The Self in Crisis: The Reconstruction of Self in Iqbal’s Wisdom
By Ahsan Qazi
“Na Diya Nishan-e-Manzil Mujhe Ae Hakeem Tu Ne
You have not led my way, O man of wisdom!
Mujhe Kya Gila Ho Tujh Se, Tu Na Reh Nasheen Na Rahi
But why, complain? You know not the way.”
Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal
The self had been at a constant struggle, and the internal core of my being had been shaken. “Who am I?” I posed this question to myself daily amidst the deep crisis in my life. The crisis manifested itself in a time when I was searching for profound meaning in life and relationships. Then, all seemed meaningless, and the life I was living was succumbing to immeasurable despair and melancholy. To some extent, it still persists. I was looking into the abyss of moral decay, which seemed more horrifying than the idea of body perishing in the darkness of some black pit. I was measuring my sentiments on the spectrum of ill fate. The sentiments had no validity in the realm of normal and happy, so such spectrum of normal and happy had not been my expectation. My life started to topple from the year 2015 on words. To lose a body was justified at one point in time, but to lose the self, the essence of self, I could not justify. In words of Earnest Becker who put it so eloquently in his The Denial of Death that “To grow up at all is to conceal the mass of internal scar tissue that throbs in our dreams.” This was a deliberate choice I made at the time of my downfall—to simply grow up and hide the pangs of my former experiences, but who would come to my rescue? This is when I knew none others amongst the mortals than Dr. Allama Iqbal, to whom I leapt for the reconstruction of self. Self-discovery had to be made, and it had to be made sooner. I felt sickened.
In my attempt to take my private life to the public realm, I hope that my effort at self-discovery will reflect on Iqbal’s concept of the self thoroughly. Moreover, the wisdom that I continue to gain may help those who wish to understand the spirit of self and those who are on the verge of self-destruction. Although Iqbal’s poetry has been interpreted in a broad sense to appeal to the masses on a nationalistic level, the microcosm that makes Iqbal’s poetry potent for the revival of self, from saving the self from the morbid state does not generate the key dialogue in the public sphere much. Had I not carefully chosen and reflected on Iqbal’s heart of poetry solely reflecting on the self, I would have been completed lost. To show the reconstruction of self, I must slightly reflect on my devastation first.
The advent of adult age brought some gruesome challenges along the way, some self-inflicted, and some uncontrollable factors. I felt suffocated. The sighs were more from the rooted demons within. Each situation and each scenario granted a valid reason to escape. This is when I had been aloof the most from all I knew. The isolation and the duration it lasted overtook what I now see it as a nightmare of yesterday. Today, it highjacks my dreams daily with some memories of the past. The truth is hard to admit, but I sought a new beginning to do everything right from the start again, so I justified wrong approaches to absolve me of psycho-social isolation, which clouded my judgment in many ways. I promised myself to give the best of all I had to the newer faces with a hope-filled heart. My days had been committed to such beginnings, but how to initiate those beginnings without hiding from my reality. This started a newer phase of life that temporarily brought some joy to me, but I never imagined that the final result would ruin the self. I hoped repeatedly that I would not be let down since I was still striving to transmit my truer self. The failed result of my newer beginning came sooner than I had imagined. I was left with the only question, “how could I be where I am?” The paradox of my situation was to rebuild ruins into another stage for more ruins just to see the short-lived dream. Since my life had come to a complete halt, I desperately sought the means of saving myself. This is when I reminded myself that Iqbal’s wisdom on the essence of self is my only remedy irrespective of how ill I felt.
Riffat Hassan, a prominent scholar on Iqbal writes in “Iqbal’s Khudi—Its Meaning and Strengthening Factors” that Iqbal’s concept of (Khudi), an Urdu word for the self, “meant self-reliance”, “self-respect,” “self-confidence,” “self-preservation,” and “self-assertion.” One of the most appealing meanings of self has been “self-preservation,” which Iqbal intended if one examines his poetry carefully. Iqbal’s reflection on Khudi calls the authentic self into question. Furthermore, Iqbal placed extreme importance on upholding truth or to the cause of truth to give voice to the true self that is capable of mining great meaning out of human life and reaching great moral and spiritual height.
For Iqbal, a human being is more than just an animal or a microorganism as Western philosophy dictates. Man’s one of major quality is that he shapes his own destiny with his actions, and how he goes about shaping his destiny brings to the revelation of the self. Here Iqbal would differ from Earnest Becker who mentioned in his The Denial of Death that “What does it mean to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous. It means to know that one is food for worms.” Iqbal’s wisdom dictated that man sees himself more than just a being whose final end is in the ground. In the span of his life that a man lives, he is accountable and responsible for more than just his body. He has to nurture his inner-being to seek the self-contentment, which gives him deeper meaning in life that he seeks so desperately. To find a purpose worth the life that a man is bestowed with is, to begin with looking within and calling the self to approach the very questions that a man finds baffling. How I reached such conclusions about Iqbal’s wisdom was precisely tuning into his poetics on Khudi, the self without relating to any nationalistic, political or some broad sentiments.
In a beautiful rendition of Iqbal’s poetry, Adab-e-Khud Aghai (Ethics/Manners of Self-Awareness) that Mian Yousef Salahuddin composed on Pakistan Television Network is precisely how I started reconstructing myself. I read Iqbal’s poetry before, but this time I needed to absorb it. My morning would begin with keenly listening to the chosen works of Iqbal in Adab-e-Khud Aghai. Iqbals’ words brought truth to light, to know the essence of self, and see my being more than a bearer of grief. The truth stood still before me. Only I had to look in its face. I broke down, leaning against the shower wall when Iqbal’s words struck every sentiment worth reexamination:
“Ye Peyam De Gyi Hai Mujhe Bad-e-Subahgahi
The morning breeze has whispered to me a secret,
Ke Khudi Ke Arifon Ka Hai Maqam Padshahi
That those who know their self-hood, are equal to kings.”
An another verse within the same poem went on to say:
“Teri zindagi issi se, teri aabru issi se
Self-hood is the essence of your life and honor,
Jo rahi khudi to shahi, na rahi to roosiyahi
You shall rule with it, but without it be in disgrace.”
In light of such powerful stanzas, I had a difficult time accepting what I became and where my life stood. I could not look at myself in a way that granted self-respect, that showed slight evidence of self-preservation. I decided not to let the poetics of Iqbal conflict the ego. My ego was not hurt because it was confronted with the truth. Rather, I was humbled to receive such truth. Iqbal’s poetics has been mainly for those who have lost their way. His poetics has been erroneously connected more on broader or universal level whereas Iqbal’s poetry speaks to each of us on an intimate level. This makes his wisdom so insightful. Because I forgot who I was or who I could be, disgrace smeared my honor. It was the very honor that Iqbal so eloquently emphasized that “Self-hood is the essence of your life and honor.” To not preserve it is to embrace disgrace, and to preserve it is to hold the honor of kings. Such words assured the way for my self-reconstruction.
As I read more into Iqbal’s poetry, his words had me repeatedly sound out the stanzas until my voice within confronted my inner fiends forcibly that I promised to not come close to such fragile state again in life:
“Khird Ke Paas Khabar Ke Siwa Kuch Aur Nahin
The mind can give you naught, but what with doubt is fraught
Tera Ilaj Nazar Ke Siwa Kuch Aur Nahin
One look of Saintly Guide can needful cure provide.”
The answer was within these stanzas. I had to embrace it only. Iqbal so gracefully puts it that intellect only has the power to reason. Intellect can only gift one with knowledge, but man’s true answer to himself is to look within. Without looking within, intellect and its ability to reason does not relieve the man of his true struggle. Intellect is only a minor portion of self-preservation. What could intellect do for one if one does not know his moral and spiritual ground, both stemming from self-awareness. A better answer is to call the self to question. It is to understand that knowing one’s self is the true accomplishment of a man. Iqbal highlights the blueprint of man’s existence. Such reason may be perhaps one of the reasons that Almighty commanded angels to prostrate before Adam, a man. God granted man the nufs and, in words of Iqbal the Khudi to maintain his social and spiritual well-being.
Finally, I discovered Iqbal’s key of wisdom when I read the following stanzas:
“Aaeen-e-Jawanmardan, Haq Goyi-o-Bebaki
Men bold and firm uphold the truth and let no fears assail their hearts
Allah Ke Sheron Ko Ati Nahin Roobahi
No doubt, the mighty Lions of God Know no tricks and know no arts.”
The essence of self is acknowledging and upholding truth irrespective of what the truth is. For Iqbal, this is the self-governing principle, which gives the man the ability to discover deeper meaning in all dimensions of life and not falling short of moral strength to make firm decisions. I became sure of what steps I need to take to begin the self-fixation to stand strong. Man’s existence does not mean falling victim to circumstances and destroying oneself. Although others’ decisions and actions may affect one’s life, one must remain sure of moral principles that are governed with truth.
The last two years had been rough. My temporary happiness was in fact disguised as my ruin. The circumstances and people involved in such conditions for temporary happiness were gone, and I was left with my initial reality that I had stepped away from. My initial reality was the truth. It was my true happiness that I had to restore. To acknowledge this truth, backed by the moral principles that establish factually or what I term as standard rules of truth were what immersed before me. The voice of self, “Ahsan, look within,” echoed consistently. It was because of Iqbal’s wisdom that I grasped to get up once again. Had Iqbal’s wisdom that advocates moral and spiritual awareness not reminded me the factual truths of life that I could not go against, I would have yielded to moral decline. The little honor that I wished to preserve would have left me a hollow human being that was striving to no purpose. The wisdom of Iqbal is an everlasting reminder that a man’s purpose to gain such awareness of self helps the man push beyond the visible horizons to such an elevated state that the man becomes the co-author of his life who is in synch with his Creator. I hold Iqbal’s poetry in my hand and read on for better days to come:
“Mera Tareeq Ameeri Nahin, Faqeeri Hai
The way of the hermit, not fortune, is mine;
Khudi Na Baich, Ghareebi Mein Naam Paida Kar!
Sell not your soul! In a beggar’s rags shine.”