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Iqbal On Nietzsche

Written by son of rambow on Friday, April 02, 2010

The life and thought of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) intrigued Iqbal, who, in many places in his prose and poetry, cites and discusses the German philosopher`s views. Iqbal`s interest in Nietzsche has been the subject of several studies.

We are grateful to Professor Bernd Manuel Weischer for the permission to reprint the following article, which originally appeared as a contribution in H. R. Roemer and A. North, eds., Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Vorderen Oriens. Festschrift B. Spuler (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981). Iqbal`s well-known observation about Nietzsche, namely, that his heart believes but his mind disbelieves (quoted in the beginning of this article), occurs in ``Nietzche, ``a poem in Payām-i Mashriq (in Kulliyyat-i Iqbal-Fārsī, 329), the original Persian being: qalb-i ū mu`min dimāghash kāfar ast. Here, following, is a translation of Iqbal`s Urdu note to the observation (see the Ghulam `Alī and Sons edition of Kulliyyāt-i Iqbal-Fārs-i, Lahore, 1970, p. 371).

Nietzsche subjects Christian ethical philosophy to severe criticism. His mind is a disbeliever in God since he denies God, though his ideas are, in respect of some of their implications, very close to the religion of Islam. ``His mind is a disbeliever, but his heart is a believer``-the Noble Prophet [Muḥammad]. made a similar remark about Umayyah b. Abī ṣ-Ṣalṭ (an Arab poet).- A mana lisānuhū wa-kafara qalbuhū (``His tongue believes, but his heart disbelieves``).

The word Allama, ``Great Scholar,`` which occurs before Iqbal`s name more than once in the following piece, is often used as an appellation for Iqbal.

In this reprint, the footnotes of the original article have been converted to endnotes, and one or two minor typographical errors have been corrected; otherwise, the format of the original has been retained.]

When I discussed some time ago with a leading German philosopher some aspects of Nietzsche`s philosophy and quoted to him Allama Mohammed Iqbal`s statement on Nietzsche, expressed in one of the poems in the `Payām-i mashriq`: the `Message of the East`: ``His brain is unbelieving, but his heart believing``1, he said to me: ``Never did I hear a more concise and appropriate judgment on the life and work of Nietzsche! ``-That the tragic figure of Nietzsche occupied Iqbal`s mind more than any other Western philosopher is widely known.

And as we know Iqbal planned to write a book in the style of `Thus spoke Zarathustra` under the title of `The Book of a Forgotten Prophet`, but unfortunately this plan was never carried out. A contemporary of Allama Iqbal and a religious poet like him was the Libanese Jibran Khalil Jibran who among other poems and novels wrote a book with the title `The Prophet`. He admired Nietzsche deeply, but the influence of Nietzsche`s work on him originated more from its style than from its content. Jibran Khalil Jibran, not being a philosopher, rejected the main ideas of Nietzsche and was shocked by his atheism.2 Allama Iqbal on the other hand, while also not agreeing with Nietzsche`s atheism and many of his ideas, yet, as a philosopher, poet and mystic had a much deeper insight into the personal experience as well as the philosophical system of Nietzsche, its suppositions and consequences. Thus he discovered common ideas and attitudes of mind.

If we now speak about the `Nietzsche-conception` of Allama Iqbal, it must be made clear that we cannot expect from him a dry philosophical treatise about the development of metaphysics in Europe and the decisive role Nietzsche played in it. But his often aphoristic remarks on Nietzsche in the context of very different writings are so striking, fundamental, and comprehensive-because Iqbal as an Oriental thinker did not separate the tragic life from the intellectual achievements of the German philosopher as many Western philosophers do-that we can rightly call it a `Nietzscheconception`. Iqbal was already strongly influenced by the vitalistic current of Western philosophy, by R. Eucken and especially H. Bergson, although he criticizes them sometimes. The dynamic concept of this philosophy, involving the gradual development of the self in the reality of this world,-a kind of prophetic outlook-was very close to Iqbal`s intentions in his philosophy of personality and the rediscovery of the dynamic concept of Islam. L. Massignon made the remarkable statement on the relationship of M. Iqbal with H. Bergson: ``Une affinite spirituelle semitique!``3

But Allama Iqbal drew much more support for his dynamic philosophy from Nietzsche, who in one sense can be seen as the culmination of the vitalist movement. Some thoughts, allusions, and symbols (e.g. diamond and coal) in the `Asrār-i Knudī` may be traced to Nietzsche`s `Thus spoke Zarathustra`, and the whole set of Iqbal`s book and his main idea of the `Perfect Man, which of course stems from Islamic mysticism, can be compared in a certain way with Nietzsche`s Superman. The idea of the `Superman` perhaps acted as a catalyst in the formulation of Iqbal`s ideas. The great difference between the `Perfect Man` and the `Superman` is the following: In Nietzsche`s system the exaggerated affirmation of this world and the intellectual self-realisation of the human being to the highest and most independent degree-to a quasi-divine existence-is conditioned by the negation of God, of the transcendental world, and immortality. The will to power Per Wille zur Macht) explains being as a continuous becoming or development to a higher state, the eternal recurrence Pie ewige Wiederkehr) being the existential basis of the liberty and independence of the individual in a world which becomes quasi-eternal, a kind of secularisation of eternity. Allama Iqbal, as a religious genius, immediately and intuitively realized the `punctum saliens` for the failure of Nietzsche, namely his Luciferian basis: I will not serve! This is where the great difference lies between Nietzsche and Iqbal, who had a certain sympathy with this brilliant Western thinker in his quest for the absolute. So he contrasts the Superman (Ubermensch) independent from God with the idea of the `Perfect Man` in Islamic Mysticism whom he describes in his Bāl-i Jibrīl as follows: ``The perfect man`s arm is really God`s arm, dominant, creative, resourceful, efficient, human, but angel-like in disposition, a servant with the Master`s attributes``. And in his Jāvīdnāme Iqbal describes how Nietzsche is flying between the heaven of Saturn and Paradise in eternal circles-a symbol of the eternal recurrence, which Iqbal strictly rejected-and he says about him:

``In his inebriation he broke every glass,
separated himself from God and at the same time from the Self``

and some lines further on he says about Nietzsche in an Islamic way of expression:

``He did not come from `1ā ilāh` to `i11ā ilāh` (i.e. from the negation to the affirmation of God)
and he did not know the meaning of the word `abduhu` (his servant)``4

This brilliant statement touches again on the point of difference described above.

Another time Iqbal wrote in a letter: ``Poor Nietzsche thought that his vision of the ultimate Ego could be realized in the world of space and time``.5 In the `Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam` he describes and rejects Nietzsche`s idea of the eternal recurrence in a very enlightened way, first in the lecture `The Human Ego, his freedom and immortality` and then in the lecture `Is Religion Possible?`. Rightly he points to Schopenshauer`s influence on Nietzsche in this respect, through his main work `The World as Will and Imagination`. He says 6 : ``In modern Europe Nietzsche, whose life and activity form, at least to us Easterns, an exceedingly interesting problem in religious psychology, was endowed with some sort of a constitutional equipment for such an undertaking. His mental history is not without a parallel in the history of Eastern Sufism. That a really `Imperative` Vision of the Divine in man did come to him cannot be denied. I call his vision `Imperative` because it appears to have given him a kind of prophetic mentality which, by some kind of technique, aims at turning its visions into permanent life-forces. Yet Nietzsche was a failure; and his failure was mainly due to his intellectual progenitors such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Lange, whose influence completely blinded him to the real significance of his vision. Instead of looking for a spiritual rule which would develop the Divine even in a plebeian and thus open up before him an infinite future, Nietzsche was driven to seek the realisation of his vision in such schemes as aristocratic radicalism. As I have said of him elsewhere:.

The `I am` which he seeketh,
lieth beyond philosophy, beyond knowledge,
The plant that groweth only from the invisible soil of the heart of man,
Groweth not from a mere heap of clay!

Thus failed a genius whose vision was solely determined by his internal forces, and remained unproductive for want of external guidance in his spiritual life``: I do not want to discuss the second text of Iqbal on Nietzsche because it would lead us to the complicated question of time problems found also in the work of H. Bergson.7

But let us come back to some aspects of Nietzsche`s philosophy which are near to Iqbal`s concept. I mean the fight of Nietzsche against Platonism and its wrong interpretation, especially in the Christian theology of the last centuries: i.e. the concept of God as a pure `causa prima` supported by philosophical terms and concepts, a concept of God which is quite the opposite of the notion of God in the prophetic religions and in the Semitic way of thinking. In this context Iqbal said in his Jāvīdnāme about Nietzsche8 :

``Had he ever lived in the times of Ahmad,
he would have entered into the eternal joy``.

That is to say: Had Nietzsche known the prophetic notion of God, as found in the Islamic tradition, he would not have failed. Thus Nietzsche in his first period was not just an atheist and nihilist who preached the complete revolution and conversion of all values, and his sentence `God is dead` is not to be understood in this simple way: it rather means that occidental metaphysics with its Greek and Platonic heritage in Nietzsche`s philosophy came to an end. He once said: ``The greatest recent event-that God has died, that the belief in the Christian God has become untrustworthy, begins to throw its first shadows over Europe``.

The leading philosopher of this century, M. Heidegger, in his profound studies on Nietzsche, his phrase `God is dead` and its role in the movement of European nihilism, has something in common with Iqbal`s intuitive remarks on Nietzsche. He says that Nietzsche remained Platonist in spite of his sarcastic fight against Platonism, because he remained on the same basis, the belief in an intellectual truth. Nietzsche himself was of course not conscious of it. The conversion of all values or the negation of known values is for Nietzsche only the starting point for the affirmation, of the `will to power`, according to him the most intrinsic essence of all beings. After giving up the belief in the divine essence as the inmost essence of all beings, Nietzsche had intellectually to fill up this emptiness.

If we now once again look at Iqbal`s statement ``His brain is unbelieving, but his heart believing``, we see how rightly it describes the case of the German philosopher. That Allama`s philosophy of personality differs basically from the system of Nietzsche is evident. In Iqbal`s concept the ultimate Ego is God himself, and the highest development of man consists in his gradual growth in self-possession and self-realisation, in the uniqueness and intensity of his activity as an ego. But the emphasis on will and activity in the higher and real ego of man and mankind in general-this dynamic concept of life and development-is very near to Nietzsche`s Superman and is a prototype of developed and perfect humanity. The difference is that Allama Iqbal develops his philosophy clearly on the ground of the Islamic faith, on the basis of the principle of the submission to the Divine, the ultimate Ego of the whole cosmos.


1 Kulliyyāt p. 371.

2 St. Wild, Friedrich Nietzsche and Gibran Kahlil Gibran, in: Abhath XXII, no. 3 & 4 (Beirut 1969) 47-57.

3 Gabriel`s Wing p. 323.

4 Kulliyyāt p. 741.

5 Gabriel`s Wing p. 324.

6 The Reconstruction p. 174f.

7 Cf. A. Bauani`s article.

8 Kulliyyāt p. 741.


J. Iqbāl (ed.), Kulliyyāt-i Iqbāl (fārsī) (Lahore-Hyderabed-Karachi 2 1975).

Muhammad Iqbal, Payām-i mashriq (translated by A. Schimmel, Botschaft des Ostens, Wiesbaden 1963).

Muhammad Iqbal, Jāvīdnāme (translated by A. Schimmel, Das Buch der Ewigkeit, Munchen 1957).

Muhammad Iqbal, Asrār-i Khudī (translated by R. A. Nicholson, The Secrets of the Self, Lahore 1969).

Muhammad Iqbal, Rumūz-i Bī-Khudī (translated by A. J. Arberry, The Mystery of Selflessness, London 1953).

Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (edited by J. Iqbal, Lahore 1968).

A. Bausani, ``The concept of time in the religious philosophy of Muhammad Iqbal``, in: Die Welt des Islams, N.S. 3 (1954) 158-86.

A. Schimmel, Gabriel`s Wing, A study into the religious ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Leiden 1963).

B. M. Weischer, ``Muhammad Iqbal and Western Culture``, in: Fikrun wa Fann Nr. 32, 16 (1979) 4-18-in Arabic.

Bernd Manuel Weischer
Rabat University, Morocco

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