February 15, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2806

Article on Muhammad Iqbal, Pakistan's Ideological Founder and South Asia's Foremost Islamist Poet, Explores the Meanings of Momin ('Faithful'), Jihad, and Martyrdom; Quotes Iqbal's Poetry: 'If He Is an Infidel, He Trusts the Sword; If He Is a Momin, a Soldier Fights Sans Sword'

February 15, 2010
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 2806

Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was South Asia's most prominent poet, who wrote mostly in Urdu. He is considered the poet-philosopher of Islam and the ideological founder of the Islamic state of Pakistan.

Iqbal's thinking fluctuated across various ideological perspectives; he wrote in favor of Islamic revivalism, celebrated socialism, and criticized democracy. However, he is mostly celebrated in South Asia today for his Islamist writings, inspiring zeal for the revival of Islam among Muslim youth.

Along with M.A. Jinnah, who led the movement for the creation of a state of Pakistan (Land of the Pure) for India's Muslims, Iqbal is also considered one of the two founders of Pakistan. Iqbal's ideas – articulated in poetry – are celebrated by the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and India.

In a recent article, Pakistani columnist Shah Nawaz Farooqi, who writes in the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Jasarat, shed some light on Iqbal's message to the Islamic world. The article was titled, "If He Is a Momin ["the Faithful"], a Soldier Fights Sans Sword."

Iqbal, who studied in Germany, is especially credited for using Nietzsche's idea of Superman to transform the understanding of the word Momin, i.e. "the faithful," into a popular understanding of an ideal Muslim who fights for the cause of Islam.

Following are some excerpts from the article:[1]

"A Momin Does Not Care for an Arrow or a Sword – Because He Knows That What He Does Has the Support of Allah"

"A famous couplet of Iqbal's is:

"'If he is an infidel, he trusts the sword,

If he is a Momin, a soldier fights sans sword.'[2]

[Urdu original: Kafir hai to karta hai shamshir pe bharosa,

Momin hai to be tegh hi larta hai sipahi.]

"Some say that Iqbal's couplet about a Momin fighting without a sword is mere poetry, and has no resemblance to reality. But people who say this have neither an understanding of poetry nor insight into the facts of life. Poetry speaks of the ideal in life, and the ideal is such a big fact of life that without it life or culture cannot be imagined.

"But why do people say such things? There might be a personal excuse for it. People say this because it is impossible for them to fight without the sword. As they do not think it is possible for them [to fight sans sword], so they think it will also be impossible for others, even for a Momin. However, to understand the psychology of a Momin, one must be a Momin.

"The question arises here as to how a Momin can fight without sword, and why the infidel trusts the sword. Much can be said in reply to these questions; however, its taste would multiply if Iqbal's couplet is explained in the light of his own poetry. To the question about how a Momin can fight sans sword, Iqbal says:

"'Martyrdom is the aim and desire of the Momin,

Neither war booty nor conquering a country.'

[Urdu original: Shahadat hai matloob wa mqasood-e Momin,

Na maal-e-ghaneemat, na kishwar-e kushai.]

"This verse of Iqbal's means: When a Momin fights, he does not long for wealth or to conquer a country, but by sacrificing his life, he wants to testify that Allah is the Greatest, He is our Creator and Lord, He is worthy to be worshiped, and one should not care for one's life while fighting in His way... It is clear why such a person will need [no] sword or arrow or any modern weapon. Only a person who fights for wealth and property, who wants to conquer a country, who loves his life and wants protection of his life, will need these things.

"However, the explanation of [this] couplet by Iqbal is not limited. Here is another verse of Iqbal's:

"'The hand of Allah is the hand of the Momin,

Which is triumphant, effectual, resourceful,skillful.'

[Urdu original: Hath hai Allah ka, banda-e Momin ka hath,

Ghalib o kar Afreen, kar kusha, kar saaz.]

"In light of the above verse, further explanation of the verse under discussion is: A Momin does not care for an arrow or a sword because he knows that what he does has the support of Allah, and that his hand is not his hand, but Allah's. His eye is not his eye, but Allah's eye. So he only has to overpower, he has to win, while defeat and retreat are the fate of his rival.

"While explaining this couplet, Iqbal's thinking goes quite ahead of this point, and illuminates further aspects of this theme. Another verse of Iqbal's is:

"'The characteristic of an infidel is that he is engaged in this world,

The identity of a Momin is that the world is hidden in him.'

[Urdu original: Kafir ki yeh pehchan ki aafaq mein gum hai,

Momin ki yeh pehchan ki gum us mein hai aafaq.]

"Here, the engagement of the infidel in the world means that he is in the grip of this world, while the hiding of the world within a Momin means that the world is in the control of the Momin. This is why the infidel always needs a sword in war, and why the Momin does not care about it.

"But how did the world come into the grasp of the Momin? Here is the answer: By accepting the Hereafter as reality. The problem with the vast majority of human beings is that they do not accept the Hereafter as reality – and that even if they do accept it, they do not accept it as 'real.' This is why the world does not come into their grasp, and instead they plunge into the grasp of the world. And then, the entire life of the human being is used for this world."

"Worshipping Logic is Also a Pillar of the Infidel's Psychology... His Standard is Not Good and Evil – But Profit and Loss"

"Because the problem with the infidel is this world, so relying on a sword or a weapon in war is also the infidel's problem. But are there more explanations about the psychology of the infidel? The answer is yes.

"The infidel's psychology is the psychology of poverty. He possesses the entire world, but is deprived of belief in God and conception of God; despite possessing everything, he feels deprived of everything. The infidel's psychology is his love for this world, and the search for accumulating maximum wealth; the psychology of the arms race in the world is the same. The reason behind the arms race is that the countries and peoples engaged in it are trusting weapons more and more.

"A characteristic of the infidel's psychology is superficiality. It means that a man gives importance to the apparent causes, and considers that to be everything. Worshipping logic is also a pillar of the infidel's psychology. The infidel weighs everything on a scale of profit and loss, and in light of 'two and two make four.' His standard is not good and evil – but profit and loss. This is why he wants to see himself as powerful at an apparent level."

"Iqbal Said That the Sword or the Arrow is Not the Issue for a Momin –The Real Issue for the Muslim is a Longing for Martyrdom and a Quest for Jihad"

"But the question arises: Is there a psychological background to [this] couplet by Iqbal? The answer is yes. Iqbal experienced colonialism. The European nations had overpowered Muslims through their superior military power; Muslims were affected in a major way by this weakness of theirs [i.e. lacking military strength]. So there was concern that Muslims too might engage in the worship of seeking this-worldly military power. Therefore, to save Muslims from this threat, and to remind them of the forgotten teaching of martyrdom, Iqbal said that the sword or the arrow is not the issue for a Momin – the real issue with a Muslim is a longing for martyrdom and a quest for jihad. Indulging in love of weapons and resources is the thinking of infidels, and it should be shunned by the Muslim.

"A key aspect of Iqbal's thinking, and of his poetry, is that the concepts and characters he presented in his poetry had taken place in different stages of the history of Islam. For example, the more we ponder on the conception of the Momin, the more we are convinced that it refers to Companions of the Prophet [Muhammad]. So this couplet by Iqbal is not poetry, but historical fact. What happened at the Battle of Badr [in 624 AD]? There were 313 Muslims against an army of infidels, and most of the 313 Muslims had neither sword nor beast to ride. The same happened at the Battle of Uhud [in 625 AD]. Approximately 700 Companions of the Prophet fought against an army of 3,000. At the Battle of Tabuk [in 630 AD], which in the end did not take place, 30,000 Muslims faced a Roman army of 100,000.

"If we see these facts, then the [phrase] 'A Momin fights sans sword' becomes historical fact, instead of poetry – an historical fact that can be repeated by Muslims in any era."


[1] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), November 22, 2009.

[2] Translations of the Urdu couplets in this essay are as close as possible to the original.

Share this Report:


MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization.  All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.