Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Personal Request

This is Coventry Transport Museum:
a scene which I see several times
every week, as it is just opposite
the main bus station.
Picture from Coventry Travel Guide
I shifted to UK in October last year and I am likely to remain here for a few more months. This period has been very formative in my life in ways that I had not expected. Being away from my own society provided me an opportunity to sort out my thoughts "in isolation" and without "influences". Hence I am writing this post in a personal voice to share a few conclusions upon which I have arrived in these few months, and some plans which I have made for myself.

I am now convinced that the root of all our problems in Pakistan is that we do not know our history. To some extent this is also the major problem for the whole world. Things happened so fast after the Second World War that the academic world failed to keep pace with the changes that were taking place. Well-known words changed their meanings quickly and the result was that things which meant something else yesterday suddenly came to mean something very different the next day. 

I shall give only one example: democracy. In the days of Iqbal (1877-1938), it had two meanings. In the first instance, democracy meant a government chosen by the people (as it means now). In this sense of the word, Iqbal considered democracy and Islam to be almost the same thing - in practically every prose writing from 1908 onwards, Iqbal praised democracy and went to the extent of saying that the British Empire in 1909 was the greatest Muslim state because it was fulfilling the Islamic ideal of promoting democracy!

However, the other meaning of the same term was a state who follows its territorial interests as its only ideal and defines itself by its territory rather than by any higher ideal. This connotation of democracy was due to the historical evolution of democratic governments in Europe where secularism, territorial nationalism and democracy evolved simultaneously and very often it was difficult to separate one from the other. This was the concept which Iqbal found unacceptable and criticized it unrelentingly. In this criticism, he often used the word "democracy" to mean all these negative things, but this usage was usually restricted to his Urdu poetry (and I think that this was because his Urdu readers were more "aware" of the democratic ideals of Islam than the readers of his English writings).

Consider this example, and then see how in Pakistan and elsewhere Iqbal has come to be seen as someone who was opposed to the idea of democracy! What can we say to such confusion? Has it been created deliberately by people who knew too much, or has it been spread by mediocre scholars who didn't know what they were talking about? I am afraid that the answer lies in those pages of recent history which have never been presented before the public.

So, the first major aim which I have now adopted for myself is to complete my six books of Iqbal's biography in Urdu. Books One and Two have already been published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan. Book Three is now ready and I hope that it is going to be published by Iqbal's death anniversary this year on April 21. I am now working on books Four and Five, and I hope to finish them within a few months.

These books are more than a biography of Iqbal. I hope to make them nothing less than a history of the Pakistani nation - as never told before. I shall be writing more about this subject on this blog.

The second major aim which I have for this year is to expand the outreach of those online courses in Iqbal Studies which started last year. The response from participants of these courses has been so encouraging that I am compelled to believe that this is an area in which we should all combine our efforts: the courses have not only interested Pakistani audience but even so many from abroad. This is also something about which I shall be writing more - but quite possibly on the other blog, Marghdeen Learning Centre, which has been set up for these courses.

These are my two aims for now: to present a comprehensive history of Pakistan through the biography of Iqbal and related works, and to expand the outreach of online courses in Iqbal Studies. 

I request all my friends and well-wishers to support me and join me in this effort.


  1. Greetings,

    Khurram Ali Shafique, Thank you for this. I really admire your aim and purposeful work toward it. Please let me know if I can do anything to support your efforts.

    All good wishes,


  2. Sir, all the best wishes and prayers with you. I am happy you shared your goals with us. And as Robert said, please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

  3. Khurram sahib, always knew that you will come richer from the experience that you are undergoing, and waiting to hear the insights and also waiting to see them translating in your works that we all treasure. Please count on us as we will support all your efforts here or elsewhere.

  4. Having just seen the prolific archives of your articles and now this careful, reflective post of your current resolve, I am rather speechless.
    Yet again grateful to be a part of this community.

    Although I'm puzzled as to how Iqbal's works can be far-reaching enough if a lot of the subject matter will pertain largely to Pakistan. (More so than universally?) Still, I trust your work and vision in the minor details. Of course, I want to best for all of Pakistan as well. I'm sure we will all trust and support your decisions.

    Meantime, I am starting to understand the importance of history...via your never before.

    As you've indicated, I'm quite sure that the people suffer all over the world for not knowing each our own history and then how we each connect across our borders as well.

  5. Khurram Sahib, I know one person who will be anxious to read your next book on Dr Iqbal. :) All the best with it.

    As for Iqbal's message, I would say that both the suggestions you make are equally true. You have the knowing elite on one side and the unwitting destroyers of history on the other - the latter being victims in their own right.

  6. I am delighted to know about your plan to write more books on Iqbal.Since you have already completed four books,I wonder if I would be able to buy them?
    I think you are taking the right approach.It would mean a lot for the people to be able to read these books.We never understand the divine message even if it stares us in our face.May be God has His own reason to send you from Pakistan to U.K.I am a firm believer as far as that goes.
    Pakistan needs intellectuals like you.I hope and pray that you would be successful in any endeavour you choose to take.