Discipline and National Life

by Mr. Ahmad Kheri, Secretary, German Society, Muslim University, Aligarh

The Light (Pakistan), 8th June 1937 Issue (Vol. 16, No. 22, pp. 4–5)

Today we are passing through a process of disintegration. Old values are being discredited, old ideas discarded, and old creeds called into question. This is invariably the case when any custom or tradition has outlived its utility or has begun to arrest the dynamic growth of the human mind and personality. The result is a bitter conflict: the old systems seek to entrench their position, the new movements attempt to overthrow them. Very often the victory is on the side of the latter.

But it is a victory purchased at a dear cost. And then, as is the way of human nature, reaction sets in. The champions of freedom and reform become more orthodox and exacting than those whom they dislodged.

Amidst all this confusion, however, there are certain basic principles of national life which hold true for all time and are indispensable, whatever form the national life may take. These principles appertain to discipline and organisation.

Even a cursory glance over the world history will show that the most formidable nations in the world have been and still are those which have been best disciplined and organised. The form of this discipline and organisation may change from time to time according to the exigencies of a particular age or the needs and tendencies of a particular people. But the fundamental idea of discipline remains. The importance and value of discipline to every thinking mind are so patent and obvious that it would not do to dilate upon them. But as misfortune would have it, it is precisely among our intelligentsia that discipline is so lightly taken and honoured more in the breach than in observance. They are apt to confuse discipline with servitude. Nothing could be farther from truth. We have perhaps not learnt as yet that discipline is nothing more, nothing less, than a tangible recognition of the individual’s obligations to society. It is a willingness on the part of the individual to forego the temporary pleasures and privileges so that the good and happiness of the society as a whole may be ensured. The whole process of learning itself is discipline—the discipline of the mind. We are made to think, scan, examine, observe, analyse and criticise according to certain rates and canons and regulate our impulses. Without discipline the rationality of man—the quality on which he bases his superiority over other creatures of God—lies dormant or acts only haphazardly.

It is well-known that the young mind is impatient of control. The young man in his impulsive zeal and enthusiasm can brook no hindrance. He has only one idea in mind, and without examining it in all its aspects feels so convinced of it that he wishes to sweep away everything which seems to stand in the way of the immediate fulfilment of that idea. From a more personal point of view, it is seen that if an authority is unable to satisfy the personal ambition or purpose of a young man due to certain rules which are calculated to serve the interest of all, he begins to suspect the motives of the person in power and seeks to subvert his authority. The whole question resolves itself into a need for the young man to see things in a broad perspective and to subordinate the desires of the self to the good of the whole. The individual has his meaning and worth only as an organic element of the society. Outside of society his life will be in no way distinguishable from the life of animals. The very idea of society presupposes discipline—a group of people willing to live together, to respect one another’s rights and sentiments, to observe certain common rules of conduct, and to help each other. The need for discipline will increase in proportion as civilisation advances. Life becomes more complicated and interrelated. Man becomes interdependent to an increasing extent. Indeed, the time has really come when no nation which lacks discipline will have a chance of leading an honourable life. It will stultify itself or will be swept away by others. For it is discipline alone which harnesses the total energy of a community and evokes its best faculties so that its organised endeavours yield benefits which are shared by all. Take the case of any of the modern states—Germany, Italy, Russia or Turkey. They were hopelessly disorganised and disintegrated some years ago. But the magic touch of discipline rallied the chaotic forces of each under a single banner and within a few years—an infinitesimal period in the life of nations—they have each of them risen to the stature of a virile and full-blooded nationhood.

What lessons can the Muslim youths in India derive from these examples? The whole spirit of our religion is discipline of the head, heart and hand in its widest sense. He should have been in no need of any reminder in this respect. But it has regretfully to be admitted that of all communities in India, we are the most deficient in the matter of discipline.

Aligarh being the central institution of the Musalmans [Muslims], attracts to its folds the flower of the Muslim youth. It is thus in a position to set the tone of the whole community and to lead it on the path of progress. It was undoubtedly with this motive that Professor Halim, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Muslim University Aligarh, in his recent address took pains to stress the need for discipline. Surely it will not do for us to misunderstand his meaning and accuse him of indifference to the aspirations of the Muslim Youth. He wants his students to be self-reliant and self-respecting. It is at this stage that we can discipline our impulses, ideas and habits. After all, discipline is nothing but an attitude of the mind. And whatever mental attitude is formed in one’s youth seldom changes in the later years. For us there could be no better basis for discipline than the tenets of our religion, which are no mere bundles of formulae but are meant to be translated into practice in our daily life. The idea of discipline does not try by any means to preclude the unbiased study of various movements and creeds or the formation of one’s independent opinions on the questions of the day. But we must realise that development of national life when we are organised as Muslims, proud of ourselves individually yet willing to put forth our best efforts for the service of our country, and what is more, of the entire humanity.