M. Irfan Iqbal
hroughout history, prophets, poets and philosophers have appeared to remind human beings of their true nature -- a nature that consists of a temporal as well as a heavenly element. They have attempted to rekindle in the human beings the Divine Spark which is an integral part of their makeup. Speaking of this Divine Spark, the Qur’an notes that when Allah (SWT) created the first human being, He breathed His own spirit into this new creation (Al-Hijr 15:29 & Al-Sajdah 32:9). Consequently, human nature is not ‘‘human,’’ it is a ‘‘humanness’’ that has an element of the Divine in it. But after been created ‘‘in the best having conformation’’ (Al-Teen 95:4), the human being was reduced ‘‘to the lowest of the low’’ (AlTeen 95:5). The question now arises as to whether the human individual can again rise to the original noble heights at which he/she was created. In the twentieth century, no Muslim thinker has delved into the depths of this issue more perceptively than the great poetphilosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938). Iqbal formulated his philosophy of khudi in order to express his ideas on this subject. The following quatrain illustrates the motive underlying his spiritual and intellectual endeavors as well as the essential core of his philosophy:
Why should I ask the sages about my beginning? It is my ultimate destiny that I am really concerned about. The writer is a student in Medicine and Public Health at Cornell University, New York (USA).
Iqbal’s Philosophy of Khudi
Elevate your khudi to such heights that before every decree, God Himself asks you: ‘‘Tell me, what is your wish?’’
Iqbal’s philosophy essentially revolves around the issue of the progression of human being, or the rise of the ‘‘self’’ or ‘‘ego’’ -- the Iqbalian khudi -- in the direction of attaining exalted heights -- the heights at which Almighty Allah (SWT) Himself begins to take the wishes, hopes, and aspirations of the human being into account before formulating His decree. Iqbal argues that khudi is the root of all existence, an entity which may appear to be perishable but which can attain immortality. The human ego or ‘‘I’’ has the potential of achieving permanence as an element in the constitution of the universe provided that it adopts a certain mode of life. The ego can evolve, progress, and succeed as well as degenerate, atrophy, and fail. The Qur’an puts these two possibilities as follows: ‘‘The one who causes this (self) to grow in purity has indeed attained success; and the one who is negligent of this (self) has indeed utterly failed.’’ (Al-Shams 91:9,10). The human ego has the ability to grow by absorbing the elements of the universe, of which it appears to be an insignificant part, as well as the ability to incorporate the attributes of Allah (SWT). Muslim Sufis have advised: Create in yourselves the attributes of Allah. If the human ego is able to do this, it would become worthy of being the vicegerent of God on earth. Iqbal argues that the human ego has a central place in the universe, while it is, at the same time, intimately linked with the Ultimate Ego, or God Himself. Iqbal notes, ....throughout the entire gamut of being runs the gradually rising note of egohood until it reaches perfection in man. That is why the Qur’an declares the Ultimate Ego to be nearer to man 1 than his own neck-vein.
In order to reach these noble heights of
The Qur’anic Horizons 3:2
perfection, the ego has to pass through three stages which Iqbal describes in Asrar-e-Khudi. These three stages can be seen as the different spiritual phases through which the ego has to pass in its journey of spiritual ascension: • Ita‘at, or obedience to the Divine Law; • Dabt-e-Nafs, or self-control, which is the highest form of self-consciousness or egohood; • Niyabat-e-Ilahi, or the vicegerency of God. Even though these three stages in the spiritual progression of the human ego superficially...