As a high school student and later when he was pursuing higher education, Iqbāl was introduced to the Western philosophical thought and culture by studying the works of scholars such as Sir Thomas W. Arnold. He also closely observed the economic and cultural conduct of the British in India. Moreover, in 1905, he travelled to Europe and spent three years in Britain and Germany in order to study and conduct research at Cambridge, Heidelberg, and Munich. In Europe, not only did Iqbāl meet Reynold A. Nicholson, who had translated Rūmī’s Mathnawī into English and had prepared a critical edition of its Persian text at Cambridge but was also introduced to William Wordsworth’s (1770-1850) poetry and thought. During this period, Iqbāl studied the philosophical ideas and systems of the new European philosophers. He was in Europe in the 1890s, and thus, like others, he was acquainted with the new British idealists such as Bradley, Bosanquet, McTaggart, and Ward and experienced the German philosophical atmosphere of the day. After Kant’s death in 1804, German Idealism emerged in the nineteenth century with philosophers such as Fichte (1762-1814), Schelling (1775-1854), and Hegel (1770-1831), who carried Kant’s legacy forward. In fact, it was this nineteenth century context that stimulated the emergence of philosophers like Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and Nietzsche (1844-1900). At this time, Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was also quite popular among French thinkers. During the period of Iqbāl’s residence in Europe, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the voices of thinkers such as Kierkegaard (1813-1855), Kafka (1883-1924), and Dostoevsky (1821-1881) were being heard across the continent. Iqbāl certainly heard these voices too.
Upon his return from Europe, Iqbāl authored The Secrets of the Self, in which he put forth his understanding of the truth about “man.” As will be discussed later in greater detail, in defining the fertile ground which motivated the inception of Iqbāl’s philosophy, it can be said that Kant’s students and followers like Fichte and Schelling brought his philosophy closer to idealism such that self was central in Fichte’s theory and anything outside of it or the “non-self” was defined in contrast to it. Such tendencies and developments are seen in Schelling’s works as well. After Kant’s death, his philosophy was made to undertake a journey towards idealism, which ended in Hegel’s absolute idealism. Part of this journey was Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer believed that the reality of the world is the same as its representation in the human mind and emphasized the centrality of will. Schopenhauer’s world and worldview are based on the two pillars of idea and will. Schopenhauer not only saw will as the origin and truth of man but also saw everything as an offspring of will; in fact, he believed that everything is in will’s capable and mighty hand and that will employs the rational mind as its servant and compels the mind to find paths to what it desires. The will’s power over creatures is so immense that it can guide their limbs and organs based on its needs and can control their movements to realize its goals.
In the introduction of The Secrets of the Self, Iqbāl clearly claims that he has something new to offer; as Hafez said, he aims to “crack the heavens’ vault in half” and “hew a wholly new design.” In the third verse of The Secrets of the Self, he says with an epic tone:
The Gardener taught me to sing with power,
He sowed a verse and reaped a sword. (Iqbāl 1920, 1)
A little further, he likens his ideas to a “new sun”:
I struck dumb the musicians where they were gathered together,
I smote the heartstrings of all that heard me.
Because the lute of my genius hath a rare melody,
Even to comrades my song is strange.
I am born in the world as a new sun,
I have not learned the ways and fashions of the sky. (Iqbāl 1920, 2-3)
He adds that his contemporaries do not understand his words and that he is speaking to the future generations:
I have no need of the ear of To-day,
I am the voice of the poet of To-morrow.
My own age does not understand my deep meanings,
My Joseph is not for this market.
I despair of my old companions,
My Sinai burns for sake of the Moses who is coming.
Their sea is silent, like dew,
But my dew is storm-ridden, like the ocean.
My song is of another world than theirs:
This bell calls other travelers to take the road.
How many a poet after his death
Opened our eyes when his own were closed,
And journeyed forth again from nothingness
When roses blossomed o'er the earth of his grave
But I am a lover: loud crying is my faith:
The clamor of Judgement Day is one of my minions.
No one hath told the secret which I will tell
Or threaded a pearl of thought like mine. (Iqbāl 1920, 3-6)
He then reveals his allegiance to Rūmī, whom he calls the “Sage of Rūm” and moves on to tell the story of having a revelation in which he meets Rūmī and shakes his hand. He summarises his encounter with Rūmī in saying that Rūmī asked him to tell this story to others:
He said, “O frenzied lover”.
Take a draught of love's pure wine…
Up, and re-inspire every living soul
Say ' Arise!' and by that word quicken the living!
Up, and set thy feet on another path;
Put aside the passionate melancholy of old!
Become familiar with the delight of singing;
O bell of the caravan, awake!
At these words my bosom was enkindled
And swelled with emotion like the flute
I rose like music from the string
To prepare a Paradise for the ear.
I unveiled the mystery of the Self
And disclosed its wondrous secret. (Iqbāl 1920, 10-12)
Occasionally, he claims that it is indeed Man who is the center and focus of his thought:
Many a night I wept for Man's sake
That I might tear the veil from life's mysteries. (Iqbāl 1920, 13)
After putting forward all the preliminaries to call the reader’s attention to the importance of his words, he explains the meaning of the Self and opens a new chapter through his complex Persian prose and says: “Showing that the system of the universe originates in the Self, and that the continuation of the life of all individuals depends on strengthening the Self” (Iqbāl 1920, 16). In the first verses of the next chapter he writes:
The form of existence is an effect of the Self,
Whatsoever thou seest is a secret of the Self.
When the Self awoke to consciousness,
It revealed the universe of Thought.
A hundred worlds are hidden in its essence
Self-affirmation brings Not-self to light…
Subject, object, means, and causes
They all exist for the purpose of action.
The Self rises, kindles, falls, glows, breathes.
Burns, shines, walks, and flies.
The spaciousness of Time is its arena.
Heaven is a billow of the dust on its road…
It dissolved itself and created the atoms,
It was scattered for a little while and created the sands.
Then it wearied of dispersion
And by re-uniting itself it became the mountains…
When Life gathers strength from the Self,
The river of Life expands into an ocean. (Iqbāl 1920, 16-22)
This is where he proposes that the life of the Self depends on creating and producing wishes or goals; then, he begins to speak of “purpose” and “desire.” We can consider desire as craving and wanting, and assume purpose to mean all that is wanted and desired:
Life is preserved by purpose:
Because of the goal its caravan -bell tinkles.
Life is latent in seeking,
Its origin is hidden in desire.
Keep desire alive in thy heart,
Lest thy little dust become a tomb.
Desire is the soul of this world of hue and scent,
The nature of everything is faithful to desire.
Desire sets the heart dancing in the breast,
And by its glow the breast is made bright as a mirror.
It gives to earth the power of soaring,
It is a Khizr to the Moses of perception.
From the flame of desire the heart takes life,
And when it takes life, all dies that is not true.
When it refrains from forming wishes,
Its pinion breaks and it cannot soar.
Desire is an emotion of the Self
It is a restless wave of the Self's sea.
Desire is a noose for hunting ideals,
A binder of the book of deeds.
Negation of desire is death to the living.
Even as absence of burning extinguishes the flame.
What is the source of our wakeful eye?
Our delight in seeing hath taken visible shape.
The partridge's leg is derived from the elegance of its gait,
The nightingale's beak from its endeavour to sing…
'Tis desire that enriches Life,
And the intellect is a child of its womb…
The object of science and art is not knowledge.
The object of the garden is not the bud and the flower.
Science is an instrument for the preservation of Life,
Science is a means of establishing the Self…
We live by forming ideals,
We glow with the sunbeams of desire! (Iqbāl 1920, 23-27)
The resemblance of the message of these verses to Schopenhauer’s thoughts is uncanny. We can easily see that the desire Iqbāl defines as the principle of life and later interprets as seeking or purpose is identical to Schopenhauer’s will and intention which are the principles of his philosophy and worldview. He believes that will is the only reality whose objectivity we can experience inside ourselves without any intermediary; he believes this will to be the basis of all realities, movements, forms, and organizations in the world. Limbs and organs of living creatures are created and formed based on their pursuits that stem from their will and urges. In his main philosophical work, entitled The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer asserts that
will-to-live … it is that which is first and unconditioned, the premise of all premises, and for this reason that from which philosophy has to start, since the will-to-live does not appear in consequence of the world, but the world appears in consequence of the will-to-live. (Schopenhauer 1966, 1:360)
He points out that “a will is that which forms or shapes” (Schopenhauer 1966, 1:332) and later adds that
the parts of the body must correspond completely to the chief demands and desires by which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, gullet, and intestinal canal are objectified hunger; the genitals are objectified sexual impulse; grasping hands and nimble feet correspond to the more indirect strivings of the will which they represent. (1966, 2:108)
Furthermore, he states that “the organism is merely the visibility of the will here existing” (Schopenhauer, 1966, 1:329) and that “therefore we are bound to see that the will that extends the elephant's trunk to an object is also the same will that, anticipating objects, has pushed the trunk forth and shaped it” (1966, 1:332).
In The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant has explained what Schopenhauer means in a simpler and clearer manner:
[T]he whole body is nothing but objectified will … The parts of the body must therefore completely correspond to the principal desires through which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, throat and bowels are objectified hunger; the organs of generation are objectified sexual desire ... The whole nervous system constitutes the antennae of the will, which it stretches within and without. (Durant 1926, 341)
However, Iqbāl parts ways with Schopenhauer and opens a new section, “Showing That the Self Is Strengthened by Love”:
The luminous point whose name is the Self
Is the life-spark beneath our dust?
By Love it is made more lasting,
More living, more burning, more glowing.
Love makes peace and war in the world.
The Fountain of Life is Love's flashing sword. (Iqbāl 1920, 28-29)
Another German philosopher who was influenced by Schopenhauer was Friedrich Nietzsche, who, like Schopenhauer, emphasized the will. However, what Nietzsche meant by the will was different from this concept in Schopenhauer. In Nietzsche’s philosophy, the main principle is the individual’s will to power, which affords him the possibility and the authority to enact his own moral values as he sees fit and to trample upon the commonly accepted traditions and rules. A man armed with this much power and creativity for rejecting the commonly accepted good and evil, a man who goes “beyond good and evil,” a man who could defy the established morality and break through common value systems in order to enforce his own desires, principles, and values, is an “Übermensch” in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche’s Übermensch, his ideal man, is the manifestation of the will to power, individualism, creativity, mobility, liberty, and supremacy. Nietzsche well understood and believed in these words of Dostoevsky that “if God does not exist, everything is permitted.” However, in this regard, Nietzsche’s view differed from Dostoevsky’s in that Nietzsche never said, “if God does not exist”; rather, he clearly said, “God is dead” and that now Übermensch is the new God and is an absolute self-starter like Him.
Although there is a sharp contrast between Iqbāl’s and Nietzsche’s worldviews, thoughts, and beliefs, Iqbāl’s poems are lucid reminders of the following words of Nietzsche:
[T]he herd man in Europe today gives himself the appearance of being the only permissible kind of man, and glorifies his attributes, which make him tame, easy to get along with, and useful to the herd, as if they were the truly human virtues: namely, public spirit, benevolence, consideration, industriousness, moderation, modesty, indulgence, and pity. In those cases, however, where one considers leaders and bellwethers indispensable, people today make one attempt after another to add together clever herd men by way of replacing commanders (Nietzsche 1966, 111) … The highest and strongest drives, when they break out passionately and drive the individual far above the average and the flats of the herd conscience, wreck the self-confidence of the community, its faith in itself, and it is as if its spine snapped. Hence just these drives are branded and slandered most. High and independent spirituality, the will to stand alone, even a powerful reason are experienced as dangers; everything that elevates an individual above the herd and intimidates the neighbor is henceforth called evil; and the fair, modest, submissive, conforming mentality, the mediocrity of desires attains moral designations and honors. Eventually, under very peaceful conditions, the opportunity and necessity for educating one's feelings to severity and hardness is lacking more and more; and every severity, even in justice, begins to disturb the conscience; any high and hard nobility and self-reliance is almost felt to be an insult and arouses mistrust; the "lamb," even more the "sheep," gains in respect (Nietzsche 1966, 113-14) … Morality in Europe today is herd animal morality-in other words, as we understand it, merely one type of human morality beside which, before which, and after which many other types, above all higher moralities, are, or ought to be, possible. But this morality resists such a “possibility,” such an “ought” with all its power: it says stubbornly and inexorably, “I am morality itself, and nothing besides is morality.” (Nietzsche 1966, 115-16)
Iqbāl maintains that “self-denial” is an invention of the weak and that it is used by the oppressed to erode the influence of the ruling classes. Mujtabā Mīnuvī accurately explains Iqbāl’s point as follows:
In the third chapter, there is a story demonstrating how self-denial (i.e., fading, negating sensuality, leaving sensual pleasures, and condescending to a poor and short life, having the attitude of being a lamb, and selecting the dervish way) is an invention of defeated nations who aim to weaken the morale and the nature of the dominant nations. He tells the story of a herd of sheep that resided in a pasture abundant with food and other blessings, and never needed to work. Then, one day, a pride of lions came out of their lair and dominated the herd of sheep and deprived them of their freedom. Years passed by like this until one of the sheep … devised a strategy to protect the herd against the lions. He said to himself that one could not preach the wolf’s character or the lion’s bravery to the sheep; however, “to make the furious tiger a sheep — that is possible.” So he claimed prophethood and that he had brought a new religion …
Whoso is violent and strong is miserable:
Life's solidity depends on self-denial.
The spirit of the righteous is fed by fodder
The vegetarian is pleasing unto God.
If you are sensible, you will be a mote of sand, not a Sahara,
So that you may enjoy the sunbeams.
O thou that delightest in the slaughter of sheep.
Slay thy self, and thou wilt have Honour!
Life is rendered unstable
By violence, oppression, revenge, and exercise of power.
Though trodden underfoot, the grass grows up time after time
And washes the sleep of death from its eye again and again.
Forget thy self, if thou art wise!
If thou dost not forget thy self, thou art mad.
Close thine eyes, close thine ears, close thy lips,
That thy thought may reach the lofty sky!
This pasturage of the world is naught, naught:
O fool, do not torment thyself for a phantom!
As the sheep who claimed prophethood said these words, the lions, tired from their hard work, weary of their constant effort, and immersed in their self-indulgence and extravagance, accepted the sheep’s religion and stopped their efforts; against their nature, they gradually became lazy, abandoned their innate ways, and turned into sheep:
The wakeful tiger was lulled to slumber by the sheep's charm:
He called his decline Moral Culture. (Mīnuvī 2009, 81-83)
The allegory that Iqbāl uses is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “herd” and his “herd animal morality.” Nietzsche claims that these are constructs of the mind of the weak and thus very lowly.
Iqbāl also criticizes Plato in valuing the imaginary and unattainable Forms over the sensible world of nature and matter. Iqbāl warns everyone about the dangers of following Plato and writes that Plato’s thought “has deeply influenced the mysticism and literature of Islam” and that “we must be on our guard against his theories” (Iqbāl 1920, 56). In fact, he states that one of the obstacles on the path of progress in the Muslim world is mysticism, which promotes a disregard for worldly affairs; he attributes this avoidance of natural and sensory realities to Plato. Iqbāl believed that Plato’s mistake was that he departed the earth to go to the heavens, but never returned:
He spread his wings towards the sky
And never came down to his nest again…
The peoples were poisoned by his intoxication:
He slumbered and took no delight in deeds. (Iqbāl 1920, 59)
He then criticizes the “narcotic” mystical literature of the “Islamic Tradition,” which tends to impede human resolve, passion, and intent.
Iqbāl is completely aware that his statements about the will, desire, endeavor, and actions, all of which are the consequences of the truth of the Selfhood, are not to be confused with these concepts in European philosophies such as those of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Thus, he talks about “edification of the Self” and explains what he means in this piece of prose before stating it in verse: “On expounding upon the fact that ‘edification of the Self’ goes through three levels. The first is submission, the second is abstinence, and the third is the divine vicegerency.”
To distinguish Iqbāl’s religious beliefs in “the Self” from those of a philosopher like Nietzsche, who also in one sense deeply believes in it, it is proper to refer to a part of a dialogue between Bryan Magee and J.P. Stern. In the course of his discussion of Nietzsche’s value system, Magee says: “We would like to know what Nietzsche is offering after he vastly sweeps everything aside. Which positive values are proposed by him after all?” And Stern responds:
[T]he answer to this question is very simple and at the same time very complicated. The simple answer is: be yourself! Whatever you are, be to the highest degree; be to the last particle of your soul; be overflowing with life, surrender not; be adventurous and live. one could speak of all such things in the human reals that were later propounded as “vitality”. The commandment “be yourself, be that which you are,” is not only a major premise in Nietzsche’s syllogism, but is also an orientation and telos to which all morals should be directed. However, you might ask if everyone is nothing but himself, what would be the broader consequences? How could this issue be reconciled with a political system, and other such queries? As far as Nietzsche is concerned, the answers to these questions are unfortunately far from satisfactory. His treatment of social issues is not in principal fruitful. As I said previously, the answer to your question is both, very complicated but also, simultaneously simple. The reason is that if you would like to follow his recommendations, harmonious and conciliatory social life becomes exceedingly difficult, especially when one adds that he thinks laws exist in order to protect the weak. Nietzsche’s program is apparently a simple one. However, if one wants to set it up as the program of social life, one would, in my opinion, be faced with many complications. One might even say that some bold and radical political thoughts of our contemporary era along with some fascist policies, at least among intellectuals of the early 20th century, have to some extent originated in the belief that one is to create his or her system of values and live according to them disregarding the consequences and outcomes of his actions. As you see, such beliefs have not helped us attain anything. (Magee 1992, 241-42)
In this part of The Secrets of the Self, Iqbāl shows that his emphasis on the “the Self” is defined within the creator’s dominance over all creatures, and that it is not the case that no one should control the power of “the selves” so that all end up in “anarchism.” Commentators and critics have criticized Nietzsche’s philosophy because it leads to anarchism and chaos in social life, and because his emphasis on the “Superman’s” creativity, vitality, and perilous praxis, fails to justify that if every Superman decides to do as he pleases, then what would happen in case of conflict between supermen’s decisions?
In the atmosphere when notions such as “ego,” “will,” and “will to power” were emphasized in Germany in the nineteenth century, another philosophical movement, i.e., “The Philosophies of Life,” emerged, which considered the Élan vital to be the ultimate reality and also attributed “ego” and “my will” to life itself. The most famous representative of this philosophical stream was Henry Bergson, who attached great significance and authenticity to the mind, consciousness and cognition. He also validated the originality of data obtained via direct and immediate insight. He relies on insight to explain important concepts such as “freedom” and “time” as the basic immanent characteristics of human beings, and thus distinguishes two definite and distinct “selves” in man. One, which is original and liberal, originates from his pure continuation and intuition; the other is formed under the influence of environmental and social determinants in society. Of course, it is important to focus on “life” and on the effects of the Élan vital and to appreciate the authenticity of “the Self” that somehow resembles Iqbāl’s thought and his Philosophy of the Self.
It is then and in this context that the conception of “alienation” finds its significant place in the philosophical thought of most philosophers of the nineteenth century, particularly German idealists such as Hegel and even the materialist philosopher Marx, who was influenced by Hegel in some respects. In fact, any philosopher who has a theory about “the Self” and “the selfhood” would also have a theory about “alienation” just as having a theory for interpreting and explaining “error” in knowledge requires having a theory about “truth value” in knowledge.
Now, we can somewhat imagine what Iqbāl could see in the first decade of the twentieth century when he looked upon the landscape of European philosophy, particularly in Germany. The outcome and common perspective and the dominant tone and tenor of Europe’s modern philosophical approach was “humanism.” Humanism was the trend that began in philosophy with René Descartes (1596-1650), when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” In this well-known key philosophical expression, Descartes, in a sense, considers existence to be derivative with respect to the “thinking subject.” It took two or three centuries for this seed, which had been planted in the ground of European philosophy, to bear fruit and bloom as Nietzsche’s Übermensch. At any rate, it was this development that granted “Man,” “Self” and “man’s Selfhood” and his will primacy and originality.
Another aspect of the philosophical perspective facing Iqbāl was that most philosophers did not accept rationalist philosophies, which were dealing with general and abstract concepts. Instead of a general and far-reaching concept of “being” in the rationalist philosophies. They preferred to focus on the “human existence” that was tangible and evident and life, freedom, will, belief, emotions, passions, anxiety, dread, doubt, and certainty were all among its manifestations. It was this developmental trend towards humanism and human existence—not in the sense of Being, but in the sense of Existing or Existence—that formed the context in which the philosophies of Existence appeared in Europe, particularly after WWI and WWII. Some Iqbāl scholars have cast doubt on whether he had read the works of philosophers like Husserl and Heidegger (Akhtar 1986, 414). However, there may be no doubt that he had met Bergson and had carefully considered Nietzsche, whose thought and philosophy are mentioned several times in his work. Another philosopher of whom the readers of Iqbāl’s philosophy of “the Self” might be reminded of is Leibniz (1646- 1716). Leibniz is a famous philosopher who has been specifically known as the one who believed in Monad and Monadology. He maintained that the world was the world of Monads; that is, the world of separate and individuated essences with two fundamental traits: “perception” and “dynamism” or “appetition.” Monads or “selves,” based on their capacities, could disclose their inner realties and turn from the potential to the actual. He bases his philosophy on dynamism and states, “Dynamism, to a large extent, could be the foundation of my philosophical system” (Haddad-Adel 2013, 394).
In the world of thought and philosophy, it was this Europe that Iqbāl encountered. However, side-by-side with these intellectual and philosophical realms, there was another perspective before his eyes and that was a Europe full of upheavals. During the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth century, Europe enjoyed peace, which proved to be the calm before the storm. Every now and then there was news of a new discovery in physics, chemistry, and biology, or new inventions in technology, engineering, and medicine, which at the same time increased the power and self-esteem of the Europeans and caused amazement among the “Eastern nations.”
If we ask what Mohammad Iqbāl carried in his thoughts and mind when he returned to Lahore from Europe, we may realistically say that at that time Iqbāl was a devout Muslim who loved the Prophet and was intimately familiar with the holy Quran; he was a Muslim whose residence in Europe with all its luxury had not damaged his faith. On the other hand, he was returning to his homeland with a collection of information and philosophical knowledge. Post-Renaissance European schools of philosophy, as well as the contemporary philosophy of his time, were mostly formed around “man” and most of them had set up “man” against God to the extent that they not only denied the truly divine and celestial human nature but considered man not “the vicegerent of God” on the earth but “God’s replacement,” his rival and substitute. That was the humanism that was mostly constituted and developed based on atheism. Returning from Europe, Iqbāl did not think only about what he had seen or learned there. Instead, he also thought of what he had sought but had failed to find. He had witnessed that in Europe, there was science but no faith; there was law but no sympathy; there was intellect but no love; there was consciousness but no ecstasy; there was manufacturing but no fire in the soul.
A third element that was present in the mind and heart of Iqbāl was his care for his nation and homeland, for India and its peoples, particularly for the Muslims. He suffered when he witnessed their weakness, backwardness, helplessness, and their affliction with colonialism, ignorance, superstition, and ineffectiveness. He had sacred and important concerns; he wished to rescue his oppressed compatriots from the tyranny of colonialism. Not only he thought about the suffering of the Indians but he was also concerned with the chaos, confusion, and divisions throughout the Muslim world.
The fourth and final part of Iqbāl’s mental and intellectual constitution is his awareness of and attention to the material progress of Europe. He was as aware of the weaknesses and lack of scientific, industrial, and economic advancement of Muslims and his countrymen as he was of the material progress of Europe. Europe was developing and becoming increasingly powerful thanks to the advance of various sciences; it had ordered its social conditions through education, hygiene, security, the arts, and so forth. One of Iqbāl’s first works was a book about modern economics, which he personally taught in Lahore State University. He was deeply distressed when he compared what he had seen in Europe with the condition of different Muslim societies.