What is the Quran?
The message of death for the bourgeois,
But for the helpless proletariat
Iqbal struggled to liberate the Muslim mind from the sterility of five hundred years of intellectual lethargy and tyranny of obscurantist orthodoxy. He sought to cleanse the house of God of the idols of wealth and bigoted orthodoxy, and he sought to restore direct relations between man and God.
Love proclaimed the birth of a being with a bleeding heart!
Beauty trembled at the advent of a being gifted with vision!
Nature worried that out of passive clay, was born at a last a being
Self-creating, self-destroying, self-regarding
Word went around from the heavens to the nigh of eternity
Beware ye who are veiled, the one who rends veils is born at last!
Desire, unconscious of self, wrapt in slumber
Opened its eyes in the lap of life
And lo! A new world came into being.
This is Iqbal’s fascinating portrayal of Adam’s birth in Pyam-e-Mashriq but it also adequately depicts his iconoclastic life.
The destruction of false gods—iconoclasm—is the driving spirit of Islam. It paves the way to the new world. Old views and old interpretations cannot survive in an ever-changing, dynamic world, which demands new responses to new challenges. “Every day doth some new work employ Him,” says the Quran. Thus, Iqbal says, “knowledge must begin with the finite. It is the intellectual capture of and power over the concrete that makes it possible for the intellect of man to pass beyond the concrete.” A changing world therefore, requires a creative and imaginative response as opposed to repetition which is characteristic of mechanical action.
Every age has its idols which must be smashed to make way for the onward march of humanity. Hazrat Imam Hussain sacrificed his life to break the idol of autocracy. Mansoor-al-Hallaj struck at the idol of orthodoxy and had to pay for it with his life. The struggle goes on between, in Iqbal’s words, the Chirag-e-Mustafavi and Sharar-e-Bulahabi. Iqbal is an intrepid fighter and one of the greatest iconoclasts of Islam. He declares:
With every breath, turn the world upside down
Pass through this old monastry like time.
Iqbal praised Faizi’s following verses:
Let us turn towards the Mihrab of light
And lay down the foundation of another Ka’aba
with the stone of Toor
The Walls of Ka’aba are cracking
and its foundations are sinking
Let us lay down a fresh design for another faultless palace.
He called them “priceless verses” and composed a worthy response that marvelously summarize the main message of his book Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam:
If Ka’aba falls to ruin, it would ease love’s task
To raise another palace and bring forth a new design.
It is high time that we construct afresh a new plan
We should cleanse our heart and freshen our mind.
This is Iqbal’s call to destroy false gods and start afresh with a pure heart and uncluttered mind—heart and mind that are presently numbed by blind dogmatism and debilitating traditionalism. “Carve your own path with your own axe” he says, because treading upon others’ path is hell. He even challenges God:
These old moon and sun don’t show us the way.
We need new stars to build the world.
Iqbal’s longing for a new world order is compelling enough to dare him to ask God:
Bring new patterns into being
For our nature seeks originality.
What is this labyrinth of todays and tomorrows
That thou hast created around us?
And to challenge Him:
Gabriel is a helpless prey confronted with my wild ecstasy
The man of courage entraps the Divine Himself.
God has endowed man with attributes of creativity and knowledge, and thereby, He has made him his co-worker in the never-ending process of creation. The world is as much man-made as made by God, with the difference that God’s creation—matter—is static while man’s creative energy imparts dynamism to it:
You created the night, and I the lamp.
You created mud, I made it into a wine-cup.
You created deserts, mountains, wastelands;
I made them into orchards, gardens, flower-beds.
Since man is co-worker with God, there is no distance between the two. Hence God ordains:
Why these curtains draped between the creator and His creatures?
Drive out of my church, these elders of the church;
I am weary of and displeased with these slabs of marble;
Build Me another sanctuary of humble mud.
The House of God must be cleared of false gods, and greedy mullas. Then will man come into his full glory. Along with cleansing the House of God the distance between man and man must also be eliminated.
Rise and from their slumber wake the poor ones of My world!
Shake the walls and windows of the mansions of the great!
Close the hour approaches of the kingdom of the poor.
Every vestige of the past find and annihilate!
Find the field whose harvest is no peasant’s daily bread.
Garner in the furnace every ripening ear of (its) wheat!
Banish from the house of God the mumbling priest
Whose prayers like a veil creation from the creator separate:
Rear for me another temple built in walls with mud.
Wearied of their columned marbles, sickened is My sight.
In the kingdom of the poor the faculties of man begin to blossom. He begins to fulfil his destiny by utilizing his latent faculties, which are smothered by adverse social circumstances, and which keep man ignorant of his earth-shaking potential. Iqbal’s recurrent message to his wayward fellow-man is “Know thyself.”
Imagine not that the tavern keeper’s work
Has come to its appointed end
For there are a thousand wines still
Untasted in the veins of the grape.
For Iqbal, creativity is the supreme good. But creativity presupposes freedom. The liberation of the Muslim mind comes from freedom which Iqbal extols. He says:
Life is reduced to a rivulet under slavery
But in freedom it becomes a boundless ocean.
The development of creativity, which is the highest attribute of man that links him with God, and originality, which is a condition precedent of all progressive change, also postulate freedom. Such is Iqbal’s emphasis on originality that he says in Javednama:
Anyone who is bereft of creativity is to me
Nothing more than an infidel and a non-believer.
Iqbal makes creativity and originality the distinguishing feature between a freeperson and a slave:
I will reveal to you a point bright as a pearl
That you may distinguish between the slave and the free!
The slave by nature is repetitive
His experiences are bereft of originality!
The free man is always busily creative
His bow string is vibrant with new melodies!
His nature abhors repetition
His path is not like the circle traced by a compass!
To the slave, time is a chain,
His lips speak only on fate!
The courage of the free becomes a councilor of fate
His is the hand that shapes the events!
Only a ceaseless quest for beauty and self-realization, a ceaseless creativity inspired by new and fresh vision and a yearning for the unattainable befits man:
What can I do? My nature is averse to rest
My heart is impatient like the breeze in the poppy field.
When the eye beholds an object of beauty
The heart yearns for something more beautiful still.
From the spark to the star, from the star to the sun
Is my quest.
I have no desire for a goal
For me, rest spells death.
With an impatient eye and a hopeful heart
I seek for the end of that which is endless!
“He performed the mission of prophet-hood without putting on the mantle of prophet,” said Girami about Iqbal. The admiration was mutual. Iqbal was ecstatic about Girami’s famous verse:
My sins and the grace of my Lord
Neither this has an end,
Nor have they a limit.
Iqbal said this verse is a proof of the infinite potential of man: “Precisely this truth is the essence of Wahdat-al-Wajud. The poet has unveiled the mystery of Wahdat-al-wajut in a manner that the Islamic truth reveals itself.” Iqbal’s words about Girami’s verse are as well true about his own poetry.
Each forward step in the intellectual domain is made in the teeth of opposition; Seekers of truth are persecuted in all ages and climes. For example, Giordano Bruno (1548—1600), a friar and a professor of philosophy, was burnt at the stake for saying: “I have declared infinite world to exist beside this our earth. It would be unworthy of God to manifest himself in less than an infinite universe.” Bruno’s inquisitors are long forgotten, but his name lives in the memory of grateful mankind. Regrettably, the inquisition lives on; Prometheus remains chained. But Bruno, Socrates, Mansur al-Hajjaj beckon us. The struggle between enlightenment (chirag-e-mustafavi) and obscurantism (sharer-e-bulahabi) is fiercer.
The immortal words of long-ago rebels sum up the issue beautifully: “I think, therefore, I am.” “I rebel, therefore, we are.” And in Iqbal’s words: “Now is the time to create a new order, (and for that) we should have a pure heart and a fresh mind.”
Mind is fresh and the heart is pure when they are in constant search for truth. As Kierkegarrd says: “What is truth but to live for an idea? It is a question of discovering the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”
The Quaid-e-Azam called Iqbal the bugler of Muslim thought and culture. It is a treacherous twist of history that while we ritually revere and applaud Iqbal we are now farther from his revolutionary iconoclastic teaching of Islam, which according to him, stands uncompromisingly against imperialism, feudalism, capitalism and dogmatism.
What is the working plan of imperialism?
It is to split the people and strengthen itself by creating dissensions.
In Javednama he says:
The world has been wasted by imperialism,
Dark nigh raveled in the sleeve of the sun.
The wisdom of the West consists in spoliation.
It is long since Khyber is without a Haider.
He who says, La Ilah is helpless,
His thought, without a center, wanders astray
In this temple take place four deaths—
Those of usurer, autocrat, priest and spiritual guide.
For Iqbal, freedom and democracy are features of the true spirit of Islam. In his letter to the Civil and Military Gazette published on May 28, 1937 he says: “For Islam the acceptance of social democracy in some suitable form and consistent with the legal principles of Islam, is not a revolution but a return to the original purity of Islam.”
But nurturing democratic institutions and upholding democracy is not easy. He warns (in his letter in the Civil and Military Gazette published on July 30, 1930): “If anybody thinks that approach to democracy means sailing into a kind of lotus-land, he cannot have read a word of history. The truth is exactly the opposite. Democracy lets loose all hues of aspirations and grievances which are suppressed or unrealized under autocracy. It arouses hopes and ambitions, often quite unpractical, and it relies not on authority but on argument, on controversy from the platform, in the press, in the parliament, gradually to educate people to the acceptance of a solution which may not be ideal but which is the only practical one under the circumstances of the time. Democratic governments have attendant difficulties but these are difficulties which human experience elsewhere shows to be surmountable.”
Iqbal gives a masterful interpretation of the world, and he also has the will and courage to change it. For him, Iman is not just a passive belief, “It is a living assurance begotten of a rare experience.” This experience has found expression in such phrases as “I am the creative truth” (Mansur al-Hallaj), “I am the speaking Quran” (Hazrat Ali). Iqbal’s philosophy embodies the unity of Iman and Amal, the fruitful interaction of theory and practice, because theory is blind without practice and practice is blind without theory.
Iqbal makes the proletariat aware of his historic role by calling him the companion of God:
He who cleared the Kaaba of the dust of idols
Has called the proletariat a companion of God.
His judgement of capitalism and landlordism is damning. He condemns interest—the life-blood of capitalism:
Interest blackens the soul, renders the heart into brick and stone
The man without a brute’s teeth and claws becomes a rapacious animal.
And his verdict about landlordism is clear:
The meaning of “the earth is God’s” is obvious
He who does not see such an obvious thing is an infidel.
Iqbal’s book Pas Cheh Bayad Kard (What is to Done?) is a revolutionary anti-imperialist program of colonized nations. Mankind is in bitter lament because of Afrang (the West):
Once again the days of the East are being lit up
In the inwardness (of the East) a revolution has appeared.
The night passes and the sun has appeared.
Thus does Iqbal indict imperialism, and exhorts the peoples of the East to rise, and forge a united front against imperialism. The destruction of these false gods demands courage, commitment and consecration. And, as Iqbal says:
That man alone is real who dares
Dares to face God face to face.