Muhammad Iqbal.

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Contents v

Introduction vii

Prologue 1

I. Showing that the system of the universe
originates in the Self, and that the continuation
of the life of all individuals
depends on strengthening the Self 16

II. Showing that the life of the Self comes
from forming desires and bringing them
to birth 23

III. Showing that the Self is strengthened by
Love 28

IV. Showing that the Self is weakened by asking 38

V. Showing that when the Self is strengthened
by Love it gains dominion over the outward
and inward forces of the universe 43

VI. A tale of which the moral is that negation
of the Self is a doctrine invented by the
subject races of mankind in order that by
this means they may sap and weaken the
character of their rulers 48

VII. To the effect that Plato, whose thought
has deeply influenced the mysticism and
literature of Islam, followed the sheep’s
doctrine, and that we must be on our
guard against his theories 56

VIII. Concerning the true nature of poetry and
the reform of Islamic literature 60

IX. Showing that the education of the Self has
three stages: Obedience, Self-control,
and Divine Vicegerency 72

X. Setting forth the inner meanings of the
names of Ali 85

XI. Story of a young man of Merv who came
to the saint Ali Hujwírí - God have
mercy on him! - and complained that he
was oppressed by his enemies 95

XII. Story of the bird that was faint with thirst 100

XIII. Story of the diamond and the coal 104

XIV. Story of the Sheikh and the Brahmin,
followed by a conversation between
Ganges and Himalaya to the effect that
the continuation of social life depends
on firm attachment to the characteristic
traditions of the community 108

XV. Showing that the purpose of the Moslem’s
life is to exalt the Word of Allah, and
that the _Jihád_ (war against unbelievers),
if it be prompted by land-hunger, is unlawful
in the religion of Islam 116

XVI. Precepts written for the Moslems of India
by Mír Naját Nakshband, who is generally
known as Bábá Sahrá´í 122

XVII. Time is a sword 134

XVIII. An invocation 141

Transcriber’s Note


The _Asrár-i Khudí_ was first published at Lahore in 1915. I read it
soon afterwards and thought so highly of it that I wrote to Iqbal,
whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Cambridge some fifteen years
ago, asking leave to prepare an English translation. My proposal was
cordially accepted, but in the meantime I found other work to do,
which caused the translation to be laid aside until last year. Before
submitting it to the reader, a few remarks are necessary concerning the
poem and its author.[1]

Iqbal is an Indian Moslem. During his stay in the West he studied
modern philosophy, in which subject he holds degrees from the
Universities of Cambridge and Munich. His dissertation on the
development of metaphysics in Persia - an illuminating sketch - appeared
as a book in 1908. Since then he has developed a philosophy of his
own, on which I am able to give some extremely interesting notes
communicated by himself. Of this, however, the _Asrár-i Khudí_ gives
no systematic account, though it puts his ideas in a popular and
attractive form. While the Hindu philosophers, in explaining the
doctrine of the unity of being, addressed themselves to the head,
Iqbal, like the Persian poets who teach the same doctrine, takes a
more dangerous course and aims at the heart. He is no mean poet, and
his verse can rouse or persuade even if his logic fail to convince.
His message is not for the Mohammedans of India alone, but for Moslems
everywhere: accordingly he writes in Persian instead of Hindustani - a
happy choice, for amongst educated Moslems there are many familiar
with Persian literature, while the Persian language is singularly well
adapted to express philosophical ideas in a style at once elevated and

Iqbal comes forward as an apostle, if not to his own age, then to
posterity -

“I have no need of the ear of To-day,
I am the voice of the poet of To-morrow” -

and after Persian fashion he invokes the Saki to fill his cup with wine
and pour moonbeams into the dark night of his thought,

“That I may lead home the wanderer,
And imbue the idle looker-on with restless impatience,
And advance hotly on a new quest,
And become known as the champion of a new spirit.”

Let us begin at the end. What is the far-off goal on which his eyes are
fixed? The answer to that question will discover his true character,
and we shall be less likely to stumble on the way if we see whither we
are going. Iqbal has drunk deep of European literature, his philosophy
owes much to Nietzsche and Bergson, and his poetry often reminds us of
Shelley; yet he thinks and feels as a Moslem, and just for this reason
his influence may be great. He is a religious enthusiast, inspired by
the vision of a New Mecca, a world-wide, theocratic, Utopian state
in which all Moslems, no longer divided by the barriers of race and
country, shall be one. He will have nothing to do with nationalism
and imperialism. These, he says, “rob us of Paradise”: they make us
strangers to each other, destroy feelings of brotherhood, and sow the
bitter seed of war. He dreams of a world ruled by religion, not by
politics, and condemns Machiavelli, that “worshipper of false gods,”
who has blinded so many. It must be observed that when he speaks of
religion he always means Islam. Non-Moslems are simply unbelievers,
and (in theory, at any rate) the _Jihád_ is justifiable, provided that
it is waged “for God’s sake alone.” A free and independent Moslem
fraternity, having the Ka´ba as its centre and knit together by love
of Allah and devotion to the Prophet - such is Iqbal’s ideal. In the
_Asrár-i Khudí_ and the _Rumúz-i Békhudí_ he preaches it with a burning
sincerity which we cannot but admire, and at the same time points out
how it may be attained. The former poem deals with the life of the
individual Moslem, the latter with the life of the Islamic community.

The cry “Back to the Koran! Back to Mohammed!” has been heard before,
and the responses have hitherto been somewhat discouraging. But on
this occasion it is allied with the revolutionary force of Western
philosophy, which Iqbal hopes and believes will vitalise the movement
and ensure its triumph. He sees that Hindu intellectualism and Islamic
pantheism have destroyed the capacity for action, based on scientific
observation and interpretation of phenomena, which distinguishes the
Western peoples “and especially the English.” Now, this capacity
depends ultimately on the conviction that _khudí_ (selfhood,
individuality, personality) is real and is not merely an illusion of
the mind. Iqbal, therefore, throws himself with all his might against
idealistic philosophers and pseudo-mystical poets, the authors, in his
opinion, of the decay prevailing in Islam, and argues that only by
self-affirmation, self-expression, and self-development can the Moslems
once more become strong and free. He appeals from the alluring raptures
of Hafiz to the moral fervour of Jalálu´ddín Rúmí, from an Islam sunk
in Platonic contemplation to the fresh and vigorous monotheism which
inspired Mohammed and brought Islam into existence.[2] Here, perhaps,
I should guard against a possible misunderstanding. Iqbal’s philosophy
is religious, but he does not treat philosophy as the handmaid
of religion. Holding that the full development of the individual
presupposes a society, he finds the ideal society in what he considers
to be the Prophet’s conception of Islam. Every Moslem, in striving to
make himself a more perfect individual, is helping to establish the
Islamic kingdom of God upon earth.[3]

The _Asrár-i Khudí_ is composed in the metre and modelled on the
style of the famous _Masnaví_. In the prologue Iqbal relates how
Jalálu´ddín Rúmí, who is to him almost what Virgil was to Dante,
appeared in a vision and bade him arise and sing. Much as he dislikes
the type of Súfism exhibited by Hafiz, he pays homage to the pure
and profound genius of Jalálu´ddín, though he rejects the doctrine
of self-abandonment taught by the great Persian mystic and does not
accompany him in his pantheistic flights.

To European readers the _Asrár-i Khudí_ presents certain obscurities
which no translation can entirely remove. These lie partly in the
form and would not be felt, as a rule, by any one conversant with
Persian poetry. Often, however, the ideas themselves, being associated
with peculiarly Oriental ways of thinking, are hard for our minds
to follow. I am not sure that I have always grasped the meaning or
rendered it correctly; but I hope that such errors are few, thanks to
the assistance so kindly given me by my friend Muhammad Shafi, now
Professor of Arabic at Lahore, with whom I read the poem and discussed
many points of difficulty. Other questions of a more fundamental
character have been solved for me by the author himself. At my request
he drew up a statement of his philosophical views on the problems
touched and suggested in the book. I will give it in his own words as
nearly as possible, it is not, of course, a complete statement, and was
written, as he says, “in a great hurry,” but apart from its power and
originality it elucidates the poetical argument far better than any
explanation that could have been offered by me.


“‘That experience should take place in finite centres and should wear
the form of finite this-ness is in the end inexplicable.’ These are the
words of Prof. Bradley. But starting with these inexplicable centres
of experience, he ends in a unity which he calls Absolute and in which
the finite centres lose their finiteness and distinctness. According to
him, therefore, the finite centre is only an appearance. The test of
reality, in his opinion, is all-inclusiveness; and since all finiteness
is ‘infected with relativity,’ it follows that the latter is a mere
illusion. To my mind, this inexplicable finite centre of experience is
the fundamental fact of the universe. All life is individual; there is
no such thing as universal life. God himself is an individual: He is
the most unique individual.[4] The universe, as Dr. McTaggart says, is
an association of individuals; but we must add that the orderliness
and adjustment which we find in this association is not eternally
achieved and complete in itself. It is the result of instinctive or
conscious effort. We are gradually travelling from chaos to cosmos and
are helpers in this achievement. Nor are the members of the association
fixed; new members are ever coming to birth to co-operate in the great
task. Thus the universe is not a completed act: it is still in the
course of formation. There can be no complete truth about the universe,
for the universe has not yet become ‘whole.’ The process of creation
is still going on, and man too takes his share in it, inasmuch as he
helps to bring order into at least a portion of the chaos. The Koran
indicates the possibility of other creators than God.[5]

“Obviously, this view of man and the universe is opposed to that of
the English Neo-Hegelians as well as to all forms of pantheistic
Súfism which regard absorption in a universal life or soul as the
final aim and salvation of man.[6] The moral and religious ideal of
man is not self-negation but self-affirmation, and he attains to this
ideal by becoming more and more individual, more and more unique. The
Prophet said, ‘_Takhallaqú bi-akhláq Allah_,’ ‘Create in yourselves
the attributes of God.’ Thus man becomes unique by becoming more
and more like the most unique Individual. What then is life? It is
individual: its highest form, so far, is the Ego (_Khudí_) in which the
individual becomes a self-contained exclusive centre. Physically as
well as spiritually man is a self-contained centre, but he is not yet
a complete individual. The greater his distance from God, the less his
individuality. He who comes nearest to God is the completest person.
Not that he is finally absorbed in God. On the contrary, he absorbs
God into himself.[7] The true person not only absorbs the world of
matter; by mastering it he absorbs God Himself into his Ego. Life is a
forward assimilative movement. It removes all obstructions in its march
by assimilating them. Its essence is the continual creation of desires
and ideals, and for the purpose of its preservation and expansion it
has invented or developed out of itself certain instruments, _e.g._
senses, intellect, etc., which help it to assimilate obstructions.[8]
The greatest obstacle in the way of life is matter, Nature; yet Nature
is not evil, since it enables the inner powers of life to unfold

“The Ego attains to freedom by the removal of all obstructions in
its way. It is partly free, partly determined,[9] and reaches fuller
freedom by approaching the Individual who is most free - God. In one
word, life is an endeavour for freedom.


“In man the centre of life becomes an Ego or Person. Personality is a
state of tension and can continue only if that state is maintained.
If the state of tension is not maintained, relaxation will ensue.
Since personality, or the state of tension, is the most valuable
achievement of man, he should see that he does not revert to a state of
relaxation. That which tends to maintain the state of tension tends to
make us immortal. Thus the idea of personality gives us a standard of
value: it settles the problem of good and evil. That which fortifies
personality is good, that which weakens it is bad. Art,[10] religion,
and ethics[11] must be judged from the standpoint of personality. My
criticism of Plato[12] is directed against those philosophical systems
which hold up death rather than life as their ideal - systems which
ignore the greatest obstruction to life, namely, matter, and teach us
to run away from it instead of absorbing it.

“As in connexion with the question of the freedom of the Ego we have to
face the problem of matter, similarly in connexion with its immortality
we have to face the problem of time.[13] Bergson has taught us that
time is not an infinite line (in the spatial sense of the word ‘line’)
through which we must pass whether we wish it or not. This idea of
time is adulterated. Pure time has no length. Personal immortality is
an aspiration: you can have it if you make an effort to achieve it.
It depends on our adopting in this life modes of thought and activity
which tend to maintain the state of tension. Buddhism, Persian Súfism,
and allied forms of ethics will not serve our purpose. But they are
not wholly useless, because after periods of great activity we need
opiates, narcotics, for some time. These forms of thought and action
are like nights in the days of life. Thus, if our activity is directed
towards the maintenance of a state of tension, the shock of death
is not likely to affect it. After death there may be an interval of
relaxation, as the Koran speaks of a _barzakh_, or intermediate state,
which lasts until the Day of Resurrection.[14] Only those Egos will
survive this state of relaxation who have taken good care during the
present life. Although life abhors repetition in its evolution, yet on
Bergson’s principles the resurrection of the body too, as Wildon Carr
says, is quite possible. By breaking up time into moments we spatialise
it and then find difficulty in getting over it. The true nature of
time is reached when we look into our deeper self.[15] Real time is
life itself, which can preserve itself by maintaining that particular
state of tension (personality) which it has so far achieved. We are
subject to time so long as we look upon time as something spatial.
Spatialised time is a fetter which life has forged for itself in order
to assimilate the present environment. In reality we are timeless, and
it is possible to realise our timelessness even in this life. This
revelation, however, can be momentary only.


“The Ego is fortified by love (_’ishq_).[16] This word is used in a
very wide sense and means the desire to assimilate, to absorb. Its
highest form is the creation of values and ideals and the endeavour to
realise them. Love individualises the lover as well as the beloved.
The effort to realise the most unique individuality individualises the
seeker and implies the individuality of the sought, for nothing else
would satisfy the nature of the seeker. As love fortifies the Ego,
asking (_su´ál_) weakens it.[17] All that is achieved without personal
effort comes under _su´ál_. The son of a rich man who inherits his
father’s wealth is an ‘asker’ (beggar); so is every one who thinks
the thoughts of others. Thus, in order to fortify the Ego we should
cultivate love, _i.e._ the power of assimilative action, and avoid all
forms of ‘asking,’ _i.e._ inaction. The lesson of assimilative action
is given by the life of the Prophet, at least to a Mohammedan.

“In another part of the poem[18] I have hinted at the general
principles of Moslem ethics and have tried to reveal their meaning in
connexion with the idea of personality. The Ego in its movement towards
uniqueness has to pass through three stages:

(_a_) Obedience to the Law.

(_b_) Self-control, which is the highest form of self-consciousness
or Ego-hood.[19]

(_c_) Divine vicegerency.[20]

“This (divine vicegerency, _niyábat-i iláhí_) is the third and last
stage of human development on earth. The _ná´ib_ (vicegerent) is
the vicegerent of God on earth. He is the completest Ego, the goal
of humanity,[21] the acme of life both in mind and body; in him the
discord of our mental life becomes a harmony. The highest power is
united in him with the highest knowledge. In his life, thought and
action, instinct and reason, become one. He is the last fruit of the
tree of humanity, and all the trials of a painful evolution are
justified because he is to come at the end. He is the real ruler
of mankind; his kingdom is the kingdom of God on earth. Out of the
richness of his nature he lavishes the wealth of life on others, and
brings them nearer and nearer to himself. The more we advance in
evolution, the nearer we get to him. In approaching him we are raising
ourselves in the scale of life. The development of humanity both in
mind and body is a condition precedent to his birth. For the present
he is a mere ideal; but the evolution of humanity is tending towards
the production of an ideal race of more or less unique individuals who
will become his fitting parents. Thus the Kingdom of God on earth means
the democracy of more or less unique individuals, presided over by the
most unique individual possible on this earth. Nietzsche had a glimpse
of this ideal race, but his atheism and aristocratic prejudices marred
his whole conception.”[22]

Every one, I suppose, will acknowledge that the substance of the
_Asrár-i Khudí_ is striking enough to command attention. In the poem,
naturally, this philosophy presents itself under a different aspect.
Its audacity of thought and phrase is less apparent, its logical
brilliancy dissolves in the glow of feeling and imagination, and it
wins the heart before taking possession of the mind. The artistic
quality of the poem is remarkable when we consider that its language
is not the author’s own. I have done my best to preserve as much of
this as a literal prose translation would allow. Many passages of
the original are poetry of the kind that, once read, is not easily
forgotten, _e.g._ the description of the Ideal Man as a deliverer for
whom the world is waiting, and the noble invocation which brings the
book to an end. Like Jalálu´ddín Rúmí, Iqbal is fond of introducing
fables and apologues to relieve the argument and illustrate his meaning
with more force and point than would be possible otherwise.

On its first appearance the _Asrár-i Khudí_ took by storm the younger
generation of Indian Moslems. “Iqbal,” wrote one of them, “has come
amongst us as a Messiah and has stirred the dead with life.” It remains
to be seen in what direction the awakened ones will march. Will they
be satisfied with a glorious but distant vision of the City of God, or
will they adapt the new doctrine to other ends than those which its
author has in view? Notwithstanding that he explicitly denounces the
idea of nationalism, his admirers are already protesting that he does
not mean what he says.

How far the influence of his work may ultimately go I will not attempt
to prophesy. It has been said of him that “he is a man of his age and
a man in advance of his age; he is also a man in disagreement with
his age.” We cannot regard his ideas as typical of any section of his
co-religionists. They involve a radical change in the Moslem mind, and
their real importance is not to be measured by the fact that such a
change is unlikely to occur within a calculable time.


[1] The present translation follows the text of the second edition.

[2] His criticism of Hafiz called forth angry protests from Súfí
circles in which Hafiz is venerated as a master-hierophant. Iqbal made
no recantation, but since the passage had served its purpose and was
offensive to many, he cancelled it in the second edition of the poem.
It is omitted in my translation.

[3] The principles of Islam, regarded as the ideal society, are set
forth in the author’s second poem, the _Rumúz-i Békhudí_ or “Mysteries
of Selflessness.” He explains the title by pointing out that the
individual who loses himself in the community reflects both the past
and the future as in a mirror, so that he transcends mortality and
enters into the life of Islam, which is infinite and everlasting. Among
the topics discussed are the origin of society, the divine guidance of
man through the prophets, the formation of collective life-centres, and
the value of History as a factor in maintaining the sense of personal
identity in a people.

[4] This view was held by the orthodox Imám Ahmad ibn Hanbal in its
extreme (anthropomorphic) form.

[5] Kor. ch. 23, v. 14: “Blessed is God, the best of those who create.”

[6] Cf. his note on “Islam and Mysticism” (_The New Era_, 1916, p. 250).

[7] Here Iqbal adds: “Mauláná Rúmí has very beautifully expressed this

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