Who is educated! – Iqbal’s View

Iqbal on Education [1909]

I unhesitatingly declare that I have greater respect for an illiterate shopkeeper, who earns his honest bread and has sufficient force in his arms to defend his wife and children in times of trouble than the brainy graduate of high culture, whose low timid voice betokens the dearth of soul in his body, who takes pride in his submissiveness, eats sparingly, complains of sleepless nights and produces unhealthy children for his community, if he does produce any at all. 

There is no absolute truth in education, as there is none in philosophy or science. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is a maxim of fools. Do we ever find a person rolling in his mind the undulatory theory of light simply because it is a fact of science? Education, like other things, ought to be determined by the needs of the learner. A form of education which has no direct bearing on the particular type of character which you want to develop is absolutely worthless. I grant that the present system of education in India gives us bread and butter. We manufacture a number of graduates and then we have to send titled mendicants to Government to beg appointments for them. Well, if we succeed in securing a few appointments in the higher branches of service, what then? It is the masses who constitute the backbone of the nation; they ought to be better fed, better housed and properly educated. 

Life is not bread and butter alone; it is something more; it is a healthy character reflecting the national ideal in all its aspects. And for a truly national character, you ought to have a truly national education. Can you expect free Muslim character in a young boy who is brought up in an aided school and in complete ignorance of his social and historical tradition? 

You administer to him doses of Cromwell’s history; it is idle to expect that he will turn out a truly Muslim character. The knowledge of Cromwell’s history will certainly create in him a great deal of admiration for the Puritan revolutionary; but it cannot create that healthy pride in his soul which is the very lifeblood of a truly national character. Our educated young man knows all about Wellington and Gladstone, Voltaire and Luther. He will tell you that Lord Roberts worked in the South African War like a common soldier at the age of eighty; but how many of us know that Muhammad II conquered Constantinople at the age of twenty-two? How many of us have even the faintest notion of the influence of our Muslim civilization over the civilization of modern Europe? How many of us are familiar with the wonderful historical productions of Ibn Khaldun or the extraordinarily noble character of the great Mir Abdul Qadir of Algeria? A living nation is living because it never forgets its dead. I venture to say that the present system of education in this country is not at all suited to us as a people. It is not true to our genius as a nation, it tends to produce an un-Muslim type of character, it is not determined by our national requirements, it breaks entirely with our past and appears to proceed on the false assumption that the idea of education is the training of human intellect rather than human will.

We spend an immense amount of money every year on the education of our children. Well, thanks to the King-Emperor, India is a free country; everybody is free to entertain any opinion he likes—I look upon it as a waste. In order to be truly ourselves, we ought to have our own schools, our own colleges, and our own universities, keeping alive our social and historical tradition, making us good and peaceful citizens and creating in us that free but law-abiding spirit which evolves out of itself the noblest types of political virtue. I am quite sensible of the difficulties that lie in our way. All that I can say is that if we cannot get over our difficulties, the world will soon get rid of us.

[Iqbal’s article on ISLAM AS A MORAL AND POLITICAL IDEAL, 1909]


  1. Iqbal wanted our schools and universities to keep alive our social and historical tradition. How many of our schools and universities have this as their mission and objective?

  2. Your every blog bring awareness of where our society lacks …I wish you’re thought inspire our society. What you have written is the earnest need of a true Muslim. I hope our new generation will have such opportunities. Our educational institutes are not made for business purpose but in upbringing of sensible human beings.

  3. Abdul-Aziz Usmani Avatar
    Abdul-Aziz Usmani

    Dear Dr Hyder,

    I truly appreciate your question. To my knowledge none of our schools or universities have Iqbal's Vision as their mission. Actually our education mission at every level needs to be revamped in line with the vision as propounded by Iqbal and other visionaries like him. My worry about Pakistani children studying O and A levels or abroad is that they somehow lose sight of our Islamic and historical heroes because they always read and listen about the heroes of the West.

    In nutshell, this is the need of hour that we make efforts to follow the teachings, vision and ideas of Iqbal and others of his ilk.

    With best wishes,


  4. Such a profound exposition, such a force, such power, such flow. Aah, Iqbal! We are where we are because we deliberately ignored his "prescription". As he says here, ideal of education is not training of the intellect, but training of the will.

    See my humble effort at http://www.L2Lacademy.org

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Let's discuss. I think IoBM's vision and mission clearly talks about the character, life long learning, and leadership and so does our colleges. Read again

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