According to Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), socially constructive mode of behaviour has more value than merely praying or being engrossed in religious ceremonials in order to satisfy private inclinations. In short, for Muslims, as Iqbal reminds us, true Islam adopts a relational framework, building upon the trans-historical and trans-national fundamentals of the Qur`an to prevent structural abuses of humanity`s intrinsic dignity and affirm basic dignity of each person, without leaving the more-than-human world behind. The express purpose is moral and social transformation in quest of equality and justice and ecological sustainability: or eco-justice.
Today, of course, many Muslims do not think this way. They are trapped by religious structures that are inconsistent with the Qur'an and the wisdom of Iqbal`s humanistic philosophy. They see the Qur'an as constraining but not emancipating. The Qur’anic scripture, when freed from the shackles of sterile, atomistic and ideological interpretations, points toward an emancipating view of human potential and human organisation that is respectful of the dignity of each and every perspective, awed by the beauty of the natural world, and encouraging of an “integral ecology” that lives with respect and care for all life on our planet earth.
We can speak of a kind of Islam that truly is constructively postmodern. It partakes of the best of modernity: science, respect for individual rights, democracy. And yet it transcends the dark dimensions of modernity: its emphasis on the impersonal objectification of nature and other organisms, the desacralisation of the world, a rejection of the role of community in human well-being (the principle of interrelationality), an overemphasis on science at the expense of morality. It is postmodern, not premodern. It is Islam's offering to the world and, for that matter, to itself. Iqbal calls Muslim's to receive the offering and step out, in colleague with people of other faiths and people without faith, of their comfort zones toward a future in which the voice of human dignity and the sacredness of all life is audible, before it is too late.
Iqbal considered man`s respect for his fellow beings to be the gist of Islamic democracy and the sum total of the Qur`anic ethos. The notion of intrinsic human dignity represents a powerful assertion about human status capable of having a centripetally effect on our political, ethical and legal practices. Humanity is undergoing a massive turmoil politically and morally. And in such nervous times, the need for a unifying and sustainable idea of a “higher humanity” – the notion of human dignity being inherent/absolute/interchangeable/irreducible and thus setting itself beyond the instrumental notion of dignity linked up to price and functionalism (dignity as a function of human utility)– is of paramount importance to the moral and intellectual elevation of the human species as an organic whole.
The message of Iqbal is not restricted to Muslims only. It is the message of a philosopher, profoundly shaped by the Qur`anic teachings, who addresses himself to humanity en masse. In the words of Muhammad Iqbal: "So long as men do not demonstrate by their actions that they believe that the whole world is the family of God, so long as distinctions of race, colour and geographical nationalities are not wiped out completely, they will never be able to lead a happy and contented life and the beautiful ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity will never materialise.”
As the Muslim philosopher sought to “string together the separated beads of the rosary”, so must we, in the name of an all-embracing principle of human dignity, persuade our fellows to transcend narrow and egocentric interests in the quest for spiritual democracies in which people live with care and respect for each other and the non-human communities of life.
Happy Iqbal Day.