"I hope that these twenty pages will be recalled when modern civilization flounders as a result of the disastrous ambiguity of the words: nation, nationality, race."
There are some people who are sceptical and yet of a religious turn of mind. The French Orientalist Renan reveals the essentially religious character of his mind in spite of his scepticism. We must be careful in forming our opinion about the character of men from their habits of thought. (Stray Reflections, p.73)
Religion as a people-building force
Mere belief in the Islamic principle, though exceedingly important, is not sufficient. In order to participate in the life of the communal self, the individual mind must undergo a complete transformation, and this transformation is secured, externally by the institutions of Islam, and internally by that uniform culture which the intellectual energy of our forefathers has produced.
Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that India is perhaps the only country in the world where Islam, as a people-building force, has worked at its best.
The spiritual principle of nationalism
What makes a nation?
- To have performed great deeds together; and
- To wish to perform still more.
A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form. Man, Gentlemen, does not improvise. The nation, like the individual, is the culmination of a long past of endeavours, sacrifice, and devotion. Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate, for the ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past, great men, glory (by which I understand genuine glory), this is the social capital upon which one bases a national idea. To have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more—these are the essential conditions for being a people.
What sustains a nation?
A nation's existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual's existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. That, I know full well, is less metaphysical than divine right and less brutal than so called historical right. According to the ideas that I am outlining to you, a nation has no more right than a king does to say to a province: "You belong to me, I am seizing you." A province, as far as I am concerned, is its inhabitants; if anyone has the right to be consulted in such an affair, it is the inhabitant. A nation never has any real interest in annexing or holding on to a country against its will. The wish of nations is, all in all, the sole legitimate criterion, the one to which one must always return.
The Allahabad Address
“Man,” says Renan, “is enslaved neither by his race nor by his religion, nor by the course of rivers, nor by the direction of mountain ranges. A great aggregation of men, sane of mind and warm of heart, creates a moral consciousness which is called a nation.” Such a formation is quite possible, though it involves the long and arduous process of practically re-making men and furnishing them with a fresh emotional equipment. It might have been a fact in India if the teachings of Kabir and the Divine Faith of Akbar had seized the imagination of the masses of this country. Experience, however, shows that the various caste units and religious units in India have shown no inclination to sink their respective individualities in a larger whole. Each group is intensely jealous of its collective existence. The formation of the kind of moral consciousness which constitutes the essence of a nation in Renan’s sense demands a price which the peoples of India are not prepared to pay.
|"If doubts arise regarding its frontiers, |
consult the populations in the areas under dispute."
Only one of the men in this picture could have felt happy
that Renan had said such a thing.
This recommendation will bring a smile to the lips of the transcendants of politics, these infallible beings who spend their lives deceiving themselves and who, from the height of their superior principles, take pity upon our mundane concerns.
- Essential excerpt from English translation of Renan's paper "What Is a Nation?"
- Complete English translation of the paper
- Iqbal's Allahabad Address
- 'The Uniformity of Muslim Culture' in Iqbal: His Life and Our Times (2014) by Khurram Ali Shafique