Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Election Aftermath: an Iqbal Studies Perspective

"An election which is only a partial expression of the people’s will is null and void." (Hazrat Umar Farooq, r.a.) 

This saying of the second caliph was cited by Iqbal in his paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). How do the recent elections stand in the light of this saying? - blatantly rigged, voters stopped from voting or forced to vote against their will, and so on.

The purpose of beginning this post with that quote is to remind us that Islam of the free people is different from the religion of the slaves. It is comparatively more concerned with freedom of nations and civic liberties than worrying about the wardrobes of women or teaching the victims to show "compassion" to their oppressors. "Democracy, then, is the most important aspect of Islam regarded as a political ideal," according to Iqbal ('Islam As A Moral and Political Ideal'; 1909).

If Iqbal were alive today, he may have eagerly declared that the present protests against rigging were a step in the direction of establishing a truly Islamic society - and perhaps the most important step in that direction since 1949. It would not have mattered to him that the protesters are not using the name of religion. He would have repeated his words from some other occasion: "The Muslim [of this country], I believe, instinctively realizes the peculiar nature of the circumstances in which he is placed..." ('Islam and Ahmadism'; 1935).

Iqbal's advice to the political activists in Pakistan may have been the same which was offered by him to the political reformers of other Muslim countries in 1908:

"They would certainly impress [their people] more if they could show that their seemingly borrowed ideal of political freedom is really the ideal of Islam, and is, as such, the rightful demand of free Muslim conscience." (Political Thought in Islam').
The cornerstone of this ideal, according to Iqbal, is "the idea of universal agreement". On the basis of the above-cited quote from Hazrat Umar, Iqbal stated in his 1908 paper: "The idea of universal agreement is in fact the fundamental principle of Muslim constitutional theory."

Let's try to understand what he meant by "universal agreement" and how it can help us analyze the current situation in Pakistan.

Iqbal believed that society was like an organism, and "if one portion reveals a certain organic craving, the material to satisfy that craving is almost simultaneously produced by the other." ('The Muslim Community - A Sociological Study'). The example which he offered for explaining this was that the modernism of the Aligarh Movement was complemented by the healthy conservatism of Akbar Allahabadi. It is possible to conclude from this example that if we desire to find out what the Muslim community of British India collectively wanted in that period, we would have to place the ideals of the Aligarh Movement side by side with the poetry of Akbar Allahabadi.

There was no "agreement" between the two, but the collective will of the community resided in the point where these two contradictory ideas converged: preserving and strengthening the national character. Hence, this was the point of "universal agreement" even though the two schools of thought in the community appeared to be opposed to each other.

If we place the results of the recent elections on the map of Pakistan, we see a different political party coming to power in each province. Treating Pakistan as a single organism, we need not stop at this seeming conflict - especially if we have learnt anything from the aftermath of the elections of 1970, whose results may be faintly reminded to us by these ones.

From the perspective of the older democracies, the emergence of   mutually exclusive power zones may serve as a threat to the federation. Indeed, they may, if we repeat the mistakes of the past.

From the perspective of Iqbal Studies, this situation is an opportunity (and so was the situation in 1970-71),  for creating a prototype which could serve as the model for "a world-state [whose] structure will be determined not by physical force, but by the spiritual force of a common ideal." This idea, presented by Iqbal in his 1908 paper, perhaps deserves to be explored in greater detail now.


  1. What I understood from the quote of 2nd Caliph, the democracy in "Islamic Republic" of Pakistan is null and void since it is a partial expression. We, in Pakistan exercise the Islamic democracy only as label. In fact, it is an extension of Western democracy, for which Iqbal says:-

    دیو استبداد جمہوری قبا میں پاے کوب
    تو سمجھتا ہے یہ آزادی کی ہے نیلم پری
    مجلس آئین و اصلاح و رعایات و حقوق
    طب مغرب میں مزے میٹھے، اثر خواب آوری
    گرمی گفتارِ اعضائے مجالس، الاماں
    یہ بھی اک سرمایہ داروں کی ہے جنگ زرگری

    In the West the people rule, they say:
    And what is this new reign?
    The same harp still, the same strings play
    The despots’ old refrain;
    In Demos-dress let tyranny’s
    Old demon-dance be seen,
    Your fancy calls up Liberty’s
    Blue-mantled fairy queen!
    Those Parliaments and their reforms,
    Charters and Bills of Rights—
    The Western pharmacopoeia swarms
    With opiate delights

    نغمۂ بیداریِ جمہور ہے سامانِ عیش
    قصۂ خواب آور اسکندر و جم کب تلک

    To those drowsy tales of Jamshid and Sikander for how long
    Will you listen, now men’s joy is in democracy’s new song?

    الکشن، ممبری، کونسل، صدارت
    بنائے خوب آزادی نے پھندے

    Election, membership, council, presidency
    The nooses of independence are very strange

    ہم نے خود شاہی کو پہنایا ہے جمہوری لباس
    جب ذرا آدم ہوا ہے خود شناس و خود نگر
    کاروبار شہریاری کی حقیقت اور ہے
    یہ وجود میر و سلطاں پر نہیں ہے منحصر
    مجلس ملت ہو یا پرویز کا دربار ہو
    ہے وہ سلطاں، غیر کی کھیتی پہ ہو جس کی نظر
    تو نے کیا دیکھا نہیں مغرب کا جمہوری نظام
    چہرہ روشن، اندروں چنگیز سے تاریک تر

    We ourselves have dressed imperialism in the garb of democracy
    When man has grown to be a little self-conscious and self-observant.
    The true nature of the system of imperialism lies elsewhere:
    It depends not on the existence of an individual leader of a king.
    Be it a national assembly of the court of Parviz,
    Whoever casts a covetous eye on other’s harvest is a king.
    Hast thou not observed the democratic system of the West?
    With a brilliant exterior, its interior is darker than Genghis’s.

  2. Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this article. In it are powerful statements of the potential of a society to evolve. Particularly powerful are the pointers that social consensus and democracy are not foreign to the priniciples of Islam. These principles need not, therefore, be labeled as "borrowed," which only sets them up to be fought.

    The descriptions of universal agreement (alongside society being like an organism) should really be given deep consideration. I like that you've highlighted how two (or more), seemingly incompatible, stances can be brought together into something new. It's a method of resolving (seeming) conflict.

    Follett would have recogized this, as she held that there are three main modes of resolving conflict: domination, compromise, and integration. It is integration of two (or more) views, and thus creating a new dynamic, that this article highlights so well.

    Thanks again for this.

    All good wishes,


  3. "We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them."
    -Alain de Botton, "The Consolations of Philosophy" Ch.Consolation for Difficulties

  4. Iqbal was in a sense a reactionary poet But we still love him as he was one of us.His poetry in its very essence is very divine in nature ,it sooth the ears and warm the hearts.To be realistically speaking currently in Pak we don't need reactionary politics but the politics of people like Gulen of turkey.Which has much more depth and much more deep thought to it.
    All that said,Iqbal is still my favorite poet and inspirational philosopher who has influenced so many generations.