Sir Muhammad Iqbal deserves to be remembered more for his poetical and intellectual contributions to the world, than for his political leanings. He dabbled with politics only in the last decade of his eventful life. But it was the poet-philosopher in him which was significantly dominant throughout his life. Iqbal’s thesis, The Development of Metaphysics in Persia got him a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Munich, Germany.
Iqbal was engaged in exploring the philosophy of self, or the individual personality in his great Persian work Asrar-e-Khudi. The English translation of this monumental work under the title The secrets of the self (by Professor R.A. Nicholson) spread his fame to Europe and he was conferred knighthood by the British Government in 1922. In December 1928, Iqbal delivered lectures on Islam in Madras wherein he explained in detail his philosophy of Khudi. These lectures were published by the Oxford University Press, London, in 1934. The doctrine of Khudi, which means self, ego, individuality and personality, has been systematically presented in this book.
Iqbal laid tremendous emphasis on the individual and says that in contrast, universal life pales into insignificance. The development of individuality is the ultimate reality. Ego is characterized by self-expression and self-determination which will define a personality. Iqbal tells us in Bal-e-Jibrail that Khudi is eternal:
What is Khudi (self)? The inmost secret of life,
What is Khudi (self)? The awakening of creation.
Eternity behind it, eternity before it,
No limit behind it, no limit before it.
Flowing along with the tide of time,
Enduring the suffering of its waves.
From eternity it is involved in ceaseless struggle,
It assumed shape in the form of Man.
Although Iqbal does not place ego over and above experience, yet he feels that inner experience is the ego at work. Ego is always in a state of tension because of its attempts to have an upper hand over environment and vice-versa. Ego has its own directive energy and is formed and disciplined by its own experience.
Khudi, Qismat and Taqdir
Iqbal is vehemently critical of what he calls, ‘the most degrading type of fatalism’ that grips the world of Islam. This can be summed up in the word Qismat (fate). Iqbal observes that submission to such fatalism is partly due to philosophical thought, partly due to political expediency and partly due to the gradually diminishing force of the life-impulse which Islam originally imparted to its followers. It is for the very same reason that Iqbal frowns upon taqdir (destiny). According to Iqbal, Islam recognizes a very important fact of human psychology, i.e., the rise and fall of the power to act freely, as a constant and undiminished factor in the life of the ego. This explains Iqbal’s stance in this famous couplet:
Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqdeer se pehle,
Quda bande se khud puchche bata teri raza kya hai?
Elevate your ego (self) to the extent, that before every destiny,
God should himself ask Man as to what he desires.
Heaven and Hell
According to Iqbal’s philosophy, even after the death of an individual, his ego carries on and will be trying to catch a glimpse of fresh aspects of Reality and prepares himself for adjustment to these aspects. To Iqbal, the subsequent Resurrection is not an external event but the consummation of a life process within the ego. The ego has to struggle to win his resurrection. Resurrection is nothing more than a kind of stock-taking of the ego’s past achievements and his future possibilities.
The description of Heaven and Hell in the Qur’an are seen by Iqbal as ‘states, not localities’. For Iqbal, Hell is a painful realization of one’s failure as a man. Heaven is a joy of triumph over the forces of disintegration. Hell is not a pit of everlasting torture inflicted by a revengeful God, but is a ‘corrective experience which may make a hardened ego once more sensitive to the living breeze of Divine Grace’. In contrast, Iqbal very aptly states that Heaven is also not a holiday. Life is one and continuous. Man marches forward receiving fresh illuminations from an Infinite Reality. Even while receiving Divine illumination, the ego is not passive but is free to act. Iqbal takes us deeper into this philosophy and hints that creative opportunities exist for ego beyond Heaven and Hell!
Individual and Society
When it comes to an individual’s obligation to the society, Iqbal recognizes the fact that man’s solitary quest will be futile. These memorable lines from his Bang-e-Dara express such thoughts in a singularly exemplary manner:
Afraad ke haathon mein hai aqwam ki taqdeer,
Har fard hai millat ke muqaddar ka sitara.
Fard qayam rabbate millat se hai, tanha kuch nahin,
Mouj hai dariya mein aur beroone dariya kuch nahin.
The destiny of the nations lies in the hands of the individuals;
Every individual is the guiding star of the community’s destiny……
The individual exists in relation to the community;
Alone, he is nothing;
Like the wave that exists in the ocean, outside the ocean, it is nothing.
Despite such thoughts, Iqbal is vehemently critical of an over-organized society wherein the individual is altogether crushed out of existence. Iqbal is also critical of false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection. The only effective way to prevent the forces of decay in a people is by ‘rearing of self-concentrated individuals’ who ‘alone can reveal the depth of life’. In another place, Iqbal comments that conservatism is as bad in religion as in any other department of human activity because ‘it destroys the ego’s creative freedom and closes up the paths of fresh spiritual enterprise’. According to Iqbal, ‘the climax of religious life, however, is the discovery of the ego as an individual deeper than his conceptually describable habitual self-hood.’
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