Friday, June 1, 2012

Iqbal: A Miracle of Verbal Art

This write-up is based on a series of emails posted in The Republic of Rumi Newsletter from July 10 to September 27, 2008. It offers a brief background to my book The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007).  
It was an October morning in 2006. I was staying at a friend's place in Lahore and finishing my breakfast before leaving for the office of Iqbal Academy Pakistan with whom I work as a consultant. Suddenly, an idea flashed across my mind: I don't know how or why.

It struck me that there were seven lectures in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930-34), Iqbal's philosophical work in English prose. Incidentally, there were also seven chapters in Javid Nama (1932), his greatest poetical masterpiece. Did they match?

While finishing breakfast, I began comparing the two in my head. Yes, indeed, the two sets were identical. Each lecture in the Reconstruction seemed to be a commentary on the corresponding chapter of Javid Nama

Those familiar with Iqbal Studies would probably understand the significance of this "discovery". The Reconstruction is one of the most problematic books of the 20th Century due to the controversies it has raised and problems supposed to be left "unresolved". Seminars have been conducted exclusively for discussing its contents. Hundreds of articles and papers and scores of books have been written to attack, defend or explain its propositions. Javid Nama, too, is a major work. It has been translated into more than sixteen languages. Preface to its German translation was written by the Nobel laureate Herman Hesse (the author of Sidharta). What I had "discovered" that October morning could affect much this huge bulk of literature.

When I shared my observation with M. Suheyl Umar, the Director of Iqbal Academy, he too was moved. Mr. Ahmad Jawaid, the Deputy Director, who had ever been so kind to me, insisted that I should start investigating the idea without delay.

My initial findings were published as The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality in March 2007. This was against the advice of some of my well-wishers who believed that I should take longer. I knew that they were right but still I wanted to go ahead with the publication because further discoveries which I had made in those few months were of such nature that research about them could go on for decades, and not just by me but by several people.

I had discovered that the work of Iqbal was not just a collection of books. The nine books of poetry, one book of prose and one pamphlet on which Pakistan was based were the only works which he cared to preserve and hence got them copyrighted (except for the last one which was a public document). It was possible to read these works as a unified whole: a single narrative.

This was incredible because Iqbal had published his books over a duration of twenty-three years (from 1915 to 1938) and yet every single line in these books written in three different languages (Persian, Urdu and English) seemed to form a coherent structure.

The protagonist of this narrative was the reader himself or herself. The challenge was to find Joseph. The name appeared frequently in the works of Iqbal. Usually it had been taken as a figure of speech, but after comparing all of its "appearances" I became quite convinced that Iqbal was mentioning something specific – a person, a thing, something which was hidden and would come out at a specific time in the future. You could even tell the characteristics of this "Joseph". For instance, he had got something to do with both Sufism and politics, and so on. 

So, who was Joseph? That is the search I had carried out in those few weeks since October 2006. The reason I had then wanted my book to be published quickly was this: I had found Joseph. My book, The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality (2007) attempts only to help the reader solve this mystery. Since this article is not meant to be a plot-spoiler, I won't say here who or what is Joseph, but would rather recommend the readers to turn to my book (it can also be read online for free on my website).

Here, I want to mention just three artistic devices through which it becomes possible to decode the works of Iqbal as a single narrative and to interact with it in such manner like finding Joseph in it, or solving other such mysteries:
  1. Five Wisdoms
  2. Seven Stages
  3. Nine Questions
As I hope to show in some future post, these aspects are found consistently throughout the works of Iqbal: all sets of five items invariably turn out to be describing the Five Wisdoms, all sets of seven items Seven Stages and all sets of nine items Nine Questions.

As far as I know, this kind of coherence has not been claimed for any other writers (although I have discovered it in the works of two more authors since then and have short-listed a few others in whose works I am expecting to find the same phenomenon).


  1. Congratulations,on your finding.I am sure you will have more amazing discoveries as long as your thinking process continues.
    This is God's gift to sincere and hard working people.

  2. interesting read! one thing jumped out while reading (Iqbal had published his books over a duration of twenty-three years)was that the quran was also written/reveled in 23 years. a coincidence?

    1. This is great co incidence and a very interesting point. Quran was revealed in 23 years 5 months and 14 days. And about Quran Iqbal has said:
      محمد بھی ترا ، جبریل بھی ، قرآن بھی تیرا
      مگر یہ حرف شیریں ترجماں تیرا ھے یا میرا

  3. Khurram Sahib this is an amazing discovery, the seven chapters of Reconstruction are an enigma for the readers of Iqbal, and I think Iqbal knew that its more understandable and coherent version was needed so Javid Nama is the journey to understand not only the mysteries of nature, body, soul, spirit, past, present and future, but also Reconstruction and Iqbal's works. I personally have understood now Iqbal better with the system that you have laid down.

  4. Greetings,

    Thank you very much for this.

    This fascinating coherence that you have discovered among Iqbal's works seems itself, perhaps, like something that was wrapped up and concealed with intention, just waiting on the right time, the right people, and the right intention, to unpack it.

    I have not yet read "The Republic of Rumi: a Novel of Reality," but will be doing so soon. It's as if I cannot get to all of Iqbal's works (and yours) fast enough :).

    All good wishes,


  5. Congratulations to you and I wish you all the very best for your future. I believe that once you are committed, any discovery can be made. And unfortunately this is precisely what is lacking in among Muslims today. As a result of this, the people in the West are taking advantage of it. I also appreciate the efforts of Iqbal Academy Pakistan as they are carrying this this mission forward and encouraging genuine scholars and students to go ahead with their schoarly pursuits on Iqbal. In the end, I believe that a lot more needs to be done in this regard and May Allah give us taufeeq to pursue it relentlessly so as to benefit Islam and humanity