AA Khalid has written this thoughtful article for PTH
Pakistan has been unfortunate that two of its founding fathers Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal died before the country were properly on its feet. Iqbal died years before he saw Pakistan come alive and Jinnah died in its infancy. Their deaths represent more than just their earthly demise; it represents the death of their ideas in the public sphere of Pakistan.
Every nation has a series of figures and architects of the country that leaves behind an intellectual legacy about the type of ideas they wish to see flourish in their new nation. With Pakistan this has not happened, from the earliest days of its existence there has been a vacuum with the political and indeed religious discourse. What does Pakistan stand for, and what is our identity? What are our ideals and how can we implement them? These ideas provide the social and psychological bedrock for the type of democratic discourse which flourishes in a country, but due to their absence from the marketplace of ideas there is a noticeable vacuum.
If Pakistan is an ‘’Islamic Republic’’ then it must learn to balance these two concepts and learn to forge faith and freedom, and this can be done by revisiting the intellectual and political legacies of Mr Jinnah and Iqbal. Whilst Mr. Jinnah was an exponent of liberalism, appreciating minority rights, democracy and tolerance, Iqbal on the flip side of this very same coin of liberalism was a humanist and a religious man. Iqbal clearly thought a synthesis of the republican spirit (as he put it) and religious sensibilities of a Muslim nation can be achieved (as he cited Turkey many a time). If Pakistan is to be an ”Islamic Republic”, it must learn to develop a republican based religiosity, a religiosity based on tolerance, rationality and democratic contestation.
Mr Jinnah’s work and political philosophy I feel is not a contentious issue, he was a liberal and one should also say of constitutional secularism (soft secularism, to readers who are more accustomed to my posts), that much is absolutely clear. Though I imagine his liberalism to be congenial religious sensibilities, say in the Lockean tradition of liberal religionists. The ambivalence is towards Allama Iqbal’s work.
Iqbal’s sophisticated work of ‘’Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’’, is perhaps one of the key texts of modern Islam, and perhaps the outstanding effort of trying to grapple with the philosophical, cultural and religious problematic with modern intellectual tools.
The alleged ambivalence stated that Iqbal had towards ideas of liberalism and democracy is a falsity, which arises from confusing two expressions of literature, that being of prose and poetry. I argue that confusing the genres of poetry and prose has been the chief reason why the masses of Pakistan are accustomed to a distorted presentation of Iqbal’s ideas. How many have actually read Iqbal’s Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam? Do we know that Islamists like Sayyid Qutb (the chief ideologue of ‘’political Islam’’) whose political vision is similar to that of JI and other Pakistani religious parties actually was severely critical of Iqbal’s prose. How many ulema
Qutb said in his work ‘’The Islamic Concept and Its Characteristics’’:
‘’ Deviations introduced into the Islamic concept by works written to correct a particular situation, may be illustrated in the writings of Imam Sheikh Muhammad `Abduh and in the lectures of Muhammad Iqbal published as The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.’’
Qutb further writes about Iqbal:
‘’ Furthermore, Iqbal’s borrowing of Western terminology led him to this prosaic work, which is difficult, terse as well as dry, while his poetry is alive, dynamic, and vibrant.’’
Qutb too realises that there is a dichotomy of the poetic and prosaic expressions in Iqbal’s work. One feels that this attitude towards Iqbal’s work is perhaps widespread amongst the ulema but they remain silent and instead selectively quote Iqbal’s poetry for their own interest. Members of the clergy in Pakistan when discussing Iqbal’s Reconstruction frequently confuse and distort the analysis of this prosaic work by quoting his poetry and other external sources, rarely do they ever discuss the ‘’Reconstruction’’ on its own merits. This is because Iqbal’s prosaic work is deeply uncomfortable reading for traditionalists who see the disciplines of philosophy and theology as useless which only cause doubts and produce weak faith rather than as intellectual tools for nurturing a strong, examined and rational faith.
While Iqbal’s chief and only work of English prose, the ‘’Reconstruction’’, is a clear case for the democratization of Muslim thought, liberalising the legal traditions, and enthusing the republican spirit in Muslim societies to undo the regressive hold of the mullah, his poetry is more layered and ambiguous. But ambiguity surely is one of the chief devices of the poet; it is his or her artistic license to explore. Ambiguity in prose and rational discussion is a nuisance but in spirituality and mysticism ambiguity is a deep concept connected with religious experience and one’s consciousness associated with deeper discussion about doubt and faith.
One should not confuse Iqbal’s prose with his poetry, his poetry is a spiritual expression and hence deeply enigmatic but his prose should leave us in no doubt that Iqbal was a democrat. The poetic expression is an expression based on passion, spirituality and mysticism, while Iqbal’s prose though incorporating these same elements was more in touch with rational and critical analysis. Confusing the two is like confusing reason and passion.
Such was Iqbal’s intellectual synthesis between European and Muslim philosophers discussing the likes of Kant, Whitehead and Bergson, that if his work was published today in Pakistan the likelihood is that the very same ulema supporting Iqbal would advocate banning the ‘’Reconstruction’’. A modern incarnation of Iqbal’s work, a new ‘’Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’’, is extremely difficult to get away with in the current acidic and regressive religious discourse in Pakistan. One the issue of liberalism in the political sphere, we can venture to say that Iqbal held a nuanced view in his ‘’Reconstruction’’:
‘’We heartily welcome the liberal movement in modern Islam, but it must also be admitted that the appearance of liberal ideas in Islam constitutes also the most critical moment in the history of Islam.’’
But in terms of the religious discourse particularly in the legal dimension Iqbal was clear:
‘’ The claim of the present generation of Muslim liberals to reinterpret the foundational legal principles, in the light of their own experience and the altered conditions of modern life is, in my opinion, perfectly justified. The teaching of the Qur’an that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems.’’
Furthermore, Ebrahim Moosa’s article the ‘’Debts and Burdens of Critical Islam’’, makes it clear that Iqbal’s work should be seen in context of the wider reformist and modernist project of Muslim intellectuals in the 19th and 20th centuries with the appreciation of ideas such as freedom and the phenomenon of modernity.
The discussion of these two figures Mr Jinnah and Allama Iqbal should go beyond secularism. The discussion on secularism in Pakistan is superfluous and exaggerated at the expense of a far more important concept and that is liberalism. The two liberalism and secularism are not the same. Secularism is only a paradigmatic analysis or model for mosque-and State relations. Nothing less and nothing more in the political sense, the real discussion to be had about human rights, political pluralism, public reason, the public sphere, religious discourse, citizenship and minorities is a discussion which should be anchored in liberalism. The discussion on liberalism is a far more important issue than secularism. In this respect we can say that both Allama Iqbal and Mr Jinnah were liberals, even though there ‘’liberalisms’’ had different relationships and made different connections to Islam.
It is true that Pakistan has never learned to balance the ‘’Islamic’’ and the ‘’Republic’’ which makes up its whole political philosophy. It’s not an easy task by any means, after all the concept of the ‘’Islamic Republic’’ is unprecedented in Muslim history. The fusion of republicanism with religion is a new and novel experiment, but the maturation and development of this experiment has never truly gotten off the ground. Where does one begin today, since Mr Jinnah and Allama Iqbal are long gone from the marketplace of ideas in Pakistan? Their early deaths before the birth of the nation have meant the continuing confusion and instability raging at the heart of Pakistan’s democratic experiment, successfully forging faith and freedom. The perceived ambiguity about the place of Islam in the public sphere in Pakistan in terms of whether it should be a source for direct governance or as a moral bedrock providing over-arching political and social values has never been fully tackled.
This ambiguity particularly troubles the youth of Pakistan, a major demographic of the nation. Never fully certain about the relationship between faith and republicanism, between faith and the liberal spirit of Mr Jinnah’s political project, there exists a tension about the notion of accommodating a democratic culture with a religious tradition that based on the popular narratives of clerics and mullahs seems totally at odds with the spirit of republicanism.
Mr. Jinnah and Allama Iqbal are ever present in photos within public institutions and public sphere as an aesthetic reminder of the past rather than as an artistic vista for deep contemplation. Pakistan’s identity and political philosophy is based on an amorphous and vague idea of Islam which has never truly been described, and which is exploited by radicals and conservatives who fill this vacuum.
With constant interruptions whether from the military or from other dictators, the chance for a genuine political culture of democratic values to flourish has been curtailed, the militarisation of the State from an early period has meant that civilian politics and the associative organs of the State are woefully under-developed. The social and political maturation required to allow the societal conditions for democracy to work such as mass education, good healthcare and a stable economy have never materialised. The militarisation of the State has meant the re-arrangement of social priorities from education and healthcare to weapons and arms. These continuing set of circumstances throughout our history has meant that the democratic experiment could never take off unhindered, it was always thwarted.
But what does the notion of forging faith and freedom, and the full implications of the term ”Islamic Republic” mean? Does it mean a State sponsored Islam? Does it mean the State prescribes religious interpretations which are politically convenient, but morally questionable? Furthermore, as religious teaching is foremost about ethical conduct, what does it mean to mix the corrupting dynamics of political wrangling with religious ethics? There will be many questions that will have to be asked, but until there can be a free and open conversation about this crucial issue the issue will become murkier rather than clearer through the lens of critical investigation and intellectual curiosity.
In our time, this great social experiment of democracy still seems to be hanging on by a thread, and still key issues about faith and freedom, and confronting Allama Iqbal’s and Mr .Jinnah’s visions for this nation have been unresolved by society at large. False histories and narratives are spun to ever prevent such an event from happening.
But the issue is clear, the Islamic Republic has never really got to grips in having a conversation between the ‘’Islamic’’ and the ‘’Republic’’ without rude interruptions by the military and autocrats (religious or secular). If we ever do get to this part of the conversation without any further interruptions, its best to revisit Mr Jinnah and Allama Iqbal to try and forge faith with freedom.