Help The Kashmir Monitor sustain so that we continue to be editorially independent. Remember, your contributions, however small they may be, matter to us.

Revisiting Iqbal (Part 9) – Formative Years


By Amir Suhail Wani –

Personal contexts are indispensably important while evaluating the philosophy and works of any philosopher or thinker. What Iqbal wrote at various occasions can’t be fully appreciated and understood unless the phases of his personal evolution are taken into account. It was pointed out earlier that on his return from Europe, Iqbal experienced utter existential bitterness on account of his social maladjustment, economic uncertainty and personal issues of intellectual import. He reiterated his yearning to return to Europe and at one place went on to describe a permanent residence in Europe as the ultimate ideal of his life. Ironically though, Iqbal, in one of his letters to Atia expressed his wish to drown himself in wine so that suicide may become easy for him. Few of his writings vividly speak of agnosticism and at other places express his growing inclination towards Zaroastrian dualism between the evil and the good and went on to suggest to believe in two deities – one of good and the other of evil instead of one omnipresent and omnipotent God. In the spirit of Focauldian madness, Iqbal went on to express his wish to cleave himself apart and turn into madmen to be chased by hooligans. Some of his letters written around this time reveal a deep desire for death and glorify the merits of suicide. This facet deserves a deeper evaluation from psychoanalytic point of view, but the halo of sacredness we have erected around Iqbal prevents us from digging deeper into these aspects of his life. We fail to understand and appreciate that these experiences too are experiences of human existence and in an era like ours where there is a growing trend of leaning towards these tendencies, an appraisal of Allama’s existential crisis and the way he dealt with and finally came out could have been a better guide in our lives. There have been few critics like Firaq, who went on to classify Iqbal as a case of split personality, without taking the psychological and existential subtleties into account. To a modern-day reader, the lesson to be learnt is that despite the triangular conflict of intellectual, personal and social aspects, Iqbal went on to steer himself and emerged like a diamond out of coal, after withstanding the circumstantial pressure. But before he could come out, he had much more to experience and existentiate.

While Iqbal struggled with the mundane challenges of life, he kept the wick of his intellect sharp and bright and despite his distance from poetry during this time, he kept growing his thought in depth and width. It was around this time that Iqbal penned his scattered thoughts on themes of varied nature. These were latter compiled by Dr. Javed Iqbal under the heading “Stray reflections”. The notebook is seminal in understanding the mind of Allama Iqbal and in tracing the genealogy of his later day philosophy and thought. While we are postponing a detailed discussion on this book to some later occasion, but few passages from the book will be of immense help in tracing Iqbal’s ideological trajectory. Few relevant quotes from the book are appended hereby:

  • Art is a sacred lie
  • My friends often ask me, “Do you believe in the existence
    of God”? I think I am entitled to know the meaning of the
    terms used in this question before I answer it. My friends
    ought to explain to me what they mean by “believe,”
    “existence” and “God”, especially by the last two, if they want an answer to their question. I confess I do not
    understand these terms; and whenever I cross-examine
    them I find that they do not understand them either.
  • Christianity describes God as love; Islam as power. How
    shall we decide between the two conceptions? I think the
    history of mankind and of the universe as a whole must
    tell us as to which of the two conceptions is truer. I find
    that God reveals Himself in history more as power than
    love. I do not deny the love of God; I mean that, on the
    basis of our historical experience, God is better described as power.

In March 1910, Iqbal travelled to Hyderabad, the exact reasons for this tour, according to Javed Iqbal, being unknown. Iqbal lodged at Sir Akbar Hyderi’s place, a figure of prominence in the state of Hyderabad and later went on to reiterate the warmth and hospitality he was offered by Sir Akbar Hyderi. It was during this detour that Iqbal met his excellency Maharaja Kishan Prashad Shad, a man of refined literary and spiritual temperament. Iqbal writes, in a letter to Sheikh Abdul Qadir that, Shad’s brightness of character and friendly temperance left indelible impressions on his mind. On March 29, Iqbal, on his return from Hyderabad, paid visit to the burial site of Aurangzeb and went on to write to Atia that I will be writing a poem on Aurangzeb, the similitude of which Urdu would have never seen, and these will perhaps be my last couplets – a self-defeating prophecy indeed. Dr. Khalid Nadeem, based on Shuzraat I fikr I Iqbal quotes Iqbal saying that “When we meet a great mind, our soul comes to discover itself. It was on reading Goethe that the finitude of my thought became manifest to me”. In a letter to Atia, Iqbal went on to pronounce that famous statement which has lately been used differently by different people. He writes, in a letter to Atiya that, “Though people know me as a poet, unfortunately. But I don’t want to be famed for my poetry”. An inspection of Iqbal’s life around this time reveal as if these lines were written in a jiffy, in a mode of poetic exaggeration or as a means of emphasis while establishing communication with Atiya. The writer of these lines, after due consideration, concludes that these lines shall not be given an intellectual or academic value and thus made to substantiate or repudiate any viewpoint. These lines are rather an emotional outpour which Iqbal popped while engaging in a personal dialogue with Atiya, as we do say many things in exaggeration or out of frustration, when talking in our closet.

 I confess I owe a great deal to Hegel, Goethe, Mirza Ghalib, Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil and Wordsworth. The first two led me into the “inside” of things; the third and fourth taught me how to remain oriental in spirit and
expression after having assimilated foreign ideals of poetry, and the last saved me from atheism in my student days” wrote Iqbal. Though Iqbal seems to have made this revelation around 1910, it is worth consideration that he remained Hegelian /Neo-Hegelian for the rest of his life and continued to reflect Ghalib’s style of writing in his own poetry.

(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at [email protected])