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The Secrets of the Self


(The Secrets of the Self)


Dr. Muhammad Iqbal


from the original Persian with
introduction and notes

Reynold A. Nicholson




THE Asrar-i-Khudi 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-"

Iqbal is an Indian Muslim. During his stay in the West he studied modem philosophy, in which subjects 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 Asrar-i-Khudi gives no systematic account, though it puts his ideas in a popular and attractive form. While the Hind a 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 Muslims everywhere: accordingly he writes in Persian instead of Hindustani a happy choice, for amongst educated Muslims 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 charming.

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 remians us of Shelly ; yet he thinks and feels as a Muslim, 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 Muslims, 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 goods," who has blinded so many. It must be observed that when he speaks of religion he always means Islam. Non-Muslims are simply unbelievers, and (in theory, at any rate) the Jihad is justifiable, provided that it is waged "for God's sake alone." A free and independent Muslim fraternity, having the Ka'ba as its centre and knit together by love of Allah and devotion to the Prophet-such is lqbal's ideal. In the Asrar-i-Khudi and the' Ramuz-i-Bekhudi lie 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 Muslim, the latter with the life of the Islamic community.

The cry "Back to the Koran! Back to Mohammad!" 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 Khudi (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 Muslims once more become strong and -free. He appeals from the alluring raptures of Hafiz to the moral fervour of Jalalu'd din Rumi, 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 the 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 Muslim, in striving to make himself a more perfect individual, is helping to establish the-Islamic kingdom of God upon earth.3

The Asrar-i-Khudi is composed in the metre and modelled on the style of the famous Masnavi. In the prologue lqbal relates how Jalalu'd din Rumi, who is to him almost what Virgil was to Dante, appeared in a vision and bade him arise and sing. Much as be dislikes the type of Sufism exhibited by Hafiz, he pays homage to the pure and profound genius of Jalalu'ddin, though he rejects the doctrine of self-abandonment taught by the great Persian mystic and does not accompany him in his pan theistic Rights.

To European readers the Asrar-i Khudi 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 problem 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 for better than any explanation that could have been offered by me.



'The 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 individual ; 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 or 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 Sufiism 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, 'Takhallaqu bi-akhlaq 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 (Khudi) 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. Nor 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 it its preservation and expansion it has invented or developed out of itself certain instruments, ,e.g., senses, intellect, etc., which help in 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 themselves.

"The Ego attains to freedom by the removal of all observations in its way. It is partly free, partly determined9, 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 ethics11 must be judged from the stand-point of personality. My criticism of Plato12 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 immorality 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 Sufism 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. They 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 Resurrection14. 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 deepar 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 (sua'l) weakens it." All that is achieved without personal effort comes under sua'l. 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, ie. inaction. The lesson of assimilative action is given by the life of the Prophet, at least to a Muhammadan.17

"In another part of the poem18 I have hinted at the general principles of Muslim 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, niyabat-e-Alahi) is the third and last stage of human development on earth. The na'ib (vicegerent) is the vicegerent of God on earth. He is the completest Ego, the goal of humanity21, the acume of life both in mind and body; in him the -discord of our mental life becomes a harmony. This highest power is united in him with the highest knowledge. In this life thought and action, instinct and reason become one. He is the last fruit of the tree of humanity, and all the trial 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 Asrar i-Khudi 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 word is waiting, and the noble invocation which brings the book to an end. Like Jalal'uddin Rumi, Iqbal is found 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 Asrar-i Khudi took by storm the younger generation of Indian Muslim. ',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 one will march. Will they -be satisfied with a glorious but distant vision or 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 Muslim 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.