In search of Iqbal

Between fulsome praise and meaningless nit-picking, where lies the real Iqbal


For those who like to quote profusely from Iqbal’s poetry to explain Iqbal’s message, this one may be a disappointment. We don’t have a deluge of couplets to offer, but a simple point to drive home. Well, that much may safely be done without making too many references to the source.
That Iqbal is a great mind must be a conclusion based on a profound study and not a mere slogan heard and passed on. The first one needs a serious approach towards, the second one a mere emotion which, needless to mention, may be all love, no knowledge. Iqbal as a phenomenon appeals to heart the same way as Iqbalian thought stimulates mind. What we as students require is a beautiful combination of both. Heart to feel the majesty of a man called Iqbal and mind to fathom the depth of his poetry and philosophy.
As we remember the poet of the East, we are facing a question which no scholarship can provide an answer to. Let’s put his poetry aside as we have a tough job at hand. The job of placing Iqbal between his trenchant critics and ever loyal admirers. Those who summon Iqbal at every point to express their love and those who refute him for having done `more harm than good’. At this moment Iqbal himself might have relished to articulate his perplexity about himself.
Iqbal Bhi Iqbal Say Aaghan Nahi Hai (Even I don’t know, who am I)
There is a perception gaining ground in many critics about those who according to him `make muchado’ about Iqbal. They see all Iqbalian research as a fertile market where everyone loves to sell his product and get going. The need of emphasizing the relevance of Iqbal, they believe is all created. The question here is this. What do we mean by `selling’ Iqbal. Is Iqbal-selling becoming a new breed of literature or a legless truth which they only know who say like this. There are two views to this and both are extreme. One based on too much of knowledge and the other on too much of ignorance. One group is so emotionally obsessed with an aura called Iqbal that they don’t even accept approaching the poet from a scholarly perspective where objectivity matters, sentiments come next. In doing so they do no good but block all ways of studying him from different angles. Their attachment to Iqbal is more exciting than objective. The other group is too dangerous to handle for the sheer ignorance they shoot their arguments from. Who Iqbal, what Iqbal? All their refutations are not only farcical, but illogical too. Scholarship demands that those who reject Iqbal must have read him more intensely than those who accept him. If a Tolstoy spurns Shakespeare’s King Lear as a piece of non sense, mind you it’s Tolstoy doing so. If George Orwell refuses to acknowledge Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World  as a piece of original literature, it’s a phenomenon called Orwell undermining Huxlean legend. Likewise to sweep a comment on Iqbal needs a mind perhaps profounder than those who accept him as a creative colossus of the literary world. Negation always comes with an extra push that naturally requires more intellectual energy. One wonders when even well-to-do men in their respective fields enjoy talking so flippantly about subjects not their province. Satirizing the whole Iqbalian thought without actually knowing as to who the man was and what did he do all his life is a nice way to register your naiveté and ignorance. Iqbal, they believe, has been reduced to birds, squirrels and flies. Well that is an aesthetic nicety which only an art-lover can appreciate. Let’s not forget even scriptures contain parables of cattle, mosquitoes, worms, ants and creatures pettier than that.
What do big brains do? They do nothing but `give nothingness a local habitation and a name’. That is what Shakespeare did and that is what Iqbal left for us. Contributions of an ideal thinker may sound insignificant to those concerned with the hard truth of life. Poets are useless for technocrats the same way technocrats are for poets. But the fact remains that everyone has a role. The world is run not by ideas alone, not by labour alone, but by a combined force of theory and practice. What matters is the bigness of that idea and the power behind the theory which can make a difference in the world of practice. Iqbal was a thinker like many great thinkers we see on the horizon of literature and philosophy. Like all original minds, he too was full of contradictions which his readers sometimes name as evolution and sometimes as the beauty of expression. A restless, mercurial genius out to know the unknowable secretes of existence. Someone in search of the ultimate truth, painfully involved in the process of understanding the inscrutability of life and being did leave a universe of ideas behind him.
Who sells him and how? Whom does one sell him to? Who buys him? Is making Iqbalian discourse a subject of interest for others an act of selling. If we talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, do we sell Einstein. If Shakespeare finds a great market in film, in theatre, Da Vinci lives as a symbol of artistic excellence, Ghalib attracts playwrights and dramatists. Do all these endvours mean pure business? Anyone of them can be the subject, but do you sell your ideal when you show your passion in him. Even religious studies are being approached through secular means of teaching and learning. Then do we sell God in our classrooms. If we talk about metaphysics, do we sell faith?
Ideology aside, for a student of literature, philosophy and history Iqbal makes a subject and if you hold a seminar, a debate, an essay competition on a subject, you don’t sell it, you propagate it. What remains is intent which no one can gauge the truth of. Acts are assessed on their appearance, what lies within the dark realm of one’s personal faith can only be speculated but not pronounced like a verdict. The rest if someone sells falsehood and perfidy in the guise of Iqbal, that does not mean selling him out, that means raping the very message. And that is not business, that is crime.
Pope said about Bacon that he was `the wisest, the brightest and the meanest of all’. The acknowledgement is more objective than emotional. Here we have a lesson to learn. Genuine scholarship demands a forthright analysis. Iqbal must be seceded from Iqbalian studies, not in the sense post-modernists demand, but in the sense intellectual logic demands.  If we are deeply passionate in our devotion towards a mystique called Iqbal, we must be equally dispassionate towards a discipline called Iqbalian studies. Therein we can at least make an attempt to locate Iqbalian genius.