Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Spare Islam and Iqbal


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. -File photo
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. -File photo

GEN Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s warning against separating Islam from Pakistan’s polity or politics should not surprise anyone because Islam has been used as a battle cry by almost all Muslim warriors across the globe and throughout the ages, even when both sides have recited the same Kalima and the issue is nothing more than ownership of the throne or a piece of land.

Also not surprising is the way the general’s words have been flashed by a section of the media as if he has supported the pseudo-religious parties’ challenge to the non-theocratic forces in the country’s general election.

This interpretation may not be correct because while Gen Kayani refers to religion as a unifying force, the politicians in religious robes are using it to divide the people. That the army chief should have been aware of the possibility that his speech on the eve of a crucial election could be exploited for partisan purposes cannot be gainsaid.

Reference has been made to the armed forces’ resolve to defend the Islamic republic as envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam and by Allama Iqbal. Pakistan’s religious lobby has never accepted Jinnah as an authority on Islam. Nor did he himself claim that distinction except for his assertion that Islam viewed marriage as a civil contract and that it did not sanction child marriage. For that reason Ziaul Haq adopted the policy of denying and suppressing Jinnah’s vision of a secular Pakistan and tried to use Iqbal, quite inappropriately and unsuccessfully, to justify his illegitimate rule under a religious facade.

That Ziaul Haq’s plans to turn the democratic state of Pakistan into a theocracy of the most primitive variety could derive no support from Iqbal can easily be shown.

Iqbal’s basic premise was that Islamic thought had been deprived of its essential dynamism by being kept frozen and immobile for 500 years. He therefore called for ijtihad to revive “the principle of movement in the nature of Islam”. Ziaul Haq, on the other hand, through his scheme of so-called Islamisation, extended constitutional protection to the frozen and immobile Islamic law and barred the door to ijtihad.

The issue has acquired contemporary relevance because religion is being used by diverse forces to exploit the opening provided by the general election to capture the state of Pakistan.

On the one hand, some elements want to impose their version of religion at the point of the gun or the butcher’s blade. And on the other hand, quite a few parties are invoking religious symbols for establishing a theocracy or a caliphate to replace democracy. Both groups are using Islam as a divisive force. While they often quote Iqbal to justify mixing religion with politics they deliberately distort the poet-philosopher’s argument.

For instance, Iqbal’s support is sought to denounce secularism without appreciating his argument. Iqbal says: “The ultimate Reality, according to the Quran, is spiritual, and its life consists in its temporal activity. The spirit finds its opportunities in the natural, the material, the secular. All that is secular is therefore sacred in the roots of its being.” (Emphasis added).

Pakistani advocates of theocracy often summon Iqbal in their defence and deliberately conceal his concept of a theocracy. In Iqbal’s view, “the state according to Islam is only an effort to realise the spiritual in a human organisation. But in this sense all state, not based on mere domination and aiming at the realisation of ideal principles, is theocratic”.

Again he argues: “The essence of ‘tauhid’ as a working idea is equality, solidarity and freedom. The state, from the Islamic standpoint, is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realise them in a definite human organisation. It is in this sense alone that the state in Islam is a theocracy, not in the sense that it is headed by a representative of God on earth who can always screen his despotic will behind his supposed infallibility.” (Emphasis added).

Those raising the slogan of ‘khilafat, not jamhooriat’ may also take note of Iqbal’s endorsement of ‘Turkey’s ijtihad’ “that according to the spirit of Islam the caliphate or imamate can be vested in a body of persons, or an elected assembly”, and his firm view that “the republican form of government is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that are set free in the world of Islam”.

On the impossibility of reviving the one-man caliphate in modern times Iqbal fully endorsed Ibn Khaldun’s verdict.

The danger Pakistan faces today is from the plea to return to what Iqbal called an uncritical vision of the past. There is a great need to ponder over his warning against reviving ancient modes of managing public affairs. “Thus a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay,” he says.

What this means is that the problems the people of Pakistan have been facing in establishing a functional and durable democracy cannot be solved with remedies evolved in the period before democracy.

It is possible that the conservative sections of society have run out of political options to oppose the growing movement for reconstructing the state in accordance with Jinnah’s ideals of people’s democracy, nationhood on the basis of a common citizenship, federalism, gender equality and the rule of law.

In sheer desperation they are whipping up a wave of religiosity to prevent Pakistan’s transition to a modern democracy. In this situation, the less one speaks of the role of religion in public affairs and avoids expropriating Iqbal’s thought the better it will be.

Comments (25) Closed

Khan of Kalabagh Apr 25, 2013 11:47pm

wonderful article based on solid logic, i hope the people of Pakistan could ever grasp the vision of Quaid and Iqbal, i pray they do and do it quickly.

P.Mishra Apr 25, 2013 09:19am
It is difficult to imagine that Iqbal the famous poet whose song is song in schools through out India was one of the first to advocate Pakistan on religion basis?
Adnan Malik Apr 25, 2013 09:15am
at last smbdy at media explained wht Jinnah n Iqbal meant by Islamic state Idea....well written
Mr.T Apr 25, 2013 06:38am
well i listen general too and get my own ideas what he trying to say. But your column seems to me same what you are trying to say ? Allama Iqbal was famous due to his poetry which help create PAKISTAN not ISLAM. Now everyone say we want Allama Iqbal Islam or his way of understanding, ok then can you explain that islam to a layman or intellectual ? I recently saw a drama serial which i think Pakistan should see and i hope any media should play that in pakistan by dubbing it in urdu. #MBC1 - #OmarSeries - English Subtitles ( people might understand that islam still in this era can be implemented, specially this series help extremists of islam that what islam means peace (FULL STOP)
Shruti Apr 25, 2013 05:59pm
Well said! Religion is personal matter. It should not be dictated by anyone.
Robin Akbar Apr 25, 2013 11:52pm
Surely everybody wants to migrate to USA unless grapes are sour!
Masood Hussain Apr 25, 2013 08:41pm
Avery scholarly article.
Ravisankar Apr 25, 2013 10:25pm
Pak's army chiefs are always paranoid about their eastern neighbor
Kannan Apr 26, 2013 02:20am
Well written article..The General's speech is nothing but how far the religion has gone into State business.
Javed Apr 25, 2013 04:56pm
Iqbal was poet but religion made him a communal zealot and he died regretting for suggesting pakistan for muslims!!!!!
malole Apr 25, 2013 03:30am
We have had enough of military's Islam. We have enough of mullas Islam and we have had enough of TTP's version of religion. Please leave us alone and let us do whatever we want to do or not do.
raja hindustani Apr 26, 2013 04:17am
Country doesn't and shouldn't have any religion. It is people of the country who follow particular religion. The same Pakistan which is now being ruled by muslims was part of undivided India few years back and if you go into history further, it was ruled by many including Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and others.
Sheikh Apr 25, 2013 07:10pm
I hate to say this Agha Ata USA sahab... but Saudi Arabia is a Islamic welfare state. You may disagree with the way they have implemented Islam in their country, but it is a successful welfare state after all. Further more historians agree that Madina under the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was indeed the first ever welfare state.
Dr. Emile Unjom Apr 26, 2013 04:19am
The Pakistani minorities have suffered and continue to suffer for Quaids vision being betrayed and thrown in to the freezer uptil now. Thank you for your convictional views about Quaids vision and Iqbal's thought.
Guest63 Apr 25, 2013 07:31am
In my humble opinion , It was NONE of the business of a paid servant (regardless who he is either a COAS or Airchief or Naval chief or any body ) to lecture on the theologian aspect of the nation , state and the country . in a working democracy , statement like that would have warranted not only a call to attention for dressing down But most probably showing the exit door . it can only happen in a country like Pakistan , that such statement get highlighted and acclaimed to be a very patriotic one . On the same theme , it was None of the business of COAS to go and meet Afghan president and USA foreign minister , to chalk out the policy about Afghanistan ....
Agha Ata (USA) Apr 25, 2013 12:40pm
One picture is more powerful than thousand words. History doesn't show us any Islamic welfare state ever established on this earth. Let
vjaiswal35 Apr 25, 2013 01:15pm
Thanks Rehman Saheb. It was great pleasure reading your article and explanation of thinking of Iqbal. I am sure Iqbal, such an enlightened man, could never ever think what the theocrats are making of his philosophy.
vjaiswal35 Apr 25, 2013 01:20pm
Sir, you are not talking about India may be you mean Pakistan.
Manan Apr 25, 2013 08:25am
Oh, beautifully written and expressed. Full marks there. Sadly Pakistan is heading rapidly towards theocracy. If we are setting forth Iran as a role model of an ideal Islamic state, as an example, to emulate, we are heading towards stone age. Then, forget about modernity and development since quite rightly "establishing a functional and durable democracy cannot be solved with remedies evolved in the period before democracy".
Robin Akbar Apr 25, 2013 11:04am
if India is better than any country in the world then why it is one-way traffic to West?
Nabarun Dey Apr 25, 2013 02:30pm
Classic piece. Both Dawn & the writer deserve applause. Pakistani people must ponder.
umesh bhagwat Apr 25, 2013 04:01am
saare jahan se accha hindostan hamara' is still sung across all schools in India!
Asad Apr 25, 2013 01:22pm
These days generals are taught and trained to fight tactical wars and they should stick to that.They should refrain from giving political speeches.For heavens sake when would they realize that they have played havoc for 40 out of 60 years of this country's existence.
zafarov Apr 25, 2013 01:20pm
It's just an expression of praise for one's land. Have you never heard of poetic license?
dev Apr 25, 2013 01:20pm
It is better than many countries, though certainly not better than all. If it ever reaches its past glory when it was the richest country in the world, I believe the traffic won't be one way then. Even today it is not just one way.