reviving religious/mystical ethos in the 20th century.
He is amongst the most integrated or unfragmented and multidimensional personalities in recent Islamic history. Ali Shariati’s characterization of him as Ali guna is noteworthy. He is simultaneously a poet, a philosopher, a politician, a visionary, a mystic and many more things. There are traditionally four paths to perfection suited for four kinds of personalities – mysticism, religion, philosophy and poetry. He has appropriated all of them. In yet another terminology he is simultaneously a karma yogi (philosopher of action), a bhakti yogi (the poet of ishq), and jnani yogi (a mystic in gnostic or irfani tradition, a philosopher). Speaking in diverse voices, at diverse planes he has naturally able to influence so many people.
Here, to refute the charges of irrationalism, fundamentalism and parochialism against him I will only highlight his credentials as a thinker in modern Islam by foregrounding his contribution towards appropriating modern science in Islam (though not necessarily condoning his theological modernism and his rationalist/empiricist framework at the same time). He echoing Whitehead championed the view that the ages of faith are the ages of reason and sought to prove this thesis in his philosophical work. Unfortunately Iqbal is read as a poet only and not as a prose writer who argued for certain fundamentally new things in the history of Islamic thought. He alone, amongst the galaxy of modern Muslim intellectuals, has ventured to reconstruct theology, to exercise absolute ijtihad in theological matters. His contemporaries are still caught in debating ijtihad in juristic matters while as he moved far ahead. He was born ahead of his age and that explains partially certain people’s rejection of him. He was, undoubtedly, after Ghazzali, an exceptionally original and bold mind the like of him is to be found with great difficulty in last many centuries after Ghazzali. As one critic has said ‘if the Quran were to be revealed now it would be in Iqbal’s verse or Abul Kalam Azad’s prose.’ Even the extreme critics of Iqbal can’t deny the captivating force of his poetry.
* As a modern na’t writer he has hardly been excelled. There is no other important modern thinker of Islam who has written comparable verse in praise of the Prophet (SAW). Such verses as AAyai kaiyinat ka maini-e—dareyab tu/niklaae terei talash mai kafla hai rang-o bu and such poems as Zouq-o-Shouq have no comparison in last few centuries.
* His contribution to modern Sufi thought is yet to be duly appreciated. His attempt to reconstruct mystical thought in Islam is unprecedented. His theology of affirmatory transcendence is his key contribution. Affirmation of time, action, history and other things that had not been duly done in the history of Sufism despite the Quran’s explicitly affirmatory attitude towards these things that we see in Iqbal is his greatest service to Sufism. Foregrounding dynamic, activist and life-afffirming orientation of Sufi thought has been the unique contribution of Iqbal. Javid Nama is one of the greatest works in world literature, a masterpiece of modern Sufi poetry, one of the grandest visions of universal brotherhood and spiritual democracy. His reinterpretation of key concepts of fana, baqa and perfect man is frought with gresat meaning for modern spirituality.
* Iqbal’s individualist metaphysics and personalist philosophy is unprecedented attempt to secure for man as an ego the metaphysical status in the history of Islam. No one before Iqbal has sought to reinterpret/reconstruct traditional religious thought in Islam in the light of dualist philosophy of ego. A full fledged philosophy of ego revealing the influence of modern Western philosophers coupled with its philosophical and theological dualism that Iqbal’s is seems unprecedented in the history of Muslim theology and mysticism. Despite certain disagreements from traditional Sufi and the traditionalist metaphysical viewpoint Iqbal’s contribution remains seminal.
* Iqbal is unique amongst modern Muslim thinkers in positively (though this is problematic from the perennialist viewpoint) responding to modern science and modern thought currents and in evolving an Islamic critique/appropriation of scientific modernist thought. If the project of reconstruction has any validity, if modern science is really a stupendous problem in the way of traditional Islam, if modern thought needs to be respectfully approached and if Islam is to appeal to modern sensibility, then Iqbal’s significance and relevance can’t be doubted and his contribution needs to be highlighted. Providing a consistent theory for modernist Muslim approach to science, Iqbal is undoubtedly worth reckoning for not only the student and historian of modern Islam but also for anyone interested in the field of philosophy of religion and modern science in general.
The Muslims of Indian subcontinent lovingly and out of gratitude remember him as Hakeemi Ummat, Shairi Mashriq, Danasyi Raz. What moved him above everything was the love of the Prophet and what concerned him above everything was the predicament of Muslim Umma. What he stood for is gulamiyie Mustafa and what he attempted all his life was to articulate and even materialize the vision of universal brotherhood, human dignity and freedom. He is dear to all and quoted by everybody. Indeed he is a man of all seasons. Could he imagined to be irrelevant? After his death another Iqbal is still awaited and unfortunately we have yet to explore him fully. And continue to be ignorant of or heedless towards many many looloye lala scattered in his works. Even his severest critics can’t but appreciate the form of his verse, his artistic genius. He is an artist, a philosopher, a political thinker, a Sufi, a visionary and what not. Reading him means to read almost everything significant to us in diverse domains of philosophy, spirituality, poetry, political thought etc as he appropriates all these elements in his works. He invites everybody to a trip to heaven where the limitations of finitude or space and time are no longer present. He is an inexhaustible mine of spiritual and philosophical wisdom. Some of the limitations of his thought only serve to raise his stature as the most important poet-philosopher of the last century Islam.