Articles on Islamic Economics

Economic philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal and Muslim identity

Ambreen Sultan

PhD Scholar at Department of Economics,

International Islamic University Malaysia

For a long period of time, Muslims ruled over a vast land of three continents. Historically, Muslim civilization had confronted numerous challenges. These ranged from political, to social, and intellectual challenges. In the past, Muslim community had faced challenges without losing political dominance and intellectual discourse. However, the situation is different this time. In the mid of the eighteenth-century, the Muslims had not only lost their political dominance in front of the colonial powers but also fallen prey to western thought and culture.

The crisis currently faced by Muslims is not limited to the political, social, or economic realm rather it is a bigger crisis. It is the crisis of knowledge and Muslim identity in the modern world. The Muslim civilization is confronted with hegemonic western thought and civilization. That has deprived them of their political dominance and turned them from leaders to mere followers. The Muslim civilization that had produced pearls of wisdom in almost all fields remained relatively stagnant during the last century.

While discussing the identity crisis which Muslims confront in the 21st century, it would be unjust not to discuss the philosophy of the great Muslim thinker, Hakim al-Ummah, poet of the east, Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Iqbal, the national poet of Pakistan, through his poetry and prose in Urdu, English, and Persian languages, conveyed to the Muslim Ummah important messages related to all spheres of human life. He appeared as a beacon of hope and articulated his poetry at a time when Muslims were confronted with an identity crisis and even today are facing the same crisis. He appeared as a Masiha (saviour) intending to reinforce and re-establish the lost Muslim identity through his poetry and writings.

In his poetry, he made references to historical events and Quranic verses to remind Muslims of their glorious past and their goal in this world as a khalifa. Many times he referred to the golden age of Muslims to remind them of their legacy and potential.

One of the main themes of Iqbal’s poetry was to awaken Muslims from the deep sleep of ignorance and to instil in them feelings of self-awareness and self-esteem. He articulated his ideas and inspiration from the two sacred sources of Islam, the Quran and Sunnah. Being a pious Muslim, he had a sight that could see far beyond the surface realities of things. Muslims are facing an identity crisis today because they have fallen prey to western ways of thinking.

West is based on a secular worldview, that gave birth to materialism and capitalism, and confines one to the worries of this world only. During his stay in Europe, Iqbal keenly observed the pitfalls of western economic and political systems and their impact on social life. He wrote his poetry in the early 20th century when the new world order was in its inception.

However, Iqbal understood its extremes very early and expressed his worries about the deceptive nature of the dominating modern order. He writes that ‘this modern time’ gives you an illusion of freedom, comfort, justice, and equity outwardly but in reality, it enslaves one in invisible shackles.

Iqbal authored the book Ilm-ul-Iqtisad (Science of Economics) more than a hundred years ago. In this book, he outlined his vision and philosophy of an economic system. The major themes of his economic philosophy are the efficient use of resources, the welfare of people, and poverty alleviation. He envisioned an economic system that safeguards and preserves self-esteem and human dignity.

He was a proponent of an egalitarian and democratic social, political and economic governance.  He emphasized three principles of a just economic system that are the acquisition of knowledge and skills, strong family system, and elimination of selfishness. He believed that these are the important ingredients for resource management and a balanced economy.

He upholds that a utilitarian and consumption-based capitalist system could only produce self-interested individuals and individualistic societies. He also criticized the extremes of communism that seize the right to private property. The two extremes are in sharp contrast to the Islamic notion of brotherhood, justice, and equity.

Iqbal calls for a new economic world order based on the sacred teachings of Islam. A system that champions the economic emancipation of Muslims in particular and the whole of mankind in general. Iqbal through his poetry reminds the Muslims that their status and station are beyond the blue sky. So, they should not restrict and consume themselves in this world only.

He says that this world has a defined end and its inhabitants will soon perish. So, seeking the material comforts of this world is a lost deal because every atom in the world pulsates with change. Here the question arises that how the Muslims who are in deep slumber can wake up to this call. Iqbal provided the answer by coining the term Khudi (self-actualization). It requires self-discipline to overcome selfish desires and reconnect to one’s inner self.

Khudi can defiantly serve as a source to regain lost self-esteem, confidence, and Muslim identity in today’s world. Iqbal urges to come out of this identity crisis and regain confidence. Muslims need to overcome doubts and restore conviction and belief. Iqbal says that the only way to gain certainty is to reconnect to the inner self.

The idea of nation-states, globalization, and financial liberalization is a by-product of western imperialism and utopian capitalism. Iqbal calls them the new Gods of the west. These served as a vehicle to transport western thought, culture, and economic slavery to the third world. Iqbal was fully aware that the conception of “nationalism” is purely an outcome of a Western political worldview that demands affiliation to territory without any concerns for the cultural values of the people. He observed that in Europe, the concept of nationalism is divorced from the ethical realm and has given rise to imperialism and racism.

Therefore, in his poetry, Iqbal criticized nationalism and regarded it as a source of conflict. Iqbal denounced the idea of political nationalism and substituted it with the idea of cultural nationalism. As opposed to political nationalism, cultural nationalism unites people based on shared religious, cultural, linguistic, and racial values under the umbrella of one religion, Islam.

According to Iqbal, Islam necessarily constitutes “millet” or Ummah and should not be confined to a country. Iqbal believed that Islam is the highest form of nationalism that transcend all forms of blood relations, kinships, and territorial affiliations and unites Muslims towards a common goal.

In Tule-e-Islam, Iqbal makes an analogy by comparing the life of Muslims with the Sun. He says that the sun sets in one place but rises in another. Similarly, when Muslims come across a downfall or go through a crisis, they do not lose hope and faith but rather take it as a new beginning.

One of the goals of Iqbal’s poetry and writing is to instill a sense of hope that was lost in the Muslims at that time and even today. He says: ‘your origin is light and you are pure, you are the brightness of the eyes of the stars, the angles, and the spirits are under your command. You are the falcon of the king of the world Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’.

He further says: ‘even if your intellect submits to God, it means nothing until the heart internalizes and the body acts upon it. A free person lives a new beginning in every moment but for the enslaved, every moment is a new challenge that he calls death’. Iqbal describes the qualities of a leader. A true leader makes his followers repulsive of the illusion of the material world and guides them towards the truth.

About the Author – Ambreen Sultan is a Ph.D. Scholar at the Department of Economics, International Islamic University Malaysia. She is instrumental in issues such as income and wealth inequality, and socio-economic justice. She is keen on advocating economic reforms and monetary justice in developing countries. The author can be contacted at:

1 reply »

  1. Considering Iqbal as a poet or philosopher alone may not be justice with him. He was a man of vision given great thought by Allah(swt) due to his love for Hazoor(pbuh).He was taught to recite Quran in an attempt to feel that the message was directed to his heart.If one see in that perspective Quran begins to talk to one & guide him.During my Graduation my subjects were Science but my room mate in hostel was a student of “Iqbal”.I thus got access to Books that explain Iqbal.Two of his teachers were relatives of Iqbal.


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