English and Pakistani Culture: Shibli, Iqbal and Arnold or Ambivalence Revisited


  • Iftikhar Shafi Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Karachi.


Pakistani Culture, Shibli Nomani, Allama Iqbal, Arnold, Western culture


The history of the cultural interaction of the Muslims of the subcontinent with English (in what this word signifies as a language, and as a synecdoche of Western culture and modernity) could be divided into three phases which are overlapping, but still identifiably distinct in their attitudes and outlook. Each of these phases contains its representative cultural figures, which can possibly become a measure of our terms of engagement with English as a culture. The earliest phase of this history may roughly correspond with the formal fall of the Muslim rule (1857) in India, the formation of the Aligarh College, and the emergence of such cultural figures like Syed Ahmad Khan, Shibli Nomani, Akbar  Allahabadi, Hali, Nazir Ahmad, and Iqbal. The present study rebuts such theses that see Shibli’s relationship with English, and through him our larger cultural relationship with English in its earliest phase while treating him as a culturally representative figure, as that of hypocritical ambivalence (tazabzub). This study also includes Iqbal, another towering cultural figure that emerged from the first waves of the Orient-Occident cultural hybridity in the subcontinent, to argue that to consider the cultural hybridity of such figures like Shibli and Iqbal as hypocritically and self-contradictorily ambivalent (mutazabzab) would be to force Greco-Christian and Greco-Jewish (or Western) critical categories upon a cultural situation that requires critical categories drawn from the Islamic tradition for a proper understanding of its hybridity or its “being-in-the-middle”.


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