4: Ibn al- Arabi and Iqbal: Action and the Perfect Individual
If the Perfect Individual is a mirror reflection of God, then as such he/she becomes the eyes ears, hands, etc. of God. But to what extent can it be said that it is the individual acting and to what extent is it God who acts? At the end of the last chapter, on page 68, the quote from Corbin pointed out the dependent relationship between God and humanity. He concluded, “The active subject is in reality not you.” The purpose of this chapter is to explore what action is and who truly performs it.
To discuss this issue, Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s concept of the Perfect Individual will be compared and contrasted with a similar concept within the thought of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938), a modern scholar, poet, Muslim reformer, and Sufi from India. Throughout his life, Iqbal had a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards Ibn al- ‘Arabi. In a letter from 1916, he writes: “I have no misgivings about Al-Shaikh al-Akbar, Ibn al-`Arabi, rather, I cherish a love for him. My father had a profound attachment to Fusus al-Hikam and Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah. Since the age of four my ears were acquainted with the name and teachings of Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi.”12° Later on, in the preamble to his poem “Secrets of the Self’ (Asrar-I-Khudi), Iqbal criticizes the pantheistic theory of wahdat al-wujud, “The Oneness of Being,” associated with Ibn al- ‘Arabi, which he says deeply influenced all of Islam. He says the Iranian poets eventually were completely enamored with these concepts, and that in interpreting it “they appealed to the ‘heart’ with the result that the idea reached the masses and nearly all the Islamic peoples became victims of inactivity and passivity.„121
120 Iqbal, letter to Shah Suleman Phulwarwi, dated 24th February 1916 quoted in Muhammad Suheyl Umar “Contours of Ambivalence (Iqbal and Ibn `Ibn al- `Arabi: Historical Perspective)” Iqbal Review: Journal of the Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 21-50, 34:I, April 1993, 25.
121 Iqbal quoted in Umar, 31.
In The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam he says:
This spirit of total other-worldliness in later Sufism obscured men’s vision of a very important aspect of Islam as a social polity, and offering the prospect of unrestrained thought on its speculative side attracted and finally absorbed the best minds in Islam.”122 He criticizes the fact that Sufism in general has been concerned with other-worldly mystical experiences, the realm of inward speculation, fana ‘, and separation from the earthly body, that have historically consumed the best Islamic minds. Iqbal sees his philosophy as a response to this, and calls for worldly action. What must be determined now is whether or not Ibn al- `Arabi’s version of the Perfect Individual was actually intended to lead a life of passivity and inaction. Is the Perfect Individual actively involved in the world? Iqbal himself created his own theory of the Perfect Individual (Mard-i-Momin), which in many ways is similar to that of Ibn al- `Arabi.123 It is by comparing these two that answers to these questions about freedom and action can be found.
122 Ibid., 150.
123 Iqbal never explicitly mentions that Ibn al- `Arabi influenced his Mard-i-Momin, but it is acknowledged by many scholars that this idea arose out of Islamic/Sufi ideals, although Anne-Marie Schimmel suggests that Nietzsche still largely influenced it. [See: Syed Nadwi. Glory Of lqbal, trans. and ed. Mohammad Asif Kidwai (Luoknow: Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, 1973), 92. Anne Marie Schimmel. Gabriel’s Wing: A Study info the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1963), 323. Dar, B. A. “Inspiration from the West.” In Iqbal: Poet-Philosopher of Pakistan, ed. Hafeez Malik (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 207. And, Lakshmi Biswas. Tagore And Iqbal: A Study in Philosophical Perspective (Delhi: Capital Publishing House, 1991), 88.] Aziz Ahmad says that:
Iqbal’s own reaction to Ibn `Ibn al- `Arabi was more categorically repudiatory and even hostile. In a letter to Sirajuddin Pal dated 19″ July 1916, he categorically describes all that is in Fusus al Hikam as anti-Islamic and mere recantation and blasphemy. It is, therefore, not surprising that whilc agreeing in details about the moral and spiritual qualities of the Perfect Man, he had rejected Jili’s main thesis- namely, totally and essentially mystical and unworldly approach to the problem. [Aziz Ahmad. “Sources of Iqbal’s Perfect Man.” In Studies In Iqbal’s Thought And Art: Selected Articles from the Quarterly “Iqbal,” ed. M. Saeed Sheikh (Lahore: Bazm-I Iqbal, 1972), 115.]
With this we can assen that the ties between Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi are more than just conceptual. In fact Iqbal seems to have been influenced by both Ibn al- `Arabi and his predecessor, Jili, in the formulation of his philosophy of the Perfect Individual.
To begin, a conceptual link between these two thinkers must be made, because historically, they lived in different geographical regions and time periods. Iqbal’s self-proclaimed position as a reformer of Islam will provide the grounds on which a comparison can be made. Iqbal’s claim to reform Islam will be analyzed to understand how he proposes to change Islam and Sufism. Next, the main points surrounding the conception of self within Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi will be briefly outlined. In conclusion, these points will be summarized and a final position on action will be articulated.
- Iqbal as Reformer
One of the ways Iqbal’s Perfect Individual can be linked to Ibn al- `Arabi’s is through an analysis of Iqbal’s concept of the Islamic reformer. It is in this concept that Iqbal’s thought is rooted. This section will first elucidate Iqbal’s concept of reform and growth. Secondly, it will demonstrate how his ties to mysticism, that is, Sufism are affected by this concept.
Iqbal sought to re-invigorate Islam with a modern sense of purpose in order to stir Muslims to act. His message can be seen as both political and spiritual in nature. It is political because he was concerned with, and driven by, a vision of a universal, utopian community of Muslims, unhindered by geographical boundaries, who actively shape the destiny of the world. This political attitude, perhaps shaped by his Muslim-Indian heritage, is first and foremost religious in nature. Action is tied to a strong mystical consciousness of God. Iqbal may be termed a reformer, but his progressive attitude is concerned with moving forward, without severing all fles with the past. He explains the necessity of this in The Reconstruction: “No people can afford to reject their past entirely; for it is their past that has made their personal identity… and the responsibility of the reformer assumes a far more serious aspect.”I24 Muslim self-identity, like any other religious identity, is largely shaped by an intimate relationship with the historicity of the religion. Iqbal makes it clear that any changes that a reformer proposes within Islam must still hold a strong appreciation and respect for the past. According to Iqbal, change and progress are necessary, especially since Islam had been in a state of stagnation for too long. In this regard he refers to the increasingly long period of time, since the Middle Ages, in which Islam has remained dormant as a leader in philosophy and the sciences. Yet this necessity to become a modern influential force in the political and cultural world must not sever all ties with the past, but bring the spirit of the past into the future with a new and fresh understanding. In the same book, Iqbal states:
The task before the modern Muslim is, therefore, immense. He has to rethink the whole system of Islam without completely breaking with the past… The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before.125
124 Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (Dubai: Kitab al-Islamiyyah), 167.
125 Ibid., 97.
The Muslim reformer then, in order to not severe ties with the past, has to blaze a new path in the midst of modernity. He/she has to find a way to merge the tradition with modern knowledge and thought. This merging does not mean accepting Western scientific and philosophical thought as an authority over the Qur’an, rather it means approaching this knowledge with a Muslim mind-set and, in many cases re-understanding the Qur’an in terms of modern scientific knowledge. Iqbal gives many examples in The Reconstruction of how modern scientific thought conforms to the message of the Qur’an, or rather, how the Qur’an can be seen as hannoniously expressing the tenets of modern science. However, this is no easy task, for creating this evolving link between the past and present has to be undertaken by strong individuals who are firmly rooted in their religious identity. The reformer, for Iqbal, is an active, creative, and forceful participant in the world.
How might Iqbal’s concept of the reformer work in relation to Sufism? In order to answer this question Iqbal’s “ties to the past” must be explained. This will be accomplished by exploring his understanding of mysticism. A basic impetus in the mystical tradition of Islam is the belief that the individual can experience unity with God, and that this affirmation of a deeper Reality changes the way he/she views the world. The first chapter of The Reconstruction is where Iqbal outlines the importance of mystical experience and intuition for the modern Muslim. The thinking individual is not confined to the finite data of the physical world, because within his/her finiteness lays the infinite. Iqbal explains:
Thought…is, in its essential nature, incapable of limitation and cannot remain imprisoned in the narrow circuit of its own individuality… Its [thought’s] movement becomes possible only because of the implicit presence in its finite individuality of the infinite, which keeps alive within it the flame of aspiration and sustains it in its endless pursuit.I26
126 Ibid., p. 7.
To think that the individual is confined within the limits of his/her own self, to the knowledge and experience of his/her own situation, is to place undue barriers on human nature. This was discussed in relation to Ibn al- `Arabi and early Sufism in the first chapter, namely, that the Sufi believes that true knowledge cannot be gained through the intellect, but only through the intuitive faculty of the heart. Nicholson outlines this:
The qalb, though connected in some mysterious way with the physical heart, is not a thing of flesh and blond. Unlike the English `heart; its nature is rather intellectual than emotional, but whereas the intellect cannot gain real knowledge of God, the qalb is capable of knowing the essences of all things, and when illumined by faith and knowledge reflects the whole content of the divine mind.I27
Similar to Iqbal, Nicholson says that for the Sufi the heart can reflect the entire divine mind, that is, the heart of the individual can hold the infinite knowledge or Being of God, even though the individual is a finite being. In this manner Iqbal agrees with the classical Sufi notion of the immanence of the Divine. The eternal and the finite are not two opposing forces in the world. The finite is not cut off from knowing the eternal; rather, the finite discovers the eternal within itself. Affirming this, Iqbal says: “It is the mysterious touch of the ideal that animates and sustains the real, and through it alone we can discover and affirm the ideal.”128 The ideal here stands for the Infinite or God, and the real stands for the physical world. God upholds the world. Without Him the world would lack any movement, for it is this Divine infinite nature that provides the world and the individual with goals and growth. However, the individual can only come into contact with the infinite or ideal through the finite or real. It is through the exploration of the physical world and the self that the individual first catches glimpses of God or Reality. The physical in many ways is like a closed circuit. It only reveals itself and nothing beyond, yet imbedded within it is the infinite, that very beyond. Ibn al- `Arabi asserts a similar belief when he says:
The Prophet said, “Who [truly] knows himself knows his Lord,” linking together knowledge of God and knowledge of the self. God says, we will show them our signs on the horizons, meaning the world outside you, and in yourselves, self, here, meaning your inner essence, till it becomes clear to them that He is the Reality, [Qur’an XL:53] in that you are His form and He is your Spirit. You are in relation to Him as your physical body is to you. He is in relation to you as the spirit governing your physical form.129
127 Nicholson, 68.
128 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 9.
129 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 74.
Ibn al- `Arabi states that the link between the individual and his/her Lord, the God of belief,I30 is like the relationship between the body and the life-spirit or soul. The individual is the outer, the body, and God is the inner, the soul. Just like an observer infers the presence of the soul or spirit from observing the workings of the body, so too the individual can infer the presence of God, true Reality, from observing the workings and signs of nature. Just as the individual teams about his/her possession of a personality and soul from observing and reflecting on his/her inner self or mind, the same individual can, through reflection, begin to see his/her connection to the Divine. This is an affirmation of the Sufi experience. Only through the self can the individual come to know the Divine. This coming to know culminates in the ultimate experience of fana’, where the individual self is annihilated in the true Reality. Iqbal says of this experience that: “The mystic state brings us into contact with the total passage of Reality in which all the diverse stimuli merge into one another and form a single unanalysable unity in which the ordinary distinction of subject and object does not exist.“131 This experience of union with the Divine by the individual is classically conceived of as the loss of all individual consciousness and ego-awareness. With this concept Iqbal’s re-formation comes into effect.
130 This is referring to the fact that, for Ibn al- `Arabi, God is conceived of differently by each individual. This difference is not to say that God essentially is nothing other than the sum of one’s beliefs, but that God reveals Himself to each individual in a unique manner.
131 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 18-9.
While the classical Sufi experience is the loss of one’s individuality, as well as the attribute of otherness, within the otherwise unknowable Essence of God, the experience Iqbal describes is a converging of the ideal and real. The converging is the physical and the spiritual uniting where no individual features are distinguishable. In this experience, the individual cannot identify any thing as his/her self, that is, within such a unity the categories of subject and object have no place. But while the Sufi claims that annihilation within the infinite Ego is realization of the highest degree, Iqbal asserts just the opposite. “[The] climax of this development is reached when the ego is able to retain full self-possession, even in the case of a direct contact with the all-embracing Ego…This is the ideal of perfect manhood in Islam.”132 This passage comes from a discussion in the Reconstruction claiming that the ultimate goal of the individual is to cultivate the ego within him/herself to such a degree that he/she becomes like the Ultimate Ego or God. In Iqbal’s system then, it is not the Jack or transitori-ness that is emphasized, but the gaining and persisting of the self. 132 Ibid., 118.
- Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi on the Self
The previous section looked at how Iqbal understood the mystical experience, but how he understood the self was left unanswered. By comparing the two thinkers’ conceptions of the self, the subtle differences inherent in Iqbal’s re-formation will become clearer. This exploration will lead to the conclusion that Iqbal and Ibn al-`Arabi’s conception of the self is essentially the same. From this, it can further be proven that Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi both have similar views on action and freedom.
In a passage from The Reconstruction, Iqbal criticizes the pantheistic tendencies and interpretations of Sufism. The passage specifically claims that the famous expression of al-Hallaj, ana al-Haqq, “I am the Reality/God,” or “I am the creative truth”, has been mistakenly interpreted as a declaration of pantheism or monism:
The development of this experience [of the unity of inner experience with outer experience] in the religieus life of Islam reached its culmination in the well-known words of Hallaj- ‘I am the creative truth.’ The contemporaries of Hallaj, as well as his successors, interpreted these words pantheistically; but the fragments of Hallaj… leave no doubt that the martyr-saint could not have meant to deny the transcendence of God. The truc interpretation of his experience, therefore, is not the drop slipping into the sea, but the realization and bold affirmation in an undying phrase of the reality and permanence of the human ego in a profounder personality.I33 Ibid., 96.
Iqbal says that Hallaj’s famous declaration is not meant to convey an attitude of unreality, which leads to the assertion that only the One, God, is truly real, everything else is an illusion. Instead, he is re-interpreting this to mean not that the individual must lose his/her self in the greater Reality of the truc Self, but that a greater Self supports each individual and unique self, and that this Self is what allows individuality to exist in the world. From this attitude three key components of Iqbal’s theory of the self can be identified:
- The self of the individual is an actual separate entity from the Universal Self.
- There is an underlying inner reality that coincides with an outer reality. They are in many ways like two Bides of the same coin.
- The mystical experience of union with the One is not self-negating, on the contrary, it is self-affirming and strengthening.
Ibn al- `Arabi’s theory contra Iqbal can be summed up as follows:
- The self of the individual can only claim existence, or being, only insofar as it is a reflection of God or Being..•. In a sense is the Being of God.
- The outer reality, which is the physical world and the data of the senses, is not illusory per se, but only has contingent reality or being in relation to the inner reality, which it relies on for this status.
- The mystical state of union with the One or God results in fana’ , extinction of the
Thus, in this event, the individual actualizes truc Reality. Truc Reality, in this case means only God has Being or Self, and that the unreal self of the individual must be destroyed and replaced by the Self of Being.
These points contrast the attitudes these two philosophers adopt towards the individual self. The points, although seemingly contradictory, are actually in agreement, at least in their implications. The final point is the most important, because on it hinges the connection between the self and action.
- Reality of the Self/self
The first point deals with the ontological status and reality of the self. This is essentially the problem of identity. Is the individual identical to God, or are they two separate beings? The answer to this question is a vital component for understanding action. It seems that the two positions are in irreconcilable opposition, for on the surface it seems Iqbal says that the individual and God are two separate realities, while Ibn al-`Arabi says that the individual’s reality is subsumed into God’s Reality, therefore there is only One.
For the congruence to be made clear, the two positions must be analyzed in greater detail. What does Iqbal mean by asserting the distinction between the individual and God? It is important to understand that for Iqbal the self or ego is a progressive phenomenon. He says: “There is nothing static in my inner life; all is a constant mobility, an unceasing flux of states, a perpetual flow in which there is no halt or resting place.”134
134 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 47.
The individual self does not remain the same. It does not have a fixed identity that subsists throughout time. Instead, it is constantly evolving, outwardly growing, and gaining new experiences and knowledge. Similar to how Ibn al- `Arabi’s Perfect Individual acts as a link between Being or God and the universe, this ego changes and reflects new things. Iqbal’s examination of the relationship between the Infinite Ego and finite egos can strengthen this parallel. He says:
True infinity does not mean infinite extension, which cannot be conceived without embracing all available finite extensions. Its nature consists in intensity and not extensity; and the moment we fix our gaze on intensity, we begin to see that the finite ego must be distinct, thought not isolated, from the Infinite.135
He makes a distinction between infinity as extended in space and time, being an object that includes all other objects, and infinity as an intensity of characteristics, being an actualization of attributes. This is an important distinction, because the first implies that God is the totality of all the finite existences that have been, are, and will ever be. The second implies a dualism, in a loose sense, in which finite existents strive to manifest the intensity of God’s characteristics. Infinitude is due to intensity, because if God is the true Ego, that all of creation aspires to, then God is most present in those things that are closest to becoming Perfect Individuals. God, as the essence of perfection, is the most intense, and therefore, is Infinite. He is the Ultimate Ego. The finite self, in contrast, is always evolving, intensifying, trying to become like the Infinite Self. Thus, if the finite self or ego is successful, this dualism is resolved in a unity. The finite self or ego has the potential to become the Infinite Self.
Iqbal’s concept of infinity and identity is similar to Ibn al- `Arabi’s own concept of identity. In chapter three, the paradoxical position of the Perfect Individual was elucidated. As a barzakh between God and the universe, between Being and non-being, the individual is neither and both. The individual is both identical to and different from the Self of God. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
As for the Reality as other than God, [as manifested] in some place or form, then qualitative disparity [necessarily] occurs, as between one location and another. If the form be a [synthetic] form [the Perfect Man], it embraces [essentially] the essential perfection, since it is identical with the [universal] location in which it is manifest. The [all-embracing] totality inherent in the Name “God” is implicit in that form, which is at once not He and not other than He.136
135 lbid., 118.
136 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 88.
This passage describes the intricate relationship between God, who is “Elevated in Himself’ and in the possession of highest perfection simply due to His natural Essence, and the Perfect Individual who is elevated due to his/her position. Izutsu elucidates:
Thus the Absolute and the creatures are the same in a certain respect, but a fundamental distinction separates the one from the other: the “necessity of existence” (wujub al-wujud) which is peculiar to the Absolute alone… Man is certainly the highest of all in the world of Being… The “height”, however, is not the “height” of the Absolute. Unlike the laffer, Man’s “height” is only “consequential” (bi-al-tablyyah) or “secondary.”137
137 Izutsu, 232-33.
The Perfect Individual’s height or position is only secondary and contingent; it is not the essential or non-contingent height of God. God gives this height to the Perfect Individual as a gift, it is not his/hers in essence. The Perfect Individual is in such a position because he/she manifests the true essence of Reality or Being, that is, God. He/she is distinct from God because the individual manifests in a different location, Thus the Perfect Individual in this manner both is and is not God.
Ibn al- `Arabi’s analogy of the individual as a mirror reflection relates nicely to Iqbal’s concept of infinity. The individual self is defined by its potential to fully reflect the self of God. The farther the individual is from actualizing this potential the less reality he/she may be said to possess. Referring to Iqbal’s concept of intensity, this un-actualized individual lacks the intensity by which it can stand in relation to the Infinite. Since God is the Ultimate Ego with all ego-ness coming from Him, and reality is relative in terms of the amount of ego-hood a thing contains, then God is immanently present in a greater or lesser degree in things dependent upon their relative ego-ness. Intensity, or being, is due to the amount of ego a thing has, and this can change, increasing or decreasing, over time. It would seem that this claim of relative existence does not negate the dualism between the individual and God: God and humanity are separated by their respective Infinite and finite natures. Humanity is in movement towards becoming like the Infinite. If an individual reaches this position, of similarity to the Infinite, then he/she both is and is not the Infinite. Put in these terms, Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi rely on a similar movement within the individual self. For both, the self is in a state of becoming. Thus, the self is here active, in the sense that it has the potential to move upward and become more like the Ultimate Ego or God.
- Structure of the world
The points about inner and outer reality deal with the structure of the world in which the individual resides. In many ways this is an abstraction from the first point; while the first point dealt solely with the relationship between God and the individual, this point deals with the relationship between the world and God, and because humanity is part of the world, a similar structure holds. Analyzing this similar structure has important consequences for action, for it is within the world that human action takes place. Both philosophers agree that there are two aspects or sides of existence, the inner and the outer, and that these two sides are dependent on each other. Iqbal claims, like all mystics, that the physical world is upheld by a spiritual essence. There is an unseen reality that engulfs and underlies the seen. Iqbal termed this the Ideal, saying that the Ideal sustains the Real, that the spiritual makes the physical possible. Only through exploration of the real, the physical world, can an individual discover the spiritual. Concerning this, Iqbal says:
Personally, I believe that the ultimate character of Reality is spiritual: but in order to avoid a widespread misunderstanding it is necessary to point out that Einstein’s theory, which as a scientific theory deals only with the structure of things, throws no light on the ultimate nature of things which possess that structure.138
Even though the ideal or spiritual can only be ascertained through abstraction from the real or physical, and through mystical experience, Iqbal still asserts that the ideal or spiritual is the ultimate nature of Reality. The universe is real, meaning that it has a discoverable, although a subjective structure, but this structure is not the ultimate reality. The ultimate nature of things, that is, the nature behind these structures cannot be discovered by scientific theory. Science, for Iqbal, explains how the universe works, but it cannot explain what exactly the universe is, or its purpose, essence or meaningfulness. Science cannot describe the relationship between the universe, humanity and God, let alone discover what God ultimately is. Therefore, by declaring that “the ultimate nature of Reality is spiritual,” Iqbal declares with Ibn al- `Arabi that Reality, at its roots, depends on the Spiritual being of God. The outer then is the external world that can be scientifically discovered, while the inner is the spiritual nature that underlies the external.
This is similar to Ibn al- `Arabi’s concept of the physical world being the manifestation of the Divine Attributes. He says: “The Essence is Unique of the whole in the whole. Multiplicity exists only in respect of the divine Names, which are themselves purely relationships and thus not manifest [in themselves].”139 The Essence of Being or God is also the Essence of all existents within the world. In chapter one, intuitive knowledge of this proposition was discussed as the special mode of knowledge used by the Sufi. It allows the practitioner to experience the underlying Reality or Essence, and to merge with It. In chapter three, the realm of imagination, as a symbolic realm of existence, was discussed as a realm of knowledge only understood fully by the Perfect Individual.
138 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 38.
139 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 85.
For Ibn al- `Arabi, the Essence that is experienced in mystical union is the Essence of everything within the world. The multiplicity of the physical world is reduced, in the realm of imagination, to relationships between the Divine Names, the qualifications or attributes of God, which signify the Divine Essence. Ibn al- `Arabi says: “The natural order may thus be regarded [at once] as [many] forms reflected in a single mirror or as a single form reflected in many mirrors.”140 Depending on the perspective, the Divine or the finite, this can be interpreted as multiplicity reflected in the Divine or the Divine reflected in multiplicity. The Perfect Individual understands that both of these happen at the same time. Likewise Iqbal says:
The universe, as we have seen before, is not an “other” existing per se in opposition to God. It is only when we look at the act of creation as a specific event in the life-history of God that the universe appears as an independent “other.” From the standpoint of the all-inclusive Ego there is no “other.” In Him thought and deed, the act of knowing and the act of creating, are identical.141
Iqbal affirms that from one perspective there is multiplicity within the world, but from another, higher, perspective, everything is a part of the Ultimate Ego. There is an “Oneness of Being”. From this it can be gathered that both Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi assert the same propositions in regard to the structure of the universe, both in terms of its physical and spiritual aspects.
140 Ibid., 87.
141 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 77.
- Subsistence of the self/Self
The final point to be considered before looking at action is the distinction between self-affirmation and self-negation. lqbal’s concept of self-affirmation in the face of the divine is a result of his unique understanding of the individual self. In classical Sufism, the self is something to be destroyed. It is the center of all pride and separates the individual from God. Schimmel tells us: “One must think of the highly negative significance in Persian of the word khudi, Self, with its implications of selfishness, egotism and similar objectionable meanings. Iqbal gives this word a new meaning as Self, Personality, Ego in an absolutely positive meaning.”142 The self or ego becomes a positive goal. Iqbal gives new life to the mystical tradition, such that it can become a force in modernity. In classical Sufism the individual aims to lose all traces of his/her personality. Iqbal turns this around, saying that the individual must mold and strengthen his/her self into the Self of God. Along with this he also gives the concepts of desire and asking or poverty a different emphasis. In his poem Secrets of the Self he says:
From the flame of desire the heart takes life,
And when it takes life, all dies that is
By asking, poverty is made more abject;
By begging, the beggar is made poorer,
Asking disintegrates the Self
And deprives of illumination the Sinai-bush of the Self.144
142- Schimmel, Gabriel’s Wing, 42.
143 Muhammad lqbal, Secret of the Self, trans. and ed. R.A. Nicholson (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers, 1978), 39.
144 Ibid., 48.
In the first passage, desire is the impetus for growth and change. It creates tension and drive within the individual, that is, it gives the individual a purpose and goal to strive for. In classical Sufism desire, specifically the desire for the beloved or God, propels the individual to give up all personal want and self-desire for the well being of the beloved. The desire for the beloved consumes the individual to such an extent that he/she becomes empty of all else. The Sufi, engulfed in this desire, no longer has a will of his/her own.
In this state the lover will even give up his/her own life for the sake of the beloved, for the beloved is the only object worthy of being or life. According to Iqbal, desire has quite the opposite effect. This stirring of the heart strengthens the self of the individual. He/she uses this strength to assert his/her will, to adopt all the qualities that will allow the object of desire to come into his/her possession. This is illuminated by the second passage from Iqbal’s poem. In it, Iqbal is claiming that asking and begging weaken the individual’s self. According to Ibn al- `Arabi, the individual is required to approach God by adopting the qualities that God lacks, i.e., poverty and weakness. It is only by destroying the self that the individual can receive direct communion with God, i.e., the beloved. However, for Iqbal the individual can only receive this direct communion by raising him/herself up to God, by becoming like the Ultimate Ego. Therefore, asking or begging for something, i.e., a specific attribute associated with Ego, shows signs of weakness and lack, while cultivating and striving for it on one’s own shows the strengths and qualities of Ego. Having to rely on the work of others deprives the individual of true selfhood. In this manner, the enlightened individual approaching union with God is not destroyed, but remains standing in His presence as an exact replicate, returning to earthly existence with all the power and Self possession of God. This seems to be forever opposed to the viewpoint of Ibn al- `Arabi, but as will be shown below the end result, the individual becoming a locus for the action of God, is the same for both.
Although Ibn al- `Arabi claims that the individual must become annihilated within the divine, he still acknowledges that the individual must return to earthly existence. In Journey To The Lord Of Power he says, “I shall answer your question, 0 noble friend and intimate companion, concerning the Journey to the Lord of Power (may He be exalted) and the arrival in His presence, and the return, through Him, from Him to His Creation, without separation.”145 He acknowledges that the mystic has to return to the world after achieving the mystical connection with God. This return is another step forward, for it is a continued oneness with God, but in the midst of the world. This is called baqa, the return after fana’. Nicholson explains this concept:
To abide in God (baqa) after having passed-away from selfhood (fana) is the mark of the Perfect Man, who not only journeys to God, i.e. passes from plurality to unity, but in and with God, i.e. continuing in the unitive state, he returns with God to the phenomenal world from which he sets out, and manifests unity in plurality. 146
The Perfect Individual returns to earthly existence still (internally) communing with God. In this Ibn al- `Arabi also brings God down to earth. The Perfect Individual becomes a conduit for God’s will and action. Izutsu cites one of Ibn al- `Arabi’s disciples as saying in relation to this:
Al-Qashani, a pupil and commentator of Ibn al- `Arabi describes the person who has been completely “annihilated” within the Divine: “A man of this second category is one who has `annihilated himself totally with his essence and is `subsistent’ in the Absolute. This is the kind of man by whom the Absolute hears and sees. Thus such a man is the hearing of the Absolute itself and the sight of the Absolute. Nay, he is the Form of the Absolute. To him refer God’s words: `thou wert not the one who shot the arrows when thou shotest, but God it was who really shot’ (VIII, 17).”147
145 Ibn al- `Arabi, Journey, 25.
146 Nicholson, 168.
147 Izutsu, 91.
In this manner, the individual “re-gains” his/her self. Annihilating him/herself means the individual can re-clothe him/herself in the Self of God. The Perfect Individual, then, subsists in the Self of God. For Iqbal, even though the individual never “loses” his/her self, he/she must work to cultivate all the attributes of God, and destroy all that is not Ego. When he/she does this, and can face union with God without losing identity, he/she is the Perfect Individual, is a mirror image of the Ultimate Ego. He/she then can act within the world and bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. In this manner, both Ibn al- `Arabi and Iqbal’s Perfect Individuals come back to the world and live as representatives of God. Although one approaches this through active assimilation and one through negation and passive receptivity, both Individuals return from the experience of union still directly communing with God, thus becoming God manifest on Earth.
- Freedom and Action
At this point it seems that although Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi both agree that the Perfect Individual must participate within the world, Iqbal’s Individual has more freedom to do as he/she chooses, for he/she actively creates him/herself and the world. This final section will show that both Individuals must essentially act according to the will of God, and this will be accomplished by exploring the meanings of freedom and action for both philosophers.
Freedom is linked to responsibility for both Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi. Iqbal says:
The element of guidance and directive control in the ego’s activity clearly shows that the ego is a free personal causality. He shares in the life and freedom of the Ultimate Ego Who, by permitting the emergence of a finite ego, capable of private initiative, has limited this freedom of His own free will.148
148 Iqbal, Reconstruction, 108.
God limited His freedom to allow humanity the freedom to follow Him. The individual is free to choose whether or not to find God, to become an Ego. However, this is not an unlimited freedom, for Nicholson explains that:
The Ego attains to freedom by the removal of all obstructions in its way. It is partly free, partly determined, [According to the Tradition, “The true Faith is between predestination and freewill.”] and reaches fuller freedom by approaching the individual who is most free- God. In one word, life is an endeavour for freedom.149
Although the individual is free to choose the path to Egohood, to God, he/she is still partially determined by God, that is, he/she is determined to exist in a certain place with certain characteristics and abilities. Adopting all the characteristics and traits of the Ultimate Ego allows the individual to attain a higher freedom. As described in the section above, this means that the individual, in essence, becomes the active will of God. Iqbal’s Perfect Individual then has the freedom to act out the divine will of God; in fact it is the individual’s responsibility to achieve this, to become a true Ego.
Just as Iqbal claims humanity is partially determined, another type of determinism is found in Ibn al- `Arabi. Because the ultimate truth, for Ibn al- `Arabi, is the “Oneness of Being,” the fact that God is the Being of everything in existence, everything is pre-ordained in the Being of God. Any existent is a locus for the manifestation of a particular Name or attribute of God. Inherent within the specific Name are certain unique characteristics that manifest themselves within the individual, thus the nature of the individual is determined by the Names of which he/she is a manifestation. However, Ronald Nettler explains:
The `determinism’ introduced with the a’yan thabita [the latent essence, that is, the pre-ordained existence of a thing] is metaphysical, not personal. Its ineluctable nature in this sense does not detract from or diminish the moral agency and accountability of the individual or God’s authoritative power. The structure of divine injunction and human response, with the assumption of human choice and responsibility, remains rock-solid, as one dimension within a cosmology of timeless fixed essences in a universal unity of absolute being.150
149 R. A. Nicholson “Introduction.” In Muhammad Iqbal, Secret of the Sell; trans. and ed. R.A. Nicholson (New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann Publishers, 1978), 18.
150 Ronald L. Nettler. Suil Metaphysics and Quranic Prophets: Ibn Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s Thought and Method in the Fusus Al-Hikam (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2003), 214.
This determinism does not diminish human responsibility, a human beings birth within a certain time period and society does not diminish his/her moral agency. For layered with this determinism is the dimension of Tinding, the individual discovering God, the personal responsibility to discover their inherent nature and link to the divine. The metaphysical nature of the world is not immediately knowable or realizable to every individual; therefore it is the individual’s responsibility to follow the Laws of God.
It is in this responsibility that freedom is discovered. For Ibn al- `Arabi freedom means freedom from, and he defines it: “Hurriyyah [Freedom]. He who performs all the duties of being a servant to Allah Most High is free from all that is other than Allah.”151 True freedom lies in understanding and actualizing the correct relationship between humanity and God. Only God truly has being, therefore the individual must empty him/herself of all assumption of lordship and power.I52 Essentially this is what the individual is accomplishing along the Path to fana ‘. Reaching union with God the individual realizes the true nature of the universe and of him/herself. At this point he/she actualizes the cosmic role of barzakh, and resides in the space between the paradox of being and non-being.
151 Ibn Ibn al- ‘Arabi, “Sufi Terminology: Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s AI-Istilah Al-Suflyyah” trans. and ed. Rabia Terri Harris. The Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi Society 3 (1984), 41.
152 See p. 50.
Thus, while the unenlightened individual acts on the assumption that it is he/she as an individual acting, the Gnostic/Sufi understands that in reality it is God who is the actor, for everything is essentially, metaphysically, God. Ibn al- `Arabi says of this:
Thus, He forbade excesses [relative existence], that is, He prevented the real secret from being known, namely that He is the essential Self of things. He conceals it by otherness, which is you [as being not He]. Otherness asserts that the hearing [referred to in the Tradition] is Zaid’s hearing, while the Gnostic [who sees beyond that to the Oneness of Being] asserts that it is the Reality Himself, and similarly with the other organs and faculties. Not every one knows the Reality, some men excelling others according to [knownj spiritual ranks, so that it is plain who is superior [in this respect] and who is not.153
153 lbn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 133.
It is a truth that is hidden from the majority of humanity; in fact it is a truth that many cannot grasp. For these individuals, it is their duty to follow the laws of Islam, for this truth would only confuse them. It would make many assume they could act in any marmer they pleased. The Perfect Individual understands though that both perspectives, that of individual autonomy and the Oneness of Being, must be viewed at the same time. The Perfect Individual gives up his/her selfhood in order to be open to the will of God. Thus, action for him/her is non-action. It is not the individual’s action, but God’s action.
In both Iqbal and Ibn al- `Arabi it has been shown that the individual finds true freedom in forming or merging his/her self with the Self of God. True action for both of these Perfect Individuals means relinquishing all personal desires and goals, allowing the self to be consumed by Self, thereby making all actions they perform the actions of Self. They are able to do this because they sustain a direct communion with God after returning from the mystical experience of union or fana ‘