Allama Iqbal: Causes of Muslim Disunity (Part One)

The renowned philosopher, academic and orientalist T. Arnold famously said regarding his pupil Allama Muhammad Iqbal that “Iqbal is a man of his age, a man ahead of his age and a man at war with his age”.  For centuries, the Muslim civilisation has produced unique thinkers and philosophers from the likes of Ghazali and Ibn al Arabi to the illustrious Shah Waliullah of Delhi, Mawdudi, Hassan al Banna and Ali Shari’ati of Iran in more recent times.  Yet, it is but for Iqbal to be the recipient of the honorary title of ‘Hakeem-ul-Ummah’, the one who diagnoses the problems of the Muslims and the one who provides solutions. During an age of darkness and turmoil for the Muslims, Iqbal has been reminiscent of a shining star in the further horizon to give direction to the Muslims globally. In this short paper, I have put pen to paper in order to construct a brief written discourse on the varying nature of reasons put forth by Iqbal which, to him, stand out as the key factors for Muslim disunity, which in itself, serves as a reason for the downfall of the individual Muslim and the collective Muslim civilisation. If we are to re-create a civilisation that spanned from Malaysia in the east and Morocco in the west, it is necessary to assess our weaknesses and mistakes for the purpose of rectification. The basis of my argument is extracted from a couplet of Iqbal’s poetry, namely, the Jawab-e-Shikwa whereupon he states: “Youn to Sayyid Bhi Ho, Mirza Bhi Ho, Afghaan Bhi Ho Tum Sabhi Kuch Ho Batato Key Musalmaan Bhi Ho?” (You are known as Sayyid, Mughal and you call yourselves Pathaan; But can you truly claim as well the name of a Muslim?) The couplet of Iqbal demonstrates the clear divide and split in the Islamic World on the basis of religion, social grouping and ethnicity. This is demonstrated by the symbolic usage of the words ‘Syed’ (religious divide), ‘Mirza’ (social divide) and Afghan (ethnic divide). As a result, the unity found within the message brought by the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) in the form of Islam has dwindled due to such divides which were actually destroyed by the essence of the message of Islam. Thus, following the assertion of the various divides in the Islamic World, Iqbal poses the question that can we claim to be Muslims after staunchly supporting the weakening of the Islamic World albeit indirectly through the propagation of such religious, social and ethnic divides? This is a phenomena that is largely visible in the ethnic arena following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s It is no hidden fact that an Islamic World once united on all fronts is not in the midst of all ourdivisions be it of a religious, economic, social, ethnic or of a moral nature. By placing greater emphasis on the modern age, sectarianism is rife within the Muslim nation. Secularism is at its peak since the creation of a secular Turkey following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, we have seen the disintegration of the single, unified Islamic Empire into various states with the majority of political leaders all but incompetent. Also, the vast majority of religious leaders have promoted nothing short of religious division and sectarianism for worldly comforts and pleasures. All of these problems are totally against the essence Islam found within the textual injunctions of the Holy Qur’an and the blessed personage, life and teachings of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him). Some further light is now intended to be shed on these factors of division as put forth by the shinning star, known globally as the great Iqbal. a)         Religious Sectarianism “And hold fast to the rope of Allah, all of you together, and do not generate dissension and factions. But call to mind the blessing of Allah upon you when you were enemies (one to another). Then He created the bond of love amongst your hearts, and by His blessing you became brothers.” (3:103) As Islam is not totally metaphysical to an extent where rationally perceived and accepted norms are neglected, Islam accepts the differences within the human race on geographical, cultural and racial and lingual grounds. Yet Islam does not leave a void to leave matters without solution thus failing to fill the void created by such differences. Islam is a totality that fully incorporates political, social and economic issues by addressing them with thoroughly adequate solutions as opposed to dealing with merely religious questions dealing with the relation between Man and God. Therefore, the solution presented by Islam is Islam itself, rather, the solution bestowed by the Quran is the common denominator of the Oneness of Allah which serves as a ‘level-playing field’ or common ground for the oneness of humanity. This is precisely the message of this verse of the Quran which reminds humanity in general and the Muslims specifically of the blessings of Allah through the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) who created a common bond of love amongst the hearts of the believers through the Oneness of Allah, the Prophethood and Messengership of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and the ideals and ethical values given to humanity by Islam. It is well known of the outrageous practices of pre-Islamic Arabian society where tribal warfare, regular bloodshed and human cruelty were prevalent, the shackles of these terrors which were broken by Islam and through the raising of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) in the desert terrain of Mecca in 570 C.E. b)        Social Grouping and Ethnic Nationalism “O people! We created you from a male and a female, and (divided) you into (large) peoples and tribes, so that you might recognize one another. Surely, the most honourable amongst you in the sight of Allah is he who fears Allah the most. Certainly, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware”. (49:13) Primarily, it should be clear that Islam is an illuminated path that is not exclusive or exhaustive to any particular race, culture or background, rather, Islam is a divine light that serves the objective of the internationalisation and globalisation of divine values and norms that transcends the bound of time, space and matter and thus speaks of human unity. Many significant points may be derived from this verse of the Quran in relation to subjects such as biology, humanities, geography, sociology to name a few. Fundamentally, the verse addressed entire humanity by commencing with “O People!” or “O Mankind” thus incorporating the subject of this verse to humanity in all times and ages and all races, nationalities, races, religions and backgrounds which removes the exclusive nature of the addressed content of this verse. Furthermore, a noteworthy point of scientific and human rights nature, the Quran highlights the creation of an individual as an Act of Allah through the medium of both the mother and the father thus shedding divine light on the importance of both the mother and father specifically and more generally the importance and equality as of nature of both the male and female sexes. Following the discussion of the creation of an individual and humanity in general, the verse discusses the division of humanity into various peoples, tribes and nations; the area of examination under this part of the discourse. What remains of amazing significance is the fact that Allah expresses the division of people into different tribes and nations thus attributing this as a divine act by stating “We have…divided you into large peoples and tribes” hence the division of humanity is a divine act and not a matter to be divulged in for humanity themselves. In addition to the attribution of human variation As for concluding remarks, it would be appropriate to fundamentally categorise the divisions amongst Muslims as of either a sectarian, social grouping or ethnic nationalist nature. Although, Iqbal does not use these terms directly in his Jawab-e-Shikwa, he used the symbolic terms of ‘Sayyid’, ‘Mirza’ and ‘Afghaan’ of these forms of divides. Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, these divides have become ever more apparent and further rooted within Muslim society. It is also of great importance to stress that promoting such divisions and divides is against the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an and the life of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him). If the Muslims are to regain their lost glory, according to Iqbal, one must assess the ways in which to lessen the gulf caused by such differences. The second part of this paper will discuss the ways in which to minimise the difference caused by these difference if albeit not totally remove them altogether. It is intended that the return of the Muslims to the Holy Qur’an and the strengthening of the spiritual connection with the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him) will form the crux of the argument in the second part of this paper, God willing. Muhammad Umair al Qadri The writer is a postgraduate student of law and a servant of the classical Islamic sciences. Comments and feedback welcome at:


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