Monday, 17 November 2014

Reading Kashmir’s Iqbal Critics

We have few scholars of national or international standing in certain fields and what a tragedy if we don’t recognize them

After the death of Amin Kamil many felt that we, as a community, didn’t honour him as he deserved and we failed to make full use of his great erudition in Kashmiri literature. What use do we make of  another literary giant Rahi Sahib, arguably the greatest living Kashmiri poet and critic whose poetic and critical work we have failed to translate and introduce to international audience  and we have failed to familiarize our newer generation with him despite his being the last great link from Lalla till date in what can be called Kashmiri Tradition– for learning to read him  newer generation may profitably consult young critics as Abir Bazaz (his essay “Learning to read Rahi”  comes to mind)  except for gracing certain formal occasions and occasional talks on electronic media? We have no platform for benefiting from our best scholars after they get retired. We have few scholars of national or international standing in certain fields and what a tragedy if we don’t get facilitate them to better contribute when they are free from other concerns and could be highly productive.  All these points haunted me as we celebrated Iqbal day – I recall reading, long back, one of Rahi’s insightful essays on one of Iqbal’s great poems and wonder why we find the author as critic almost forgotten even in his life. We had such illustrious Iqbal researchers and scholars as Akbar Haideri whom we also chose to largely ignore, such renowned Urdu critics as Hamidi Kashmiri who wrote on Iqbal also and have such scholars and brilliant orators as Prof. B. A. Nahvi who would almost qualify as hafiz-i-Iqbal (it is rare aesthetic treat to listen to him on Iqbal especially as he quotes poem after poem) and we have brilliantly witted and humour inflected oratory of Justice Bashir Ahmed Kirmani that makes good use of Iqbal. However today I am especially reminded of our invaluable Iqbal critic Prof. G. R. Malik whose studies on Iqbal have been internationally appreciated but whose address seems to have been lost by us or our cultural organizations. I think new generation needs invitation to and meditation on Iqbal’s poetry – that especially is Prof. Malik’s love and strength – as a mantra for entry into riches of intellectual and spiritual culture that we have inherited. Thanks to intertextuality, reading Iqbal one reads a selection of the best of philosophers, mystics and poets – one becomes truly culture literate. Reading Prof. G.R. Malik on Iqbal we see how the latter qualifies as the conscience of the subcontinent and, in these degenerate times – what Charles Taylor brilliantly analyzes as A Secular Age – a gateway to the treasures of the Spirit he calls Ego. 
 Prof. Malik is both a scholar and a lover of Iqbal. If a critic has both these elements and is also gifted with wealth of insights into majority of the sources from which Iqbal derived inspiration, one can expect criticism of the first rank and that is exactly what Prof. Malik has produced. We have only very few Iqbal critics who wholeheartedly share Iqbal’s faith in transcendence and his evaluation of modernity, who share his doctrine of art and who are good students of the tradition both religious and artistic from which Iqbal derived everything.  
An important feature of Prof. Malik’s Iqbal criticism is his wide range and comprehensive canvass. He covers theological, philosophical, artistic, socio-political and other important aspects of Iqbal’s thought. He is able to comment upon a verse of Iqbal from almost all important aspects that may be required for thorough exegesis. However he is most comfortable with or insightful in his critical review of general aspects of Iqbal’s thought, comparing Iqbal with great masters of literature, explicating his relationship to Islam and Modernity, translating Iqbal and pointing out mistranslation from others and one can claim for him a privileged place as translator of the first rank sharing shoulder with the greatest masters of Iqbal translation. Independence and self confidence of a scholar may be gauged by his recourse to his own translations of most of the verses he has quoted in his works. His critical review of other translators of Iqbal including Nicholson, Arberry and Mathews shows credentials of him as an Iqbal critic quite clearly.
Prof. Malik is a man of strong convictions and this helps him to better appreciate and advocate Iqbal, a poet and thinker of strong convictions. Iqbal is his inspiration and in considered view he is the greatest thinker that modern Islam has produced. 
Prof. Malik largely adopts what can loosely but not strictly be called traditionalism of a sort for appraising Iqbal. Every line that he has written bears witness to this traditionalism that embraces both classicism and romanticism though is identifiable with neither and is even critical of certain aspects of either. He happens to be a vocal critic of such ideas as aestheticism, postmodernism, formalism and generally of any school of thought that defines itself in antitranscendentalist or secular terms. If by tradition we mean that which binds man to heaven as traditionalist scholar Lord Nourbourne has characterized it and involves explicit invoking of First Principles, of symbolism, of subservience/integration of art to Life, to the Good and the Beautiful we can place Prof. Malik in the traditionalist camp though with minor qualifications as his is not a full fledged traditionalism and ignores certain aspects of metaphysical or mystical presuppositions and corollaries of it. His traditionalism constitutes an important aspect of his methodology for approaching Iqbal and invaluable asset for his distinctive flavour of Iqbal criticism. 
Prof. Malik’s  method of commentary on Iqbal’s poetry, as illustrated by his commentary on  "Bazm-i-Unjum” and “Tanhai” is exemplary in many ways: He invokes almost all of Iqbal relevant to the issue. Layer by layer he peels and the layer by layer newer meanings arise the way he introduces the poem, develops the main theses, invokes other parts of Iqbal to put in perspective or elucidate, surveys relevant classics or authorities across traditions to explain parallels and contrasts, takes note of the Islamic Tradition in specific cases before proceeding to give his verdict  where required.
There are scores of passages that we find in Prof. Malik’s work that illuminate certain facets of Iqbal with great power, grace and beauty. One example is his concluding passage in his commentary on “Tanhayi.” 
As a gifted teacher and scholar of English literature Prof. Malik is additionally qualified to be an Iqbal critic of the first order. His felicity of expression and command over all the languages that Iqbal used in his works. His familiarity with almost every important debate around Iqbal make his readings valuable. He is never trite, never shallow, generally convincing and occasionally quite provocative. Generally he doesn’t take extreme positions and does the balancing or mediating act as if he is using a dialectical method. To illustrate we may consider his views on Iqbal on democracy, evolution and early Iqbal’s “pantheistic” verses. Regarding democracy he argues that Iqbal is undoubtedly pro-democracy but is critical of the present form it has taken in the modern West or political thought. Regarding evolution he states that Iqbal’s attitude towards it is ambivalent. Regarding the earlier so-called pantheistic phase Prof. Malik notes that these verses are capable of sustaining alternative interpretation as well. Thus we see Prof. Malik doing the balancing act and not pronouncing unilateral judgments. As a reader he has great humility in approaching a text and letting the text elucidate itself and he is never indulging in play with the text, a postmodern heresy he has been strongly condemning. 
As a careful reader of Iqbal Prof. Malik deplores enthusiasm for farfetched or forced comparisons with which Iqbal criticism is replete. Remarkably Prof. Malik seems to be more adept in pointing out contrasts between Iqbal and others than in seeking to show similarities. How careful a comparativist Prof. Malik is can be gleaned from his detailed studies on Iqbal and major Romantics. One can hardly put a finger on any of the scores of statements made while comparing and contrasting Iqbal with Blake, Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth and Keats.
No modern poet has excelled Iqbal in writing na’t. What is distinctively noted and emphasized by Prof. Malik, however, is, his shift of na’t’s traditional focus on celebration of the Prophet’s (S.A.W) attributes to focusing on revolutionary nature of Prophet’s work and its historical impact and thus his meaning for contemporary man. Further developing this point we can read much of Iqbal’s work as an application or plea for application of Prophetic criticism of life.
Prof. Malik emerges as one of our treasured Iqbal critics who has given us a wealth of insights and well argued case for Iqbalian perspective. Though on a few points he has been too charitable to Iqbal and has assumed Iqbal’s reading of certain important elements of Islamic intellectual tradition  without much ado about its orthodoxy or warrant from a traditionalist viewpoint that he seeks to consistently apply, his advocacy of Iqbal, especially of his theory of art and his relative importance in comparison with important literary figures of the world and religious personalities of the subcontinent constitutes an important contribution to Urdu and Persian criticism in general and Iqbal criticism in particular. Although he does note idiosyncratic or unorthodox character of certain views of Iqbal, he chooses not to dwell on them. As a scholar of Islamic studies he has been able to bring insights from his theological readings to focus on distinctive contribution and place of Iqbal in modern Muslim thought. I perfectly agree with Prof. Rafiuddin Hashmi, a noted Iqbal scholar, that in terms of his range that covers all important aspects of Iqbal’s thought, keeping note of everything written by Iqbal and approaching the whole oeuvre with rare perspicuity and balance, Prof. Malik can be counted amongst the very few first order Iqbalists or Iqbal critics of the world and deserves to be read and appreciated. Though of late there has been extended certain recognition as evidenced by publication of newer editions of some of his works by Iqbal Academy Pakistan, he deserves to be better appreciated. He is Kashmir’s present to world of Iqbaliyat.

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