Author: (Late) Ahmed Ghulamali Chagla

First Published on April 20, 1948


    The death  of Sir Muhammad Iqbal has removed from the world one of the greatest constructive thinkers of Islam in the last six centuries.  The outstanding achievement of Iqbal was that, to a very great extent, he succeeded in arriving  at a synthesis of the Eastern and Western modes of thought.  He himself says at one place:

"The teachings of the philosophers of the West illumined my intellect - the Seers (of the East) illumined my heart".

    It is yet too early to judge what permanent effect the teaching of this virile thinker will have on future generations.  At the same time the remarkable extent to which the intelligent and intellectual sections of the youth of Muslim India and Pakistan have been stirred by Iqbal's thought  is portentous and significant.

    Like Maulana Rumi's message, Iqbal's message, if interpreted correctly, is for the entire humanity; but, like Rumi, bearing in mind the limits of effective expression of a definite message by the poetic method, Iqbal addresses one particular community, the Muslims.  "Community" or "Nation" or, to use Iqbal's own term, "Millat", as understood by Iqbal, transcends both racial and geographical limitations.

    "Nation" or "Millat", in Iqbal's view, is a group having a common 'spiritual' and 'ethical' purpose, which purpose alone influences its worldly ends.

    According to Iqbal, the conflict between nationalism and racialism is inherent in the modes of life the world has so far experienced.  By laying stress on this conflict the gulf between the two grows wider, making the attainment of an Ideal Humanity difficult, if not impossible.  He therefore opposes this with all the vigour of a virile mind and a deep emotional nature.  As a poet-philosopher he fervently desires, and therefore ardently attempts, the "complete" reconstruction of the imaginative faculty of man, because it is the imaginative faculty that gives direction to man's desires and intellectual pursuits.  In this, his aim is opposed to that of the mere poet trying only to picturize emotions and sentiments.  In other words, Iqbal follows the poetic method for philosophic ends.

    To understand this it would be well to look back a little and to consider the methods of two great reformer-poets who immediately preceded Iqbal.  Hali, the dynamic, aimed at stretching of the imagination of the Muslims into the future by reminding them of their great past.  On the other hand, Akbar, the static, merely stressed on the past culture by criticising almost every new development in humorous verse of a quality that even Iqbal could not achieve, despite repeated attempts.  A third great personality and constructive thinker of this period, though not a poet, was the late Sir Syed Ahmed. He had faith enough in the inherent virility of Muslim culture and civilisation to urge Muslims to fearlessly strike out into the future by assimilating as much of the Western culture as came their way. This was treading on dangerous ground.  Nevertheless battle was given.  It was a great fight and many fell by the way, as the intuitional Akbar had foreseen.

    All the three - Hali, Akbar and Sir Syed - prepared the ground for Iqbal.  The two poets, Hali and Akbar, were necessarily limited in their vision.  They were yet too near the disintegrating past to guage to a nicety the real causes of disintegration.  Akbar thought the disease was merely "irreligion" ('be-dini').  Hali thought it was partly the lack of striving in thought and partly the construction of thought, the result of blind following, which had killed out the faculty of creative imagination.  Though both diagnosed the disease, each in his own way, neither suggested a sane and applicable remedy.  What they lacked was supplied by Iqbal.  He also looked back.  But not only at Muslim history.  He studied the history and also the philosophy of civilisation, taken as a whole.  Further, he looked at both in true perspective, in the light of human psychology.  He realised that mere outward facts of history, that is, the 'acts' of individuals and groups at certain periods and under given circumstances, cannot kill out the 'roots' of a particular type of civilisation and culture, unless 'the roots themselves are diseased' and hence deprived of their inherent vitality.  He made sure that the disease had attacked the very roots and then, logically enough, he set to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

    Originally Islam is a purely monotheistic system.  According to Iqbal the disease that has attacked the very roots of the thirteen-century-old tree of Islam is the pantheistic mode of thought, which undoubtedly percolated through from extraneous sources, especially after the fall of Baghdad.  This has resulted in the wrong interpretation of the value of the individual to society.  If the individual comes to think that his own personality is philosophically non-existent and not of any ultimate value, he cannot but discount personal responsibility for events and happenings.  Thus "efforts" and "action" cease to be justly evaluated, either in relation to the individual or in relation to society.

    Iqbal opines that Persian philosophers and poets were mainly responsible for bringing these extraneous pantheistic notions and ideas into the purely monotheistic system of Islam.  While the fertile brain of the Persian thinkers attacked the philosophic concepts of Islam, Persian poets enveloped the "heart" of the average Muslim with pantheistic imageries.  The basic idea presented to the Muslims was: "Nothing truly exists but God".  So far so good.  But the effort and action of an individual, as that of a nation, are entirely dependent on the misinterpretation - or the right interpretation - of this basic idea.  It was the misinterpretation of this basic idea in the pantheistic sense that Iqbal abhorred and endeavored to set right.

    Thus it will be seen that unlike the average oriental poet enwrapped in his own imaginings, however ethical and moral in appearance, the philosopher-poet Iqbal was intensely practical in his outlook.  He did not say things for the sake of saying them, nor even for the sake of self-satisfaction, intellectual or emotional.  He had a definite and practical purpose in view and he burned with the fire of intense desire to bring this purpose to fruition. He held that the reconstruction of the Muslim world is impossible is impossible unless the thought and imagination of 'each' Muslim has first been has first been reconstructed along 'right' Islamic lines.  Above all, he wished to divest the mind and the heart of every Muslim of the un-Islamic accretions of the last five or six centuries.  To understand all this better it would be better to look into some of Iqbal's basic concepts.

    In his conception of the Ultimate Ego, Iqbal lays stress on the Will and Wisdom aspects, which ultimately resolve into Activity.  To achieve self-expression and to bring these into manifestation, the All-Sufficient Ultimate Ego voluntarily divides itself, by its own volition, into the perceptual concepts of the 'Self' and the 'Not-Self'.  The manifestation is a long, sequential evolutionary process.  The last, and hence the most, perfect stage of this evolutionary process 'so far' is man.  Man is superior because he is 'aware' of his superiority to the sub-human kingdoms, through knowledge born of higher understanding and conceptual power ('idrak').  Man's own Descartes.  According to this great European philosopher, even if a man were to doubt the fact of his own being, something yet remains which doubts this fact. That 'something" is the innermost consciousness which is the real man.  Iqbal (like Rumi) repeats this often, in ever-varying imageries.

    Thus, if the most fundamental fact of a man's life is the absolute and irrefutable consciousness of his own being, the purpose of his life is to strengthen and to stabilise this basic feeling which Iqbal calls 'Khudi'.  One cannot help remarking that this term 'khudi', which Iqbal uses in a highly technical sense, does not appear to have been happily chosen, because of its other, commoner connotations such as pride, conceit, etc.  It is unfortunate that the use of this term has given rise to much misunderstanding and even wrong interpretation of Iqbal's basic thought by many superficial readers.  But once the term is correctly understood, in the sense that Iqbal used it, there is not much danger of misunderstanding the rest of his thought.  Man has the power inherent in him to strengthen and to stabilise this fundamental feeling, which, for want of a better term may be called self-hood, to the highest pitch.  As Iqbal says at one place:

"Raise thy self-hood to such a high state that, Before fixing each fate, God Himself may deign

To ask His slave: 'Say! What is thy wish?'"

    That is the meaning of self-realisation.  To achieve this self-realisation - this perfection of self-hood - man has to wage a constant war against the "Not-Self".  In this war to the bitter end he must be continually changing his immediate objective so as not to lose sight of the ultimate purpose of life - the attainment of the state of the Perfect Man - what the German philosophers less correctly called the "super-man".  What is the "Not-Self"?  All that is extraneous to the feeling of self-hood is the "Not-Self".  The "Not-Self" is the inner and outer environment of the ego which  he must, of necessity, subjugate and control.  Under no circumstances is he to succumb to it, whatever the temptation of pleasurable feelings or selfish thought or easy physical life.  In the attempt to overcome the disabilities of his environment, man is called upon to sharpen his perception in the fields of emotion, intellect, and activity.  When he does this, "the fire of self-hood" burns more brightly in his "heart".  He aspires ever higher and higher.  Or, rather, he aspires to stabilise more and more the centre of fixity within him.  There is no "peace" in the sense of rest for him.  Rest spells death for him, even though it be the rest and "peace" of heaven.  Further, his feeling of ego-hood must transcend both Time and Space.  It is not possible to deal with Iqbal's conception of Time and Space here.  The serious student would do well to refer to his "Six Lectures" in English.  Briefly, Iqbal agrees with Professor Whitehead that the "four dimensional spatio-temporal continuum" is merely a conceptual mode of cognition of the "Not-Self".  In reality serial time and space do not exist.  Iqbal bases this conception on certain verses of the Quran and on certain well authenticated saying of the Holy Prophet.  His whole conception is expressed in a short couplet of entrancing beauty:

"The intellect has become the worshipper of the (false) idols of time and space: There is neither time or space: There is no God save Allah!" 

    Obviously the strengthening and stabilising of the basic feeling of "Khudi" is a very difficult task to undertake unaided.  To tread this path of progress a "Perfect Man" is needed as a guide.  Having found such a guide, the wayfarer must have in his heart an intense love ("Ishq") for such a guide, for only he can show the wayfarer how to make his own effort fruitful by strengthening his own :Khudi".  But, at the same time, Iqbal insists that if the aspirant's vision of reality is not clear enough, "love" for the guide can only lead him into the bog of self-forgetfulness and thence into self-annihilation, which is the very opposite of affirmation of the self.  On the other hand, if he has his goal clearly in view, the same "love" for the guide will bring him to self-knowledge, resulting in the accentuation and the stabilising of his own "Khudi".  The love of an eternal purpose transmutes the frail heart of man into something as eternal as the purpose itself.  As Iqbal says: "The action of a man of God is illumined by love - Love is the essence of  life; Death for it is a sin".

    This aspect of Iqbal's thought must be very carefully examined and understood.  To bow before the Perfect Man. the so-called "superman", the guide who can really lead, is to ask for much needed help.  Not only that.  It is to obtain the right kind of help that would enable one to strengthen one's own "Khudi".  On the other hand, to bow before the false "idols" of riches, possessions, and popularity - all forms of the "Not-Self" - is to weaken the basic feeling of "Khudi", which is the only reality man is aware of.  Hence the need for 'isttaghna', which means not depending on anything external.  Hence also the need for faqr, which means not standing in essential need of any object.  The two terms are really complementary.  A true faqir does not stand in need of anything, and so asks for nothing.  He is the very opposite of gada, a beggar, who begs because he feels the lack of something external which he craves.  Iqbal again and again calls himself a qalandar, that is, a non-conformist faqir, who does not either beg or conform to even the ceremonies and usages of any order of faqirs.  Above all, servility is far removed from the make-up of a true qalandar.  He dares to tell the truth in the face of any odds.  As he says:

"In the eyes of a faqir what is (the worth of) grandeur and pomp of an Alexander? - What is that (false) rulership worth which (is dependent on and) begs for contribution and taxes from the populace?"  

    It is evident that Iqbal favours dis-attachment where worldly affairs are concerned.  He does not favour renunciation that makes a man run away from the struggle of life.  Nor does he advocate the kind of renunciation that makes an intelligent man servile and dependent on the charity of others.  He merely insists that the "Not-Self", at no time and under no circumstances, should be taken as something identifiable with the Self.  You cannot separate the two aspects; but the "Not-Self" is there to be conquered and subjugated.  Only thus can "Khudi" be strengthened.  The "Not-Self", therefore, serves an essential purpose in the evolutionary life-process.

     When "Khudi" has first been stabilised and then strengthened gradually to the highest pitch by the positive method of love (ishq)  and the negative method of non-dependence on the environment (istaghna), all the hidden forces of nature become subservient to the will of man.  The problem before him now is how to use these forces for constructive and useful purposes.  Iqbal is fully conscious of the danger of the position.  In fact he utters a word of solemn warning. The power of "Khudi", the feeling of "I am", can be used to destroy or it can be used to build and re-build.  To make it serve constructive purposes it must always be controlled and regulated: "I" must always have under full control the feeling of "am".  He cites the example of Iblis (Satan), who attained to the high state wherein the tremendous power of the self    inherent in him was fully liberated.  But he could not, or would not, regulate it!

    Then how to regulate this power of  "Khudi" when attained?  Iqbal suggests a two-fold method.  First by prayer, that is, by following the footsteps of the Perfect Man, the true guide on the path; second, by the control - not the suppression - of one's own desires.  Desire (arzoo) is a great power entrusted to man.  But it must be fully controlled.  Desire can only be controlled by overcoming attachment to all forms of "Not-Self" which constitutes the inner and outer environment of the ego.  At the same time, it is necessary to overcome fear of anything or in any shape whatsoever.  Fear must be overcome, because it is an elementary and elemental feeling, ever pulling the aspirant backwards and downwards, involving him in attachments to subtle forms of the "Not-Self".

    It is only after passing through all these stages that a man can hope to approach the state of Perfect Man.  It is only thus that the human ego can get nearer to the Ultimate Ego, though it can never be absorbed in and lose itself in the Greater Reality.  In fact the very purpose of  human life is to transcend all human limitations and to rise to the higher stage.  Thus, self-discipline is the secret of the evolutionary process, equally applicable to individuals as to communities and nations.  But first the individuals forming a community must rise to the heights of "Khudi", individually and singly, before any community or nation, as a whole, can rise. 

    It will be seen  that, from this point of view, the key-note of Iqbal's thought is personal freedom of thought and action, but under conditions of rigid self-control.  He does not believe in any of the new-fangled theories of contemporary Europe entailing the curtailment of personal freedom and hence of personal responsibility.  Iqbal believes that self-controlled personal freedom as conceived in the Quranic system, and as practiced by the Arabian Prophet, is as possible for humanity as it is possible to make it at the present stage of the evolution of man.  This conception of his is based on firm faith in the Unity and Uniqueness of the Ultimate Reality.  The accretions of later centuries, embodying extraneous influences, have to a very large extent hidden the original pure monotheistic teaching.  The present day conception of the Muslims therefore, are not free from pantheistic tendencies, incipient or otherwise.  Hence, times without number, Iqbal does not hesitate to run down the mullas and attack the sufis.  According to Iqbal, both these classes are responsible for the misinterpretation - in different directions - of the original message.  He urges the Muslims to make none but the Prophet himself as their Perfect Man guide.  He urges the necessity of going back to the original teachings of the Quran, disregarding the interpretations of the later-day commentators.  He openly says that "ijtehad", which means personal liberty of interpretation by striving in thought, must be properly understood and practiced, so as to make the decisions arrived at by "ijma", or consensus of opinion, worth being put into practice.  His lecture on "The Principle of Movement in the Structure of Islam" deals with this delicate subject in a thoroughly sound manner. 

    The original Quranic teaching transcends both time and space.  The Prophet showed by the most convincing practical example how it could be made to apply successfully to a community of individualists, transcending both geographical and racial limitations.  It is not enough o slavishly follow in acts all that was done in the past.  What is necessary is to understand and to assimilate the lesson of the original teaching and of the life of the Prophet.  Only thus can Wisdom be attained and the Will properly trained, leading to Action which, though new and exactly suited to overcome the present environment, would yet be rooted in the original Islam - the Islam of the Quran, the Islam practiced by the Prophet.  He refers over and over again to the battles fought by the Prophet and also to Imam Hussain's action at Karbala, to show what right action really means and what it can do for the entire millat.  One cannot help remarking that in this respect Iqbal's conception rises much higher than the great Rumi's, for in the Mathnavi of Maulana Rumi one finds no appreciation or the proper evaluation of Imam Hussain's action at Karbala and its incomparable importance to the Muslim world.

    According to Iqbal, the Muslim community (millat) has lost sight of the original purpose of Islam.  But the purpose itself is not lost.  The re-discovery of the original common purpose is bound to give common aims and thus to bring about unity in divided ranks.  It should not be forgotten that Iqbal is not addressing only the Muslims.  His message is for "men of faith" wherever they may be found, under whatever outward environment.  As he says:

If there is love (behind a conception or an action), even infidelity is faith!

If there is not, even the man who calls himself a Muslim is an unbeliever and an apostate!"

    One of his poetical works in Persian is entitled Payam-e-Mashriq ("Message of the  East").  Another long poem, fittingly enough, is published under the title "Pas chi bayad kard ai Aqwane Sharq?", meaning "What then ought to be done, O Nations of the East?"  In fact Iqbal is addressing humanity at large.  He is especially addressing the Nations of the East: re-interpreting the message of the Orient for the Orient.

    It will be clear now that Iqbal has a clear and positive message.  The core of the message is this: Each individual should stabilise and strengthen his own "Khudi" to the highest pitch, under conditions of the most perfect self-control.  Man's stage in evolution demands that - completely and inevitably.  Community or nation (millat) is nothing but a concourse of individuals.  If each raises his "self-hood", the self-hood of the entire "millat" cannot help rising, when the nation has raised its "self-hood", in the collective sense, the right kind of historical knowledge should be brought to bear upon the projected action of the nation, because "history is the memory of the nation".  Above all, in the attempt to strengthen and to stabilise "self-hood" an individual - and also a nation - must learn to discriminate: the Self from the Not-Self, the Self from other Selves, the limited human self from the Ultimate Self.  Man the limited can never become God the Limitless. nor could he be "absorbed" in God because God is indivisibly One and Unique.  At the same time the individuality and personality of man can never be lost.  By raising his own "Khudi" man becomes more unique; he thus approaches God by creating in himself the attributes of God.  The Prophet himself exhorted Muslims to do this.  But man can never become God or be lost in God.  The power to preserve the personality is inherent in the separated self.  It may be dormant, it may be inactive, but it is there.  Though the self can never become the Self, it can and it must approach the Ultimate Ego by rising higher, and ever higher, through the inevitable process of evolution.  That is the "taqdir-momin", the Grand Destiny of Man.

    The "drop" therefore should not aim at losing itself in the "Ocean" - the word fana, annihilation, is not applicable to Man.  The drop should attempt to hold the Ocean within itself, "As the pupil of the eye holds the heavens!"


All Publication Rights Reserved by Abdul Khaliq Chagla