Stray Reflections on Iqbal – 8

Stray Reflections on Iqbal – 8

By Dr Maqsood Jafri

Iqbal’s concept of Egohood

Iqbal day is the day of meditation, estimation, and rededication to the principles, ideals and values preached by Iqbal. This day furnishes an opportunity to all who have faith in his enthusiastic and fervent message. The poetry of Iqbal is like a fathomless ocean of erudition and his devotees are like spectators standing on the seashore surprisingly staring at the tempestuous swirls of his scholasticism and tumultuous abysses of his reflection. His poetical ingenuity and philosophical maturity are splendid.

The philosopher-poet Dr Muhammad Iqbal was a man of extraordinary mental faculties and spiritual zeal buttressed with Western and Eastern knowledge of history, theology, literature, science and politics. He was not an idle-dreamer. He was in fact a philosopher of traditional as well as modern thought, who had made a careful study of human affairs in the light of world intellectual movements and historical processes. He exercised all his wisdom to fetch the radical causes of the economic, the political and the cultural subjugation of the Muslims of the sub-continent in general and the Muslims of the world in particular. His message of Khudi is an armour against the assaults of alien factors upon the life of an individual and a nation.

Iqbal gave a clarion call of Egohood for the reconstruction and revival of Islamic values. He stirred the Muslims, and infused new spirit into them. He enlightened, energized and guided the world of Islam to its destiny beyond the azure firmament. He resuscitated its glorious past and revealed the vision of its future. His verses bestir storms, vie with the sublimity of new horizons and liberate Earth rooted man to dive into the depths of his own ego, and saturate himself with the pearls of divine energy aspiring to conquer and absorb the universe within him. Hence he says:

“I have lost in the conscience of the cosmos. And the string has brought light in to my eye.”

I venture it imperative to discuss in a nutshell the concept of Iqbal’s Egohood as it is the life blood of his whole philosophy.

Iqbal’s concept of ego is personal as well as social. It is religious-cum-social in its nature. He was essentially a religious and philosophical bard. It is necessary to go through the works of world masters if one intends to have an understanding of Iqbal’s poetry. What is ego? He has himself defined it as such:

“It is the determination of personality and cognition of self.”

Socrates once said: “Know thyself.” The Holy Quran emphatically lays stress on the cognizance of “Nafs” in the verse:

“Who can detest Abraham’s way except he who knoweth not his ego.”

Hazrat Ali says:

“He who cognizeth his ego cognizeth his Lord.”

Iqbal derived the idea of Egohood from the Quran and modelled it according to new pattern. Some, Westernized critics of Iqbal claim that his concepts of Khudi and Mard-i-Momin are derived from Nietzsche’s concept of superman. But at the same time, they forget that Iqbal was crusading against the Sufi ideal of passive contemplation to re-orientate the ego of community to strive against the slumbered conscience of the Muslims of his era.

Iqbal’s concept of Egohood is religious, liberal, humanistic, collective and in a universe where God is alive whilst Nietzsche’s concept of superman is aristocratic, atheistic, authoritative and in a universe where God is dead. Iqbal’s concept of Egohood and its interpretation is quite his original and personal. He is the poet-prophet of Khudi. Dr Nicholson in the introduction of “The Secrets of Self” opines:

“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.”

Dr A. Aziz in “Iqbal – As a Thinker” is of the view that:

“Iqbal has based his philosophy of life on his philosophy of the Self.” The real cause of the Muslim deterioration in Nafi-i-Khudi (the Negation of Selfhood). Iqbal suggests: “Isbat-i-Khudi (the Self-affirmation) as its remedy.”

Dr. Ishrat Hassan in The Metaphysics of Iqbal writes:

“Iqbal’s concept of self is metaphysical in its nature and includes the factors of mystical experience. Self is essentially directive, free and immortal.”

From the above three citations it seems as Iqbal believed in the mystical individualism.

Does it mean that he was ignorant of modern philosophical movements and propounded a philosophy which has been conceived out-dated in Europe quite a few decades ago. It would be absolutely unjust to think massive erudite like Iqbal was unaware of the world’s intellectual movements. Actually, his concept of manhood is twofold. At first stage, it is personal, intuitive, mystical and individualistic, and at the second stage it is revolutionary, social and collective.

Dr. Ishrat Wahid about its second stage comments as such:

“The ego can develop fully only in association with other egos and not in isolation. This means that the ego has to live and work in a society.”

It manifests that individual is for community and community is for individual. Nevertheless, I think it necessary to mention that Iqbal differed from Karl Marx as far as human conscience is concerned. The Marxian concept of man portrays man as answerable to his own conscience and then to the community. Self- responsibility and the devotion to community is the ultimate aim of human life.

Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, in his book “The Problem of Method” has scientifically discussed Marxian existentialism in the light of communism. I am convinced that the ideal communist state that Marx dreamt does not exist anywhere in the world. All present totalitarian states have crushed the individual’s ego and conscience. They do not practice communism but are the representative regimes of Militarism and state imperialism.

In the times of Hazrat Ali the Khawarij (Rebels) also claimed for a stateless society based on the Quranic principles in which every Muslim can act freely and prove to be Self-responsible. But Hazrat Ali opposed this idea on the basis of its impracticability and stood to establish a pure Quranic state.

Karl Marx visioned a state where man will not exploit man. Work will be the matter of pleasure rather than necessity. Goods will be in abundance. Man will respect man and a classless, familyless and a policeless state will be established. It will be only possible when the conscience of man is awakened. Iqbal in a letter to Sir Francis Young Husband writes that Bolshevism plus God is Islam. Iqbal differed with Marx on the point of God.

Iqbal was a strong Monotheist while Marx believed in an Absolute atheism, Iqbal had felt that Islam was being misinterpreted and misrepresented for the last fourteen centuries. As he could not appreciate Marxism on spiritual and liberal grounds he stood to reconstruct Islamic society. He saw the fabric of Islam staggering and wagging on the props of Capitalism and Mullahism which were sufficient to deride man’s individuality and spoil the Muslim’s collective life. Hence, he revolted against Capitalism.

According to Iqbal the following factors fortify the human Ego, namely: love, faqr, courage, tolerance, legally earned wealth, action, truth, original and creative activity and crusade. As against these positive factors there are certain negative forces which are constantly at work to weaken the ego and stultify human personality. These are: Fear, Beggary, Slavery, Flattery, Cowardice, Inertion and Inferiority Complex.

Iqbal’s concept of Ego is anti-pantheistic. He gained vital strength in this connection from his teacher McTaggart who followed Hegel’s doctrine of the Absolute Idea considering reality as spirit. McTaggart in his book – ‘Studies Hegelian Cosmology’ proves that the finite egos are the only differentiations of the Absolute, and accordingly the only really real and immortal beings.

Iqbal’s ego can only develop in a liberal and moralistic society. It was his belief that every man is a separate entity, therefore, he should have equal and fair opportunities of progress and development of his Ego. When Descartes pronounced Cogito Ergo Sum, i.e. I think therefore, I exist, proves that the subject of our thinking process does exist and that is our ego. Volo Ergo Sum i.e. I will, therefore, I exist. Who wills? It is nothing but our Ego which is intuitive and Self-experienced.

Ghazali regards self to be a separate identity over and above the mental states and experiences. It is a substance, which is simple, is divisive, and immutable. But the orthodox psychologists regard the Self to be mere accumulation of experiences. It is a conglomeration of sensations. But , Iqbal disagrees with Ghazali on metaphysical grounds and reacts against Behaviourists on empirical grounds. It may be true that the self is the come and go of experiences but these experiences are, in no way, to be treated as separate from each other.

There is within us a “succession without change.” Bergson in his book “Mind-Energy” and “Introduction To Memory” discusses the dual nature of Self. He finds a multiplicity in unity and a unity in multiplicity. Iqbal believes in the unity of self in the sense that the various experiences are recorded by a single ego by an “I”. It is essentially creative, appreciative, purposeful, directive and progressive. It is the centre of multiple ends. Hence he says:

“About the freedom of human Ego, the earlier thinkers were of the opinion that it acts under the laws of Causality. Whether it is physical or mental necessity, our actions are determined under the laws of mechanism and necessity”.

But, Iqbal in his thesis “Metaphysics in Persia” refutes such ideas. He says if Ego is not free, then all the personal judgements would have to be taken as delusion. And if human actions are predetermined in the course of events, then there is no justification in imposing social, moral and political injunctions upon any man. The life of Self essentially lies in its will attitude. Every man is free to think and act provided he does not harm the interests of community. J.S. Mill in his book “On Liberty” has beautifully discussed the problem of human freedom. Iqbal was a great supporter of the freedom of human Ego.

He considers Ego not only to be free but also be immortal. Ibn-i-Rushd conceived “Intellect to be immortal in its universal nature.” Plato considered “ideas” to be immortal in their permanent forms. Aristotle regarded “Mind” to be immortal in its absolute rationalism. Bergson believed in the immortality of vital Elan as a life-principle. Nietzsche thought energy to be immortal and introduced his doctrine of Eternal Resurrection. Kant furnishes his argument of personal immortality on the supreme good, perfect happiness and ethical basis.

This immortality is of course personal but its argument is based upon the assumption that the consummation of virtue and happiness is somehow possible which is absolutely an optimistic inference. But, Iqbal sought out the secret of personal immortality on the basis of Time and Space. Time , in Physics is synonymous with space. It is serial in its nature. Hence, external ego is chained in moments, instants and events. But our internal Ego is intuitive and lives in pure duration of time which is not serial in its nature.

Time is considered like a thread and the successive events with respect to each other can be represented by the words “Before and after.” It is our own mental and mathematical division of time as past, present and future. Time is objective and we live in our present. Plato in his book “Timacus” considers space as an aggregate of solid objects between which there is a void having neither space nor form, nor any characteristics. Zeno considered that space is infinitely divisible and motion is impossible. Hence, we see the classical Greek philosophers preached that the world is a static world of points under going no evolutionary processes. Iqbal disagrees with them.

Amongst the Muslim thinkers Aishwarya did not believe in the infinite divisibility of Space and Time. They concern motion only as the atom’s passage through space. Hence, they introduced the motion of jumps which is akin to the modern quantum jumps postulated by Plank and Neil Bohr. Ibn-i-Hazm believed that space and Time are continuous. Cantor also seems to be under the influence of Ibn-i-Hazm. Jallaluddin Dawwani and Iraqi divide Time into Material Time and Spiritual Time. They believed as Material Time is divisible and serial in its nature and its ‘nows’ are short as in the same way Spiritual. Time is serial and divisible. But when it reaches its highest stage of immateriality, it is turned into Divine Time which is absolutely free from the divisibility, sequence and change and is always in motion like space. Iqbal, in the following verse manifests this fact:

“This stillness is a mirage. Every atom of dust is in motion.”

Iqbal also rejects Newton’s pure materiality, his doctrine of fixed ether and his assumption that there must be a point in space which is absolutely at rest. Newton’s first law of motion which is called the law of “Inertia” also proves to be a farce if observed from different planets at a time. Nietzsche is very close to Newton in considering the universe as a closed off unity of energy. This motion strengthens Fatalism, destroys the action and relaxes the tension of the Ego.

Iqbal revolts against it and appreciates Albert Einstein’s concept of Time and Space. His theory of Relativity does not only serve scientific purpose but also vicariously matures the concept of Egohood. Einstein rejects the notion of absolute simultaneity. According to him, Time and Space are not absolute and separate from each other but are relative and mutually dependent. He tells us that the world is not three dimensional but four dimensional, because we require four elements, viz; length, breadth, height and time to determine an event completely.

Iqbal admires the propounder of the theory of Relativity who has given fatal blow to materialism and atheism.

In his lecture Iqbal expostulates the position of ego in connection with Time and Space as follows:

“The ego, therefore, is not space bound in the sense in which the body is space bound. Again, mental and physical events are both in time, but the time span of the Ego is fundamentally different to time span of the physical event.”

According to Iqbal, therefore, the life of ego exists in movement from appreciation to efficiency, from intellect to intuition and atomic time and space are born out of this movement.

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Categories: Allama Iqbal, Ideology

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