Monday, June 11, 2012

An American Discovers Iqbal

The following is a guest post from Robert Whiteside, a prominent participant of the online courses at Marghdeen Learning Centre. Robert is now also running a blog, A Journey With Iqbal. Regards, Khurram Ali Shafique.

The Hidden Potential
By Robert Whiteside, North Carolina, USA

I was led to discover Allama Iqbal in November 2011.  A trusted friend shared with me the following piece of Iqbal’s writing.
Art thou in the stage of life, death or death in life?
Invoke the aid of three witnesses to verify thy station.
The first witness is thine own consciousness –
See thyself, then with thine own light.
The second witness is the consciousness of another ego –
See thyself, then, with the light of an ego other than thee.
The third witness is God's consciousness –
See thyself, then, with God's light.
If thou standest unshaken in front of this light,
Consider thyself as living and eternal asHe!
That man alone is real who dares –
Dares to see God face to face!
I greatly enjoyed this, so much, in fact, that on that November day a new quest was initiated to find out more about who was this man named Allama Iqbal, his poetry, and his philosophy on life. I immediately began scouring the internet in search of his writings.  

It took only a moment to discover the websites for the Marghdeen Learning Centre, the Iqbal Academy Pakistan, and the Dr. Iqbal Society of North America (DISNA). Quickly catching my attention was also a notice about an upcoming online course (offered through the Marghdeen Learning Centre) offering to introduce people to the poetry and teachings of Allama Iqbal. I knew that I had to sign up for this course, and did so immediately.    

I quickly came to discover that this course, and others as well, had been designed by a man named Khurram Ali Shafique, someone who is (as I came to learn) clearly an ocean of knowledge regarding Allama Iqbal.  He has received awards for his study and work on Allama Iqbal, including the Presidential Iqbal Award.  His outpouring of writing, scholarly research, and commentary on Iqbal is tremendous.  

As I was signing up for the Introduction to Iqbal Studies course, I was  simultaneously reading everything I could get my hands on by and about Iqbal. I found a wealth of his material, freely available, on the aforementioned websites.    

His poetry is powerful and inspiring. Rooted firmly in Islam, he speaks of a unity of humanity, a humanity cooperating, and at peace with one another. He speaks of a humanity on a journey together toward growth into something very beautiful and in stark contrast to the current world in which we all live.  

He speaks to the great potential that exists for people to become whole human beings, tapping into the very deepest parts of themselves. Sometimes poetry, sometimes social commentary, and at other times, historical analysis, Iqbal writes beautifully of a new kind of social harmony that humanity can create if only they would attend to certain perennial, Quranically based, truths that are both beautiful and practical.  

It’s clear that Iqbal saw the possibility of a new world, achievable through the realization and application of what is highest in human beings. His poetry speaks strongly about the sanctity of what resides within the souls of humans, and thus conveys a deep spirituality that is based in Islam.  In this sense, his poetry is far beyond pleasing rhyme and verse. I’ll go so far as to say that it has the power to awaken what may be asleep in humanity, and that, if awoken, could startle us all into coming together again in peace.

How odd for this message from the national poet of Pakistan to be reaching me, a rather typical American living in the United States. Allama Iqbal’s message struck me immediately as more positive, inspiring, and deep than anything available here in the west, particularly in how it portrayed a path of not only one nation (Pakistan), but all of humanity, toward a world that some might dismiss as unattainably perfect, but which Iqbal very directly points to as attainable. How utterly refreshing to read his poetry which so beautifully depicts the growth of human beings in this positive light.  

Iqbal was Muslim, and his writings very clearly reflect this. Here in America, there is a pervasive Islamophobia, fed by a constant stream of media images and agendized purposes.  Iqbal’s writings could certainly allay this fear.  He elevates in front of the eyes of the reader an Islam that is a path toward wholeness and unity of humankind. 

I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of Iqbal’s writings. There’s much more to come. I eagerly look forward to continuing my studies of his writings. The people of Pakistan are indeed fortunate to be able to call their own this great poet.  

I refuse to buy into the pessimism offered to us daily by media and distorted thinking. I am confident that humanity can work, together, to elevate itself, together, well beyond differences (not obliterating the differences, but finding the unity of them). Thanks to the online courses offered by the Marghdeen Learning Centre, I was introduced to a Muslim poet who has outlined just such a path.

His loving expression of Islam, with an embrace that far transcends nationality, borders, and cultural differences, points to the immense potential in the soul of each and every human being in growing themselves (and their society and all of humanity) toward a wholly new sense of personal, social, and universal sense of harmony. It’s what the world needs.

You can read more reflections from Robert Whiteside at his blog, A Journey With Iqbal


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. MashaAllah It is so pleasing to know that Allama Iqbal is enlightening
    the souls across the globe. Robert is our brother in this jounrey of
    self exploration with Sir Iqbal. Yes Robert you are right. Pakistan is
    blessed to have Sir Iqbal as poet of Nation. Soon this youth of today
    would be able to truly unleash the message of Iqbal and will rise to
    build state of Marghdeen.

    Proud to have you with us.

    Thanks a lot Khurram sb
    Thanks a lot Marghdeen
    Thanks a lot Robert
    Thanks a lot everyone who is here with us.

    Best wishes

  3. Robert, it is so pleasing to read you. In the long run these ideas, shared properly, are going to benefit the world in several ways. :)

  4. Thank you for such kind and sincere sentiments, Robert. You know, we might have the priviledge of calling Iqbal our national poet, but when it comes to understanding Iqbal, most of us are also only "scratching the surface" as you put it, due to the depth that lies behind each and every word written by him.

  5. Over the previous few months since Robert Whiteside came in to the world of Marghdeen, he has made exceptional observations and made the community richer and knowledgeable.

  6. I hope we can all understand Sir Allama Iqbal and benefit from it like you have done. May ALLAH open our hearts and soul to wonders that we will be amazed to know.

  7. Greetings to everyone,

    I thank you all for your kind words.

    The world around and in me has become so much richer because of being brought to a crossroads where Iqbal and his writings (as well as all of you who unpack and elucidate these treasures) were waiting. I'm so very happy to share this world with all of you who revere Iqbal and his philosophy.

    Many thanks to you all.

    All good wishes,


  8. Allama Iqbal is our national poet but we don't respect him that he deserves, we don't benefit from his teaching (embodied in his writings) either.

    I am so glad you discovered Allama Iqbal and gained I think I would say enlightenment?

    I hope you post more of your experiences on this path.

    Good luck! :)

  9. Congratulations Robert...Iqbal truly is inspiring (if not commanding) us to be the best we can be.

    As Iqbal has said...why should I worry about asking the philosophers or rationalists, what my origins are, since I am obsessed by a desire to understand what my ultimate destiny is (the best that I can be). Translated from Urdu.

    1. Greetings,

      Thank you for your comments.

      I very much like this: "I am obsessed by a desire to understand what my ultimate destiny is (the best that I can be)."

      Thank you again for sharing this.

      All good wishes,