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Why Iqbal regarded Rumi as his Guide

By Dr. Nazir Qaiser

Rumi was the Persian mystic poet of Thirteenth Century. He is called Rumi because of his native place, Konya (Inconium) in Asia Minor which was then known as Rum. He was born in C.E. 1207 and died in 1273. Iqbal acknowledges Rumi as his guide without reservation. No thinker except Rumi has acquired the title of the Pir (guide) from Iqbal. He has whole heartedly paid him tribute and respect nearly in all his books. This tribute arouses much curiosity when it is paid by Iqbal, an eminent poet-philosopher with numinous vision and outstanding scholarship.

The most important factor which impressed Iqbal to acknowledge Rumi as his guide was Rumi’s interpretation of the Quran and his profound love for the Holy Book and the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him).

Iqbal believes that Rumi deeply understands the spirit of the Quran. He says:

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“The light of the Quran is hidden in his (Rumi’s) breast, the cup of Jam fades in the presence of his mirror”


Iqbal openly acknowledges Rumi’s Mathnavi as the Quran in Pahlvi. He says:

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“There appeared the Master, formed in the mould of Truth, who wrote the Koran in Persian.”

Khawaja Hamid Irfani rightly says:

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“In understanding and interpreting the Quran, Rumi is in consonance with Iqbal”.

Iqbal is very right in accepting Rumi as the great interpreter of the Quran. Even before Iqbal, Rumi commanded this status. Jami called his Mathnavi “The Quran in Persian” (Hast Quran Dar Zaban-i-Pehlvi).

Rumi’s love and regard for the Quran and the Prophet are worthy of note here. About the Quran, Rumi says:

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“Though the Quran is (dictated) from the lips of the Prophet – if anyone says God did not speak it, he is an infidel”.

Again:

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“To thee the Quran is even as the rod (of Moses), it swallows up (all) infidelities, like a dragon”.

About the Prophet, Rumi says:

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“If Ahmad should display that glorious pinion (his spiritual nature), Gabriel would remain dumbfounded unto everlasting”.

Rumi’s love for the Prophet and this homage paid to the Prophet are expressed in several ways. In Mathnavi alone there are numerous sayings of the Prophet which Rumi has quoted and made caption of his verses. “Still is Na’t of Maulana Rumi well known in Turkey and the countries where Rumi’s mystical poetry is read.” Above all, on the meaning of “But for thee, I would not have created heavens”, Rumi asserts that God “bestowed an existence on the heavens” because of His love for the Prophet.

It is however, not incidental that Iqbal acknowledged Rumi as guide. It is worthy of note that all Iqbal’s books were published after 1908, when he had come back from Europe after deeply studying European philosophy and Western way of life. All these books are replete with Iqbal’s love and regards for the Quran and the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) and his respect for Rumi and a guide. In fact, he now appreciated Islam in a much more intensive way than before. In this respect he found a kindred spirit and an illustrious guide in Rumi, whom he has openly acknowledged as such on different places.

Besides, there are other potential reasons for Iqbal’s acceptance of Rumi as his guide. To my mind, Rumi’s own towering position as religious leader, incontestable mystic poet and distinguished thinker are other highly important reasons which impressed Iqbal.

Rumi is regarded as an eminent religious scholar. “The Muslim World has honoured him with the title of Maulwi-i-Ma’navi (the Doctor of Meaning), a religious scholar who is capable of philosophizing, of penetrating into the meaning of physical and spiritual phenomena, and lifting the veil of appearance to peep into the reality behind them.” Undoubtedly, “Rumi as a philosopher of religion stand shoulders above all those Muslim thinkers who are called Hukama in the history of Muslim thought.”

Rumi possesses an incontestable position as a mystic poet. Khalifa Abdul Hakim’s findings are self explanatory. He says that “in the entire range of mystical literature of the whole world, there is none to equal him either in depth or in comprehensiveness and extent. There have been mystics both in the East and the West whose experience in the realm of the spirit may have equalled the spiritual perceptions of Rumi, but their emotional or intuitional side was not matched by an equally clear and powerful intellect.” Again, Rumi is one of those rare saints and mystics whose intellectual fiber and creative moral and social effort is not weakened by subjective emotional experiences unrelated to the realities of everyday life. In him spirituality, nationality, and universal morality have found a healthy synthesis. God, universe, and humanity are embraced in a single all encompassing vision, the vision of creative love.” Dr. R.A. Nicholson expresses his views regarding Rumi’s uniqueness as a mystic poet thus: “In Rumi the Persian mystical genius found its supreme expression. Viewing the vast landscape of the Sufi poetry, we see him standing out as a sublime mountain-peak; the many other poets before and after him are but foot-hills in comparison. The influence of his example, his thought and his language is powerfully felt through all the succeeding centuries; every Sufi after him capable of reading Persian has acknowledged his unchallenged leadership.”

It is probably due to this uniqueness that in Sufi mysticism Rumi “is justly regarded as a supreme master.” Professor E.G. Brown terms him “the most eminent sufi poet whom Persia has produced…”

To Professor A. J. Arberry, “Jalaluddin Rumi has long been recognized as the greatest mystical poet of Islam, and it can well be argued that he is the supreme mystical poet of all mankind.”

Rumi is the highly esteemed as a thinker, not only for his wide scope of thought and profound insight, but also because he is fore-runner of many modern streams of thought. His thought incorporates Voluntarism and Spiritual Pluralism, the two modern trends which remind us of Nietzsche, Schopenhaur, Bergson, Lloyd Morgan, William James and James Ward in the post-Kantian period. Again, in his thought activism, individualism, theory of Emergent Evolution and religious experience are blended into one – a fact which makes him an encyclopaedic thinker. His view of evolution is a greater contribution in the history of philosophical and scientific thought. It has rightly been said of him in this respect, “Neither modern philosophy nor modern science has left him behind. For about a century now the entire philosophical and scientific thought has been dominated by the concept of evolution and it is the evolutionary concept that has been mainly responsible for sabotaging ancient theologies and views of creation, resulting in almost universal skepticism. Theology everywhere has been making an attempt to save the abiding realities and values of religion by accepting universal evolution as an indubitable fact and recasting old beliefs and dogmas. Rumi performed this task six centuries ago in a manner that can offer guidance to all who want to reconcile religion with philosophy and science.

Again, in the field of psychology his thought is equally valuable. Erich From rightly believes that Rumi was: “A man of profound insight into the nature of man. He discussed the nature of the instincts, the power of reason over the instincts, the nature of the self, of consciousness, the unconscious and cosmic consciousness; he discussed the problems of freedom, of certainty, of authority. In all these areas, Rumi has a great deal to say which is important to those concerned with the nature of man.

It is probably why Iqbal says that nobody has taken birth after Rumi as equal to him from the soil of Persia. He beautifully puts it thus:

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“No Rumi has taken birth from the orchards of Persia: although the same are the clay and water of Persia and Tabriz, O’Saqi”.

Rather in the whole history of Muslim thought we do not come across any one except Rumi, who combines in him mystic poet, religious leader and thinker of high order. Only Al-Ghazali can be brought into comparison with him. But he does not have that rich combination which we find in Rumi. Besides, Ghazali “reconciled Sufism, with its many unorthodox practices with Islam and grafted mysticism upon its intellectualism.” But Rumi “scorons book-learning and traditional knowledge, and he must have condemned the scientific and philosophical method of Ghazali as alien to the true spirit of Sufism.” Again, “Ghazali can seldom compete with him in ardour and exaltation of feeling, in originality and profundity of thought, or in power and freedom of expression.”

Iqbal’s own criticism on Ghazali may be read with great interest. Iqbal remarks: “Ghazali, finding no hope in analytic thought, moved to mystic experience, and there found an independent content for religion. In this way he succeeded in securing for religion the right to exist independently of science and metaphysics. But the revelation of the total infinite in mystic experience convinced him of the finitude and inconclusiveness of thought and drove him to a line of cleavage between thought and intuition. He failed to see that thought and intuition are organically related and that thought must necessarily stimulate finitude and inconclusiveness because of its alliance with serial time.

In the end, it is important to note that Iqbal’s acceptance of Rumi as a guide does not mean that Iqbal has blindly followed Rumi. Rather, like Aristotle, he excels his guide in some very important respects. His original reflections, his philosophical thinking, and lucid style earn him a distinctive place. Iqbal is regarded with a great respect by scholars, philosophers, and religious leaders for his highly inspiring and dynamic philosophy and prophetic vision. Dr. Schimmel pointedly remarks: “No body will assert that he was a prophet-that would be both wrong from the point of view of history of religions and incompatible with the Islamic dogma of the finality of prophethood—but we may admit that he has been touched by Gabriel’s Wing.

A famous poet Girami, said about Iqbal:

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“He did the work of a prophet, though one may not call him a prophet,”

Actually Iqbal “is a disciple who by virtue of his faith, is dyed deep in the spirit of his master.” His return to Rumi is really a return to the heritage of Islam. And to take inspiration and guidance from the heritage is natural. “Much of the material with which a genius builds a master-piece is supplied by the accumulated heritage of the past, embodied in the life and literature of his time and no one can see the full stature of his genius without the study of this heritage.”

Thus, it is the source that Iqbal is returning. If the Mathnavi of Rumi was an interpretation of the Quran for the people of 1300 A.D., the works of Iqbal are interpretation of the Quran to reconstruct religious thought in Islam in the light of modern knowledge of philosophy and science for a people of 20th century. Iqbal himself say:

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“Like Rumi in the Harem I called the people to piety. From him I learnt the secrets of life. In olden days when trouble arose he was there. To meet trouble in present times I am here.”

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