Iqbal: Reverence versus Relevance! By Mohammed Akmal Pasha, On Iqbal’s 72nd death anniversary


In the context of Allama Mohammad Iqbal, today the contradictory couplet, ‘reverence and relevance’ engenders Shakespearean ‘saucy doubts’ quite pathetically. For, if we substitute ‘and’ with ‘versus’, then all the combinations sound irksome at some point on a plane with the coordinates ‘reverence and relevance’. In other words, there could be reverence but not relevance or vice versa, and there could be both ‘reverence and relevance’ or none at all.
In the present article, through the instrument of Iqbal’s last Persian book Pas Cheh Bayad Kerd Ae Aqwam-e-Sherq (what should be the strategy then, O the Nations of East, 1936), we will try to try it out as to which combination is the most optimal one, given….but given what? Ironically speaking, our collective patriotic conscience? Be it. ‘Poetry is what is lost in translation’ said Robert Frost, and we are dwelling on the translation of Iqbal’s Persian book. So the instrument is faulty? If so, so is the collective patriotic conscience! Blind guiding blind. Let’s see how we end up.
Iqbal has rendered admiration by quoting Persian poets Urfi, Saadi, Zahoori etc. in his poetic works, has saluted Karl Marx for his work ‘Capital’ that ‘though he is not a prophet yet carries a Revealed doctrine’. He appropriates word genius in his lectures ‘the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam’ for the German poet-philosopher Goethe on account of his Faust. Nevertheless, Iqbal relishes Khush Haal Khan Khattak for not succumbing to great Moghal Empire, even embraces great work of Einstein, the theory of relativity and rejoices in finding inkling of the same in his Secrets of Self; recollects from Professor Whitehead, matches Ghalib with Shakespeare, accommodates Ibn-e-Arabi, Farabi, and Razi and finally embraces Ghazali. In his upward journey to spiritual maturity halts and ends up at a pinnacle, a Sufi, an embodiment of enthusiasm, selflessness, valor, faith, self-assurance and action, that is Rumi. In the introductory part of his last Persian book, Iqbal pays Rumi tribute starting with the line ‘Peer-e-Rumi Murshid-e-Roshan Zameer’:
The Rumi saint, a guide with conscience bright,
That train love and trance, does lead aright.
Beyond the sun and moon, his homestead lies,
With stay of galaxy his tent he ties.
The Quran’s light is in his breast aflame,
His mirror, cup of Jamset puts to shame.
Resolve and trust make Momin’s dynamite,
Whom ‘frenzy’; calls the man of purblind sight.
To proceed, ‘The greater part of valor is discretion’; says Shakespeare; so one embracing discretion can espouse valor as well, or vice versa probably with a variation of requisite time, effort, zeal and energy, but can never win the inverse of any of these duets that is ‘valor and discretion’ or ‘discretion and valor’. The pursuer of any of these predispositions, like a ruthless tiger can taste the taste of the other as well; others however would always remain the ‘others’; tasteless and hence listless. By the same token, a valiant would always feel crowned if he is rendered crownless by a worthy man than an unworthy; prophet Joseph would be satisfied that wolf tore him than a hyena did.
Of tiger’s strength no cattle secret knows,
Thy secrets to tigers alone disclose
It’s better would a wolf our Joseph tear,
Than if a low-born man buys him to rear.
A quilt on dervish back weighs heavily,
Like breeze thy kit as light as scent should be.
But to Iqbal, this conception of being intrepid calls for an internalization of first the notion of an egoless world, implying “Nothingness” (Laa), regardless of the form, route, substance or spirit of things; and then turning to Eternal Ego, “None-but-One” (Illa). Iqbal clarifies it through the poem ‘The philosophy of Moses’, his stick becomes snake and devours tens of opponent snakes. No magic, no snakes; ‘Nothingness’ (Laa) but ‘None-but-One’ (Illa) Whose Will is embedded in the stick. Here stick by its essence is a form of ‘nothingness’ for the belief is the real instrument, not the stick. Now stick, then snake, again stick; either way it is an expression of belief, the will of God regardless of the might or frailty of the subject; the manifestation of both Laa and Illa simultaneously.
He teaches “God-is-all”. All else is nil,
Lest man of God fall prey to Jack or Jill.
“They need not fear”, has as lesson to impart,
This courage fresh puts into human heart.
I fail to understand what magic he performs,
But soul within the frame of clay transforms.
By virtues of his being does a Momin show,
That real is He, all else is but shadow.
From La Ilaha if takes he glow and shine,
The sun and moon shall move to his design.
The phrase ‘they need not fear’ comes from Quran, Soora Younas, verse 62. After this conceptual foundation, in his poem La Ilaha Illa; Iqbal introduces ‘Laa’ and ‘Illa’ in yet another form; contextualized with reference to Faqr. Faqr is not destitution; it’s prosperous by virtue of a godly heart, a wealth in its own self. Momin first treads in the universe as a hollow-whole under the influence of ‘Laa’, where he himself is a sub-set of the empty-whole, the universe. He then is abruptly interrupted by a sublime force, the only impetus that is ‘Illa’. In other words, the slate of heart is first emptied implying ‘Laa’, and then is inscribed on it the word of grandeur ‘Illa’; the serene slate (that is heart) now becomes wholesome, intrepid, possessive, related with the Absolute, where the word ‘Illa’ on the previously empty slate is to glow, only glow and glow alone!
World’s destiny in La, and Illa lies,
To motion La, to rest gives Illa rise.
The secret of La until we fully grasp,
We can’t of anti-God break bondage-clasp.
From La does everything in the world proceed,
For man of God it’s foremost stage indeed.
So this is the foundation upon which Faqr dwells, the predisposition triggering from ‘nothingness’ inclusive of means of subsistence and substance; Faqr personified as Ali treads to conquer Khyber forte under the superb and Supreme Embodiment of Faqr, Prophet Mohammad (SAW). Form Iqbal’s poem Faqr:
Know ye what’s Faqr O’ men of world of clay,
A heart alive, an eye that knows the way.
It’s weighing one’s deeds judiciously,
And twining ones self on “No-God-but-He”
It Khyber conquers, fed on barley bread,
And holding saddle-bag a royal head.
Love, taste and trust and resignation Faqr does make,
All this we hold in trust for the Prophet’s sake.
The living proof of Faqr is virtue, deed, purity, humanism and godliness; categorically speaking, possession and practice of Godly attributes. As put by Nietzsche ‘God wants to create god out of man’. According to Iqbal, Faqr is not escape from mundane obligations, Faqr nevertheless prefers a splendid death over a reclusive refuge and his moments are testified through Prophet’s deeds:
What’s Momin’s Faqr? The world of subjugate?
It does in man God’s attributes create.
It is kafir’s Faqr recluse in waste to be,
But Momin’s Faqr shakes the land and sea.
That thinks in cave’s repose his life does lie,
This deems it’s life a splendid death to die.
On Prophets touch-stone proving sterling gold,
Then only he creates a new world out of old.
Towards the end of this book, Iqbal concludes under the heading of Contemporary Politics as to why today’s Momin is away from Faqr, hence destitute. The crux of the matter according to Iqbal is, that Momin has rendered himself westernized, a slave, so he is remote from his center ‘Kaba’, away from his own majesty and God’s mercy, and thus closer to hellish consequences. With his life devoid of Quranic precepts, his contract with God has become void rather voidable, his days are hollow of Prophet’s attitude and habitude. In such circumstances if inadvertently he recites Darood, his conscience rightfully thrills and his forehead sweats, haply he reverts to his center Kaba:
Though wise man does his heart to none confide,
My agony from thee I cannot hide.
In slavery born, as long as slave am I,
Far off from door of kaba’s shrine lie.
Whenever I recite in the Prophet’s name,
“Peace be on him”, shame fully sweats my frame.
Love says, o slave of anti-God, thy chest,
Like idol-house thy images infest.
Unless you have the Prophet’s shape and habitude,
Don’t soil his name reciting thy Darood.

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