Given our current political climate of fear, suspicion, and animus surrounding Islam and Muslims, I am grateful for this opportunity as a Junior Fellow in the Marty Center to make a meaningful contribution to public understandings of Islam and modernity. Drawing on my enduring interest in the relationship between religion, literature, and politics, my dissertation, "The Poetic and the Political in Islam: Lyric Form in Muhammad Iqbal,” examines the articulation of and prescriptions for the Muslim subject’s encounter with colonial modernity in the lyric poetry of the philosopher, Islamic reformer, and poet Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Scholarly and popular narratives on Iqbal have overwhelmingly focused on the political issue of Muslim sovereignty and his involvement with the creation of the modern nation-state of Pakistan; as a result, his Persian and Urdu poetry is subordinated to concerns of theological reform and political philosophy as mere mouthpieces. I seek to rethink the ways in which religion, literature, and politics have functioned as categories for understanding Iqbal’s poetic output. Through a literary-critical analysis of Iqbal’s poems in the ghazal mode—a fixed-form, lyric genre that thrives on ambiguity and paradox—I ask whether these lyrics, deeply rooted in and responding to the aesthetic traditions of Sufism, disrupt their own appropriation for his political legacy. In so doing, I also interrogate why Iqbal’s poetry has come to be read as an expression of Islamic political identity through an analysis of how prescriptions for such an identity were formed through British colonial constructions of "religion" and "literature" in late 19th- and early 20th-century South Asia.
Over the course of my fellowship year, I look forward to working with a cohort who represent the best Chicago traditions of intellectual curiosity and scholarly rigor, and who are committed to bringing the academic study of religion to a wider audience. I hope to complete two chapters of the dissertation, as well as original poetic translations of a set of Iqbal’s ghazals written in response to Hafez and Goethe.