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Modernity & Humanity: Reflections on Allama Iqbal’s Poetry

The famous Muslim poet and philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal, known as Shair-e Mashriq (Poet of the East) and Hakim ul-Ummat and commonly referred by the Turks and Iranians as Iqbal-e Lahori is considered to be one of the important Muslim Luminaries of the 19th century. His poetry and prose have immensely contributed to disseminating the message of self actualization, consistent struggle, unity and embracing the positive elements of modernity along with adopting and adapting to the continuously changing scenarios of the modern times, while getting guidance from the Quran and Sunnah and deriving the solutions from the institution of collective ijtihad.

Allama Iqbal has a unique ability to grab the attention of average as well as philosophical and academic audience through his prose and poetry. His poetic works in Persian and Urdu are an amalgam of physiological, spiritual and sentimental features. The themes covered in his poetry range from youth to unity, stability, righteousness, self actualization, dignity, honor, critique on the religious monarchy, lament on the idleness of the visionless leadership, comparison and contrast of the positive and negative aspects of the East and West, benefits and losses of modernity along with many other pertinent themes. His famous lectures compiled as “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam” are considered to be one of the important references on Islamic philosophy in which he clearly discussed issues and challenges faced by the Muslims in social, political, religious, economic, spiritual and other dimensions. He also tried to provide a work plan in this regard.

Modernity, its challenges and consequences for humanity, is one of the major themes of Iqbal’s prose and poetry, which is tackled at great length. Interestingly, his take on modernity and adopting is very balanced and moderate. Keeping in view the political scenario of the Sub-Continent in the first half of 19th century and the responses of the religious leaders and general public, his approach toward modernity seems to be pragmatic and objective. On the one hand, Iqbal encourages his audience to embrace the positive developments and results of modernity and benefit from them. On the other hand, he also criticizes and laments on the negative consequences of it. This approach seems to be bit somewhat different from the overall approach of the majority people, who are divided into two categories. The first group consists of people who were not ready to accept any aspect of modernity no matter how beneficial and useful it was, and looked at it with an eye of disapproval, rejection and distrust. Meanwhile the second group embraces it in totality without differentiating between the beneficial and harmful effects of modernity, without filtering it.

His views about Muslim unity also hold a special place in his work. He sees the entire Muslim ummah resembling one body, so that, if any part of the body is not well, then the other body parts share the sleeplessness (insomnia) and fever with it, which in fact is the manifestation of the Prophetic tradition. There are several poetic references in his poetry where he speaks about the importance of unity and refraining from divisions and differences and accepting the diversity and embracing it. His famous poetic work Jawab-e Shikwa (Response to the Complaint) has some couplets elaborating the devastated state of Muslims regarding their differences and divisions in respect of nations, tribes, casts and other social identities.

Interestingly he does not confine himself to the message of Muslim unity only but also transcends to the importance of humanity by discussing its sanctity, dignity and honor. He gains his inspiration from the Quran and Sunnah and considers the entire humanity a family, and looks at them with an eye of totality, coherence and organic unity.[]


“Nations are born in the hearts of poets,
They prosper and die in the hands of politicians”