On April 21 Falls Iqbal's Death Anniversary: Iqbal’s Concept of Economy. By Mohammed Akmal Pasha


Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher philosophized; and not theologized every phenomenon of human life be it religion, sociology or economics. As far economics, in the capacity of a philosopher he prioritized his concern endorsing to the overall impact of economics on human life at large, hence his disinterest towards the mechanistic evolution of economic thought and practice. Nevertheless, his speeches and write-ups manifest his thorough understanding with respect to economic theories which had evolved up to his time. In that, today’s economic thought is though indebted to five major moves: Classical, Neo-classical, Marxian, Keynesian and Modern; only first three had surfaced in Iqbal’s times and he exhaustively grasped those. All the same, he emerged as a precursor of not only philosophy of Islamic economics but also Michael Todaro’s premise of ‘self-esteem’ propounding that a peaceful soul was a precondition for a satisfied person to ultimately become part of a healthy society. Akin to this notion would be Adam Smith’s assertion that, ‘a peaceful society is a prosperous society’. To Iqbal, a peaceful soul or society in turn would necessitate not only filled stomach but also a jubilant heart; a phenomenon that echoes beyond the mere equilibrium of demand and supply, a free market mechanism or even socialist setup.
An iota of a similar economic conception is though found in the works of Ibn Arabi, Farabi, Razi and Ghazali; and especially in 13th century’s scholar Mohammed bin Hassan Tusi or then Ibn Khuldoon; yet Iqbal can be reckoned as a pioneer giving a first comprehensive book on economics among all his predecessor Muslim thinkers. It was year 1903 when Iqbal wrote the first ever book on economics in Urdu language named Ilmul Iqtisaad (The Science of Economics). In this book his nexus remained to be ‘poverty’ (in India) which in turn substantially hinged upon the ghastly ‘peasant-landlord relationship’ analogous to the Karl Marx’s ‘proletariat-capitalist relationship’. As Marx pleaded proletariat’s case, so did Iqbal with respect to peasant.
Iqbal singled out peasantry as the rout cause of poverty. In contrast with Aristotle, Iqbal maintained that peasantry reflected slavery hence must be eliminated. Though Aristotle lamented, “all paid employments are mental degradations”, the latter while necessitating the existence of slavery appeared oblivious of the fact that ‘slavery’ itself was the worst form of ‘paid employments’ and hence a manifestation of an utter ‘mental degradation’. Iqbal wrote, “Aristotle thought that slavery is a necessary element in the establishment of human civilisation. But [on the other hand] religion and present day education have emphasised the natural freedom of man and the civilised nations felt gradually that this barbaric class distinction, instead of being a necessary element to establish civilisation, disestablishes it and exercises an extremely despicable influence on every aspect of human life. ……In the same way the question has arisen in the present age whether poverty is also a necessary element in the world system.” The conclusive remark is worth noticing implying that poverty germinated slavery and vice versa; hence the need for eradication of both in one go!
To Iqbal, the answer to the above cited question lied more in the hands of moral science than economic modelling alone. Iqbal wrote “to give a categorical answer to this question is not the task of economics because, to some extent, the answer depends on the moral abilities of human nature for whose discovery the experts in this science do not have any particular method in their hands. But since the answer also largely depends on the events and outcomes which enter the sphere of inquiry of economics, this science is therefore of immense interest to man; and its study is very nearly among the necessities of life”.
Now come to proper economic concepts. Given the per capita income is a function of the ratio between GNP and population, Iqbal emphasizes triggering of a simultaneous move whereby the former is redoubled while the latter is essentially curtailed. He advances with the same argument “In our country economic resources are limited but the population is growing day by day.…we should also free ourselves from the limitations placed by the practice of marrying in childhood and the number of wives…. Our only aim here is to have fewer children. The desire to marry can be fulfilled by marrying late or, in other words, by reducing birth rate and by generally restraining sexual urges.”
While one retreats to maintaining peasantry as the prime cause of poverty, the corollary would be to protest against cruel feudalism. Feudalism is the supreme form of owning the private property which emerges to function as a tool of peasants’ exploitation. Iqbal continues, “private property is the source of all evils. The welfare of the nations of the world therefore lies in the elimination altogether of these unreasonable distinctions and the restoration of traditional and natural principle of joint ownership of things. If nothing else, this principle should at least be implemented in the ownership of land, as this thing is not the result of the labour of a particular individual or nation but the common gift of nature to which each individual of the nation has an equal right.”

Myopically; Iqbal further alarmed about the potentially fading future of Islam itself on account of the very curse of peasantry. Thus, he asserted in his presidential address at the All India Muslim Conference held in Lahore in March 1932, “the future of Islam in India depends on the emancipation of the Muslim peasantry of the Punjab”. Again, as a member of the Punjab Legislative Council (1926–30) he brought a motion before the house to distribute half of the 370,000 acres of land in the Nilibar (in Sahiwal) among the tenants which was supposed to be sold to the rich and the powerful. He also argued for exempting smaller landholdings from land revenue.
Iqbal conveyed his message to all contemporary channels that carried worth. At the same time, his messages were scholastically wholesome, remedial and categorical. In May 1937, Iqbal through a letter refreshed Quaid-i-Azam, “The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute…...Ordinarily he [the Indian Muslim] believes that his poverty is due to Hindu money-lending or capitalism.…..[whatsoever…the atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal is not likely to receive much response from the Muslims]….After a long and careful study of Islamic Law I have come to the conclusion that if this system of Law is properly understood and applied, at least the right to subsistence is secured to everybody. But [this] is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states’. This was inadvertently in line with Gandhi’s assertion, “the world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
It would be easier to internalize Iqbal’s idea of coping with poverty at least in today’s Pakistan. Iqbal said at the annual session of the Muslim League held at Allahabad in 1930: “I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Balochistan amalgamated into a single State.” Ironically speaking, in practical terms Iqbal’s Pakistan came into being on December 16, 1971. However, the need of the hour is to moor Iqbal’s economic thoughts and strive to build Pakistan anew which ought to be ‘feudalism-free’. Where, feudalism of intellect, rights and property should all be eliminated to render Pakistan a new transformation. ‘Pakistan transformed according to Iqbal's philosophy is not only the need of Muslims or East but the whole mankind.” (Iranian scholar

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