Iqbal the economist – Part I

  • And his solutions for Pakistan


Allama Muhammad Iqbal is known to us as a marvel of excellence in all the fields he worked in. He is the visionary who dreamed of Pakistan, the famous Poet of the East, a top philosopher, a revered scholar, a politician, a parliamentarian par excellence and even a spiritual guide for many. Thanks to the recent pioneering work published in the book of my honourable father Mr Zaheer Ahmad Meer, titled “The Great Lawyer – 106 Reported Cases of Allama Muhammad Iqbal”, we’re now aware that he was a great lawyer too.

However, what most of us may be unaware of, is the fact that he was also a fine proponent of economics. He wrote his first book on Economics titled “Ilm ul Iqtisadiyat” or “Science of the Economics” in 1903 in Urdu, at the age of just about 26 years old, when no one was doing such work even in English in the sub-continent.

Unfortunately, this first ever book on economics in Urdu language, largely remained unnoticed, not to be realised, never to be properly acknowledged.

Let us remember that during Iqbal’s era, the classics of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Ricardo and Alfred Marshall were taught all over Europe. But in the Indo-Pak subcontinent even teachers and scholars had only a hazy idea of this subject. Actually, it was not even introduced at the University level anywhere in the Indo-Pak subcontinent barring three universities.

Unfortunately, this first ever book on economics in Urdu language, largely remained unnoticed, not to be realised, never to be properly acknowledged

It is therefore spellbinding that Iqbal had such deep insights into the subject of economics and the economic plight of the Muslims of the sub-continent. He was deeply concerned with the unequal income distribution that turned the rich richer and the poor poorer, a challenge we still face across the globe and in our homeland, Pakistan. The mere writing of ‘Ilm ul Iqtisadiyat’ renders him an economist in the same-way as the Wealth of Nations (1776) made Adam Smith an economist, or the Das Captia portrayed Karl Marx as one; albeit the context eventually differed.

Iqbal also pointed out on 28 May 1937 that: “The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute. The Indian (Muslim) has begun to feel that he has been going down and down during the last 200 years. Ordinarily he believes that his poverty is due to (Hindu) money-lending or capitalism. The perception that it is equally due to foreign rule has not yet fully come to him. But it is bound to come.”

Allama Iqbal, the learned enigma and a great thinker of Islam, was actually the first economist of the Indo-Pak subcontinent to raise his voice against the exploitation of Muslims by domestic and foreign classes controlling the means of production.

While, Dr Muhammad Iqbal was anti-imperialism in his thought process, yet he was able to point out the key problems as well as draw up workable solutions to address them.

  1. Welfare based wealth

Iqbal presented the concept of welfare-based wealth, distinguishing it from the traditional wealth. An example to elaborate this concept would be that if skilled labour were enslaved for forced labour, it’ll increase the national wealth but will be detrimental to the welfare-based wealth of the citizens and wider humanity. Similarly, a pledged property may be accounted for as the wealth of the creditor in the event of a default but won’t meaningfully impact the overall wealth of the state.

  1. Population control

Allama Iqbal also pointed out the excessive increase in population as a core issue at times of saturating economic resources, in an era when no one in the Islamic world was talking about it. He very logically explained that while increase in population can be productive in a scenario of untapped or plentiful economic resources, it becomes counter-productive economically when the situation reverses, unless, other economic avenues can be explored to further create economic opportunities for a growing population.

We can all appreciate, how this issue identified in 1903, has become a core economic concern for us in 2019, albeit 116 years later. I ask you all, what else do you call vision & foresight, if not this?

  1. Economic equilibrium in local context

Iqbal also advocated that a research-based analysis can determine the equilibrium in various sectors of the economy and modes of factor pricing as per the local context. Yet, at the same time he also urges focus upon human development through exploration and preservation of natural resources and improving human and societal relations. By doing so, Iqbal practically envisioned today’s HDI (Human Development Index).

  1. Specialised production/services

Iqbal has also put forth various strategies used by recent economic success stories. For example, he discussed regional specialisation in producing goods and services and brought in the notion of comparative cost, concepts that China practiced in its economic resurgence. This basically advocates for a country or its federating units, etc. to focus its expertise in their specialised area of production/services while accounting for the opportunity cost of producing that good or service in order to achieve economic optimisation.