Thursday, March 29, 2012

Iqbal's Message to the West

The Message

A Poem from The Message of the East (1923) by Iqbal

O morning breeze, convey this to the Western sage from me:
With wings unfolded, Wisdom is a captive all the more.
It tames the lightning, but Love lets it strike its very heart:
In courage Love excels that clever sorcerer by far.
The eye sees just the colour of the tulip and the rose;
But far more obvious, could we see it, is the flower’s core.
It is not strange that you have the Messiah’s healing touch:
What is strange is your patient is the more sick for your cure.
Though you have gathered knowledge, you have thrown away the heart;
With what a precious treasure you have thought it fit to part!

The courting of philosophy is a vain quest, indeed;
For in its school Love’s lofty regimen is not decreed.
Such are its blandishments, it leads astray the pupil’s heart:
There is no mischief its coquettish glances do not breed.
But its cold fire can never set the seeker’s heart aflame:
It cannot give the heart Love’s sweet pain, though it makes it bleed.
Though it has roamed the deserts, it has captured no gazelle;
Though it has searched the garden, it has not a rose for meed.
The wisest thing that we can do is to appeal to Love;
For our desires’ fulfilment we should always kneel to Love.

Wisdom, since it set foot on life’s labyrinthine way,
Has set the sea on fire and made the whole world go awry.
Its alchemy converted worthless grains of sand to gold;
But oh! it gave the wounded heart no love-balm to apply.
Alas! we were so foolish as to let it steal our wits:
It waylaid us, subjecting us to highway robbery.
It raised up much dust from the civilization of the West
To cast into that civilization’s Holy Saviour’s eye.
O how long can you go on sowing sparks and reaping flames,
And tying up your heart in knots which bear new-fangled names?

The self-absorbed and world-regarding wisdom are two things.
The nightingale and falcon have two different kinds of wings.
It is one thing to pick up stray grain lying on the ground;
Another to peck at gems in the Pleiades’ earrings.
It is one thing to roam the garden like the morning breeze;
Another to delve in the rose’s inmost ponderings.
It is one thing to let doubt and conjecture bog you down;
Another to look up and see celestial happenings.
Blest is the Wisdom which has both the worlds in its domain,
Which calls man’s heart’s fire as well as the angels’ light its own.

We, since we issued forth out of the sacred shrine of Love,
Have burnished mirror-bright the very dust beneath our feet.
O look at our adventurousness in the game of life;
For we have robbed the wealth of both the worlds and boldly staked it.
We watch the day-and-night procession move before our eyes,
With our tents pitched right on the margin of a running streamlet.
Once in our heart, which launched a night-raid on this ancient fane,
There was a fire which we breathed into all things, dry or wet.
We were a flame; we flickered, broke down and became a spark:
And since then we burn fitfully, with yearnings vague and dark.

Love learned the greedy ways of earthly lust and burst all bounds:
It caught men in its toils as fish are caught by fishermen.
Preferring war to peace, it reared up armies everywhere,
Which plunged their swords into the hearts of their own kith and kin.
It gave the name of empire to its acts of banditry;
And heavy sat its yoke on those who lived in its domain.
Now, holding in its hand a goblet full of human blood,
It dances madly to the tune of flute and tambourine.
It is high time that we washed clean the tablet of our heart:
It is high time that with a clean slate we made a fresh start.

The royal crown has passed into the hands of highwaymen.
Hushed is the song of Darius; mute is Alexander’s flute.
Farhad has changed his pickaxe for the sceptre of Parvez.
Gone are the joy of mastership, the toil of servitude.
Freed from his bondage, Joseph sits on Pharaoh’s high throne:
The tales and wiles of Potiphar’s wife cannot win her suit.
Old secrets that were veiled stand unveiled in the market-place:
No longer are they subjects of debate for the elite.
Unveil your eyes and you will see that in full view of you
Life is creating for itself a world completely new.

In this our ancient dust I find the pure gold of the soul:
Each atom of it is a star’s eye with the power to see.
In every grain of sand lodged in the womb of mother earth
I see the promise of a many-branched fruit-laden tree.
I find the mountain as light as a tiny blade of grass,
And heavy as a mountain seems a blade of grass to me.
A revolution too big for the universe’s mind
I see, I know not how: I see it just about to be.
O happy he who sees the horseman, not the dust alone,
Who in the throbbing of the strings sees music’s essence drawn.

Life is, and as long as it lasts, will be a running stream:
This old wine’s youthful effervescense will always be new.
What has been but should not have been will not be any more:
What should have been but has not been will be— it must be so.
Love is all eyes for Beauty’s revelations yet to be:
And Beauty, fond of self-display, must always be on view:
Deep in the earth that I have watered with my blood-stained tears
My teardrops will remain embedded, gems of a rich hue.
“I see in the dark night a portent of the coming dawn.
My candle has been put out, but to greet the rising sun.”

[Translated by M. Hadi Husain]

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan according to Iqbal

Today is the 114th death anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898)

The influence of Syed Ahmad Khan remained on the whole confined to India. It is probable, however, that he was the first modern Muslim to catch a glimpse of the positive character of the age which was coming. The remedy for the ills of Islam proposed by him, as by Mufti Alam Jan in Russia, was modern eduction. But the real greatness of the man consists in the fact that he was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it. We may differ from his religious views, but there can be no denying the fact that his sensitive soul was the first to react to the modern age. The extreme conservatism of Indian Muslims which had lost its hold on the realities of life failed to see the real meaning of the religious attitude of Syed Ahmad Khan.

(Excerpt from 'Islam and Ahmadism', an article by Iqbal published in January 1936; included in Writings, Speeches and Statements of Iqbal compiled by Latif Ahmad Sherwani and published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan)

Monday, March 12, 2012

The International Stature of Iqbal

Street sign in Heidelberg, Germany.

Of all the intellectuals of the previous century, Dr. Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) holds a unique position at the beginning of the twenty-first. In all likelihood his ideas are going to play an increasingly more important role in shaping the world we live in. 
  • He is the only poet or thinker whose ideas were directly responsible for the creation of a new state and nation, officially claiming to be his brainchild - Pakistan. In addition, he is either officially the national poet or unofficially a household inspiration in several other countries including Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and India.
  • Study of his work and ideas is officially recognized as an academic discipline in its own right: “Iqbal Studies” is a fast-growing discipline in the countries of Iqbal’s influence, especially Pakistan. In the universities of Cambridge and Heidelberg, the academic stature of Iqbal is recognized by the existence “Iqbal Chairs”. 
  • Recognition of Iqbal as the foremost disciple of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi is also on the rise: a symbolic grave of Iqbal may now be seen inside the compound of Rumi’s own mausoleum in Konya.
  • Places are being officially named after him in many other countries too: the bank of the famous river Neckar in Germany has been named “Iqbal-Ufer”, there is an Allama Iqbal library in Mauritius, and so on.  
  • Iqbal Academy Pakistan publishes material in more than twenty languages – on a regular basis. One-off publications about him and partial translations of his works are available in many more languages.
  • There are more than 5000 books and perhaps more than a hundred thousand papers written about him – this is more than what had been written about any other literary figure, ever, within less than a century from their death.
  • Unlike almost all other poets and thinkers from the 20th Century who got recognized as the greatest, the influence of Iqbal is not restricted to the intellectual community: his poems still captivate the hearts and souls of the masses – including the unschooled. His is a household name which is being passed on from mother to children and being called out in religious gatherings as well as pop concerts; his ideas are being owned by liberals, conservatives, progressives, Sufis, atheists, fanatics and altruists altogether.
These are just a few glimpses into the international stature of Iqbal. This is the asset which every Pakistani is blessed to have as a birth-right. Whatever belongs to Iqbal practically belongs to every citizen of Pakistan – including the lowest of the low, and including those who have to sleep on the pavement because they have got no home to live in. Do we want to make use of this valuable asset which Nature has given us a free gift? 

An Outline of History

The following is an outline of the framework which is being used in ‘The DNA of History’, the online course offered at Marghdeen Learning Centre.

History may be divided into three phases: (a) Input (ancient world); (b) Transition (the advent of Islam); and (c) Output (the world since then). Since the transitional phase is less than two centuries, it can be more conveniently counted with either of the other two, leaving us with two broad phases of history: ancient and modern. 

The Ancient World

This phase may be divided into seven stages (based on the first chapter of Javid Nama).

THE AGE OF INQUIRY: PRE-HISTORY (Adam/the Cave of Vishvamitra). In whatever manner the human beings appeared on this planet, they are likely to have been preoccupied at first with finding the means of survival. That involved the ability to become acquainted with the inner nature of things.

THE AGE OF DISCOVERY: PRE-HISTORY TO C.2000 BC (Noah/the Music of Sarosh). Once the survival was ensured, the humanity may have found time to appreciate things beyond their utility and to enjoy interacting with them for their own sake. This may have given birth to art and music, and helped aesthetics by triggering the functions related to the right brain.
THE AGE OF TRANSCENDENCE: C.2000 BC TO C.1300 BC (Abraham/the Poetry of Sarosh). Aesthetics puts us in touch with our higher self. “If I can become acquainted with the nature of things, invent tools, give birth to civilizations and even enjoy the beauty of Nature as well as artifact, why should I bow down before stars and planets?” This theme persists through the ages in the most popular masterpieces of literature – an activity associated with the left brain. 

THE AGE OF FREEDOM: C.1300 BC TO 559 BC (Moses/the Tablet of Buddha). Ancient rulers derived authority by claiming to be gods or descendants of gods, and subjugated the people in the name of these gods. Such kingdoms and empires could not remain legitimate once the belief in false gods had been questioned: internal freedom means external freedom too. 

THE AGE OF ACTION: 559 BC TO 4 BC (Zulqarnayn/the Tablet of Zarathustra). Civilization tends to move towards unification of humanity. Once it became impossible to create empires in the names of false gods, Zoroastrian visionaries from Persia found ways of building empires by giving religious freedom to those who believed in the Unity of God (such as Jews, Hindus and Buddhists) and fighting those who ascribed partners to God – such as Egypt, Greece and Rome.

THE AGE OF EXPANSION: 4 BC TO 610 AD (Jesus/the Tablet of Jesus). Before the unification dreamed by some visionaries could become a reality, the humanity needed to undergo a phase of wonderment – a stage when it should learn to “give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and unto God what belongs to God.”

THE AGE OF CREATION: 610 AD TO 750 AD (The Prophet/the Tablet of the Prophet).  The Prophet of Islam seemed to stand between the ancient and the modern world: the source of his revelation belonged to the ancient world, the spirit of his revelation belonged to the modern world. The birth of Islam was the birth of inductive intellect: prophecy reached its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition, in order to achieve full self-consciousness, the humanity must finally be thrown back on its own resources.

The Modern World

This phase may be divided into three stages so far (based on various observations found in the writings of Iqbal).

THE PERSIAN REBIRTH: 750-1258 (The Wisdom of Adam/God is Eternal). 
  • Literature was usually aimed at entertaining through stories of highly inspirational nature – this was the heyday of epic stories placed in historical settings but drawing freely on mythology and folklore. Examples: Arabian Nights, Beowulf, Ferdowsi, Nezami, Attar
  • The Persian model of delegating maximum authority to regional governments under a liberal center was restored. Small kingdoms gradually became important and eventually autonomous. Examples: Abbasids, Ghaznavids, William the Conqueror, Fatimids, Saljuqs, Khwarism.
  • Inductive reasoning came to dominate all sciences: experiment replaced pure speculation and ancient superstitions began to fade out. Examples: Ibnul Haitham, Az-Zahravi, Ibne Sina
  • Sufi masters emphasized that everything in the world is subject to decay and annihilation: God alone is eternal. Examples: Hasan Basri, Rabia Basri, Junaid Baghdadi, Mansur Hallaj, Ali Hajveri, Ibn Arabi

THE CHINESE REBIRTH: 1258-1747 (The Wisdom of Angels/God is Powerful).
  • Literature was mainly focused on depicting the principles of personal development as well as the relationship between the individual and the society. Examples: Rumi, Saadi, Ameer Khusrau, Chaucer, Hafez, Jami, Urfi, Shakespeare.
  • The Chinese model of centralized empires was followed almost universally. This led to strong emperors who very often had absolute power. Examples: Kubla Khan, Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals, Tudors, Louis XIV
  • In science, revolutionary steps were taken for discovering the principles operating in the universe. Example: Francis Bacon, Galileo, William Harvey, Newton.
  • Sufi masters formulated rules for the relationship  between mentor and disciples, and hence distinct schools appeared. Examples: Abdul Qadir Jilani, Mueenuddin Chishti, Mujaddid Alf Sani

THE AFGHAN REBIRTH: Since 1747 (The Wisdom of the Soul: God is Knowing).
  • Literature acceptable to entire societies has invariably shown tendencies to “think globally, act locally”: reflecting universal principles through distinctly regional forms. Examples: Bhittai, Mir Taqi Mir, William Cowper, Wordsworth, Robert Burns, Goethe, Charlotte Bronte, Iqbal, Ibne Safi.
  • The Afghan model of nation state invented by Ahmad Shah Abdali is being visible almost everywhere – states are based on common ideals and/or shared ethnic traits, and rulers are required to abide by custom or constitution.
  • In science, the focus has shifted from principles to potential: the heyday of inventions leading to such times when the virtual has become as important as the real. Examples: James Watt, Michael Faraday, Morris, Graham Bell, Edison, Einstein and latter inventors.
  • Masters widely accepted as representatives of spiritual wisdoms in their own societies have been encouraging dissemination of this wisdom among the masses and also its fusion with politics and science. Examples: Shah Waliullah, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Jamaluddin Afghani, Iqbal
Further reading: the revised edition of Topline Secondary Social Studies written by me is now available in Pakistan. It is a series of three textbooks for secondary schools.