Fikr-e-Iqbal - 2
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
As mentioned in the first part of this article, when Iqbal started to analyze the reasons for the decline of Muslims in the world, he found that they were still immersed in the Neoplatonic (Ishraqiath) thought and practices and were following a religion which was called by Karl Marx as the opiate of the poor. On the other hand Europe in its attempt to eliminate the illuminist aspect of Neoplatonic thought had debunked religion and morality as a whole and taken their societies into different sort of problems despite their astounding material successes.
Two hundred years after Sh Munairi RA, who had debunked the illuminist view of our illusory existence in an illusory world, and at the time when Shaikh Ahmed Sarhandi was doing the same in the Indian subcontinent, it was Descartes (1596- 1650) who persuaded the Romans to shelve the Neoplatonist thought and gave a fillip to the Renaissance movement which laid the foundation for a vibrant Western civilization on the morass of decaying Roman civilization.
Sir Bertrand Russel in his essay on Descartes in his book “The History of Western Philosophy” writes about Descartes: “There is freshness about his work that is not to be found in any eminent previous philosopher since Plato”. He adds: “He retains much of scholasticism; he does not accept foundations laid by the predecessor, but endeavors to construct a complete philosophic edifice de novo”. Sir Russell goes on to say: “Modern philosophy begins with Descartes whose fundamental certainty in the existence of himself and his thoughts, from which the external world is to be inferred”.
Talking about the views of Descartes Sir Russel observes: It may be that God causes me to make mistakes whenever I try to count the sides of a square or add 2 to 3. Perhaps it is wrong even in imagination to attribute such unkindness to God, but there might be an evil demon, no less cunning and deceitful than powerful, employing all his industry in misleading me. If there be such a demon, it may be that all the things I see are only illusions of which he makes use as traps for my credulity. There remains, however, something that I cannot doubt: no demon, however cunning, could deceive me if I did not exist. I may have no body: this might be an illusion: But thought is different. “While I wanted to think everything false, it must necessarily be that I who thought was something; and remarking that this truth, I think, therefore I am was so solid and so certain that all the most extravagant suppositions of the skeptics were incapable of upsetting it. I judge that I could receive it without scruple as the first principle of philosophy that I sought”.
What Sir Russell states about Descartes is almost the same as what Allah revealed to Nabi SA and recorded it in Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago. To quote a few, Allah says: Indeed Allah has created the sky and the earth on firm foundation (Ch44 V22). Allah has not created the sky and the earth as an illusion for a fun game. If He wanted to play a fun game He would have played it Himself without hurting and humiliating so many (Ch21 V16-17). Allah has created life and death to test who amongst us does good deeds (Ch67 V2). Indeed Satan has permission from Allah to mislead people through his suggestions only when people are willing to accept them, otherwise Satan has no power over human beings (Ch14 V22). Allah says: You are responsible for your own actions (Ch5 V105). Allah protects us in whatever we decide to do and will not change our course unless we decide to change it ourselves (Ch13 V11).
All these verses point to our real existence in a real universe and the last two verses explicitly point towards the individual responsibility and culpability for his actions. At a time when Muslims were rejecting the teachings of Qur’an and their sincere scholars and were being mercilessly removed from Spain, Allah fulfilled His promise through people like Descartes: Indeed we will show you through the signs in yourself and in the universe that what Allah has revealed in Qur'an is the true knowledge” (Ch42 V53).
By accepting the teachings of Descartes and by rejecting the illuminist fantasy of their illusory existence in an illusory world, Europeans shunned their defeatist outlook and came out of a skewed understanding of destiny and made good material progress through their self-confidence and efforts. But by ignoring the moral teachings that were associated with Neoplatonic thought related to God and morality, the West went into social and moral anarchy. This was bemoaned by the thinkers and poets like Byron, Goethe etc., later. While Byron became the poet of melancholy, Goethe who was impressed by the message of hope and love of Persian poetry, saw some hope in Eastern Thought and changed his style; about which Carlyle had to say: “Close thy Byron open thy Goethe” (HOWP Sir Russell).
Allama Iqbal had seen the liberal England of his time when he was there to study law. He also observed the fascist minds of Germany where he was doing his doctoral research on “Evolution of Metaphysical Thought in Iran”. This was the transitional stage of Allama Iqbal’s life when he had to analyze and synthesize his position between his orthodox Sufi Islam and modern thoughts prevailing in the world. In England he understood the good and the evil of liberal values emphasizing the liberties of the individual over the good of society. The greed, and the immorality promoted by discarding religious values and making moral values as relative was at the root of all problems, he thought. While in Germany he leaned to believe that Jews were responsible for the evil of liberalism and capitalism which was decaying the societies socially and morally. But the fact remains that it was not the Jews alone who were responsible for these ills but Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, atheists were all willy-nilly partners in this practice to exploit their own people as a conglomerate and put the blame on others to keep themselves safe from the wrath of their people whom they were exploiting.
Some of the Qur’anic verses criticize the Jews in order to forewarn Muslims about the pitfalls into which their brethren in earlier religions had fallen (Ch2 V211). This criticism is also a part of Old and New Testament. Unfortunately these verses from the Qur’an were wrongly interpreted as a stricture singularly against the Jews and Christians. This interpretation was the innovation of those who wanted to promote discord between people of various religions for their own benefit.
While some blamed Jews for all the ills others blamed Machiavelli (1467-1527) for teaching the religious and political leaders the art of deceit discussed in the above paragraph. The fact is that Machiavelli who was out of job only tried to get back his job by writing the book “Prince” giving some hints to Medici to come back to power as many “intellectuals” in our think tanks do these days. The fact is that by rejecting the benevolent law giver as myth and by following Machiavelli by our own free will we have imposed on ourselves the modern law giver which is a terrifying reality at least in the Third World.
When Allama Iqbal found that the major section of Muslim society was steeped into inaction leading to their decline because of their ignorance of true Islamic teaching and a wrong understanding of destiny, he used the power of his pen and poetry to pull his downtrodden people from this inaction into a life full of zest and vigor and success. Israre E Khudi was a long inspiring poem which Allama Iqbal wrote in 1915 to make Muslims conscious of their real existence and to teach them how to face its real challenges. It has about 1000 couplets spread over 19 chapters. This poem in Persian was translated into Urdu by Syed Ahmed Esar, a high ranking retired officer of Forest Department in Bengluru, India, as Israr o Rumooz. The term Israr in the title of this translation stands for poem Israr e Khudi and Rumooz stands for another long poem Rumooz e Bekhudi written by Allama Iqbal to keep the self-confidence stirred by Israr e Khudi in check lest its readers fall into the trap of hubris of ego. Experts of both the Urdu and Persian language claim that this Urdu translation has maintained the spirit of the Persian text intact.
The simple idea that was expounded by Allama Iqbal for Muslims in his poem “Israr e Khudi” is: Understand your spiritual prowess in correct perspective and strengthen it so that you can come out of your passive existence and take action to solve the problems that confront you and your societies. He outlines the way to strengthen it positively and to use it for their own good and the good of their society and this world at large. He has divided this poem into 19 parts and each part deals with a specific factor that strengthens this Khudi. Syer Ahmed Esar’s preface to every chapter makes it easy for one to understand the theme and spirit of each chapter.
Khudi, as explained by Syed Ahmed Esar, is the consciousness that I am real, responsible and reckonable individual. Our existence in this world is because of the spirit that is blown into us by God. This consciousness has to be developed, nurtured and protected by us by getting connected with the One who has blown from His spirit into us to make us living and thinking individuals. If we want to develop it in accordance with our whims and fancies by ignoring our Creator then it is like ignoring the manual of any machine that we use, and use the machine as we want in which case the machine either does not work and, if it works, it develops a fault soon. If we develop our spiritual prowess in accordance with the will of God we can achieve not only all our dreams, but we will live even in our death. Allama Iqbal points to this in the following couplet:
Ho Agar Khood-Nigar, Khood-gar, wo Khood-geer Khudi
Ye Bhi Mumkin hai ke thoo Maut se bhi mar na sake
When a person tries to search for his real self and understand it with all sincerity, his deficiencies will lead him to understand his Creator. And when he tries to find his Creator, he sees his Creator in himself and in his own soul. This powerful statement is made in the following couplet by Iqbal which means: Search Him and you will see yourself and search for yourself and you will see Him.
Thalash e Ooo Kuni Juz Khud Na Beeni
Thalash e Khud Kuni Juz Ooo Na Yabi
The Creator has created us and the universe to reveal Himself. The only befitting role for us therefore is to understand Him and do His will. In the first chapter Allama Iqbal says that Allah has kept a struggle between good and evil in us not to tire us and make us desperate and become inactive, but to make us struggle and develop an understanding of the role and rules of our existence that complete us and make this world a better place. Allama says: Life is all about search to understand the problems and solve them and we can’t do this unless we have a burning desire for this.
Zindagi Dar Justajoo Poshida Ast
Asl-e-Ooo Dar Arzoo Poshida Ast
In the subsequent chapters Allama tells us how we can achieve this lofty goal. He says for this one should have true love and deep commitment not just for the self and the clan and race and the nation to which one belongs, but this should be universal; for God is also universal and not partisan even though we may think so. Allama says: The only way to kindle our souls to this search is through deep love and commitment because possibilities emerge and evolve through this. He says:
A’z Muhabbat Ishta’aal-e Jau’harash
Irthakha-e Mumkinath-e Muzmarash
In subsequent chapters he criticizes those who think our existence and this universe is illusory and we should be resigned to whatever comes. He criticizes the trend in literature and art that makes us forget the realities and live in delusions. He stresses the importance of obedience, self-control in order to fulfill the role of vicegerent and to elucidate it he mentions life stories of some accomplished men. He says if individuals and societies do not work to develop their capacities and play the role for which they are created then the time will be merciless on us as is evident from our present status and past history.
While awakening the spirits of the dispirited and calling them to action, Iqbal also cautions his fellow Muslims and the Western Civilization to take corrective lessons from the past and not to just pride on it. For this he wrote the other long Persian poem “Rumooz e Bekhudi” in which he explains how to use this power of self for the collective good of the world instead of using it for personal adventurism and selfish ventures and thus destroy the world. This poem has about 1200 couplets and is divided into 30 chapters. This is also translated into poetry form by Syed Ahmed Esar Ahmed who has prefaced every chapter for a better understanding of the contents.