the Poet-Philosopher of Islamic Resurgence
by Sayyid Ali Khamenei
This is a translation of President Sayyid Ali Khamenei's speech
delivered at the opening session of the First International Conference on Iqbal, held at
Tehran, March 10-12, 1986, on the occasion of the 108th birth anniversary of the poet of
translated from the Persian by Mahliqa Qarai
I should admit candidly that today when I see that our country is
holding a seminar for paying tribute to our beloved Iqbal, I am obliged to feel that this
day would prove to be one of the most memorable and exciting days of my life. That
luminous spark that washed out from our hearts the darkness of the days of suffocation and
repression (through his impressions, poetry, counsel and teachings) and projected a bright
picture of the future before our eyes, is now transformed into a bright torch to have
attracted the attention of our people.
Our people who were the first foreign addressees of Iqbal were
unfortunately very late to recognise him. The particular conditions in our
especially the political domination of the colonialist powers during the last years of
Iqbal's life in his favourite country, Iran, never allowed Iqbal to visit this
This great poet of Persian language, who composed most of his poetry in Persian and not in
his own mother tongue, could never breathe in his dear and desired climes. Not only that
Iqbal never came to Iran, but the same politics with which Iqbal was at war throughout his
life did not allow his ideas, his ideology and his teachings to reach the ears of the
Iranian people, who were ever eager to receive his message. I have an answer to this
question as to why Iqbal did not come to Iran.
At that time, when Iqbal was at the pinnacle of his fame and glory and
was known all over the Subcontinent and all the renowned universities of the World
recognised him as a great thinker, philosopher, scholar, humanist and sociologist (of
course none of these titles corresponded to the title by which Iqbal desired to be
in our country the politicians who ruled the country could not tolerate Iqbal and his
ideas in any way. For this very reason he was never invited to Iran and the ground for his
visit to this country was not prepared. Not only were none of his books published for
years in Iran, even the titles of his books remained unknown to us. During the days when
the literary works and culture alien to both the Iranians and Muslims were flooding this
country like a devastating deluge, not a single poem or work of Iqbal was allowed to catch
the public eye. Today the Islamic Republic (i.e. the embodiment of Iqbal's dream) has been
established here, Iqbal, whose heart ached to see the Muslim people having lost their
human and Islamic personality, and who viewed their loss of identity and spiritual poverty
as the greatest danger to their existence and tried with all the power at his disposal to
uproot this vicious weed from the human soul in general and from the inner being of the
people of the East in particular and especially the Muslims, had he been alive
could have seen a nation standing on its feet, infused with the rich Islamic spirit and
drawing upon the inexhaustible reservoirs of Islamic heritage, a nation which has become
self-sufficient and has discarded all the glittering Western ornaments and is marching
ahead courageously, determining its own targets and moving to attain them, advancing with
the frenzy of a lover, and has not imprisoned itself within the walls of nationalism and
racialism. I am glad to have this opportunity (though for a brief time) to introduce to
our people this great figure, a great thinker, a great reformer of our age, a
revolutionary and an unrelenting warrior. I would, of course, be pleased if my presence in
this function be free from all formalities, so that, firstly, I may enjoy with
satisfaction this commemorative ceremony and, secondly, I may be given an opportunity to
give vent to a fraction of my emotions about Iqbal before the audience. I request the
brothers and sisters to allow me to speak frankly like a person who for years had been a
follower of Iqbal and has lived emotionally in his company, so that to some extent I can
give him what is due to him on behalf of myself. Iqbal is one of the eminent personalities
in the history of Islam. His is such a profound and sublime personality that it cannot be
described and measured by only one Dimension of his life. Iqbal was a scholar and a
philosopher, but at the same time other dimensions of his life are also so bright that if
we consider him to be just a philosopher and a scholar, we feel that we have belittled
him. Undoubtedly Iqbal is a great poet and is reckoned among the greatest. Those who know
Urdu very well and have written about Iqbals Urdu poetry maintain that Iqbal's Urdu
poems are among the best in Urdu. Of course this may not be a great tribute to him as the
poetic Tradition of Urdu is not so rich. But it cannot be disputed that his Urdu poetry
made a great impact on large numbers of people, on Hindus and Muslims equally, living in
the Subcontinent during the early decades of the twentieth century, and motivated them to
participate in the struggle (for freedom) that was reaching its climax. In his mathnawi
(a long poem consisting of rhymed couplets) Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the
Self), he refers to this point:
The gardener tested the force of my speech.
He sowed a verse of mine and could reap a sword from it.
I infer from these lines that he had been composing his Urdu poetry for
quite a long time and was known to all Urdu-knowing people of the Subcontinent . But in my
view Iqbal's Persian poetry is to be regarded as one of the miracles of poetry. We have a
large number of non-Persian-speaking poets in the history of our literature, but I cannot
point out any of them whose poetry possesses the qualities of Iqbal's Persian
Iqbal was not acquainted with Persian idiom, as he spoke Urdu at home and talked to his
friends in Urdu or English. He did not know the rules of Persian prose writing. A specimen
of Iqbal's Persian prose is available to us in his prefatory note to his mathnawi,
Rumuz-e bikhudi (The Secrets of the Selflessness) and Asrar-e khudi (The
Secrets of the Self). If you read them you will see that it is hard for the people whose
mother tongue is Persian to understand it. Iqbal never studied Persian at any stage in a
school or college during the years of his childhood or youth. In his father's house he
used to speak Urdu. Iqbal chose the Persian language as his medium of literary expression
only for the reason that he felt that his ideas and themes could not be effectively
expressed in the Urdu language. As such he was attracted towards Persian and he studied
the collections of the Persian poets like Sa'di, Hafiz and Mawlawi as well as the Persian
poets who wrote in Indian style like 'Urfi, Naziri Nishaburi and others. In spite of not
having tasted the Persian way of life, never living in the cradle of Persian
never having any direct association with it, he cast with great mastery the most
the most subtle and radically new philosophical themes into the mould of Persian
some of which are unsurpassable yet. In my view this is what can be explained as his
poetic genius. When you compare his poetical works with those of other non-Iranian poets
who wrote poetry in Persian, you will realise the greatness of Iqbal. Some of the ideas
that he has expressed with ease in one couplet, if one tries to render them into prose it
will take a long time and great deal of effort to do so. It is not an easy job even for us
whose mother tongue is Persian.
There can be no better introduction of Iqbal than his poetry. In no
other way we can introduce Iqbal more truly. Some of the Persian poems of Iqbal are the
most sublime pieces of Persian poetry. Iqbal's verses are in different styles, in Indian
style, in Iraqi style, in Khurasani-style, and in various poetic forms, like mathnawi (poetry
composed of distichs corresponding in measure, each consisting of a pair of
ghazal (sonnet), qat'ah, dobayti (couplets) and rubai (quatrains).
Their themes as well as their renderings are sublime; notwithstanding, he did not know how
to speak and write Persian (prose), and this needs extraordinary genius. At the same time
to commend Iqbal as a poet is to belittle him, for he was a great reformer and a great
freedom fighter as well. Though Iqbal's position and status as a freedom fighter and
social reformer is very high, he cannot be regarded as a mere social reformer
the Indian subcontinent several Hindu and Muslim contemporaries of Iqbal were considered
as social reformers, whose works are known and whose participation in the freedom struggle
needs no introduction. Among the Muslims themselves there were great personalities like
Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad, Mawlana Muhammad 'Ali, Mawlana Shawkat 'Ali and the late
Muhammad Ali Jinah. They also belonged to the same period and to the same Generation and
were great freedom fighters; but the greatness of Iqbal's work cannot be compared with any
of them. It does not mean in any way to minimise the great importance and value that we
attach to Mawlana Abu al-Kalam Azad, an eminent figure in his own right, or to Mawlana
Muhammad 'Ali and Mawlana Shawkat 'Ali (who were untiring Muslim freedom fighters who
struggled for long years to drive out the British from their country), but Iqbal's ease is
different from all of them. Iqbal's problem was not the problem of India in
but his concern was for the whole Muslim world in general. In his mathnawi, Pas chi
bayad kard ay aqwam-e Sharq, he addresses himself to the Eastern nations and it
indicates that his keen eyes had an all-inclusive view of the entire Muslim
world. He was
not concerned with the problems of India alone. Therefore, if I describe Iqbal as a social
reformer, I will fail to cover his entire personality. I cannot find a proper term that
can describe him. You can see that his personality, his greatness, his mind rich with
ideas and the totality of his being, elude the power of comprehension of people like us.
To be true to ourselves we have to confess that we have been far away from Iqbal. As such
this conference is one of the most useful things we have done so far. Even this is not
enough. I would ask the honoured Minister of Higher Education and Culture and my brothers
in universities to think about the possibilities of establishing foundations in Iqbal's
memory, and to name , university halls and cultural centres in our country after
Iqbal belongs to this nation and this country, and one of his famous poems is dedicated to
the people of Iran which begins with the following verse:
I am burning like a tulips lamp on your path,
O youth of Iran, I swear by my own life and yours.
And he says:
The man is coming who shall break the chains of the slaves,
I have seen him through the cracks in the walls of your prison.
This poem also strengthens my belief as to why Iqbal could not visit
Iran. He considered Iran as a prison and addressed the people living here in the way the
prisoners are addressed. There are plenty of poems in Iqbal's collections which show his
dissatisfaction with India at least the India of his own time. It was for this reason that
he turned his attention to Iran so that the flame that was burning inside his heart could
be converted into a bright blaze in Iran. He was waiting for a miracle to occur here. This
is Iqbal's due that we owe to him, and we should always remember our indebtedness to him.
If we wish to understand Iqbal and the significance of his message, it
is necessary for us to know the conditions of the Subcontinent during Iqbal's lifetime -
an epoch that culminated in Iqbal. Without this study we cannot understand the real
meaning of Iqbal's message, the melody of his tone and the inner fire that kept him
restless. The Subcontinent went through the hardest phase of its history during Iqbal's
lifetime. Iqbal was born in 1877, that is, twenty years after the quelling of the
Muslims revolt against the English in 1857, when they inflicted a final blow upon
the Islamic rule in the Subcontinent. A great revolutionary upsurge overtook the whole
country and continued for several years, but four months (the middle of 1857) marked its
culmination. The British used this opportunity for making an assault on Islam, which they
were contemplating to make for the last seventy or eighty years, and they imagined to have
uprooted Islam from the Indian soil.
They put an end to the Muslim rule that was breathing its last breaths.
The only obstacle in their way of the total colonialisation of the Indian subcontinent was
the existence of the same rule, which they had succeeded in weakening during the course of
time They liquidated its chief fighters and eminent personages in order to eradicate the
deep-rooted Islamic civilisation and to completely uproot this corpulent and old tree
which was shorn of any power of resistance at that time, and to make India a part of the
British empire. The year 1857 was the year of absolute victory for the British in India.
After having officially annexed India to Britain and named their country as the Empire of
Britain and India, the colonising of India did not pose any problem, for India was treated
henceforward as one of the provinces of the Great Britain. After that they took all
possible precautions to crush every revivalist, nationalist or religious movement in that
country. Their aim was to wipe out completely the Muslim population, as they knew it well
that it were the Muslims who resisted them in India. They already had tested this. The
Muslims fought with the English and their mercenaries, the Sikhs, who were serving them
since the early nineteenth century. This was known to the English very well and to those
who were acquainted with the Indian affairs, who used to tell them. that the Muslims were
their real enemies in India and that they were to be eliminated. From the year 1857, which
was the year of their victory, an extremely oppressive and tyrannical plan was chalked out
to suppress the Muslims. If we go into its detail it will take a long time. Many books
were written on this subject. The Muslims were subjected to economic pressures as well as
to cultural and social discriminations. Collectively they were subjected to the worst kind
of humiliations. As regard to the conditions of employment their declared policy was to
recruit non-Muslims only.
The awqaf (endowments) that ran Islamic institutions and mosques
were in large number and they were taken away. The Hindu merchants were motivated to lend
money to the Muslims in order to seize their property in return for their debts. It was
resolved that their relationship with the land be cut off and their sense of belonging to
the land be uprooted.
This process continued for a long time. The Muslims were killed without
reason and arrested for no fault of theirs. All such people who were suspected of carrying
on any activities against the English were suppressed and eliminated ruthlessly. These
conditions prevailed for several years. After one or two decades of this repression, which
has no parallel anywhere in the world - not in any of the colonised countries were the
people suppressed so severely as the Indian Muslims - ultimately some people began to
think about the possible remedy for this Situation but of course the angry resistance
against the English was not given up. India should never be forgetful of the fact that the
Indian Muslims played the most vital part in the battle against the English. In fact it
will be an act of thanklessness on the part of India to forget her indebtedness to the
Muslims of India. The Muslims did never sit idle during the freedom struggle as well as
during the great revolution that was brought about there.
During the years after the incident of 1857, when there was peace and
calm everywhere, the militant Muslim elements were active in every nook and cranny. There
were two courses of action open to them, that is, either the politico-cultural movement,
or a purely cultural movement to meet the challenge threatening the position of the
Muslims. One of the movements was led by the 'ulama' and the other was initiated under the
leadership of Sayyid Ahmad Khan. These two movements represented two cross-currents
opposing each other, and this is not the occasion to go into detail concerning them.
The 'ulama' believed in waging war against the English. They resolved
to boycott the English and their educational institutions and not to accept any grant from
them. The course followed by Sayyid Ahmad Khan was in opposite direction. He believed in
having good relations with the Englishmen, benefiting from their institutions and making a
compromise with them. Unfortunately both of the two movements, though opposed to each
other, ended in disastrous consequences for the Muslims. The first one that was led by the
eminent Indian 'ulama', many among whom were distinguished historical figures. Their
struggle was rightly guided and their ideology was also based on right thinking, but they
tried to keep away the Indian Muslim community from acquiring the first and foremost thing
they required and which could enable them to master modern developments in science and
technology; for example, they did not include teaching of the English language in their
school syllabi. Perhaps they were justified in doing so at that time, as the English
language was to replace the Persian language, which had been the favourite language of the
Muslims for centuries as well as the official language of the Subcontinent. They viewed
English as an intruder. Anyhow, their opposition to the English language and their lack of
interest in modern civilisation, which at any rate had to govern the modes of the life of
the people, kept the Muslim Ummah out of modern sciences along with their benefits and
advantages, which were ultimately essential for the development of asociety.
Sayyid Ahmad Khan's movement was more dangerous, and here I would like
to express my considered opinion about him. (It is possible that some of the brothers may
not agree with me.) Sayyid Ahmad Khan did not do anything positive for Islam and Indian
Muslims. in my view, the movement initiated by Iqbal was a protest against the movement
whose standard-bearer was Sayyid Ahmad Khan in India. Sayyid Ahmad Khan based his movement
on friendly relations with the Englishmen under the pretext that after all the young
Generation of the Muslims had to be acquainted with the modern culture and that they could
not afford to keep them alienated from and ignorant of the new currents. In his view it
was essential to reconcile with the Englishmen so that the Muslims might not be mistreated
by them and the Muslim men, women and children might not suffer due to this antagonism. He
was very naive to believe that he could win the sympathy of the English and could soften
the hearts of those seasoned and villainous politicians by being friendly and humble
As a consequence, the English spared Sayyid Ahmad Khan himself, his
associates and the intellectuals around him whereas the Muslims in general remained
exposed to all sorts of victimisation till India won independence. Therefore, this policy
of pleasing the Englishmen on the part of Sayyid Ahmad Khan proved to be harmful for the
Muslims and brought disgrace and humiliation to them.
More than anything what helps us to understand the significance and
worth of Iqbal is the knowledge of the general conditions of the Muslims in those days.
For the Muslim masses, intellectuals, scholars and all those who entered the broader
fields of social. life could acquire knowledge, master modern science and gain degrees and
positions, but were completely oblivious of their Islamic identity. Gradually the future
hopes were lost for the colossal Muslim society of India that had the largest Muslim
population in the world. (Even today we do not have a country that has such a big
population of the Muslims as was at that time in Indian subcontinent.) A bleak future
stared them in the face, they did not possess any awareness of their Islamic identity, and
had lost all hope. They suffered to such an extent that in the existing world and all its
occurrences they saw nothing but bitterness, frustration and darkness in store for
A sense of inferiority had gripped the being of the Indian Muslims, and
a deep sense of humiliation and weakness had become a part and parcel of their
personality. They could not think of any way out of this predicament. At that time, when
Iqbal returned from Europe, well-versed in modern Western culture, and while his
contemporary intellectuals, his friends and even those who shared the same ideas with him
always looked towards, the West and Western culture, they were of the view that
Westernisation of their individual lives and the assimilation of Western culture and the
Western value system would add to their prestige and credibility. To be in the service of
the British government which ruled India with an iron hand was considered to be an honour
for the Muslims. The Hindus, who were several years ahead of the' Muslims regarding the
adoption of the Western culture and manners, and who were quicker than them in winning the
confidence of the Englishmen had gained an advantageous position.
The Muslims must have been insulted and exploited by the Hindus also.
Even the Sikhs, who were a very slim minority and had no religious or cultural traditions,
considered it justified to oppress and insult the Muslims. Such was the state of the
Muslim society during Iqbals time.
The Lahore college where Iqbal received his education and obtained his
bachelor's degree was bereft of all the signs of Islamic thinking which could inspire any
future hope. The most respected book on Islam in those days was Sir Thomas Arnold's work
entitled in Arabic al-Da'wah ila al-Islam (An Invitation to Islam), which has been
lately translated into Persian also. The book was written by Sir Thomas Arnold during his
tenure at the Lahore college. It is of course a good book and I do not want to condemn it,
but the thing which is remarkable about this book is that he has made every effort to
lessen the importance of Islamic jihad. The main theme around which the book revolves is
that Islam advanced through da'wah (invitation) and not by means of the sword. These words
sound to be good, but this English thinker has gone to the extent of considering the
concept of Islamic jihad as a secondary issue. Sir Thomas is the person who is
regarded as a sincere pro-Islamic writer and he was Iqbal's teacher also.
Here I would like to praise Iqbal's judiciousness in this regard.
Despite his intimate relations with Sir Arnold, he was not unmindful of the political
motives of his academic work. This point has been also emphasised by Mr. Jawid Iqbal in
his biography of his father (one volume of which has been translated into Persian). He
writes that Iqbal challenged his friend Sayyid Nadhir Niyazi, who believed Sir Thomas
Arnold to be an Islamist. Questioning Arnold's credentials, he asked, 'Do you judge him by
al-Da'wah ila al-Islam?', and answered himself, 'He works for the British
Iqbal further told the same friend that when he was in England Arnold
asked him to translate Edward Browne's 'Literary of History of Persia', but he
declined to do it as he realised that it was written with political motives. Now you can
see yourself how Iqbal evaluated Browne's book and compare it with the attitude of our
writers who were Browne's friends and were proud of their relations with him. You can see
how simple, naive and ignorant these people were, having no inkling of their political
objectives, whereas Iqbal was perceptive and intelligent enough to understand the hidden
implications of the colonialist politics in the works of Thomas Arnold and Edward Browne.
This is an indication of Iqbals greatness.
At that time the Muslims were in a very precarious Condition. The
British administration and its main institutions were under the direct control of the
British, and the secondary and less important positions were held by the Hindus. The
freedom movement that was first launched by the Muslims was grabbed by the Congress party,
and that too a prejudiced Congress party. Later on the Indian National Congress rendered
great service to the freedom struggle, but during those days it was dominated by communal
prejudices. It was predominantly an anti-Islamic, pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim communalist
organisation. There were Westernised Muslim intellectuals who were infatuated with the
Western values on the one hand, and on the other there were the poor Muslim masses,
crushed under the burden of extreme poverty and drudgery.
The Muslim 'ulama' and religious leaders were isolated from the freedom
movement (after their initial defeat) and were alienated from it (except those who were in
the vanguard of the movement, leaders like Mawlana Muhammad 'Ali). Political isolation and
economic deprivation ruled supreme. The Muslims were reduced to the state of being a
superfluous part of the Indian society, without any guiding star on the horizon. In such
crucial moments Iqbal kindled the torch of egohood. Of course, India was no exception; the
above-mentioned conditions prevailed throughout the Muslim world. It was for the very same
reason that Iqbal speaks about the whole Islamic world. Iqbal's day-to-day life in the
city of Lahore in the colonised subcontinent of India led him to directly experience the
pains and hardships of life. It was at this juncture that Iqbal raised the banner of his
revolt. His was a cultural, political and revolutionary movement. The first thing that was
necessary for Iqbal to do was to make the Indian society aware of its Islamic identity,
Islamic ego and the Islamic personality, or rather the human dimension of its personality.
He asks the people as to why they were complacent, why they were forgetful and why they
had abandoned their real selves. He asks them to regain their Islamic and human identity.
This was the first message delivered by Iqbal. But, could he succeed in awakening the
nation of several hundreds of millions that had been subjected to severe exploitation and
humiliation for a long time. A nation that was divested of the capacity to understand, to
know and to hope against hope was now asked to assert existence and recover its identity
as soon as possible. It was almost an impossible task, very difficult to be realised. In
my humble opinion no one could convey this message in a better way than Iqbal did. With a
view to attain this end Iqbal evolved his philosophy of the self (khudi). The philosophy
of egohood in the sense of subjective philosophical views is not the subject of our
discussion. The conception of ego which has human and social implications, was presented
philosophically so that it could fit in a philosophical Tradition. As Iqbal wished to make
it the central theme of his poems, ghazals, and mathnawis, this notion required to
be based on a sound philosophical outlook. Iqbal conceived ego as the source of feeling
and knowing one's individuality through contemplation, introspection, self-cognition and
self-realisation. He explained this conception in philosophical terms.
In my view, in the beginning the idea of ego might have occurred to
Iqbal as a revolutionary idea, and afterwards he made an attempt to philosophise it. It
may be argued that ego is the same thing that was the most needed in the Indian society,
and in general was missing in the entire Muslim world as well. In spite of having an
Islamic value-system the Muslim peoples had become unmindful of it, and eagerly
surrendered themselves to an alien system with full faith. It was, therefore, necessary
for them to return to their own selves, that is, to the Islamic value-system. In this very
sense Iqbal was trying to pursuit as a goal. Such a sociological concept could not be
impressed on the minds of people without being expressed in a philosophical manner. Iqbal
had to present it philosophically.
As said above, the idea of selfhood or ego at first was conceived by
Iqbal as a sociological and revolutionary notion. In due course, after having witnessed
the signs of degeneration and loss of self-identity of the Eastern nations, especially the
Muslims, and after examining its causes, this idea became permanent and deeply rooted in
his being. Afterwards he sought to provide a philosophical and subjective ground to it,
and based this notion on a general conception of the self, something similar to the
conception of existence as evolved by our philosophers - an essence which is shared by all
beings but needs to be interpreted philosophically. Of course, wujud (existence) is
something different from khudi (ego), and to interpret it as existence, as is done
by some of the persons who have written commentaries on Iqbal's poems, is a great blunder
in my view. The notion of unity in plurality and plurality in unity, which has been
recurrently used in his Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self), is different from
the metaphysical conception of unity in plurality and plurality in unity as interpreted by
Mulla Sadra and others. It is altogether a different category. What Iqbal meant to refer
to by this notion had cent per cent human and social connotation. When I say it is social,
I do not mean that it is not applicable to individual. Why not? Ego needs to be
strengthened in an individual. But this very egohood of the ego of an individual and the
strengthening of the personality of the ego have social implications in Islamic framework.
Unless the personality of the (individual) ego is strengthened, a strong and stable
society in its real sense cannot come into existence. The meaning of the ego is different
from that of the existence. At the first instance he speaks in the manner of mystics about
the generality and the extent of the concept of self. The world of being is actualised
through the manifestations of the ego. Each one of the phenomena of the universe is a
manifestation of a particular aspect of the self. Of course, some of the themes that I
have described in my own words have been differently presented by Iqbal in the headings of
his poems. There are some other themes that are expressed far more beautifully in his
poetry than their paraphrasing by Iqbal himself in the headings of certain poems.
The ideas, themselves produced by the self-consciousness, are the
manifestations of the ego in every being. The Affirmation of one's ego is also an
Affirmation of others. When the presence of the ego in a human being is posited, it
automatically posits the presence of egos other than one's own. Therefore there is self as
well as the non-self, that is, the existence of other is also posited. Hence it may be
inferred that the whole universe is contained as a possibility in the self. The ego is the
source of hostility also. There are various selves that are at war with one another. This
struggle, this perpetual conflict brings the world into existence. It is the ego which is
responsible for the selection of the fittest and its survival as well. So often thousands
of selves are sacrificed for the sake of one higher self. The concept of ego is a graded
one and its grades vary in intensity and weakness. The degree of intensity and weakness of
the ego in each one of the beings is the factor which determines their strength and
firmness. In this context he cites the examples of various entities such as the drop, the
wine, the goblet, the cup-bearer, the mountain, the desert, the wave, the sea, the light,
the eye, the verdure, the candle, the silence, the candle-bearer, the gem, the earth, the
moon, the star, the sun, the tree, etc. Each one of them is measured by the intensity of
its ego; for instance, a drop has a particular strength of ego, while a stream has a
different strength of ego. Similarly a gem on which an image can be engraved possesses an
ego-strength different from that of a stone on which no image can be engraved. Finite ego
is never absolute. It always refers to a graded essence, which is present in things and
human individuals, as well as in cosmic elements in diverse measures. He concludes this
theme with the following verse:
When ego embraces Elan Vital,
The stream of life is transformed into an ocean.
Afterwards he expounds his views about the pursuit of ideals and
aspirations, something which was most wanting in the Islamic world in those days. It means
that the Muslims did not have any purpose in life. They did not have any high aspirations
either. Their ambitions were confined to day-to-day life. He holds the view that the human
life is nothing without purpose and aim. The ego attains selfhood through moving towards
the desired ideals: 'Verily the life is faith and jihad' (striving). He has expressed the
same idea in a very comprehensive, profound, subtle and elegant way in his poetry. To
desire for something and to strive unceasingly for attaining it is called purposiveness,
without which life becomes synonymous with death.
It is desire that makes the universe throb with life. Nature is the
shell and desire is the pearl. The heart which is incapable of cherishing desires is a
bird with broken wings, unable to fly. It is aspiration which strengthens the life of the
self, and transforms it into a restless sea eversurging. It is the joy of viewing that
gives vision to the viewing eye. It is the fun of walking that gives feet to the pheasant.
It is the effort to sing that is instrumental in endowing the nightingale's beak with
melody. It is the piper's hands and the lips that breathe musical notes into reed, which
was nothing but a mere straw in the reed-bed.
Science, culture, poetry, literature, law, everything is the product of
human aspirations actualised through continuous struggle. Hence he says:
Our lives are sustained by the ideals we create for ourselves,
Our being is illuminated by the rays of our aspirations.
He reiterates the same theme in another verse:
Man is hot-blooded due to his burning passions,
This clay glows with the light of aspirations.
He considers love and passion essential for human society, and
individual man, for it strengthens the individual as well as the social ego. He holds that
the ego of an individual and the society cannot be strengthened without love. It is
essential that the Islamic millah and all other human beings who desire to
strengthen their selves should kindle the fire of love in their breasts. It is remarkable
that he himself determines an object of love, a point around which the Muslim Ummah has to
rally. It is at this juncture that one feels how intelligently this man of awareness and
insight comprehended the necessity of the unity of the Muslim world. His quest for the
rallying point led him to believe that the love of the Prophet Muhammad al-Mustafa (S) was
the only passion that could motivate and rally the Muslim Ummah around a new
The luminous point that is called the ego,
Keeps glowing the spark of life in our corporeal body.
Through love it becomes more lasting,
More alive, more fervent, and more luminous.
Through love its essence is blazed up,
And its, hidden treasures are evolved.
The ego acquires lire from love,
And learns how to illuminate the universe with this lire.
It is love that brings peace as well as conflict to the world.
Love is the Water of life as well as the well-tempered sword.
Learn the art of being a lover and aspire for loveliness,
Strive to attain the eyes of Noah and aspire for Job's heart.
Discover alchemy in a handful of mud.
And kiss the threshold of sublimity.
Subsequently he tells us as to who that beloved whom the Muslims should
love devotedly is:
The beloved is hidden in Thy heart.
If thou art gifted with eyes, come, I will show thee his face.,
His lovers are lovelier than all the beloved of the world,
More beautiful, more elegant and more loveable.
Through his love the heart gains strength,
And the earth attains the exalted status of the Pleiades.
The land of N«id was made vigilant ingenious through his grace,
In a state of ecstasy it flew higher than the heavens.
The heart of the Muslim in the seat of al-Mustafa.
Whatever respect we command is due to his name.
Mount Sinai is nothing but dust that arose from his House,
His parlour is sacred even for the Ka'bah.
The mat is grateful to him that he prefers to sleep on it,
The Taq-e Kisra is trampled under the feet of his Ummah.
He retired to the privacy of the Cave of Hira',
And brought forth a nation, a constitution and a government,
Night after nigh t passed by his bedside finding him awake,
So that his people could rest on the throne of Khusrow.
He gives an account of the Prophet (S) and his high qualities. Not only
here alone, but throughout his poetical works we can see an unceasing stream of his love
for the Prophet (S) gushing out wave after wave.
A contemporary Pakistani scholar has written a book about Iqbal
entitled Iqbal dar rah-e Mawlawi ( Iqbal on the Path of Mawlawi), in which he
states that whenever a poem that contained the Prophet's sacred name was recited in
Iqbals presence spontaneously tears flowed from his eyes. Indeed he passionately
loved the Prophet (S). Iqbal has made out a very important point. Where can the world of
Islam find a personage more popular and dearer than the Prophet of Islam (S)? His
personality is the focal point of the unity of the Islamic world. Iqbal, while narrating
the story of the daughter of Hatim al-Tai, says that in one of the battles the
daughter of Hatim al-Tai was taken captive and brought in the presence of the Prophet (S).
Her feet were chained and her head and body were bare. The disrespect showed to the
daughter of a great and generous person like Hatim was so shocking that the Prophet (S)
took out his cloak and flung it towards her so that she might cover herself. Iqbal
concludes this story with the following verses:
We are more naked than the Lady of al-Tai.
We are stripped of our robe of honour before the nations.
He is the source of our credibility on the Day of Judgement,
In this world, too, it is he whose love covers our faults.
We, who do not recognize any boundaries and nationalities,
Like vision from the two eyes, are one in reality.
We may belong to Hijaz, Egypt or Iran,
But we are the dew-drops of the same laughing dawn.
The eyes of the keeper of the tavern of Batha' have intoxicated us,
We are like, the goblet full to the brim with this wine,
Like a hundred-leaf flower we smell alike,
For it is he who breathes life into this bouquet, and he is one.
On so many occasions Iqbal has composed verses expressing his deep love
for the Prophet (S) that it is not possible to quote all of them here.
In Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the Self) he tries to awaken
the sense of selfhood, that is, the sense of human identity in the individual as well as
the society. A separate section in 'The Secrets of the Self' deals with the idea that the
selfhood is weakened by entreating. When an individual or a nation stretches its hands in
need before others, this act weakens the individuality of a person or the nation and
consequently the process of deterioration sets in.
As a sequel to the problem of ego Iqbal elucidates the problem of
selflessness. While discussing the problem of the self, the notion of the strengthening an
individual's identity should not be interpreted in the sense of imprisoning one's being
within the walls constructed around the self and living in isolation, cut off from other
human beings as independent egos. Neither it means that one should lose his identity among
other selves in the society. Rather an individual should live in close relationship with
the society. This is the real meaning of the selflessness. The book Rumuz-e bikhudi (The
Secrets of the Selflessness) is the second book of Iqbal that was composed and printed
after Asrar-e khudi and is illustrative of Iqbal's ideas about the Islamic System.
Iqbal's ideas about establishing an Islamic order are more elaborate and clearer in Rumuz-e
bikhudi than any other of his works. On the whole, the problems elucidated in Rumuz-e
bikhudi are among the issues relevant to the establishment of an Islamic society and
ought to be taken into consideration.
While going through the themes of the secrets of the selflessness, we
notice that Iqbal paid attention exactly to the same questions that are predominant in our
Islamic society today. The foremost among the most exciting ideas of Iqbal is his emphasis
on the mission of the followers of tawhid. He believed that the Muslims and the
Islamic Ummah are bound to spread the message of Islam and they should not rest unless
they perform this duty.
It would be interesting, at this juncture, to quote a few selected
verses of Iqbal in this regard. In these verses he says that the formation of an Islamic
society and the emergence of an Islamic Ummah in this world have not been a simple matter.
The world had to wait for ages and history had to undergo countless experiments in order
to reach the conception of tawhid and to arrive at a stage where an Ummah inspired
with the ideal of tawhid and a people faithfully following Islamic thought could
This ancient body called the world
Is constituted by the intermixing of the mother elements.
A hundred reed-beds were cultivated to produce a single melody;
A hundred gardens bled for ages to make a tulip bloom;
Thousand and thousand images were conceived, carved, and erased
So that thine image could be engraved on the tablet of being.
Countless whimpers and tears were sown and nurtured in the soul
To let a prayer-call blossom out.
Since ages the world was at war with the noble souls,
And it favoured the worshippers of false gods.
At last the seed of faith was implanted in the earth,
And the word of tawhid found expression through thy lips.
The centre of the cycles of the universe is la ilah;
The ultimate end of alt action in the world is la ilah.
It is the force that keeps the heavens rotating,
It is what gives the sun its light and life,
It is the force that gives birth to pearls in the ocean's womb,
And keeps the waves surging and moving all the time.
Its morning breeze transforms the soil into flower,
Its fire breathes a nightingale's song into a handful of feathers;
Its flame runs through the veins of the vinegrape;
Its heat makes the goblet-clay to glow as a spark;
Its tunes are asleep within the strings of being
Waiting for thy plectrum to fill the air with music.
Thine existence shalt vibrate with a hundred songs -
Arise and strike thy plectrum at its strings.
As takbir is the secret of thine existence,
The purpose of thy creation is to preserve and spread the message of la
Unless the world echoes with the vibrations of the call of Truth,
If really a Muslim, thou shalt not rest.
Hast thou not read the verse in the Mother of books
That bestowed upon thee the title of the Just Ummah?
Thou art the lustre of the visage of time,
Thou art made witness to the deeds of all the nations;
Extend thine invitation to all who are punctilious.
Thou hast to disseminate the treasures of the knowledge of the Ummi
Whose words were not polluted with lust of any kind,
Whose words interpreted the meaning of the verse:
"Whose comrade erreth not, nor is deceived".
He washed the tunics of his gardens tulips clean
And purified them from all impurities.
After elucidating the all-embracing nature of Islamic teachings (which
has been done a hundred times in his work), Iqbal addresses the Ummah of tawhid declaring
that they are the standard-bearers of Islam, and appeals to them to march forward with the
purpose of delivering the message of Islam to the world. Subsequently he asks them to
break into pieces the new idol carved by the swindlers of the West. What is this new idol?
Thou who hast the Book under thine arms
Should step forward in the arena of action.
The human mind is always after carving a new idol;
Man's quest for a new image has not ceased in any age,
Again he has rebuilt the temple of Adhar (the idol-maker),
And has moulded a god, newer than others,
Whose joy lies in shedding the blood of his worshippers.
His are numerous names: colour, country and race.
It is implied in these verses that nationalism, racialism and narrow
patriotism draw boundaries to isolate peoples and countries. These imprisoned loyalties
cause wars between one nation and another in the name of nationality, community, race and
Humanity is being sacrificed like a sheep
At the foot of the unholy idol.
Thou, who hast drunk from the goblet of Khalil (the idol-breaker),
Thy veins are throbbing with the wine of the passion of Khalil.
Thou hast to strike the sword of "nothing exists except Him
Into false-hood disguised as truth.
Let thy face shine on the dark horizons of time,
And spread the perfect message that has been revealed to thee.
Iqbal's idea of propagating the message of Islam and breaking all the
artificial boundaries drawn to divide nations leads him to expound certain other notions
that are predominant in his philosophy of bikhudi (selflessness), that is, the
unification of the individual with the society and his absorption therein. According to
him nubuwwah (prophethood) is the principal source of the organisation of the
Ummah. It does not mean that a millah is formed by the merely gathering together of
many individuals. A particular mode of thinking and an ideology is essential in order to
weave different threads together to form the fabric of a nation. For this purpose the most
fundamental and the best of all the ideologies is the one that was propounded through nubuwwah,
the prophetic mission, and it was propounded by the messengers of God. This is the
best of all the foundation-stones upon which a nation is built. This mode of thinking
imparts reasoning, faith, discipline and perfection to a nation.
Another concept upon which Iqbal's system of thought rests is the
negation of servitude - servitude to the demigods sitting on the throne and standing at
Man worshipped man in the world.
He lived as a non-entity, as a non-being and as a subordinate
Under the heavy yoke of the Khusrows and the Qaysars.
And his neck, his hands and his feet were chained;
The Popes and the priests and the kings and the lords -
A hundred hunters after a single prey!
Both the king and the priest
levied taxes on his devastated harvest.
Whatever was left after paying taxes to the King's officials was
grabbed by the tax-collectors of the Pope. This had been a customary practice all over the
world, as Iqbal says:
Bishop, in the name of allotting apartments in the Paradise,
Set a trap in the church to catch him;
The Brahmin plucked the best roses of his garden;
The Magis children made up their fire by adding his harvest to it
His human qualities were debased by slavery.
At last came the trustworthy, who restored the lost rights,
And entrusted the throne of the Khans to the slaves.
Iqbal's poetry and philosophy - aimed at humanising the world - are
very rich in the themes of human and social significance, such as the Divine mission of
the Prophet (S) of Islam, the equality of man, the Quranic doctrine of judging a
person according to his taqwa (piety): ... The noblest of you in the sight of
Allah is the best in taqwa", and many other similar issues that are indicative of
his concern for higher values and the service of mankind. We cannot propagate these ideas
in our country without making popular and public the works of Iqbal. This is a task to be
carried out in Iran and Pakistan as well as in the countries where people understand
Persian and where people are prepared to learn the language.
The poetry of Iqbal, the major part of which is in Persian, needs wider
circulation. Out of the fifteen thousand couplets. composed by him nine thousand are in
the Persian language. This shows that his works in Urdu are fewer than those in Persian.
Rather it can be said that the best and the finest part of his poetry is in our language,
and, therefore, we are obliged to devote best of our energies to understand it. For the
first time when I read Iqbal's poetry I felt that many of his verses could be understood
only with the help of detailed explanatory notes and comments, and regretfully I could
find such commentaries nowhere. It is essential to compile such annotated editions. Even
the Persian spelling people are in need of such commentaries in order to fully grasp the
ideas and themes dealt with by Iqbal. Today the major part of Iqbal's teaching directly
concerns us, and some part of it is also relevant to the world that has not gone our way
so far and has to understand it in the same manner as we did.
Our people have translated into action his doctrine of the selfhood.
They have invigorated it and have brought it into action in the world of actuality. Now
our people do not have to be asked to recover their selfhood. Today we are perfectly aware
of being on our feet. We are proud of our culture and our cultural heritage, and are
confident that we can develop it further on the basis of our ideology and thought. Of
course for a long time we were made to depend upon others regarding the material aspect of
our life, but we are trying to get rid of these foreign fetters gradually and this process
is going on. The Muslim peoples are anyhow in need of comprehending the meaning of
selfhood; especially the eminent Muslims, whether they are politically active or
culturally creative, need to embrace Iqbal's message. They have to realise that Islam in
itself, in its essence and in its nature, possesses the richest potentialities of
conducting the affairs of the individual lives and human societies, and does not need to
look towards others. We do not advocate for summarily dismissing other cultures and close
our doors to them. We should assimilate them, but in the manner as a living body absorbs
the elements that are essential for its life, and not like a dead and unconscious body
which is injected by others whatever they desire to inject into it. We have the capacity
of assimilating from other cultures whatever is relevant to us. As Iqbal has said
repeatedly, we can learn the modern science and philosophy from the West, but the ardour
and zest for life can never be borrowed from others:
Wisdom we have learnt from the teachings of the Western thinkers.
Ardour for life we have acquired in the company of men of insight.
It means that the Western society and culture is wanting in ardour and
fervour, and Iqbal was quicker than any other person in perceiving this phenomenon. He
could anticipate the dangers inherent in the Western civilisation and its materialistic
culture, and warned the people in advance that it was devoid of the spiritual elements
essential for human welfare. Fortunately, today the consciousness of selfhood and Islamic
identity is abounding in our country among the people. Our policy based on the principle
of "Neither the East nor the West" is in conformity with what Iqbal advised and
wished to be pursued. Our policy of self-reliance is identical with Iqbal's views. We, in
our love for the Prophet (S), in our commitment to the Quran, in our emphasis on
learning the Quran, and in our conviction that the Quran and Islam are to be
made the basis of all the revolutions and movements, are exactly following the path that
was shown to us by Iqbal. At that time, nobody was attentive enough to pay heed to Iqbal's
counsel. In those days there were not many people who could understand Iqbals
message and his language. Iqbal's books are replete with complaints and remonstrances -
remonstrances as to why people do not understand his message and look towards the West for
guidance. In his introduction to Rumuz-e bikhudi also he remonstrates with the
Thou wert appointed to be, the seal of all nations,
Thou wert destined to be the end of all the beginnings;
Thine 'ulama' were made equal to prophets;
Thy martyred comrades could breathe life into the hearts.
Why art thine eyes enchanted by the beauty of the church?
Why hast thou fallen away from the path of the Holy Ka'bah?
Believe me. The dust of thy street rises to form heavenly spheres;
O thy visage attracts the eyes of the entire world.
Why art thou rising and falling restlessly like a wave?
What is that spectacle thou art going to behold?
Learn the secret of living passionately on your own from the moth;
Build thy nest amidst the tongues of flames.
Kindle the tire of love from within thy soul;
Restore thy bond with the spirit of al-Mustafa.
I have left the company of the church-goers,
To see to it that the veil is raised from thy face.
O my comrade, thou art bewitched by the charm of others
And singing odes to praise golden locks and rosy cheeks.
Here, by the epithet hamnawa (comrade) Iqbal means to refer to
his contemporaries and those who were of late introduced to the Western culture and were
intoxicated with the Western value-system. He compares their attitude with that of his
He rubs his forehead at the foot of the Saqi,
He is lost in the story of the Magis children,
While I bleed, struck by the crescent of thine eyebrows,
Happy that my blood is soaked in the dust of thy street.
My art has been over and above eulogising worldly lords,
My head never bowed before imperial courts.
He reminds the Muslim Ummah that it has never been his custom to
sing praises, but he eulogised her so passionately because of his deep love for Islam:
Poetry bestowed upon me ability to make a mirror out of words,
And it has freed me from asking Alexander's favour.
I hate to be burdened by the favours of others.
My lips are purses and hands shut like a bud in the garden.
After giving free vent to his feeling of disdain and indifference to
the worldly attainments, Iqbal, who never humbled himself by prostrating before anybody,
kneels down on his knees in front of the Muslim Ummah, and begs them to realise their own
worth and pay heed to the words of the Quran:
At thy door my soul is bleeding to beg a small favour of thee,
In return it offers thee all her ardour and pathos.
A river comes down trickling from the blue sky,
Its water is distilled through my burning heart,
And I direct its course through channels thinner than rivulets,
To make it steadily flow and water thine orchard.
This was just a brief account and a short glimpse of our dear Iqbal's
personality, who was undoubtedly a bright star on the horizon of the East. We hope that we
shall acknowledge our indebtedness to him and would be able to recompense for the delay
made by our people in recognising Iqbal's worth during the span of last forty, fifty
years. I request the researchers, poets, orators, writers, publishers, the government
organisations, the Ministry of Culture and Advanced Learning, the Ministry of Education
and Training and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance, each of them, to do their best to
reintroduce and revive the spirit of Iqbal in the manner befitting his memory. I propose
that his poetry and his writings be reproduced and compiled in the form of books, and his
poetical works like Asrar-e khudi (The Secrets of the. Self), Rumuz-e bikhudi (The
Mysteries of Selflessness), Gulshan-e raz (Garden of Mystery), Jawid nameh
(Pilgrimage to Eternity), etc. be reprinted and each of them published separately. This
work has been done in Pakistan to some extent, but the people of Pakistan cannot be fully
benefited from those ideas as today the Persian language is not in currency there as in
the past. I wish this gap also to be filled. It is further hoped that our Pakistani
brothers present in this meeting as well as the writers of the Indian subcontinent realise
their responsibility and rise to the occasion to resist the vicious policies of the past
governments regarding the Persian language, which possesses great treasures of Islamic
culture and in which the major part of Islamic culture is preserved. They should give
currency to this language in the Subcontinent where there are great numbers of Muslims;
especially in Pakistan this work needs to be done with a sense of urgency.
In our own country also the publication of Iqbal's books should be
carried out on a large scale and the artists should illustrate Iqbal's works with suitable
paintings, the musicians should sing his poems set in popular tunes in order to render
them effectively and bring to the tongues of the young and the old. I hope that God
Almighty will enable us to repay the debt that the Muslim Ummah owes to him.
Wa as-salam 'alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuh.
Source: Al-Tawhid, Vol. III, No. 4, Schawwal-Dhu al-Hijjah 1406
(July-September 1986), P 129-153