Iqbal’s Persian Poetry--An Analytical Note By Mohammed Akmal Pasha


Kashmiri Pandit Sahaj Ram Sapru, the grandfather of Allama Iqbal would have never been touched by a whim of such a potentially dawning glory engendered through the sublimity of a poetic genius while converting to Islam and named Sheikh Rafiq. Scholars in Iqbaliyaat testify Iqbal’s Persian work as churned out to be paramount masterpiece, a paragon until next seer is destined unto philosophical world in general and the Muslim community in special.
Iqbal’s Persian works include Asrar-e-Khudi, Rumuz-e-Bekhudi, Gulshan-e-Raaz-e-Jadeed, Javed Nama, Musaafir and Pas Cheh Bayad Kerd. With no formal schooling of Persian as language rather learning from Maulvi Meer Hassan for the sake of his personal interest, Iqbal is reported to have studied 70 top class Persian poets, and being greatly convinced by Jalalud Din Rumi (1270-1273) endorsing him his ‘spiritual guru’. Where Rumi was of great praise for Attar and Sinai, Iqbal paralleled Khusro with Rumi in ecstasy and self-negation. Having internalized treasure of Persian literature, still Iqbal’s style stayed to be genuinely his own. According to Dr Hussein Khatibi, an Iranian thinker, ‘the style of Iqbal is his own so his school must be called Iqbalian school and nothing else’. As for the spirit of his poetry, Dr Ali Shriyati calls him ‘Ghazali Sani’ the second Ghazali. The main topics of Iqbal’s poetry remain to be self, no-self, effort & action, perseverance, dignity of man, passion vs intellect, indiscrimination, independence, life after death, morality, love of prophet Mohammed SAW and Qura’n.
Iqbal’s first Persian composition Asrar-e-Khudi (Secrets of self), came in 1915. Laden with a complete code of life, this book is based on philosophy of Khudi (individual self), the idea he nurtured almost for a decade. Before him Persian literature was studded with Firdousi’s Shahnama (Note on Kingdom, 1020 AD), Rumi’s mathnavi on mysticism (1273), Sinai’s poetry on morality (1150) and Attaar’s on mysticism (1230). Among others, Khusro (1325) and Jami (1492) both had masterly versified love, fiction, morality and wisdom. Asrar-e-Khudi being novel, modern and different, still prolific in language and rich in thought, was immensely appreciated and welcomed by all circles. This inspired Dr. Reynold A. Nicholson (Cambridge University- 1920) to translate this great work into English; which helped introduce the book to Europe. Nicholson wrote in the introductory part, ‘Iqbal has drunk deep of European literature, his philosophy owes much to Nietzsche and Bergson, and his poetry; often reminds us of Shelly ; yet he thinks and feels as a Muslim, and just for this reason his influence may be great’. However the book was criticized on two grounds, one contradicting with thoughts of Hafiz and enunciating crude conventional form of mysticism. Nevertheless Maulana Jami in his Nafhatul Uns had already declared Hafiz as ‘Divine Tongue’ and ‘Interpreter of Divine Secrets’. Iqbal abhorred Hafiz for his over feminineness, selflessness and inactiveness, he himself wrote in a letter to Sirajud-Din, ‘mystics have taken it as an attack on mysticism (and Hafiz) and it is true to a certain extent’.
Iqbal was greatly inspired by German poet-philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) for his genius manifested in his master piece Faust. Iqbal wrote in his note book ‘Stray Reflections’, “it is from Goethe ‘alone’ that we get a ‘real insight into human nature….In contrast to Shakespeare who as a ‘realist Englishman rethinks the individual, Goethe as ‘the idealist German’ rethinks the universal. Indeed Faust is a seeming individual only. In reality, he is humanity individualized”. Amazingly, Goethe was very keen about Oriental civilizations and was sick of the Western one. By the same spirit he had learnt Arabic in order to assimilate teachings of Qura`n and appreciate the essence of the life of Prophet Mohammad SAW on his own and accredited the both. At the age of 70 Goethe wrote that he intends "to celebrate respectfully that night when the Prophet was given the Koran completely from above…. no one may wonder about the great efficiency of the Book. That is why it has been declared as uncreated by real admirers…this book will eternally remain highly efficacious and effective”. Having been influenced by the Living Qura`n SAW, he composed a poem ‘Mahomet’s Gesang’ that is a song of Mohammad, out of which stanza II & IV are reproduced below:
Brisk as a young blade
Out of clouds he dances
Down to marble rocks
And leaps again
Skyward exultant.

Flowers are born beneath his footprints
In the valley down below
From his breathing
Pastures live.

Iqbal in his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought In Islam’ narrates, “Goethe while making a general review of Islam as an educational force, said to Eckermann: ‘You see this teaching never fails; with all our systems, we cannot go and generally speaking no man can go farther than that.”
Goethe was also stirred by Hammer-Purgstall`s translation of Hafiz` Divan (1812) and appreciated his delicacy of intellect and superiority of thought and imagination. Iqbal’s Payami Mashriq contains a translation of Goethe`s Mahomet’s Gesang, and a reply to the Goethe’s Divan poem ‘Einlass’ with its treatment of the theme of the Hourie and the Poet. Iqbal gives a comparative view of Rumi and Goethe in his poem ‘Jalal-o-Goethe’ in Payam-i-Mashriq, about Goethe Iqbal says:
As a dramatist and poet, he was a writer emphatic
No prophet, though, his writings were prophetic.

And about Rumi Iqbal says:
Your philosophy I found near to my heart
It gives the old habitat a hopeful new start.

A renowned Indian philosopher professor Anil Bhatti in his theses ‘Iqbal and Goethe’ writes, ‘Iqbal’s poem Jalal-o-Goethe is, however, perhaps the greatest tribute from Iqbal to Goethe. Jalal-ud-Din Rumi represented the quintessence of Islamic mysticism for Iqbal who generally did not refrain from criticizing Hafiz for the latter’s alleged waywardness. Rumi and not Hafiz should have been Goethe’s guide to the Orient, so one imagines, Iqbal felt’. In the Urdu footnote to this Persian poem Iqbal himself writes: “In this drama (i.e. Faust) the poet (i.e. Goethe) speaks of the progressive potentialities of human development and, for this purpose has used the old legend of the Philosophers covenant with the Devil with such consummate art that it is impossible to imagine anything more perfect.”
Despite being mesmerized by Hafiz’s phraseology, effective clothing of his minute feelings for the beloved; Iqbal criticizes him for being lost in description of feminine beauty and wine. On the other hand, Iqbal picks up Islamic concepts and wrings philosophical meanings out of them, whereby he sees every human phenomenon with the lens of Islam; all his intellectual endeavors imbued by subdued love for prophet Mohammed SAW. According to Abu-al-Ala Maududi, ‘he (Iqbal) had put all his philosophy and brains, in the feet of Prophet Mohammed SAW like a valueless object. The more he penetrated in the depths of the oceans of western civilization, an even profounder Muslim did he become, so much so that when he touched the bottom of that ocean of Western civilization, he found that he had enormously been dissolved in Qura`n. He started thinking as Qura`n thought and seeing as Qura`n saw’.
Iqbal’s next Persian composition Ramooz-e-Bekhudi (Riddles of no-self) was written in 1918, where Asrar-e-Khudi gravitated on affirmation and determination of ‘individual self’, Ramooz-e-Bekhudi attempted to resolve personal ego in totality of a nation’s ‘collective self’. In either case, he considers fear and melancholy as mother of all evils, particularly fear he reckoned as partnering (shirk) with God. The other precept, the sacrifice of Hussein AS which to Iqbal is marvelous and we must learn whole code of life from Hussein’s Qura’nic life; these two blended together; intrepidness, flamboyance and sacrifice remain to be Husseinian traits as highlighted by Iqbal. In that, Iqbal continues; we can ‘ignite our candles from the fire of Hussein’s passion’, given that ‘we cannot live without rather within Qura’n’. Nevertheless, he presents Fatima AS as a model for all Muslim women.
Iqbal’s third book Payaam-e-Mashriq (1923) is a response to German poet Goethe’s ‘Message of West’. Goethe was deeply impressed by eastern way of life, Hafiz and prophet Mohammed (SAW). Payaam-e-Mashriq has four parts. First part Lala-e-Toor (Tulip of Sinai) is in style of Iranian poet Baba Tahir Uryan. Second part Afkaar (thoughts) deals with greatness of Adam, conquer of nature, philosophy of time, passion vs intellect, life and action, vigor of character, creation and evolution, freedom and slavery, democracy, Kashmir and civilization. Third part is ‘Mai Baqi’ (lasting wine). The message being that ‘we must innovate’ and ‘shy away formulating the wonder land of today and tomorrow’. The fourth part ‘Naqsh-e-Ferang’ (sign of British), where he acknowledges that West though strangely has miracle of Jesus (treating the sick), still incredibly; its sick is even sicker. In another poem Iqbal presents dialogue between Austus Comte and labourer where the superiority of labourer prevails over the delicate thoughts of the philosopher. In ‘Sohbat-e-Raftagaan’ (enclave of the departed) Iqbal shares his views with Tolstoy, Karl Marx, Hegel, Mazdak and khurso Pervez and finds all opposing capitalistic and exploitative thinking as regards the oppressed and resourceless class. Interestingly, when Payami Mashriq was published the ‘League of Nations’ had recently been found, Iqbal considered the members as a group of coffin-thieves, which proved correct since this league neither could stop Mussolini from attacking Ethiopia nor could prevent the second world war.
Iqbal was great fan of German philosopher Nietzsche (1844-1900) who exposited his theories of Will to Power in ‘Thus spake Zarathustra’ with a great poetic allegory. Unfortunately, this god of ‘Eternal Recurrence’ and ‘Superman’ went insane in 1889. Iqbal found him as having ‘a disbeliever mind but a believer heart’:
He built an idol house on Islamic base
His heart was full of faith, his brain infidel
His heart was in agony of man’s faculties dormant
His intellect clothed the body with an attractive garment
He caused a few tremors in the European thought
Introspection notwithstanding, his influence caused a torment.

Iqbal appreciates Einstein, Bergson, Locke and also Kant for their respective intellectual, scientific and soulful contributions. Accrediting Einstein for his epoch making theory of relativity, Iqbal said:

Like Moses eager for view, he aspired for enlightenment
Until his enlightenment unraveled mysteries of firmament.
From the level of human eye to the heights of stratosphere
His imagination was such as defied any confinement.
How better to describe the status of this leading thinker
Descended he is from Aaron and Mosses, enough as a compliment.

Again Iqbal through the metaphor of wine and goblet; poetically compares Browning, Byron, Ghalib and Rumi. It is highly philosophical exposition, to begin with Browning thinks:

The vintage wine of life had lost its spirituous content
From legendary Khizr I take the water and into goblet fling.

Whereas Byron does not plead Khizr and gets it out of his own soul:
Rather than indignity of entreaty to bestir
From my soul I draw the water and into goblet fling.

Ghalib would embitter his wine and gash his bosom:
That wine is turned to firewater and soul is on fire
I turn the flask to a molten mass and into goblet fling.

And finally, Rumi Iqbal’s spiritual guru shuns any adulteration and beggary and rather gets it from Divine Saki.
What of this admixture and what of its basic purity
From the vine I distil the wine and into goblet fling.
(Translation taken from khwaja Tariq Mahmood’s book ‘Iqbal’)

Payam reached Iran through an Iranian literary professor Afshaar, who took a copy of Pyami Mashriq to Iran as a token with a bunch of verses he wrote for Iqbal.

Zabur-e-Ajam (1927) the fourth book, included Gulshan-e-Raaz-e-Jadeed (garden of novel secret) and Bandagi Nama (Account of Service) Iqbal particularly attributed it to the Easterners. In professor Abdu Shakoor Ahson’s words, ‘extracted from the cry of midnight, this book is not only a great musical address to both the individual and the collective issues of a community, very well woven in beautiful philosophical thoughts. In the beginning, the relationship between servant and his Lord has been established. Unlike traditional Sufis, Iqbal does not dissolve servant into Master, but retains his entity whilst radiating his passion, vigor and helplessness unto Master’. Iqbal defines the confines and artifice of passion and intellect where both lead to pinnacles of achievements but passion carries with the valor as entertained by a lion and intellect carries with the cunningness as a malpractice of fox. To him it is passion that drags in the camp of skies with its feet and then extends its hands to grip the rope of that heavenly camp.
Gulshan-e-Raaz-e-Jadeed (garden of novel secret) is in fact a reply of Iranian Sheikh Saaduddin Mahmood Shabistri’s Gulshan-e-Raaz (Garden of Secret) which responded to Ameer Alhussaini’s 15 questions. Ameer was spiritual pupil of Bahaudin Zikria Multani. Iqbal has taken up a composition of eleven most significant questions and concluded as ‘loving without passion is spell, and the reverse is prophethood, and both the passion and prophethood culminate through infatuation which thus infuses a whole world in another world’.
Like every mortal, Iqbal himslef got infused from one transitroy world to the other immense, infinite and eternal one, but exception remains that his works indubiously render him immortal. Accroding to Rabindranath Tagore, “Iqbal`s death creates a void in literature that like a mortal wound will take a long time to heal." According to professor Saeed Nafeesi, ‘great poet is one who changes the requirements of time and captures the skies of pinnacles through his aspiration and hence spawns a revolution …..during the last millenniums only a handful of men have been able to accomplish that, first Plato in ancient Greek, Rumi and Avicenna in Islam, and in contemporary times Iqbal’. Iqbal himself was cognizant of the fact of his stature, genius, reformability, passion, rarity and artistry. Quite justifiably, he was concerned whether his immediate replacement would ever dawn:

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