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Iqbal - The man on a pilgrimage

Written by eastern writer on Saturday, May 31, 2008

Iqbal was a man on a pilgrimage, throughout his life. It was destined to be a journey to immortality. He who shed tears at the misery of mankind, was himself seeking a path to quietude. He moved not in solitude, but along with the spirits of immense other personalities of bygone years, who also had sought the stubborn paths to peace and fraternity.

His journey starts with the yearning to find a soul with similar passions as his own. The secret tone of human greatness is there for us to hear and behold. There is an immensity of undercurrents in human soul and yearnings.

Of this, Iqbal Singh says “This journey through time and space was important and fruitful, but even more important and fruitful was the journey on which Iqbal was engaged during these crucial years-a journey which took him beyond space and time. The itinerary of one’s physical self does not always coincide with the itinerary of one’s spirit. For, the spirit of man has its own wanderlust and its own journeys to make to satisfy that wanderlust. While Iqbal was touring through Western Europe and the Near East, even while he was attending the dull and melancholy sessions of the Indian Round Table Conference at St. Jame’s Palace, his mind was completing a voyage through all the planetary heavens and the nether regions”. (The Ardent pilgrim).

In Javidnama, Iqbal begins this creative journey thus:

Man in this seven coloured universe,
Ever given to lamentation like the flute,
With longing for a kindred soul, that burn
His being and instruct him to strike forth
Sweet melodies, look at the universe,
Of lifeless matter, looks at the universe,
A throbbing heart. The seas, the wilds, the hills
And plains are mute, the sun, the moon, the sky
Itself in silence cast. Although the star
Have thronged the sky, yet each is lonelier than
The rest, each, unavailing like ourselves,
A helpless wanderer of azure space.
They make a caravan, though unequipped,
Yet coursing in the boundless skies through long
Unending nights. Am I a hunter wild
Who holds the universe as prey or just
A captive out of mind, no one heeding to
His plaint: where Adam’s son can meet a friend?
(Javid nama Translated by Shaikh Mahmud Ahmad)

The quest for answer seen in this poem is a resounding theme in almost all of Iqbal’s creative works.

In the poem ‘Secrets of the Self’ the he sings thus: Where, O God is a companion for me in this world? I am the Tree on Mount Sinai, where is my Moses? In the sea, waves are in the company of other waves; To be in commotion together is the wave’s nature. In the sky, stars have each other’s companionship; The moon rests in the lap of the night. I am like the tulip of the desert- Lonely in the midst of company. Bartruhari In ‘Javis name’, on meeting the Indian poet Bartruhari, Iqbal introduces himself as Zinda rud (Living stream) The houries in their palaces and tents My sing did beckon, to participate In all consuming fire. One heard and looked From out her window and another put Her head out of her tent. I gave to each, In everlasting paradise, a share, A measure of the sorrow and the pain Of the earth. A smile subdued played on lips Of my blest guide. He said, ‘O sorcerer That wert in India born, now meet that bard Of thy own land; his eyes can into pearls Turn drops of dew. His name is Bartruhari. His nature’s like an April-cloud; he from The garden plucks the comeliest buds alone; The melody has led him now us; With priceless song, he is a king, who holds, In the world of asceticism as well, A place all eminent; with thought unique He weaves a fabric fine; a world of truth Lies hidden in his words. He doth know well Life’s workshop and its din: a Jamshyds’ he, Whose poetry is his glass’. We soon stood up In reverence for him till he reached us. Living stream O thou who uttered heart preserving truths, That gave discern to the East, say whence Songs get their fire, from Ego or from God? Bhartruhari The poet’s centre in this world remains Unreachable; his note is implicit In melody, in music high and low. The heart in him that hotly quests doth not Before God even find repose. To search Unceasing is our sole bliss; desire To poetry lends its silent, quivering fire. O thou that drinkest juice of poessy’s grapes, If though should ever attain this rank, know then That, from the world of brick and stone, a verse Entraps the hearts of nymphs of paradise. (Ibid) According to Annemari Schimmel, the reply of Bhartruhari to Iqbal is the translation of Bhartruhari’s poem. The deep influence Bharthruhari has on him is visible in the collection of his poem: ‘Wings of Gabriel’. The epigram of the ‘Wings of Gabriel’ is a free rendering of Bhartruhari’s ‘Neety Sathaka’.

It is possible to cut the heart of a diamond
With the petal of a flower.
But upon the ignorant man
Tender and delicate utterance is lost.

There is soft, yet vibrant exhilaration that peaks up in the poem ‘The pilgrimage to eternity’. The streaming flow of thinking is gentle and perfect. The reader sees how the poet is enwrapped by the sparkle of the glazing themes of Vishwamitra’s and Bahartruhari’s philosophies. His imagination is dazzles in the halo of the intelligence.

The Rigveda stands at the epitome of Indian culture. It is the primary Veda. It contains a collection of prayers to the God. The theme they contain are not for antipathy and aggression. Iqbal translated the great Rig Vedic mantra Gayathri into Persian. Gayathri is one of the most important and popular of Rigvedic mantras.

When Iqbal writes poetry, it is a torrent of thinking process. There is room for Indian thought in it. It mingles with the philosophies of this land, and also about its soil. He proposes that this nation, which is a kaleidoscopic mixture of mountains, hills, valleys, rivers, streams, and much else could really be on the path to the heavens. The deep and intricate heritage it possesses rightfully gives her the right to be called the greatest nation in the world. Yet, there is pain in him that the nation is now in a pitiful condition. There is a persevering concern about its continuing degeneration. The anguish that literally grips his mood is seen reflected in his poems.

He sings;

The dark surrounding of Hind it would not forsake,
Till native sunk in slumber do not wake.
The hopes of orient on this region hinge,
The tears that Iqbal sheds on its impinge.
It has produced men who hid sense can see,
With utmost ease can cross the swollen sea. (The rays of hope)

Iqbal did study religions deeply. Religion that can refine man does make them achieve perfection. They appeal to mankind to love all men, keeping away from vile motives. Man is elevated to a higher pedestal by religion.

Yet, much animosity has been created by religion. Why? This is a question that torments Iqbal. He feels that it is because of cultural ignorance. He calls for remembering the old days when this nation was great. Visualise the bygone greatness, and bring back the old glory.
India has been the cradle of a great culture. She herself created this culture, and nurtured it. Here it is sent that India is both a natural mother as well as a foster mother of a great and resounding culture. Iqbal himself acknowledges that he is indebted to it, for the unique understanding that it has bestowed on him.

‘The Pilgrimage to Eternity’ is a reflection of this indebtedness. He observes that ‘own Muslim Civilization is a product of the cross-fertilization of the Semitics and the Aryan ideas. It is a child who inherits the softness and the refinement of his Aryan Mother, and the sterling character of his Semitic father’ (Stray Reflections ed. By Javid Iqbal)

There is calamity in the offing, if things move like this. There is a mood of disintegration everywhere. Even within individual religions, there are differing groups, and sects, who are standing in opposing stances. Even in the place of worship, they stand apart. Their god is one, their place of worship is also common, their prophets, and saints are same; yet, they are in a state of acute disarray.

Thus religions now stink of death. They do not belong to the peaceful world, they actually came to create. Everywhere, people are building walls to keep off, other fellowmen. Even though, in society one is dependant on others, there is a urge to cut off ties with others, and live in solitary lives. With each religion igniting the feeling of its followers, communal harmony and placid living are not possible.

There is lack of co-operation and affability. There is violence and anger everywhere. In these terrifying conditions, man cannot get peace and happiness. Many unseen forces of evil are at work to destroy amity and harmony. Everyman is concerned about his own religion only. No one takes care to understand his neighbours’ religion. This terrifying ignorance is leading our society to conditions which are suicidal.

The evil moods of selfishness and greed are moving man to unhealthy competition. Iqbal appeals for selflessness. Let a man stand by ethical principles, and let the themes of love guide him, then there would be no selfishness. When his brethren are prosperous, he will rejoice; and when there is dismay in his neighbour, he will share his pain. This is what true religion will reach out man to be.

Iqbal stands for the elevation of man and his religion to this level. He believes that much goodness will come from an amalgamation of Islamic lifestyle with the undercurrents of Indian religious and cultural living styles. History stands testimony to the fact that cultural ties are possible with very positive results. There are even Arabian traditions to this effect. Imam Bhukhari, the authority on the saying of the Prophet, remarks that when Aysha, the beloved wife of the Prophet fell ill, the physician who came to heel her was from the Jat tribe-Mufrad.
Now our nation is filled with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. There are no human beings. It is a very dangerous transformation. Re-labelling themselves like this, they fight, in the name of their new labels. This leads to new boundaries, and more acute stances of communal divide. The social mental state is deranged. This deranged mood exists as the root cause for more violent outbursts, and grows on to monstrous forms.

Iqbal warns against such disastrous polarisation. He wanted the society to be one of free men, who are not shackled by religious strictures. Give up all evil feelings, and find the warmth of true love. Sarojini Naidu states that it was the poetry of Iqbal that encouraged her to leave the mean confines of narrow patriotism, and view the whole world as one great nation.

The poet sings:

Greed has split mankind into warring camps,
So speak the language of love,
And teach the lesson of brotherhood,
Forget all the distinction
Between Khurasani, Afghani and Turani.

It is experienced that a staunch believer of one faith turns intolerant of other faiths. Yet, this is a very negation of religious ideology, for only a person who has misunderstood his own religion will be intolerant of other faiths. Excessive belief leads to darkness which is enwrapping. Men lose their self-control, and allow their moods to move to feelings of hostility. It is here that we can see one true contributions of Iqbal. He has strived to carve out the goodness in many religions and assemble them in an intelligent manner in his poems and writing, for the easy understanding of the busy man.

One may see that Iqbals thoughts and philosophies are also reflected in the thoughts of Tagore also. In a certain manner, they do have some common areas of belief. They lived in the same age. Both became the spokesmen of the new scientific knowledge that came from the English shores. They were both ardent followers of god. Yet, they did have great faith in the capacities of science. In many ways, the commitment of Iqbal to science was of more intensity. He saw in science, what can be achieved by the correct interpretation of god’s will.
Even though science and religion seem to belong to contradictory genres, the actuality was that both were intimately connected. This fact comes out on close examination of both together. They are also complimentary to each other. The light that one sheds can illuminate the dark paths in the other. Holy Quran exhorts us to learn the physical sciences, astronomy, nature, and history, intensely. Islam is favourably disposed to science. Where there are pitfalls in science, it is for religion to come to the rescue. The aims of both religion as well as science are same.

Holy Quran wants the faithful to ponder on the various attributes of the Universe, and thus have knowledge. There is no meaning in a believer to be ignorant of the world, which the god has created. The understanding of the intricate machinery would only enhance the true believer’s faith.

There is inseparable connection between man and nature, and also with the universe. There is need to understand our universe intelligently. Even Tagore agreed that the realisation of God is impossible without this. Anyone who wants to reach God, must move in close association with nature.

Both Tagore and Iqbal were not in agreement with Sankaracharya’s concept of Maya. They did not feel that this reality was an illusion. They were of the opinion that there is much scope for improvement of the reality, which is our world. It can be achieved by devoting oneself to something greater. Both them also were in unison that the Indian view that Soul was a manifestation of extreme reality. This type of negative views only removes man from contact with society.

The roots of their creative thinking were deeply embedded in Indian philosophical thoughts. It was moulded out of spiritual wisdom, yet it was not separated from the realities of the practical world. When they sang, it resounded of human values, and love for all. The upbeat mood encoded in their songs was capable of echoing in the inner realms of human mind.

There is a wonderful story related to Iqbal. Once a sainted person came to meet Iqbal. Iqbal casually asked him to add him in his prayers. Then the saint asked him if he wanted to meet God. Iqbal’s reply was the if he heard that God was coming to meet him, he would run away with all his might. Why? The reason is explained thus: If the river were to meet the drop, it is the end of the drop. Likewise if God were to meet him, he as an entity would vanish. Iqbal wanted to preserve his integrity as a minor drop. Yet, maintaining his position as a minor drop, he would try to attain to the capacities of a river.

There is a reflection of a similar mood in Tagore’s Gitanjali: “I know thee as my God and stand also. I do not know thee as my own and come closer…. I stand not where thou comest down and ownest thyself as mine, there to clasp thee to my heart and take thee as my comrade… In pleasure and in pain I stand not by the side of men, and thus stand by these. I shrink to give up my life, and thus do not plunge into the great waters of life”.

They both shared deep interest in the all round development of human beings. They strove to get inspiration from the themes of brotherhood and magnanimity that exists as a undercurrent in mankind. They understood that political freedom was an indispensable requisite for human development. A free India was their dream. A powerful India was possible only through a mood of magnanimity from both the Hindus as well as the Muslims.

Swami Vivekananda looked upon Islam as the only religion that highlights human unity and he expected that an enshrinement of Vedantic intellect in Islamic body is the only hope for the bright future of the Indian subcontinent. This is the abracadabra for the salvation from the innumerable evils of our country. Iqbal this to say about himself. Look well at me, for in India you will not find another man of ‘Brahmin decent who is versed in the mysteries of Rumi and Tabriz (Translated by. Iqbal singh).

It is wrong to consider Iqbal as an Islamic poet alone. Although he can be called the poet of Islamic thought, Iqbal really stood for all mankind. The most befitting attribute to him would be the poet philosopher of the East. He alludes to Islam and Muslims in his works, because he is proud of his religion. Iqbal has written many a poem on European culture and Indian heritage. No other Indian poet was aware of Indian philosophy and the demerits of European culture as Iqbal was.

The sheer boundlessness of the antique Indian heritage simply exploded the limits of imagination in Iqbal. It is the pure power lent by this that led to him to create such poems of ringing beauty as Himalaya, Swami Ramatheertha, Naya Sivalaya, Taranaye Hind, Bhartruhari and Guru Nanak. Yet, he was also influenced by non-Indian thinkers and geniuses as Shakespeare, Karl Marx, Schopenhauer, Goethe, Nietzsche, Bergson and Napoleon.

It is true that Iqbal was a thinker who went beyond the boundaries of Indian thinking processes. Yet, at heart he remained an Indian. Poems like ‘Ruhe Hind’ (The heart of India) and ‘Shua-e-ummeed’ (rays of Hope) stand testimony to this. It is significant to note that he wrote these poems when he was a stark internationalist. These works are loaded with hopes and dreams of a sacred India.

It is a terrible crime to confine the name of Iqbal to the limited space of a religion, for then one necessarily misses the man and his profundity. Mahatama Gandhi is not treated as a Hindu thinker. Even though he was a true Hindu, non-Hindu do not despise him because of that. People revere Shakespeare, Milton and Shelly even though they are Christians. Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ is based on a biblical story. The creations of Shakespeare, Goethe, and Dante have connections to Christian themes. Non-Christians also enjoy these works without any antipathy. Similary Iqbal’s imagaination was spurred by Islamic antiquity, for he was born to Islamic parentage. It is terrible to judge him and his creations, from the solitary positions of religious affiliations.

Sir Tej bahadur Sapru wrote:

‘In my opinion, those who call Iqbal a mere Islamic poet, do a great injustice to him, for to say so is to limit the sphere of his influence. No doubt, he has written a great deal on Islamic philosophy, Islamic greatness and Islamic culture, but nobody has till now limited the influence of Milton by calling him a poet of Christianity or designating Kalidasa a poet of Hinduism. Men professing religions other than Christianity have not, on account to this aspect of Milton’s poetry, diminished their admiration for him. If Iqbal deals with the great events of Islamic history, or talks about Islamic glories, there is no reason why non-Muslims should not honour him’. (Iqbal as a thinker, by Prof. Taj Mohammed Khayal, Lahore).

His poem “The Pilgrimage to Eternity’, end with the following addressing to his son Javid:

The tavern itself feels ashamed
How shallow is your glass of wine;
A tumbler take and prudently
Drink deep, and be mature and fine.

The depth of understandings in these lines, really appealing to the future generations, lies beyond the corridors of all religious confines.


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