Islam and Ahmedism


Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal

January 1936


Has then the world of Islam outside India, or especially Turkey, abandoned Islam? Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru thinks that Turkey has ceased to be a Muslim country. He does not seem to realise that the question whether a persons or a community has ceased to be a member of Islam is, from the Muslim point of view, a purely legal question and must be decided in view of the structural principles of Islam. As long as a person is loyal to the two basic principles of Islam, i.e. the Unity of God and Finality of the Holy Prophet, not even the strictest mulla can turn him outside the pale of Islam even though his interpretations of the Law or of the text of the Quran are believed to be erroneous. But perhaps Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru has in his mind the supposed or real innovations which the Ataturk has introduced.

Let us for a moment examine these. Is it the development of a general materialist outlook in Turkey which seems inimical to Islam? Islam has had too much of renunciation; it is time for the Muslims to look to realities. Materialism is a bad weapon against religion; but it is quite an effective one against mulla-craft and Sufi-craft which deliberately mystify the people with a view to exploit their ignorance and credulity. The spirit of Islam is not afraid of its contact with matter. Indeed the Quran says: "Forget not thy share in the world." It is difficult for a non-Muslim to understand that, considering the history of the Muslim world during the last few centuries, the progress of a materialist outlook is only a form of self-realisation.

Is it then the abolition of the old dress or the introduction of the Latin script? Islam as a religion has no country; as a society it has no specific language, no specific dress. Even the recitation of the Quran in Turkish is not without some precedent in Muslim history. Personally I regard it as a serious error of judgment; for the modern student of the Arabic language and literature knows full well that the only non-European language which has a future is Arabic. But the reports are that the Truks have already abandoned the vernacular recitation of the Quran.

Is it then the abolition of polygamy or the licentiate ulema? According to the Law of Islam the Amir of a Muslim State has the power to revoke the "permission" of the law if he is convinced that they tend to cause social corruption. As to the licentiate ulema I would certainly introduce it in Muslim India if I had the power to do so. The inventions of the myth-making mulla is largely due the stupidity of the average Muslim. In excluding him from the religious life of the people the Ataturk has done what would have delighted the heart of an Ibn-i-Taimiyya or a Shah Wall Ullah. There is a tradition of the Holy Prophet reported in the Mishkat to the effect that only the Amir of the Muslim State and the person or persons appointed by him are entitled to preach to the people. I do not know whether the Ataturk ever knew of this tradition; yet it is striking how the light of his Islamic conscience has illumined the zone of his action in this important matter. The adoption of the Swiss code with its rule of inheritance is certainly a serious error which has arisen out of the youthful zeal for reform excusable in a people furiously desiring to go ahead. The joy of emancipation from the fetters of a long-standing priest-craft sometimes drives a people to untried courses of action. But Turkey as well as the rest of the world of Islam has yet to realise the hitherto unrevealed economic aspects of the Islamic law of inheritance which Von Kremer describes as the "supremely original branch of Muslim law."

Is it the abolition of the Caliphate or the separation of Church and State? In its essence Islam is not Imperialism. In the abolition of the Caliphate which since the days of Omayyads had practically become a kind of Empire it is only the spirit of Islam that has worked out through the Ataturk. In order to understand the Turkish Ijtihad in the matter of the Caliphate we cannot but seek the guidance of Ibn-i-Khaldun—the great philosophical historian of Islam, and the father of modern history. I can do no better than quote here a passage from my Reconstruction:

Ibn-i-Khaldun, in his famous Prolegomena, mentions three distinct views of the idea of Universal Caliphate in Islam: (1) That Universal Imamate is a Divine institution and is consequently indispensable. (2) That it is merely a matter of expediency. (3) That there is no need of such an institution. The last view was taken by the Khawarij, the early republicans of Islam. It seems that modern Turkey has shifted from the first to the second view, i.e., to the view of the Muttazilla who regarded Universal Imamate as a matter of expediency only. The Turks argue that in our political thinking we must be guided by our past political experience which points unmistakably to the fact that the idea of Universal Imamate has failed in practice. It was a workable idea when the Empire of Islam was intact. Since the break-up of this Empire independent political units have arisen. The idea has ceased to be operative and cannot work as a living factor in the organization of modern Islam.

Nor is the idea of separation of Church and State alien to Islam. The doctrine of the Major Occultation of the Imam in a sense effected this separation long ago in Shia Persia. The Islamic idea of the division of the religious and political functions of the State must not be confounded with the European idea of the separation of Church and State. The former is only a division of functions as is clear from the gradual creation in the Muslim State of the offices of Shaikh-ul-Islam and Ministers; the latter is based on the metaphysical dualism of spirit and matter. Christianity began as an order of monks having nothing to do with the affairs of the world; Islam was, from the very beginning, a civil society with laws civil in their nature though believed to be revelational in origin. The metaphysical dualism on which the European idea is based has borne bitter fruit among Western nations. Many years ago a book was written in America called If Christ Came to Chicago. In reviewing this book an American author says:

The lesson to be learned from Mr. Stead's book is that the great evils from which humanity is suffering today are evils that can be handled only by religious sentiments; that the handling of those evils has been in the great part surrendered to the State; that the State has itself been delivered over to corrupt political machines; that such machines are not only unwilling, but unable, to deal with those evils; and that nothing but a religious awakening of the citizens to their public duties can save countless millions from misery, and the State itself from degradation.

In the history of Muslim political experience this separation has meant only a separation of functions, not of ideas. It cannot he maintained that in Muslim countries the separation of Church and State means the freedom of Muslim legislative activity from the conscience of the people which has for centuries been trained and developed by the spirituality of Islam. Experience alone will show how the idea will work in modern Turkey. We can only hope that it will not be productive of the evils which it has produced in Europe and America.

1 have briefly discussed the above innovations more for the sake of the Muslim reader than for Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. The innovation specifically mentioned by the Pandit is the adoption by the Turks and Persians of racial and nationalist ideals. He seems to think that the adoption of such ideals means the abandonment of Islam by Turkey and Persia. The student of history knows very well that Islam was born at a time when the old principles of human unification, such as blood-relationship and throne-culture, were failing. It, therefore, finds the principle of human unification not in the blood and hones but in the mind of man. Indeed its social message to mankind is: "Deracialise yourself or perish by internecine war." It is no exaggeration to say that Islam looks askance at Nature's race-building plans and creates, by means of its peculiar institutions, an outlook which would counteract the race-building forces of nature. In the direction of human domestication it has done in one. thousand years far more important work than Christianity and Buddhism ever did in two thousand years or more.

It Is no less than a miracle that an Indian Muslim finds himself at home in Morocco in spite of the disparity of race and language. Yet it cannot be said that Islam is totally opposed to race. Its history shows that in social-reform it relies mainly on its scheme for gradual deracialisation and proceeds on the lines of least resistance. "Verily," says the Quran, "We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes so that you may be : identified; but the best among you in the eye of God is he who is the purest in life." Considering the mightiness of the problem of race and the amount of time which the deracialisation of mankind must necessarily take, the attitude of Islam towards the problem of race, i.e. stooping to conquer without itself becoming a race-making factor, is the only rational and workable attitude. There is a remarkable passage in Sir Arthur Keith's little book, The Problem of Race, which is worth quoting here:

And now man is awakening to the fact that Nature's primary end—race-building—is incompatible with the necessities of the modern economic world and is asking himself: What must I do? Bring race-building as practised hitherto by nature to an end and have eternal peace? Or permit Nature to pursue old course and have, as a necessary consequence—War? Man has to choose the one course or the other. There is no intermediate course possible.

It is, therefore, clear that if the Ataturk is inspired by Pan-Turanianism he is going not so much against the spirit of Islam as against the spirit of the times. And if he is a believer in the absoluteness of races, he is sure to be defeated by the spirit of modern times which is wholly in keeping with the spirit of Islam. Personally, however, I do not think that the Ataturk is inspired by Pan-Turanianism, as I believe his Pan-Turanianism is only a political retort to Pan-Saavonism or Pan-Germanism, or Pan-Anglo-Saxonism.