Payam-e-Mashriq’:  Iqbal’s Preface 
By Dr Zafar  M.  Iqbal
TCCI,  Chicago


I offer here  my translation of the preface Allama Iqbal wrote for his book, ‘Payam-e-Mashriq’ (1923) in Persian. 

This is also one of the Appendices to my own forthcoming book, “Iqbal:  Poetry(Translated) and Philosophy.”


The inspiration for writing ‘Payam-e-Mashriq’ comes from the ‘philosopher of life’ Goethe’s ‘West-Osterlicher Diwan’ of which the German-Jewish poet [Christian Johann Heinrich] Heine  (1797 – 1856)  says:

“This is a bouquet from the West in recognition of its respect for the East…This Diwan is the evidence of the fact that the West, tired of its weakness and cold soul, is seeking  spiritual warmth from the Eastern/Oriental heart.”

This poetry collection by Goethe is one of his best works, which he himself titled as ‘Diwan’. To understand the circumstances in which ‘Diwan’ was written, and the influences at work then, it is necessary to briefly mention what is called in the German literature as ‘Oriental Movement’. It was my intention to discuss this Movement in some detail in this Preface, but, unfortunately, much of the needed literature on this is not available in India.

Paul Horn, author of ‘A History of Persian Literature’, in one of his articles, had discussed the extent to which Goethe was indebted to the Persian poets. However, neither this article nor the journal in which it was published (Nord und Sud) could be obtained from any Indian or German library. Hence, I must now rely on my memory of what I have studied before and on a short but very useful publication on the subject by Charles Remy.


From early in his life, Goethe has been temperamentally inclined toward Oriental/Eastern thoughts. While he was studying law in Strasbourg, he met Herder, one of the eminent and respected figures in German literature. In his autobiography, Goethe acknowledges Herder’s influence on him. Herder did not know Persian language, but given his overall intellectual attitude, he was deeply interested in Sa’adi’s writings, and even translated parts of ‘Gulistan’ into the German. He did not feel similar affinity to Khwaja Hafiz.  Drawing Sa’adi to the attention of his contemporaries, he said, “We have long followed Hafiz and his style, but we need to turn to Sa’adi.” 

Despite Herder’s expressed interest in Eastern literature, there is no evidence of it in his own poetry and other writings. Similarly, another Goethe contemporary, Schiller, who died before the Oriental Movement began, displayed no Oriental influence. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that the plot of his drama ‘Turandot’ is derived from Maulana Nizami’s tale of  the Daughter of the King IV’ ‘Haft Paykar’ or The Seven Beauties.   It begins: “Guft kar jumla vilayath-e-Roos / bood shaheray ba naykoi chaw Uroos.”   

[Haft Paykar , also called ‘Bahram-Nama’,  was written in 1197 by Nezami Ganjavi, pen-name of Niżām ad-Dīn Abū Mu ḥ ammad Ilyās ibn-Yūsuf ibn-Zakī ibn-Mu‘ayyad, considered the greatest Persian epic poet (1141-1209).  He was basically  Persian, but because of his mixed ethnicity --- Afghan, Azerbaijan, Tajik — he is also highly respected in the  neighboring countries.  The poem is based on largely fictional adventures of  Bahram V.  Gur, ruler of the Sassanian empire, 421-439].

Von Hammer translated the entire Hafiz Diwan and published it in 1812, and with its publication began the Oriental Movement in German literature. Goethe was 65 then, and decadence was at its peak in every aspect of German life. Goethe was not suited temperamentally to actively participate in the political life of his country.  Tired of the prevalent conflicts in Europe, his high but restless soul found refuge in the peaceful East. Hafiz’s melody had stirred a huge storm in his thoughts that resulted finally in the ‘Western Diwan’. But von Hammer’s translation not only stirred Goethe’s imagination but was also a source of his poetic output.  At some places, his poems seem to be a free translation of Hafiz himself, and at some other places, his imagination is captivated by a Hafiz line and strikes out a new path to shed fresh light on complex problems of life.   

Goethe’s famous biographer [Albert] Bielschowsky says: 

“Goethe saw himself in the songs of the Shiraz nightingale.  He sometimes felt that his soul, by living so deeply in Hafiz’s world, may have lived in an earlier form in an Eastern land:  same earthly happiness, same heavenly love, same simplicity, same depth, same passion and warmth, same open-mindedness and generosity, and same freedom from customary limitations! In fact, he seems very much like another Hafiz.  Just like Hafiz, Goethe is also a voice from beyond and an interpreter of the present, and like the world hidden in Hafiz’s simple words, Goethe’s spontaneity displays the truth and reality.  Both  Hafiz and Goethe were admired by the rich and the poor. Both impressed the  great conquerors of their time (Timurlane, by Hafiz and Napoleon by Goethe), and both successfully preserved their inner peace and composure and continued to write poetry, in face of extensive destruction.”

In addition to Hafiz, Goethe owes his inspiration also to Attar, Sa’adi, Firdausi and other Muslim literary figures. He has also written ghazals, adhering to their own meter and rhyme requirements. He is not only comfortable using Persian metaphors (such as ‘the pearl of poetry’, ‘arrows of a glance’, ‘curly hair’) but, in his enthusiasm, does not hesitate to point to the homosexual subtext in Persian literature. The titles of various parts of his Diwan are also Persian, e.g., ‘Moghani Nama’, ‘Saaqi Nama’, ‘Timur Nama’, ‘Hikmath Nama’, etc. 

Despite all this, Goethe does not imitate any Persian poet, and his poetic instincts are free from Persian dependence. His wanderings in an Eastern garden are only temporary.  He does not give up his ‘Western’ attitude, and his eyes are only after Eastern truths and realities that his Western nature can absorb. He is not at all interested in Persian mysticism, and though he knew that in the East, Hafiz’s poetry is interpreted in mystical terms, and he himself liked the lyrics but he had no affinity for Hafiz’s mysticism.   

Rumi’s  philosophy was too obscure to  him. But it seems he had not studied Rumi, because a person who is an admirer of [Baruch de] Spinoza (a Dutch pantheist) and who wrote in support of  [Giordano] Bruno   (an Italian  pantheist) cannot be unfamiliar with Rumi.

Anyway, Goethe tried with his ‘Diwan’ to infuse Persian soul into the German literature, which was continued  by later writers like [Graf August von] Platen [-Hallermünde],  [Friedrich] Ruckert  and [Friedrich Martin von] Bodenstedt. Platen learned Persian for literary interests, and wrote ghazals in Persian meter with rhyme etc (‘qafia’ and ‘radif’), and quatrains, and a ‘qasidah’ for Napoleon. Like Goethe, he has freely used Persian metaphor such as ‘rose-bride’ (uroos-e-gul),  ‘scented hair’ (zulf-e-mishkeen)  and  ‘pink cheeks’  (lala uzaar), and he loved Persian lyricism.

Ruckert was an expert in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. He had lot of respect for Rumi’s philosophy, and wrote his ‘ghazals’ mostly in Rumi’s style.  Since he was an expert orientalist, he had wider inspirational sources for his Eastern poetry.  Be it Nezami’s Makhzan-al-Asrar,  Jami’s Baharistan, Amir Khusrau’s Kulliyath, Sa’adi’s Gulistan, Munakheb-el-Arifeen, Ayar-e-Danish, Munthukh-el-Thair,  Haft Qulzoom,  or wherever he could find the pearls of wisdom he garnered them.   Even from pre-Islamic Persian mythology and legends he draws things to adorn his writings. He has also versified some of the well-known events in the Islamic history, such as the death of Mahmud Ghaznavi, Mahmud’s attack on Somnath, Sultana Razia, and others.  After Goethe, the most famous Orientalist poet was Bodenstedt who had published his poetry under his pen-name, ‘Mirza Schaffy’. This rather small collection became so popular that it went through 140 editions in a short time. This poet had absorbed the Persian color so well that people in Germany were under the impression for a long time that this was indeed a translation from Persian. Bodenstedt also derived his inspiration from Amir Muezzi and Anwari.

In this connection I have intentionally stayed away from talking further about Goethe’s great contemporary, Heine, even though his poetry collection, New Poems [Neue Gedichte, published September, 1844] clearly has a Persian flavor. He has also versified Mahmud and Firdausi very nicely, yet he has no tangible link with the Oriental Movement.   In his opinion, Goethe’s Eastern poetry, with the exception of his Western Diwan,  is not that impressive,  but the heart of this free-thinking poet, Heine, could not escape untouched by the Persian magic.

At one time, he imagines himself as a Persian exile in Germany, and says:  “Oh, Firdaus OJami, O Sa’adi,, here’s your brother, imprisoned in grief, is pining for flowers from Shiraz.”

Hafiz’s followers also include such less well-known poets as [Georg Friedrich] Daumer,  Hermann Stahl, [Johann Traugott] Loschke,  Stieglitz,  [Heinrich]  Leuthold  and [Adolf Friedrich] von Schack.  The last-mentioned is highly regarded in academic circles. His poems, ‘Justice of Mahmud Ghaznavi’ and ‘Harooth and Marooth’ are quite famous, and his overall poetry shows heavy influence of Omar Khayyam.  For a comprehensive history of the ‘Oriental Movement’ and for tracing out the Persian influence and its extent, a detailed comparison of Persian and German poets is necessary, and for which neither the time nor the needed material is available.  This brief sketch could possibly evoke some interest in a young mind to do further investigation in the subject.

I do not feel the need to say much about Payam-e-Mashriq, which was written about 100 years after [Goethe’s] Western Diwan.  Readers will understand that its purpose was to present mostly  those ethical, religious and national realities that play a role in the spiritual and moral growth in individuals and communities. In this, there is some similarity indeed between Germany 100 years ago and the present-day East.  In reality, however, many countries of the world happen to be now in moral and spiritual unease, the significance of which we cannot fully assess because we are ourselves in the midst of it, which may itself be a precursor of some wide-scale spiritual and cultural revolution. 

World war [WWI] in Europe was a major calamity, which badly damaged every aspect of the world order. And now coming out of this devastation, a new man, from the depths of  his nature,  is trying to construct a new world to live in. Only a blurred dim outline of it is found in the writings of Einstein and philosopher Bergson. Europe has seen with its own eyes the dreadful outcome of its scientific advances, its moral and economic system,  and we have  also heard the sad saga of the Western decline from  Mr Nitti (a former Prime Minister of Italy).

Regrettably, however, that wise but conservative group of European politicians has been unable to understand the real nature and significance of the revolution that the human mind is going through. Looking from a literary angle, the World War has weakened the European resolve, and this is not very helpful to growth and development of a vigorous literary environment.  Indeed, there is some concern that the literary activity in these countries may turn rusty by the age-old escapist emasculating tendencies to the point that we may no longer be able to distinguish between the intellectual pursuits and the emotions and feelings of the heart. Except that America seems to have the right elements and one of the reasons may be the fact that this country is free from the shackles of old traditions of the past and thus capable of absorbing new ideas and influence more readily. 

The East, in general, the Islamic East, in particular, is now awake after sleeping for centuries. But the countries must realize that life cannot bring about any revolution on its own unless there is a revolution deep inside itself,  and no world can be created externally unless it’s formed and created first in the hearts and minds of people. This is a universal law, written simply and clearly in the Qur’an:  “Allah does not change the fate of the people, unless they change themselves.” This is true for the life of both an individual and a community. And in my Persian writings I have tried to keep this in mind.

Today, in the world, and particularly in Eastern countries, every single effort that seeks to transcend the individuals and nations to help raise their eyes above and beyond geographical borders and to instill in them a healthy and right sense of humanity, is worth our respect. For this reason I have dedicated these pages to the King of Afghanistan, who seems to have the intelligence and insight to understand these values, and he is deeply interested in instill these values in his people. May God watch over him and bless his efforts.

Lastly, I thank my friend Chaudhury Mohammed Hussain, MA for preparation of “Payam-e-Mashriq” manuscript for publication.  Had he not taken the trouble, this publication might not have appeared now.  



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.