Friday, June 29, 2012

Modern Turkey

Ataturk (1881-1938)

"Hundreds of books and articles have been written on Turkey and modern Islam... however, ...not one of these writers understands the nature of the effect or of the cause that has brought about that effect. The upheaval which has come to Turkey and which is likely, sooner or later, to come to other Muslim countries, is almost wholly determined by the forces within. It is only the superficial observer of the modern world of Islam who thinks that the present crisis in the world of Islam is wholly due to the working of alien forces.
"Has then the world of Islam outside India, especially Turkey abandoned Islam? Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru thinks that Turkey has ceased to be a Muslim country. He does not seem to realise that the question whether a person or a community has ceased to be a member of Islam is, from the Muslim point of view, a purely legal question and must be decided in view of the structural principles of Islam. As long as a person is loyal to the two basic principles of Islam, i.e., the Unity of God and Finality of the Holy Prophet, not even the strictest mullah can turn him outside the pale of Islam even though his interpretations of the law or of the text of the Quran are believed to be erroneous."
Iqbal, 'Islam and Ahmadism' (1936)

 Video: Film about the life of Ataturk

The Jews

In the development of universal civilisation the Jewish factor cannot be regarded as a negligible quantity. The Jews were probably the first framers of the principles of business morality summed up in the idea of righteousness. 
Iqbal, Stray Reflections (1910)
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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Beethoven Symphony No.4

"How did the temporal and eternal separate so that one became the world, and the other God? If the knower and the known are one pure essence, what are the aspirations of this handful of earth?" (Iqbal, Persian Psalms; 1927)
Portrait of Beethoven painted by
Austrian painter F. Waldmüller (1793—1865)
in 1804
The fourth symphony of Beethoven was first performed in March 1807. It is usually heard as depicting "a more cheerful mood" as if the composer was "enjoying a period of recreation after the storm and stress" (See Symphony Salon: 'Beethoven: Symphony No.4').

Nevertheless, there is something peculiarly otherworldly about this symphony. This "heavenly" aspect is captured, perhaps most effectively, in the analysis of the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), who wrote about the second movement of the symphony: "So pure are the forms, so angelic the expression of the melody and so irresistibly tender, that the prodigious skill of the craftsmanship is completely hidden from view. From the very first bars one is gripped by emotion which by the end has reached an unbearable pitch of intensity. It is only among one of the giants of poetry that it is possible to find something to compare to this sublime movement from the giant of music... This movement seems to have been breathed by the archangel Michael when, seized with a fit of melancholy, he contemplated the universe, standing on the threshold of the empyrean."

This sounds very similar to what Iqbal may have described as "rethinking the thought of Divine Creation", an epithet he chose for the works of Shakespeare and Goethe.

Video: Symphony No.4
00:45 Adagio-Allegro vivace (Movement 1)
12:30 Adagio (Movement 2)
22:45 Allegro vivace (Movement 3)
29:00 Allegro ma non troppo (Movement 4)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The General Will

Whether the General Will is Fallible
from The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

...The general will is always right and tends to the public advantage; but it does not follow that the deliberations of the people are always equally correct. Our will is always for our own good, but we do not always see what that is; the people is never corrupted, but it is often deceived, and on such occasions only does it seem to will what is bad.

There is often a great deal of difference between the will of all and the general will; the latter considers only the common interest, while the former takes private interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel one another,7 and the general will remains as the sum of the differences.

If, when the people, being furnished with adequate information, held its deliberations, the citizens had no communication one with another, the grand total of the small differences would always give the general will, and the decision would always be good. But when factions arise, and partial associations are formed at the expense of the great association, the will of each of these associations becomes general in relation to its members, while it remains particular in relation to the State: it may then be said that there are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as there are associations. The differences become less numerous and give a less general result. Lastly, when one of these associations is so great as to prevail over all the rest, the result is no longer a sum of small differences, but a single difference; in this case there is no longer a general will, and the opinion which prevails is purely particular.

It is therefore essential, if the general will is to be able to express itself, that there should be no partial society within the State, and that each citizen should think only his own thoughts:8 which was indeed the sublime and unique system established by the great Lycurgus. But if there are partial societies, it is best to have as many as possible and to prevent them from being unequal, as was done by Solon, Numa and Servius. These precautions are the only ones that can guarantee that the general will shall be always enlightened, and that the people shall in no way deceive itself.
Postscript from the blog-master: "The truth is that Islam is not a church. It is state, conceived as a contractual organism long before Rousseau ever thought of such a thing, and animated by an ethical ideal which regards man not as an earth-rooted creature, defined by this or that portion of the earth, but as a spiritual being understood in terms of a social mechanism, and possessing rights and duties as a living factor in that mechanism." (Iqbal, in the Allahabad Address; 1930)

Friday, June 22, 2012


Stray Reflections (1910)
Just as the Muslim Community does not recognise any ethnological differences, and aims at the subsumption of all races under the universal idea of humanity, so our culture is relatively universal, and is not indebted, for its life and growth to the genius of one particular people. Persia is perhaps the principal factor in the making of this culture. If you ask me what is the most important event in the history of Islam, I shall immediately answer—the conquest of Persia. The battle of Nehawand gave to the Arabs not only a beautiful country, but also an ancient people who could construct a new civilisation out of the Semitic and the Aryan material. Our Muslim civilisation is a product of the cross-fertilisation of the Semitic and the Aryan ideas. It inherits the softness and refinement of its Aryan mother and the sterling character of it Semitic father. The conquest of Persia gave to the Mussalmans what the Conquest of Greece gave to the Romans; but for Persia our culture would have been absolutely one-sided. And the people whose contact transformed the Arabs and the Mughals are not intellectually dead. Persia, whose existence as an independent political unit is threatened by the aggressive ambition of Russia, is still a real centre of Muslim culture; and I can only hope that she still continues to occupy the position that she had always occupied in the Muslim world.
The Blow of Moses (1936)

پانی بھی مسخر ہے ، ہوا بھي ہے مسخر 
کيا ہو جو نگاہ فلک پير بدل جائے 
ديکھا ہے ملوکيت افرنگ نے جو خواب 
ممکن ہے کہ اس خواب کی تعبير بدل جائے 
طہران ہو گر عالم مشرق کا جينوا 
شايد کرہ ارض کی تقدير بدل جائے 

[Translation from Victor Kiernan:]

An Eastern League of Nations

Conquered the waters,
Conquered the air—
Why should old heaven
Changed look not wear?
Europe’s imperialists
Dreamed—but their dream
Soothsayers soon may
Read a new way!
Asia’s Geneva
Let Tehran be—
Earth’s book of fate new
Statutes may see.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Beethoven Symphony No.3

Title page of the third symphony
in Beethoven's hand showing the erased
dedication to Napoleon Bonaparte
"What is the union of the contingent (creation) and the necessary (the Creator)? What are near and far, more and less?"

This is the third of the nine questions listed by Iqbal in 'The New Garden of Mystery' in Persian Psalms (1927). The answer we gather from his writings is that the universe may be constantly expanding and therefore boundless. It still has boundary, which lies within because at the centre of the universe is the Reality that never changes. Therefore, anyone who gets connected with the Ultimate Reality, i.e. God, may also grasp the entire universe including parts yet to be born.

Beethoven composed his third symphony at a time when his deafness was increasing. The symphony was originally meant to honour Napoleon Bonaparte as saviour of democracy but the dedication was famously erased when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. It was first performed in 1805. Personally, for me, it is a useful tool for reflecting on the third question of Iqbal.

The third symphony, also called Eroica, happens to be among the most well-analysed of Beethoven's symphonies along with the fifth and the ninth. Einstein famously commented about it, " Alfred Einstein commented, "Why are there a dozen or more programmatic interpretations for the Eroica -none of which is right or even convincing?" (See Beethoven's Eroica Website: 'historical overview'). Usually, the analysis tends to be centre on observations such as those recorded at one of the websites dedicated exclusively to this symphony: "When the Eroica first appeared, one of the criticisms leveled at it was it's 'colossal piling of ideas'. Among the 'ideas' and methods that distinguish the Eroica from its forerunners is the bold use of harmony, ambiguous meters, rhythmic emphasis, liberal use of counterpoint and increasing the role of the winds, all within an architecture that stresses expansion and shifting of balance." (See Beethoven's Eroica: 'Musical Analysis')

"Turning tradition upside down" and embodying a "sense of human potential and freedom" unprecedented in music, the symphony is usually regarded as the commencement of the Age of Romanticism in music. In the career of Beethoven himself it was a landmark almost in the same way as The Call of the Marching Bell would later be in the career of Allama Iqbal: a work marking "the full arrival" of the artist's middle-period, "a series of unprecedented large scale works of emotional depth and structural rigour." (See Wikipedia).

Video: Symphony No.3 - Complete
Movement 1. Starts at 00:01 - Allegro con brio
Movement 2. Starts at 17:10 - Marcia funebre: Adagio assai in C minor
Movement 3. Starts at 31:05 - Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Movement 4. Starts at 37:20 - Finale: Allegro molto
The performance ends at 48:40

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ibne Safi as a social reformer

The following recollection about Ibne Safi has been written by his illustrious son Dr. Ahmad Safi (on my request, may I add with pride) - Khurram Ali Shafique.

My father my guide…

by Ahmad Safi

People have lately been discovering Ibne Safi as a reformer and finding out about his services in this regard through his writings. As a son I witnessed this side of his personality very closely. Abbou [Father] was a reformer indeed.

I remember, during the few months break that I got after my F.Sc. exams, I took to the leftist thought and literature. This was mainly under the peer influence. Like many of my close friends, I started learning more about Communist and Socialist movements. In the late seventies the relevant literature was readily available and to be interested in such things was in vogue.

In our household we were allowed to read any kind of books we wanted. There were no restriction and we never had to hide any books we were reading. One day Abbou saw me setting some books on shelf. Those were by and about Vladimir Lenin, the Russian revolutionary, politician and political theorist. Upon Abbou’s enquiry, I told him I was particularly impressed by Lenin’s policy on dissemination of education and thought this could be adapted for Pakistan. I said this and some more on the topic just to impress him but he cautioned me softly. He told me not to be impressed by any literature or ideology without first checking out what our religion had to offer. According to him this would give me something for comparison – and then I should be free to form any opinions and make decisions accordingly.

I thank Abbou for putting me on the right path. I took the advice and found out that indeed I had a very rich religious tradition and all other isms and ideologies proved to be mere subsets in terms of thought and ideas.

I see this character in his writings all the way as well. He never pushed his ideas on his readers but showed them the path and educated them. That is why his readers could make intelligent decisions and take the ownership of those too.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Principle of Collective Self-Development

“We should meet and convey to each other our opinions regarding education and progress of the nation. Whatever mistake there might be in our thinking should get corrected through the opinions of others.” This was the golden principle by following which we acquired a sovereign state. We are on the verge of losing all because we abandoned this principle and still seem to be forgetting it.

The year 1887 has been adopted as the starting point for this overview of history because the year started with a unique New Year resolution made by 67 representatives of the Indian Muslim community. They had gathered at Aligarh on December 27, 1886, coming from all over the British India and including among themselves knights and nawabs as well as primary school teachers and ordinary people. Some 70 students of the Aligarh college were also asked to be seated in the hall where Sir Syed Ahmad Khan presented the issue in these words (originally in Urdu): “Although we are called a nation, we are unaware of each other’s circumstances, as if we were different peoples.” 

The participants wanted to realize a Muslim nationhood. To this end they agreed to hold annual gatherings where the community could reach consensus on matters of national importance. The organization holding these sessions, each year in a different city, was to be called Mohammedan Educational Congress (later changed to Conference). It came into being on December 27, 1886.

This event may qualify as a starting point because, although the idea of consensus was rooted in the Quranic instruction that believers should consult each other when deciding important matters, no Muslim community after 7th century AD had been able to make its own consensus the final arbiter, since monarchs had come to hold sway after the Pious Caliphate of the early period. 

Hence the resolution of 1886 was the beginning of a new chapter, not only in India but across the world. The text of the resolution could be translated as: 

In view of an overall decline in education among Muslims, and with a mind that efforts should be made for progress in all forms of education through a national consensus and by taking national initiatives, it is desirable that a session called Mohammedan Educational Congress, comprising people from several districts, should be held every year for deliberating on such matters. This session shall not be held at a fixed place but held each year at a place whose residents are willing to make arrangements for it.

The rationale behind founding such an organization was, in the words of Sir Syed, “that we should meet and convey to each other our opinions regarding education and progress of the nation. Whatever mistake there might be in our thinking should get corrected through the opinions of others.”

This became the guiding principle for the Indian Muslim community and eventually led to the creation of an independent state. In retrospect, the major implications of this principle may be listed as follows:
  • The goals of the “nation” are to be defined by consensus (whether implicit or explicit).
  • While it is our right to have our own opinion, it is our responsibility to “seek consensus” and be willing to modify our own propositions for that purpose, if needed.
  • There is no fixed ideology for the community to be dictated by priests, intellectuals, leaders or esoterics. The ideology is supposed to be evolving perpetually through the ongoing process of collective decision-making by the entire community.
  • In principle, all members of the community are entitled to participate in this decision-making process (and hence also in the on-going evolution of the community’s ideology, ideals and goals). 
  • In practice, if some stakeholders cannot participate in the process for any reason, it is the moral responsibility of everyone else to keep the interests of the absentees in mind as much as possible. 

From 1887 to 1953, the nation was seldom without leaders who upheld this principle explicitly and respected its implications – Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Allama Iqbal, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan, to name just the most prominent ones. Looking back at the goals adopted and achieved at each stage in that period, we may notice two important things: (a) the goals were not proposed on behalf of a particular class but rather the entire community; (b) they were subject to modification through collective decision-making. Here is a brief overview:
  1. Nationhood for the Indian Muslim community (the goal adopted on December 27, 1886, starting the stage of “Inquiry”, 1887-1906).
  2. Separate electorates for the Indian Muslim community ( the goal adopted on December 31, 1906,  starting the stage of “Discovery”, 1907-1926).
  3. Autonomy for Indian Muslims in the provinces where they were in majority (the goal proposed in March 1927, starting the stage of “Transcendence”, 1927-1946).
  4. Pakistan (the goal adopted through the elections of 1945-46, starting the stage of "Freedom", 1947-66)
The fourth goal was also significant in the sense that a state formed in the name of God enabled the community to extend membership to like-minded people from other faiths on terms of complete equality: “Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims…”.

Perhaps it was a disastrous oversight that when the early historians and educationists of the new country reviewed the nation’s history, they defended such landmark decisions either by presenting rational arguments or on the authority of national heroes. In the process, it was overlooked that regardless of who made a proposition and by what argument it was supported, the decision had always rested with the entire community.

It seems that sometime around 1953 the Pakistani intelligentsia lost sight of this basic principle which had been guiding the course of collective self-development. Instead, our educated elite attempted to understand history by analogies of other forms of government such as the classical model of Arab imperialism, the “older democracies” of the West, and the communist republic.

Is it possible, therefore, to distinguish between Pakistan as perceived by the educated elite and Pakistan as lived by the masses? This seems to be the case, especially if we take a closer look at the two phenomena through which the principle of consensus-seeking seems to be dividing our history into twenty-year stages of self-development. These phenomena may be called the “peak moments” and the “turning points”.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The German Nation

"In the economy of nature each nation has a function allotted to it. The function of the German nation is the organisation of human knowledge. But they have recently started on a commercial enterprise which may give them an empire, but they will have to suffer the displacement of a higher ideal by the all-absorbing spirit of trade."
Iqbal, 1910 

You may like to know:
This remark was made by Iqbal in 1910 in his private notebook, Stray Reflections. By "commercial enterprise", he may also have meant empire-building (as in Goethe's Faust: "“then commerce, war and piracy are three in one and cannot be parted.”) His remark was going to be corroborated by the history of the next 100 years, amazingly but also tragically. Eight years later, he was among those who believed that the so-called peace treaties forced upon the defeated nations at the end of the First World War could bring forth another Great War. In 1923, he tried to woo the Germans back to their "higher ideal" through Payam-i-Mashriq, or The Message of the East, a Persian sequel to Goethe's Divan.
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Beethoven Symphony No.2

"What is this ocean whose shore is knowledge? What is that pearl which is found in its depth?" 
This is the second of the nine questions in 'The New Garden of Mystery', a part of Persian Psalms (1927) by Allama Iqbal. The answer which we may gather from the writings of Iqbal is basically something like this: Life is the ocean and the pearl to be found in its depth is selfhood (خودی). Knowledge is just the shore.

The state of mind in which Beethoven composed his second symphony was perhaps painfully conducive for such kind of introspection. The symphony was performed for the first time in 1803 and had been composed shortly before that at the time when Beethoven had first become aware of his impending deafness. Around that time he wrote in a famous letter: "I would have ended my life. Only my art held me back. It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me." (See 'Notes on Beethoven's Second Symphony' by Christopher H. Gibbs).

The symphony itself was described by one of its earliest critics, quite famously, as ""a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death." (See Wikipedia). Later, the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz described it as a symphony that was "smiling throughout." His commentary on the symphony is sometimes regarded as definitive:
In this Symphony everything is noble, energetic, proud. The Introduction [Adagio molto] is a masterpiece. The most beautiful effects follow one another without confusion and always in an unexpected manner. The song is of a touching solemnity, and it at once commands respect and puts the hearer in an emotional mood. The rhythm is already bolder, the instrumentation is richer, more sonorous, more varied. An Allegro con brio of enchanting dash is joined to this admirable introduction. The fast motive which begins the theme, given at first to the violas and cellos in unison, is taken up again in an isolated form, to establish either progressions in a crescendo or imitative passages between wind instruments and the strings. All these forms have a new and animated physiognomy. (See Christopher H. Gibbs)
Video: Beethoven's Symphony No.2, 1st Movement

Video: Beethoven's Symphony No.2, 2nd Movement

Video: Beethoven's Symphony No.2, 3rd Movement

Video: Beethoven's Symphony No.2, 4th Movement

Monday, June 11, 2012

An American Discovers Iqbal

The following is a guest post from Robert Whiteside, a prominent participant of the online courses at Marghdeen Learning Centre. Robert is now also running a blog, A Journey With Iqbal. Regards, Khurram Ali Shafique.

The Hidden Potential
By Robert Whiteside, North Carolina, USA

I was led to discover Allama Iqbal in November 2011.  A trusted friend shared with me the following piece of Iqbal’s writing.
Art thou in the stage of life, death or death in life?
Invoke the aid of three witnesses to verify thy station.
The first witness is thine own consciousness –
See thyself, then with thine own light.
The second witness is the consciousness of another ego –
See thyself, then, with the light of an ego other than thee.
The third witness is God's consciousness –
See thyself, then, with God's light.
If thou standest unshaken in front of this light,
Consider thyself as living and eternal asHe!
That man alone is real who dares –
Dares to see God face to face!
I greatly enjoyed this, so much, in fact, that on that November day a new quest was initiated to find out more about who was this man named Allama Iqbal, his poetry, and his philosophy on life. I immediately began scouring the internet in search of his writings.  

It took only a moment to discover the websites for the Marghdeen Learning Centre, the Iqbal Academy Pakistan, and the Dr. Iqbal Society of North America (DISNA). Quickly catching my attention was also a notice about an upcoming online course (offered through the Marghdeen Learning Centre) offering to introduce people to the poetry and teachings of Allama Iqbal. I knew that I had to sign up for this course, and did so immediately.    

I quickly came to discover that this course, and others as well, had been designed by a man named Khurram Ali Shafique, someone who is (as I came to learn) clearly an ocean of knowledge regarding Allama Iqbal.  He has received awards for his study and work on Allama Iqbal, including the Presidential Iqbal Award.  His outpouring of writing, scholarly research, and commentary on Iqbal is tremendous.  

As I was signing up for the Introduction to Iqbal Studies course, I was  simultaneously reading everything I could get my hands on by and about Iqbal. I found a wealth of his material, freely available, on the aforementioned websites.    

His poetry is powerful and inspiring. Rooted firmly in Islam, he speaks of a unity of humanity, a humanity cooperating, and at peace with one another. He speaks of a humanity on a journey together toward growth into something very beautiful and in stark contrast to the current world in which we all live.  

He speaks to the great potential that exists for people to become whole human beings, tapping into the very deepest parts of themselves. Sometimes poetry, sometimes social commentary, and at other times, historical analysis, Iqbal writes beautifully of a new kind of social harmony that humanity can create if only they would attend to certain perennial, Quranically based, truths that are both beautiful and practical.  

It’s clear that Iqbal saw the possibility of a new world, achievable through the realization and application of what is highest in human beings. His poetry speaks strongly about the sanctity of what resides within the souls of humans, and thus conveys a deep spirituality that is based in Islam.  In this sense, his poetry is far beyond pleasing rhyme and verse. I’ll go so far as to say that it has the power to awaken what may be asleep in humanity, and that, if awoken, could startle us all into coming together again in peace.

How odd for this message from the national poet of Pakistan to be reaching me, a rather typical American living in the United States. Allama Iqbal’s message struck me immediately as more positive, inspiring, and deep than anything available here in the west, particularly in how it portrayed a path of not only one nation (Pakistan), but all of humanity, toward a world that some might dismiss as unattainably perfect, but which Iqbal very directly points to as attainable. How utterly refreshing to read his poetry which so beautifully depicts the growth of human beings in this positive light.  

Iqbal was Muslim, and his writings very clearly reflect this. Here in America, there is a pervasive Islamophobia, fed by a constant stream of media images and agendized purposes.  Iqbal’s writings could certainly allay this fear.  He elevates in front of the eyes of the reader an Islam that is a path toward wholeness and unity of humankind. 

I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of Iqbal’s writings. There’s much more to come. I eagerly look forward to continuing my studies of his writings. The people of Pakistan are indeed fortunate to be able to call their own this great poet.  

I refuse to buy into the pessimism offered to us daily by media and distorted thinking. I am confident that humanity can work, together, to elevate itself, together, well beyond differences (not obliterating the differences, but finding the unity of them). Thanks to the online courses offered by the Marghdeen Learning Centre, I was introduced to a Muslim poet who has outlined just such a path.

His loving expression of Islam, with an embrace that far transcends nationality, borders, and cultural differences, points to the immense potential in the soul of each and every human being in growing themselves (and their society and all of humanity) toward a wholly new sense of personal, social, and universal sense of harmony. It’s what the world needs.

You can read more reflections from Robert Whiteside at his blog, A Journey With Iqbal

Friday, June 8, 2012

What is history?

History is usually defined as a record of the past. Moreover, we have histories of literature, cinema, art, religion, education and almost everything else. These are usually seen as sub-domains of history. So, "the" history itself is sometimes called "General History" in order to distinguish it from these other histories. However, if we look into what is called "general history", we may find that it is not as general as it claims to be. More often than not it turns out to be just a "political history".

These are some of the items of our intellectual luggage that may need to be put aside (if not throw away) when we embark on the journey which I propose in The DNA of History: History According to Iqbal.

History does not seem to be the things mentioned above, when we look at it in the light of Iqbal's views (which he claimed to be based on his understanding of the Quran). In the light of Iqbal's thought, history may be better described as "series of goals collectively adopted and achieved." 

This is my own definition but I have arrived upon it through my understanding of Iqbal's thought.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Beethoven Symphony No.1

"First of all I am intrigued about my thought – what is it which we call thinking? What kind of thought is needed on the path, why is it sometimes a virtue and sometimes a sin?" (Iqbal, Persian Psalms; 1927)

Beethoven's Symphony No.1 was first performed in 1800 AD when the composer was twenty-nine. Something which no analyst has ever failed to observe is that despite being " in accordance with the established composing tradition", the symphony starts, as if, "in the 'wrong' key... so that the listener only gradually realizes the real key (or home key) of the symphony." (See Wikipedia).

The point is too peculiar to be ignored but is usually interpreted with reference to the composer's personality, such as that "Beethoven introduced himself with this work uniquely and boldly as an advancing symphonic composer and stood true to this statement throughout his compositional life." (See Wikipedia).

Can we not dwell just a little bit more on this point (and the symphony which follows) as a tool for contemplating on the nature of human thought (the subject of Iqbal's first question) through the medium of music without words?

Video: Symphony No.1, 1st Movement

Video: Symphony No.1, 2nd Movement

Video: Symphony No.1, 3rd Movement

Video: Symphony No.1, 4th Movement

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"My" Immortal Beloved: a Personal Interpretation

Image modified from Dick Strawser's blog
The German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven is considered to be one of the greatest in history. The opening notes of his fifth symphony have come to symbolize music itself while his ninth serves as the source for the anthem of the European Union. Along with Goethe, Wordsworth and Coleridge, he is counted among those who gave birth to the great Romantic Age. As such, his work is supposed to be repository of great ideas expressed through musical notes instead of words.

The stature of Beethoven has not declined in these two hundred years but the way we respond to him has probably changed to the worse. Reading the analyses and commentaries written in the nineteenth century, we feel as if their writers were using music as a tool for discovering something new in themselves. In the latter times we often find the music being interpreted as a mere personal expression - be it of freedom and human potential or of the agony suffered by a genius (as in the movie The Immortal Beloved and the BBC documentary The Genius of Beethoven).

It seems as if we have stopped asking relevant questions to the great masters (to ask Beethoven who his immortal beloved was or whether it felt really bad to be a deaf composer is indeed irrelevant to the quality of his music). If the music of Beethoven is to remain ageless, it must find in each age a new set of worthwhile questions to be addressed.

The nine questions listed by Allama Iqbal in his Persian poem 'The New Garden of Mystery' (Gulshan-i-Raz Jadeed) are perhaps just the kind of questions needed in our times. Since they were derived from a six-hundred years older text widely used as a textbook of Sufism throughout the Muslim world, a study of Beethoven's music in the light of these questions may turn out to be nothing less than asking Iqbal to build a gigantic bridge between the futures of the classical East and the modern West.

A biographical introduction to the great composer, 'Beethoven: the Music Within' appeared at this blog yesterday. I now intend to offer a weekly series of nine posts introducing a symphony of Beethoven in the light of the corresponding question from Iqbal every Thursday:
  1. Symphony No. 1 (Question 1), June 7
  2. Symphony No. 2 (Question 2), June 14
  3. Symphony No. 3 (Question 3), June 21
  4. Symphony No. 4 (Question 4), June 28
  5. Symphony No. 5 (Question 5), July 5
  6. Symphony No. 6 (Question 6), July 12
  7. Symphony No. 7 (Question 7), July 19
  8. Symphony No. 8 (Question 8), July 26
  9. Symphony No. 9 (Question 9), August 2
It may be asked why the nine symphonies and the nine questions should be considered in their corresponding orders. They need not be, but it may appear that while deriving his set of nine questions out of the seventeen classical ones, Iqbal went for a logical sequence in which the questions would occur to most people in their search for a higher truth, especially if the search is carried out from the heart:
"But the question arises as to the what and the where of the Unseen. The Quran replies that the Unseen is in your own soul." (Iqbal, The Development of Metaphysics in Islamp.108)
So, it would not be too much of a coincidence if we were to find that the Truth had also chosen to unfold itself through a similar path in the works of Beethoven. After all, as the German sociologist, philosopher and musicologist T. W. Adorno has said, ""We do not understand music - it understands us." The nine  symphonies have indeed been considered to have followed a "natural order" (or perhaps even the "supernatural", if one were to consider the 'Curse of the Ninth').

Of course, this is not to say that the questions cannot be applied to the music of Beethoven in any other way, or some other sequence, by some others. The purpose of the present series is to open a new door rather than close any.

I hope that whichever entrance we choose, we can still end up in front of a beautiful altar and behold the majesty of our unity as humankind. Collective consciousness, Zeitgeist and public opinion are insufficient expressions for naming that unity. Collective ego is how Iqbal defined it but the most appropriate phrase that may also capture the complexity of our relationship with this dynamic and constantly growing unity was given to us, incidentally, by none other than Beethoven himself: Meine unsterbliche Geliebte - my Immortal Beloved. 

What comes out through such un-suspected harmonies as those between the music of Beethoven and the philosophy of Iqbal is the unity of human existence. Much of what Beethoven wrote in July 1812, quite possibly to a special woman, is what may also be addressed to this human unity:
My angel, my everything, my very self. – only a few words today, and in pencil (with yours)... can our love exist but by sacrifices, by not demanding everything...  Oh God, look upon beautiful Nature and calm your mind about what must be – love demands everything and completely with good reason, that is how it is for me with you, and for you with me... 
Oh - There are moments when I feel that language is nothing at all... Wherever I am, you are with me... Pursued by the goodness of mankind here and there, the goodness that I wish to deserve as little as I deserve it. – Man’s humility towards man – this pains me – and when I consider myself in relation to the universe, what am I and what is the man who is called the greatest? – And yet, – therein lies the divine element in man... 
Oh God - so near! so far! Is not our love a true edifice in Heaven - but also as firm as the firmament. – thoughts turn towards you my Immortal Beloved, now and then happy, then sad again, waiting whether fate might answer us... be patient – only through quiet contemplation of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together – Be calm; for only by calmly considering our lives can we achieve our purpose of living together.- be calm - love me - today - yesterday - What yearning with tears for you - you - you my life – my everything...
Forever yours
forever mine
forever us

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Beethoven: the Music Within

Beethoven painted in 1819-20 by German
painter Joseph Carl Stieler (1781-1858)

This article belongs to "The Valley of Wonderment" phase of my writings but remains one of my most favourite. It was originally published in Dawn, The Review, January 4-10, 2001.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony lies on the top shelf in my study, in the form of two cassettes which I purchased from Rhythm House in Bombay nearly ten years ago. I have never had the heart to hear them. I fear that after I do, there would be nothing left for me to look forward to in music.

Heard melodies are sweet, those unheard, sweeter, said the romantic poet John Keats. I love both, Keats and Beethoven, who were contemporaries and who focused their entire existence to prove the same unique point: it is not what you do but how you feel that really determines who you are. In fact, that was the common manifesto of that great Romantic Movement which was started by people like Beethoven, Goethe, Wordsworth and Coleridge and perfected by Byron, Shelley and Keats.

As far as Beethoven is concerned, his life appears like a miracle, an impossibility, and if we read the story of his life with a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ then it is certainly a fairy-tale written by the Creator Himself, who is otherwise known for writing non-fiction.

Beethoven (1770-1827) came from a family of court musicians in Bonn (Germany), and moved on to Vienna when he was twenty-two. Already a musician of repute with some published pieces to his credit; he was still in search of perfection and was delighted to take lessons from the legendary composer Haydn. However, upon realizing that the old master was rather lenient in correcting Beethoven's mistakes, Beethoven shamelessly ditched his mentor and kept on looking elsewhere until he had perfected his grip on the carft of music. 

Beethoven was born with the ego of a monster, the first pre-requisite for any great artist, but he also had the wisdom to learn the most important lesson egoists often fail to observe: the importance of taking lessons. While in his twenties, Beethoven had not only composed and published several sonatas, a couple of symphonies and one huge opera, but had also gained respect for being a very disciplined artist. Goethe, who was at first a little averse to this arrogant and tactless ego maniac, had to also admit in the end, ’I have never seen an artist more concentrated, energetic and fervent.

Beethoven was not very interesting company. He was rude and bad-tempered, often quarrelsome and always visibly selfish. His capacity for self-criticism, so very evident in his approach towards music, would regretably disappear before an absolute arrogance where his behavior rather than his art were concerned. The man who never spared himself a single mistake in his music, barely ever bothered to correct a folly in his behaviour towards others at any point in life. This attitude isolated him from his friends and relatives, whom he had given every reason to hate him. Even at the peak of his agony, when it finally struck him that he had been the cause of his own miseries, he refused to correct himself.

‘O you men who consider me as quarrelsome, peevish or a hater of human beings, how greatly you wrong me,’ he wrote in his Will about two months before his thirty-second birthday. ‘You do not know the reason why I seem to you to be so. From my childhood onward my heart and soul have been filled with tender feelings of goodwill, and I have always been willing to perform great and magnanimous deeds. But reflect, for the past six years I have been in an incurable condition made worse by unreasonable doctors.’

Then he goes on to describe his loss of hearing, and how he feels isolated when someone hears the sounds of a flute coming from afar and Beethoven, standing next to him, is unable to hear anything.

His deafness had injected a lot of self-pity in him but that could hardly be accepted as an apology for treating others like dirt all his life. It would still less be an excuse for him to deprive the widow of his brother Karl of the custody of her only son a few years later, and then still further down the years to drive the young nephew himself towards suicide attempts. But Beethoven could not see the human needs of other human beings, simply because he had never seen himself as a human being. He had only understood his existence in terms of music, and even his vast reading in philosophy and literature had not helped him understand life, they had only helped him understand music better.

Even before he composed his famous Fifth Symphony, Beethoven had turned almost totally deaf. It didn’t affect his work though, in fact, it ended in bringing out the genius in him and resulted in his creating an astounding composition. His irritation at not being able to listen to his musicians had turned into anger and he perhaps had felt the need to take his revenge on circumstance by producing a masterpiece that was better than the ones he had produced until then.

The opening notes of the Fifth Symphony have become the most famous 5 seconds in the entire history of music. And they deserve to be: they are the symbol of human endurance throwing a defiant challenge to fate and death. It is the exact translation into music of the thought he had put in his Will a few years ago: 'Come when you will, death, I will meet you resolutely.’

Video: Beethoven's Symphony No.5
You may also like to watch the BBC Documentary
about Beethoven at Youtube: 
Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

Beethoven was performing an impossible task: he could no more correct his musicians, simply, because he couldn’t hear them. He soon became unable to conduct his own performances for the same reason. Most remarkably, it was now impossible for him to correct his own mistakes even in the matters of craft. But by then he had stopped making mistakes in music, only improvements. ‘At the age of 28 I was compelled to become a philosopher,’ he wrote. ‘It has not been easy, and more difficult for an artist than for anyone else.’

The most remarkable anecdote of Beethoven’s life is the composition of his greatest masterpiece, his Ninth Symphony when he was in his fifties. By that time Beethoven’s visitors had started to communicate with him through writing as he had become unable to hear a single sound, let alone that of the trumpet. It seems too much of a miracle to be true, but it was in this condition that Beethoven conceived, composed, prepared and presented the greatest symphony of his life, and possibly the greatest symphony ever produced. He added a choral piece at the end, which was a lyric he had always wanted to set to music since his early days at Bonn. At the end of the first performance of the Ninth, one of the solo singers from Beethoven’s choir shook him by the shoulder and pointed towards the audience because Beethoven hadn’t been able to hear the clapping that resonated the hall. They were applauding a symphony its creator had never heard.

And a greater symphony nobody has ever heard since then. Beethoven was fifty-four when the Ninth Symphony was first performed. Three years later he died. Years ago he had written, ‘(My loss of hearing) has brought me close to despair, and I came very close to ending my own life but my heart held me back, as it seemed impossible to leave this world until I have produced everything I feel it has been granted to me to achieve.’

That was Beethoven’s challenge to death and fate: nothing would stop him from achieving what he had been granted to achieve. And he proved it. The Ninth Symphony is a music that came from no other source except the depth of Beethoven’s own soul. To bring out music from within, it was perhaps inevitable that he first stopped listening to the music outside. To perform his impossible task, Beethoven had to be what he was. ‘O God,’ Beethoven had written in his will twenty-five years ago. ‘You look down on my inner soul, and know that it is filled with love of humanity and the desire to do good. O my fellow men! When you read this some day, reflect that you have done me wrong. And let him who is unfortunate comfort himself with the thought that he has found someone equally unfortunate who, despite all the burdens placed on him by nature, did all which was in his power.’

Friday, June 1, 2012

Iqbal: A Miracle of Verbal Art

This write-up is based on a series of emails posted in The Republic of Rumi Newsletter from July 10 to September 27, 2008. It offers a brief background to my book The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007).  
It was an October morning in 2006. I was staying at a friend's place in Lahore and finishing my breakfast before leaving for the office of Iqbal Academy Pakistan with whom I work as a consultant. Suddenly, an idea flashed across my mind: I don't know how or why.

It struck me that there were seven lectures in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34), Iqbal's philosophical work in English prose. Incidentally, there were also seven chapters in Javid Nama (1932), his greatest poetical masterpiece. Did they match?

While finishing breakfast, I began comparing the two in my head. Yes, indeed, the two sets were identical. Each lecture in the Reconstruction seemed to be a commentary on the corresponding chapter of Javid Nama

Those familiar with Iqbal Studies would probably understand the significance of this "discovery". The Reconstruction is one of the most problematic books of the 20th Century due to the controversies it has raised and problems supposed to be left "unresolved". Seminars have been conducted exclusively for discussing its contents. Hundreds of articles and papers and scores of books have been written to attack, defend or explain its propositions. Javid Nama, too, is a major work. It has been translated into more than sixteen languages. Preface to its German translation was written by the Nobel laureate Herman Hesse (the author of Sidharta). What I had "discovered" that October morning could affect much this huge bulk of literature.

When I shared my observation with M. Suheyl Umar, the Director of Iqbal Academy, he too was moved. Mr. Ahmad Jawaid, the Deputy Director, who had ever been so kind to me, insisted that I should start investigating the idea without delay.

My initial findings were published as The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality in March 2007. This was against the advice of some of my well-wishers who believed that I should take longer. I knew that they were right but still I wanted to go ahead with the publication because further discoveries which I had made in those few months were of such nature that research about them could go on for decades, and not just by me but by several people.

I had discovered that the work of Iqbal was not just a collection of books. The nine books of poetry, one book of prose and one pamphlet on which Pakistan was based were the only works which he cared to preserve and hence got them copyrighted (except for the last one which was a public document). It was possible to read these works as a unified whole: a single narrative.

This was incredible because Iqbal had published his books over a duration of twenty-three years (from 1915 to 1938) and yet every single line in these books written in three different languages (Persian, Urdu and English) seemed to form a coherent structure.

The protagonist of this narrative was the reader himself or herself. The challenge was to find Joseph. The name appeared frequently in the works of Iqbal. Usually it had been taken as a figure of speech, but after comparing all of its "appearances" I became quite convinced that Iqbal was mentioning something specific – a person, a thing, something which was hidden and would come out at a specific time in the future. You could even tell the characteristics of this "Joseph". For instance, he had got something to do with both Sufism and politics, and so on. 

So, who was Joseph? That is the search I had carried out in those few weeks since October 2006. The reason I had then wanted my book to be published quickly was this: I had found Joseph. My book, The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007) attempts only to help the reader solve this mystery. Since this article is not meant to be a plot-spoiler, I won't say here who or what is Joseph, but would rather recommend the readers to turn to my book (it can also be read online for free on my website).

Here, I want to mention just three artistic devices through which it becomes possible to decode the works of Iqbal as a single narrative and to interact with it in such manner like finding Joseph in it, or solving other such mysteries:
  1. Five Wisdoms
  2. Seven Stages
  3. Nine Questions
As I hope to show in some future post, these aspects are found consistently throughout the works of Iqbal: all sets of five items invariably turn out to be describing the Five Wisdoms, all sets of seven items Seven Stages and all sets of nine items Nine Questions.

As far as I know, this kind of coherence has not been claimed for any other writers (although I have discovered it in the works of two more authors since then and have short-listed a few others in whose works I am expecting to find the same phenomenon).