Iqbāl rejects belief in the advent of Imam al-Mahdi

Iqbāl is explicit in his rejection of belief in the advent of Imām Al-Mahdi and in the return of the true Messiah, Jesus (‘alaihi al-Salām) the son of the Virgin Mary which he criticized as being Magian in attitude. He argued that since Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) was the final Prophet the implication was that belief in the advent of these end-time personalities could have no basis in the Qur’an and authentic Ahadīth. Indeed he felt that such beliefs in Islam had been finally demolished by Ibn Khaldun who rejected the Ahadīth pertaining to the advent of Imām al-Mahdi (‘alaihi al-Salaam) as fabrications. This is what Iqbāl says:

“The doctrine of the finality of prophethood may further be regarded as a psychological cure for the Magian attitude of constant expectation which tends to give a false view of history. Ibn Khaldun, seeing the spirit of his own view of history, has fully criticized and, I believe, finally demolished the alleged revelational basis in Islam of an idea similar, at least in its psychological effects, to the original Magian idea which had reappeared in Islam under the pressure of Magian thought.”

(Iqbāl, Dr. Muhammad., Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, ed. by M. Saeed Shaikh, Lahore, Institute of Islamic Culture, 1986 p. 115)

Indeed in his letter to Muhammad Ahsan, Iqbāl is explicit in adding the belief in the advent of Dajjāl the false Messiah and in the return of Jesus (‘alahi al-Salaam) the true Messiah to the list of so-called Magian ideas which, he claims, had infiltrated Islamic thought. This is clear from his use of the word masihiyāt. (Iqbālnama, Vol. II, p. 231..Quoted in M. Saeed Sheikh, ‘Editor’s Introduction’ to Iqbāl’s Reconstruction, op. cit., p. xi).

Iqbal’s views expressed above are manifestly and dangerously false. He committed a mountain of a mistake which permanently corrupted his capacity of ever understanding Islam’s conception of the end of history. There was no way that he could have understood, in view of the above declaration, the eschatological implications of the emergence of a modern western secular civilization that triumphantly took center-stage even though it had hardly ever previously appeared on the stage of history. He could not have read the implications of the abolition of the Islamic Caliphate, and hence could not formulate a proper response to it. He could not realize the implications of the final triumph of the European crusades in ‘liberating’ Jerusalem in 1917 and in then allowing the Jews to return to the Holy Land 2000 years after they had been expelled by divine decree. In fact his followers who today constitute a significant part of the Pakistani intelligentsia also cannot understand why Pakistan’s nuclear installations are threatened with demolition, and why Pakistan has to be denuclearized and further dismembered. It is clear that Toynbee the British philosopher of history had a superior understanding of the historical process in the modern age than Iqbal the Muslim philosopher.

We recognize that Ibn Khaldūn and Iqbāl are both scholars of such eminence that one must hesitate again and again before offering a critical comment concerning their thought. But a proper understanding of the nature of the historical process as it pertained to the advent of the Messiah would have saved them from committing the mistake that they unfortunately made. What was the nature of that historical process? It was one in which the question of positive identification of the Messiah (when he was to appear) was solved by way of a special person who was raised by Allah Most High, and was commissioned to make that positive identification. John the Baptist (‘alaihi as-Salām) not only kept on declaring to all and sundry that the Messiah was coming but, additionally, it was before John (‘alaihi as-Salām) that Jesus (‘alaihi as-Salām) appeared when he returned to the Holy Land as an adult. John then faced him and publicly declared: “This is the man you have been waiting for; this is the Messiah!” This was the divine method of ensuring ‘positive identification’ of the Messiah!

Similarly, when the Messiah is to return, Allah would raise another man whose function would be the same as that of John’s. The historical process thus maintains consistency. Imām al-Mahdi’s role is identical to that of John the Baptist’s.

When the Imām emerges and publicly declares that he is the Mahdi, this will be the sign that the return of the true Messiah is nigh. When Jesus (‘alaihi as-Salām) returns he will descend in front of the Imām who will then declare: “This is the son of Mary!” (see Sahīh Muslim). Thus the positive identification of the Messiah would be accomplished on both occasions that he appears in the world, the first and the second, and it would be done through the same method, to wit, through someone raised by Allah Most High for that specific purpose. A proper understanding of the crucial role of John the Baptist (‘alaihi as-Salām) in relation to Jesus the true Messiah (‘alaihi as-Salām) would have saved Ibn Khaldun from committing the serious and dangerous error of rejecting all the Ahādīth pertaining to the advent of Imām al-Mahdi, and would have saved Iqbāl from repeating and compounding the error of Ibn Khaldun.

We may note in passing that the belief in Imām al-Mahdi whose advent will be contemporaneous with the return of the Messiah, the son of Mary, appears to parallel a Jewish belief in two persons who will appear in the End Time, the first is described as a ‘royal’ Messiah and the other, a ‘priestly’ Messiah. Haim Zafrani made this important comment concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls:

“From certain other passages in the Qumran writings, it appears quite certain that this community, which was fundamentally a priestly one, expected an especially anointed high priest (‘the Messiah of Aaron’) as well as an especially anointed lay ruler (‘the Messiah of Israel’). It should be noted that in the Cairo Damascus Document (CD 7:20) the royal Messiah is not called a ‘king,’ but a ‘prince’ (nasi, in keeping with Ezek. 34:24; 37:25; etc.). The concept of two Messiahs, one royal and one priestly, probably goes back to Zechariah 4:14: ‘These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth’.”

(Encyclopedia Judaica – Eschatology – Messianism)

In addition to those two there was to be a third person who could not have been any other than Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam):

“The rule which they (i.e., the priestly community in Qumran) received from him (i.e., their teacher) was to be their way of life ‘until the coming of a Prophet and of the anointed ones of Aaron and Israel’.”

(1 Qumran Scrolls 9:11)

(Encyclopedia Judaica – Yahad – Eschatological Hope)

Yet Iqbal’s Khidr-e-Waqt appears to be Imam al-Mahdi

Iqbāl in verse seems to affirm belief in the advent of Imām Al-Mahdi:

“Out of the seclusion of the desert of Hejaz,

The Divinely-illumined Guide of the Time (Khidr-e-Waqt) is to come.

And from that far, far away valley,

The Caravan is to make its appearance.”

Khidr is a divinely-illumined guide who appears in the Qur’anic Surah of the End-time, i.e., Surah al-Kahf. In directing attention to a divinely-illumined Khidr who is to appear from the Hejaz in Arabia, Iqbal affirmed his belief in some form of divine intervention at the end of history. This is in direct contradiction with Iqbal’s views pertaining to the end of history expressed above.

The view has been expressed that Iqbāl’s Khidr-e-Waqt was none other than the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. We disagree. By no stretch of the imagination can Jinnah be conceived of having emerged from a distant valley in the Hejaz. Nor could the Saudi King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud who placed the Hejaz under Anglo-American-Israeli clientage, possibly be recognized as the Khidr-e-Waqt. Who then, other than Imām al-Mahdi, was Iqbāl referring to?

This essay directs attention to this divergent dualism in Iqbāl and suggests that it may have resulted from an epistemological ambivalence in his thought. Different epistemologies function at different levels of human consciousness. Iqbāl’s theoretic consciousness, operating with the vehicle of the English language, appears to have functioned with one epistemology which he derived from western civilization. His aesthetic and spiritual consciousness, operating with the vehicle of his native languages, functioned with another which we identify as the Sufi epistemology. Unless one succeeds in integrating all levels of consciousness in the personality, an epistemological ambivalence and a dualism in thought can appear. Indeed dualism in the external form of personality (e.g., choice of language, clothing, a clean-shaven face, manners, etc., can betray the existence of duality and internal contradiction in the very substance of personality. The pursuit of Tazkiyah in the Islamic spiritual quest (Tasawwuf or al-Ihsan) facilitates harmonious integration of different levels of consciousness in the personality. This in turn delivers the epistemological capacity to subject all knowledge wherever located, to critical evaluation and assimilation without falling prey to any dualism or contradiction in thought.

Pakistan’s dualism was cast in concrete when Iqbāl, the spiritual father, anointed Muhammad Ali Jinnah to lead a (Muslim) nationalist struggle for Pakistan. Jinnah’s scholarship was firmly established on the secular foundations of western legal thought and he had no hesitancy in embracing and leading an essentially nationalist struggle. He neither displayed, nor claimed to possess, any such Islamic scholarship that could have recognized the illegitimacy of a nationalist struggle; nor could he anticipate the immense damage that it would inflict on the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). There is no place for nationalist struggles in Muslim political culture.


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