A View Counter to the Sufi Philosophy of Cosmic Absorption (Fana Fillah) in Dr Allama Iqbal’s poem ‘Secrets of the Self’ (Asrar-e-Khudi)
by Navid Zaidi
Napoleon said, ‘ I am a thing, not a person. ‘
So, what am I? A thing, or a person?
What do I find when I fix my gaze on my own conscious experience?
I pass from state to state. I am happy, sad, angry, loving and hating. I have wills, desires, emotions, aims and resolutions. I am judging, willing, and perceiving. Sensations, feelings and ideas, such is my existence.
You cannot perceive me as a thing in space. In reality, I am a self-contained exclusive center of experience. I know my reality in my acts of perceiving, judging, and willing. You must interpret, understand and appreciate me in my judgments, in my will-attitudes, aims and aspirations.
I am a Person. My personality is individual, unique and private. My pleasures, pains and desires are exclusively mine. My feelings, hates and loves, judgments and resolutions are mine alone.
Life is the fundamental fact of universe. It is a forward assimilative movement. The essence of Life is continual creation of desires and ideals. In man, the center of Life becomes a Person. For the purpose of preservation and expansion, Life has invented or developed out of itself certain instruments such as senses and intellect, which help it to assimilate.
All Life is individual and God Himself is an individual. He is the most unique individual. The universe is an association of individuals. However, this association is not complete in itself. It is the result of a conscious effort. We are gradually moving from chaos to cosmos and are helpers in this achievement. Thus the universe is not a finished 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. He helps bring order into at least a portion of the chaos.
Obviously, this view of man and the universe is opposed to that of Sufism and Buddhism which regard absorption (fana fillah ) in a universal life or soul as the final aim and salvation of man.
The 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. Thus man becomes unique by becoming more and more like the most unique individual.
Physically as well as spiritually man is a self-contained center 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/she is finally absorbed in God. On the contrary, he/she absorbs God into him/herself.
The personality attains to freedom by the removal of all obstructions in its way by mastering Nature. In other words, personality is an endeavor for freedom.
CONTINUATION OF PERSONALITY
Personality is a state of tension and can continue only if that state of tension 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. How do we do that? By cultivating Love.
EDUCATION OF PERSONALITY
Personality is fortified by Love (Ishq). Although the word ‘Love’ is used in a very wide sense, it means the desire to assimilate, to absorb. The highest form of Love is the creation of values and ideals and the effort to achieve them.
As Love fortifies the personality, ‘Asking’ (Sawaal) weakens it. All that is achieved without personal effort comes under ‘Asking’. The son of a rich man who inherits his father’s wealth is an ‘asker’ (beggar); so is every one who thinks the thought of others.
Thus, in order to fortify our personality we should cultivate Love i.e. the power of assimilative action, and avoid all forms of ‘asking’ i.e inaction.
This is an excellent and accessible elucidation of Allama Iqbal’s position with respect to the poles of action and inaction or the modes of activity and passivity. Iqbal seems to have been particularly critical of, even “allergic” to, any signs of passivity or the idea of “surrender”; he couldn’t tolerate any such tendency and tended to see it where it didn’t have to exist, except on the level of superficial acquaintance. Although he was a student of Hegel (and Nietzsche, who also overcompensated, I think, tendencies toward passivity or “weakness”), he was not always aware of the dialectical nature of concepts and reality, i.e., that weakness was or contained strength and passivity, activism and vice versa.
At any rate, he seemed to think of all mystics, Sufi or Buddhist, with their talk of no-self or Fana-Fillah, as invested in passive surrender and escapism. Obviously, such elements have existed (and not only among mystics!) and still exist, but these cannot be said to characterize all mystic discourse. On the other hand, an apparently excessively ACTIVE discourse does not characterize the producer of such as a man of action who avoids any defensive attitudes toward reality. It seems obvious to me that many mystics have been persons (cf. Iqbal’s and Nietzsche’s exclusion of women from their overly broad speculations) of action. In other words, it is not what they DO that characterizes Sufis but how and with what frame of mind or attitude; that is, the effort in Sufism is, to paraphrase Bulleh Shah, to reduce as much as possible the narcissistic factor in whatever one does, and–this I think is crucial–at the same time not to lose sight of the human reality, that it is nearly impossible to eliminate this element from the human psyche. So constant life effort and training are required.
Iqbal was a great poet and scholar whose reach, however, was restricted by certain biases; hence, it is hard to imagine him appealing to as wide an audience as Bulleh Shah, Kabir, and Rumi. That is a shame, because he has so much wisdom on offer, particularly in his poetry.
Dr Zaidi deserves congratulations on a valiant and eloquent effort to try to bring out the things of universal interest in Iqbal’s philosophy.
Dr Shah: Thanks for an excellent analysis. I think Iqbal was not much concerned with Ego’s self-development; his gaze was always fixed on Islam as a social and political ideal. To his mind, the Sufi and Eastern systems of thought do give us theory and help in terms of self-development but they don’t give us a concrete hold on the social and political situation i.e a lasting culture and civilization. He wants to appeal to a modern state of mind generation whose outlook is much different than the Sufi systems of the 13th century. In this regard, I believe Iqbal has much more to offer to the modern Muslim mind. His philosophy is apparently non-universal, as you have correctly pointed out, like Rumi and Kabir since he is a religious Muslim thinker but I have no doubt that his views on Man’s destiny and freedom of the Ego can easily fit in any religious or non-religious system in the world.