The Secrets of the Self (Asrar-i Khudi) — A Philosophical Poem
THE SECRETS OF THE SELF
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SECRETS OF THE SELF
A PHILOSOPHICAL POEM
SHEIKH MUHAMMAD IQBAL
TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL PERSIAN
WITH INTRODUCTION AND NOTES BY
REYNOLD A. NICHOLSON, Litt.D., LL.D.
LECTURER ON PERSIAN IN THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
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The Asrár-i Khudí was first publishedat Lahore in 1915. I read it soonafterwards and thought so highly of itthat I wrote to Iqbal, whom I had thepleasure of meeting at Cambridge somefifteen years ago, asking leave to preparean English translation. My proposalwas cordially accepted, but in themeantime I found other work to do,which caused the translation to be laidaside until last year. Before submittingit to the reader, a few remarks arenecessary concerning the poem and itsauthor.
Iqbal is an Indian Moslem. Duringhis stay in the West he studied modernphilosophy, in which subject he holdsdegrees from the Universities of Cambridgeand Munich. His dissertationon the development of metaphysics inPersia—an illuminating sketch—appearedas a book in 1908. Since thenhe has developed a philosophy of hisown, on which I am able to give someextremely interesting notes communicatedby himself. Of this, however,the Asrár-i Khudí gives no systematicaccount, though it puts his ideas in apopular and attractive form. Whilethe Hindu philosophers, in explainingthe doctrine of the unity of being,addressed themselves to the head, Iqbal,like the Persian poets who teach thesame doctrine, takes a more dangerouscourse and aims at the heart. He isno mean poet, and his verse can rouseor persuade even if his logic fail to[Pg ix]convince. His message is not for theMohammedans of India alone, but forMoslems everywhere: accordingly hewrites in Persian instead of Hindustani—ahappy choice, for amongst educatedMoslems there are many familiar withPersian literature, while the Persianlanguage is singularly well adapted toexpress philosophical ideas in a style atonce elevated and charming.
Iqbal comes forward as an apostle, ifnot to his own age, then to posterity—
and after Persian fashion he invokesthe Saki to fill his cup with wine andpour moonbeams into the dark nightof his thought,
Let us begin at the end. What isthe far-off goal on which his eyes arefixed? The answer to that questionwill discover his true character, and weshall be less likely to stumble on theway if we see whither we are going.Iqbal has drunk deep of Europeanliterature, his philosophy owes much toNietzsche and Bergson, and his poetryoften reminds us of Shelley; yet hethinks and feels as a Moslem, and justfor this reason his influence may begreat. He is a religious enthusiast,inspired by the vision of a New Mecca,a world-wide, theocratic, Utopian statein which all Moslems, no longer dividedby the barriers of race and country,shall be one. He will have nothing todo with nationalism and imperialism.These, he says, “rob us of Paradise”:they make us strangers to each other,destroy feelings of brotherhood, andsow the bitter seed of war. He dreams[Pg xi]of a world ruled by religion, not bypolitics, and condemns Machiavelli, that“worshipper of false gods,” who hasblinded so many. It must be observedthat when he speaks of religion healways means Islam. Non-Moslemsare simply unbelievers, and (in theory,at any rate) the Jihád is justifiable,provided that it is waged “for God’ssake alone.” A free and independentMoslem fraternity, having the Ka´ba asits centre and knit together by love ofAllah and devotion to the Prophet—suchis Iqbal’s ideal. In the Asrár-iKhudí and the Rumúz-i Békhudí hepreaches it with a burning sinceritywhich we cannot but admire, and atthe same time points out how it maybe attained. The former poem dealswith the life of the individual Moslem,the latter with the life of the Islamiccommunity.
The cry “Back to the Koran! Back[Pg xii]to Mohammed!” has been heard before,and the responses have hitherto beensomewhat discouraging. But on thisoccasion it is allied with the revolutionaryforce of Western philosophy,which Iqbal hopes and believes willvitalise the movement and ensure itstriumph. He sees that Hindu intellectualismand Islamic pantheismhave destroyed the capacity for action,based on scientific observation andinterpretation of phenomena, whichdistinguishes the Western peoples “andespecially the English.” Now, thiscapacity depends ultimately on theconviction that khudí (selfhood, individuality,personality) is real and isnot merely an illusion of the mind.Iqbal, therefore, throws himself withall his might against idealistic philosophersand pseudo-mystical poets, theauthors, in his opinion, of the decayprevailing in Islam, and argues that[Pg xiii]only by self-affirmation, self-expression,and self-development can the Moslemsonce more become strong and free.He appeals from the alluring rapturesof Hafiz to the moral fervour of Jalálu´ddínRúmí, from an Islam sunk inPlatonic contemplation to the freshand vigorous monotheism which inspiredMohammed and brought Islam intoexistence. Here, perhaps, I shouldguard against a possible misunderstanding.Iqbal’s philosophy is religious,but he does not treat philosophy as thehandmaid of religion. Holding thatthe full development of the individualpresupposes a society, he finds the idealsociety in what he considers to be theProphet’s conception of Islam. EveryMoslem, in striving to make himself a[Pg xiv]more perfect individual, is helping toestablish the Islamic kingdom of Godupon earth.
The Asrár-i Khudí is composed inthe metre and modelled on the style ofthe famous Masnaví. In the prologueIqbal relates how Jalálu´ddín Rúmí,who is to him almost what Virgil wasto Dante, appeared in a vision and badehim arise and sing. Much as he dislikesthe type of Súfism exhibited byHafiz, he pays homage to the pure andprofound genius of Jalálu´ddín, thoughhe rejects the doctrine of self-abandonmenttaught by the great Persian[Pg xv]mystic and does not accompany him inhis pantheistic flights.
To European readers the Asrár-iKhudí presents certain obscurities whichno translation can entirely remove.These lie partly in the form and wouldnot be felt, as a rule, by any one conversantwith Persian poetry. Often,however, the ideas themselves, beingassociated with peculiarly Oriental waysof thinking, are hard for our minds tofollow. I am not sure that I have alwaysgrasped the meaning or rendered itcorrectly; but I hope that such errorsare few, thanks to the assistance sokindly given me by my friend MuhammadShafi, now Professor of Arabic atLahore, with whom I read the poemand discussed many points of difficulty.Other questions of a more fundamentalcharacter have been solved for me bythe author himself. At my request hedrew up a statement of his philosophical[Pg xvi]views on the problems touched andsuggested in the book. I will give itin his own words as nearly as possible,it is not, of course, a complete statement,and was written, as he says, “ina great hurry,” but apart from its powerand originality it elucidates the poeticalargument far better than any explanationthat could have been offered by me.
“‘That experience should take placein finite centres and should wear theform of finite this-ness is in the endinexplicable.’ These are the words ofProf. Bradley. But starting with theseinexplicable centres of experience, heends in a unity which he calls Absoluteand in which the finite centres losetheir finiteness and distinctness. Accordingto him, therefore, the finitecentre is only an appearance. The test[Pg xvii]of reality, in his opinion, is all-inclusiveness;and since all finiteness is ‘infectedwith relativity,’ it follows that the latteris a mere illusion. To my mind, thisinexplicable finite centre of experienceis the fundamental fact of the universe.All life is individual; there is no suchthing as universal life. God himself isan individual: He is the most uniqueindividual. The universe, as Dr.McTaggart says, is an association ofindividuals; but we must add that theorderliness and adjustment which wefind in this association is not eternallyachieved and complete in itself. It isthe result of instinctive or consciouseffort. We are gradually travellingfrom chaos to cosmos and are helpersin this achievement. Nor are themembers of the association fixed; newmembers are ever coming to birth to[Pg xviii]co-operate in the great task. Thus theuniverse is not a completed act: it isstill in the course of formation. Therecan be no complete truth about theuniverse, for the universe has not yetbecome ‘whole.’ The process of creationis still going on, and man too takes hisshare in it, inasmuch as he helps tobring order into at least a portion ofthe chaos. The Koran indicates thepossibility of other creators than God.
“Obviously, this view of man and theuniverse is opposed to that of theEnglish Neo-Hegelians as well as toall forms of pantheistic Súfism whichregard absorption in a universal life orsoul as the final aim and salvation ofman. The moral and religious idealof man is not self-negation but self-affirmation,and he attains to this ideal[Pg xix]by becoming more and more individual,more and more unique. The Prophetsaid, ‘Takhallaqú bi-akhláq Allah,’‘Create in yourselves the attributes ofGod.’ Thus man becomes unique bybecoming more and more like