Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Message of the East

The Message of the East

Translation of an excerpt from the preface of the second book of Iqbal's poetry
first published in 1923

There is undoubtedly some resemblance between Germany as it was a hundred years ago and today’s East. The truth, however, is that the internal unrest of the world’s nations, which we cannot assess properly because of being ourselves affected by it, is the fore-runner of a great spiritual and cultural revolution. Europe’s Great War was a catastrophe which destroyed the old world order in almost every respect, and now out of the ashes of civilization and culture Nature is building up in the depths of life a new human being and a new world for him to live in, of which we get a faint sketch in the writings of Einstein and Bergson. Europe has seen with its own eyes the horrible consequences of its intellectual, moral and economic objectives and has also heard from Signor Nitti (a former prime minister of Italy) the heart-rending story of the West’s decline. It is, however, a pity that Europe’s perspicacious, but conservative, statesmen have failed to make a proper assessment of that wonderful revolution which is now taking place in the human mind.

Regarded from a purely literary standpoint, the debilitation of the forces of life in Europe after the ordeal of the war is unfavourable to the development of a correct and mature literary ideal. Indeed, the fear is that the minds of the nations may be gripped by that slow-pulsed magianism which runs away from life’s difficulties and which fails to distinguish between the emotions of the heart and the ideas of the mind. However, America seems to be a healthy element in Western civilization, the reason for which perhaps is that it is free from the trammels of old traditions and that its collective intuition is receptive to new ideas and influences.

The East, and especially the Muslim East, has opened its eyes after a centuries-long slumber. But the nations of the East should realise that life can bring about no revolution in its surroundings until a revolution takes place in its inner depths and that no new world can take shape externally until it is formed in the minds of the people. This ineluctable law, which has been stated by the Quran in the simple but eloquent words, “Verily, God does not change a nation until it changes itself” [xiii. 11] governs both the individual and the collective spheres of life; and it is the truth of this law that I have tried to keep in view in my Persian works.

In the present-day world, and especially in Eastern countries, every effort which aims at extending the outlook of individuals and nations beyond geographical boundaries and at reviving or generating in them a healthy and strong human character is worthy of respect.


  1. The state of world affairs has not changed much since Iqbal wrote this vision about 90 years ago; however, the internal unrest of the world's nations may still remains the fore-runner of a great spiritual and Cultural Revolution. The Muslim East has still not opened its eyes and remains in its centuries-long slumber.

    The present state of humanity, more than ever before, does need a spiritual revolution. However it is apparently heading, with an accelerated pace, towards a more and more materialistic approach towards life. The decadence of religious thought and moral conscience of humanity at large and more so in the Muslim East is in dire need of a spiritual revolution.

    The development of spiritual thought in the Muslim East appears to be at a standstill since Iqbal, no new impetus had been initiated to reinvigorate the process of intuitional knowledge. The conventional methods of Sufism are still the only established source of gaining spiritual or intuitional knowledge. The West is still trying to realize and discover the Reality through pure logic and science, it is only day before yesterday that the latest experiment to locate the God Particle at the CERN Lab has taken yet another step forward, but remains as far away from the Reality as it was the day before this experiment.

    Iqbal’s third stage of History i.e. the Modern Age perhaps needs a lot more time to reach a collective level of awareness, where intellect and intuition can be combined to find the universal state of spirituality which the world needs. Efforts are certainly required in Muslim East to encourage an initiative towards this objective.

  2. This is such a fertile, dense and layered piece of reflective scholarship with the implications/illumination of history and context of this course -- so that there appears no way to respond or discuss the same except by breaking down into less dense topics. (Later, I plan to come back to also include and respond to the comments here.)

    So, here is just a beginning:

    FIRST: A sketch or working outline for my own understanding:

    I. There is a running thread of inner destined spiritual goals for both individuals and collective groups of society.

    A. This thread can be observed by a careful
    look & study of history as well as culture --
    including the sciences -- yet is perhaps
    most clearly seen in the literature &
    arts which best describe the heartbeat of a
    particular society and era.

    B. Yet, there are few who can observe and
    understand the meaning and flow of this
    thread because due to "the internal unrest
    of the world’s nations," (most of us)
    cannot assess" the meaning and
    flow "properly because of being ourselves
    affected by" these dynamics up close.

    In other words, history in the making in
    our era (as in previous eras) causes such
    upheavals that few are able to see and set
    such current events into any helpful sort of
    context. This is true of even and often the
    most learned among us.

    II.Since the thread of wholeness cannot be erased or destroyed, those with vision and trust in the same can access centeredness throughout the upheavals while Divine Destiny
    shows the way toward incorruptible change.

    Such centeredness involves both reflection and action; both private attention and work in community.

    The principles are based on truth of the deepest sort revealed by love of the deepest kind. These are available in any era or situation and can be discovered only through intuition as well as practice.

    (To be continued -- I want to show next how Allama Iqbal has become and remained centered in his vision and thus has given us clues for accomplishing the strength of a substantive faith -- that hoped for -- yet with an action plan.)

  3. Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this.

    This is, for me, quite captivating. It conveys to me that the seat of change is not as it appears, and indeed is such that it's likely invisible to all but the most adroitly aware. And indeed, how could they be aware of it if no value is placed on the human being itself and what treasure resides in its dark depths? One doesn't look for treasure where you think it's not.

    We're so accustomed to the assumption that outer authority figures "do" things, and so one's personal engagement is far from active. This also applies, in my opinion, to much of the Christian message in the west now, that is, the implication being a savior-figure being that which brings rescue. To the degree the soul of Christ is revived, and the message of Matthew 5:48 is made real, Christians' receptivity to new ideas and influences may flourish.

    Just some thoughts.

    All good wishes,