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'Relocating the Nation'

Amir Ali

By Iqbal Singh Sevea
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. xx 234, Rs. 595.00


This book is definitely a much-needed contribution to the study of the political philosophy of Allama Iqbal the poet. Iqbal Singh Sevea expends significant intellectual energy on the analysis of Iqbal’s well-known antipathy to the ideology of nationalism and the nation-state. ‘Rejecting Nationalism, Relocating the Nation’ can in this sense be considered the core of the book which also attempts to make sense of Iqbal by placing him in the larger matrix of late 19th and early 20th century Muslim intellectual thought. This is done especially in ‘Muslim Political Discourse Circa 1857-1940’, but also in numerous other sections of the book where Iqbal’s political, intellectual and philosophical ideas are considered in relation to other prominent figures such as Hussain Ahmad Madani of Deoband, Suleiman Nadwi, Akbar Allahabadi et. al.   Sevea notes at several places in the book that Iqbal seems to occupy a position of variance with respect to both the traditional ulama and the modern educated Muslims. Iqbal castigated the traditional ulama for their inability to come to terms with the complexities of the modern world. This inability owed in large part to their being confined by the chains of taqlid, the imitation and unquestioned acceptance of religious practices handed down by established religious authorities such as the four orthodox Sunni schools, the Hanafi, the Maliki, the Shafii and the Hanbali. On the other hand, Iqbal was also critical of western educated Muslims for being under the complete sway of western inspired ideas to the extent that they could not think beyond the received confines of derivative concepts.   This simultaneous distancing from both the traditional educated and the modern educated made Iqbal critical of both Deoband, the most prominent centre in the subcontinent of the traditionally educated Muslims and also Aligarh the most prominent centre of modern education. Iqbal’s critique of Aligarh and what it stood for is set forth in his poem ‘Talaba Aligarh college ke naam’ or ‘Address to the Students of Aligarh College’ (p. 62). Iqbal’s larger intellectual opposition to Deoband was to frame his more specific response to Deoband’s predominant political position of siding with composite nationalism under the umbrella of the Congress and in opposition to the Muslim League. Sevea is right to note that this opposition to Deoband inspired composite nationalism and Iqbal’s larger association with the Muslim League should not lead one into believing that Iqbal contributed ...

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