Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Iqbal, khuddi and the barzakh

Excerpted from  an essay by Dr. Ayesha Leghari Saeed

Iqbal believes that human being have the potential for creative growth. Growth takes place through actions, deeds and personal effort. He is against the pessimistic doctrine of Materialism, which supposes that man’s end takes place at death. For Iqbal “...death, if present action has sufficiently fortified the ego against the shock that physical dissolution brings, is only a passage to what the Qur’an describes as Barzakh.”[17]
The barzakh is a state of consciousness which experiences space and time differently from how they are experienced in this present spacio-temporal order. It is the isthmus that connects this realm of physical reality with the realm of the spirit. The realm of the spirit being so pure and powerful, that access to it is only possible through the intermediate realm of barzakh. The barzakh allows for the spiritual realm and the physical realm to find a meeting place where the qualities of both realms are integrated and amalgamated, as in the realm of dreams and the angelic realm. According to Iqbal, barzakhis not supposed to be experienced in a state of passivity. Instead it is supposed to be experienced as an active state of consciousness, which allows the ego to encounter, understand and interact with other levels of reality without losing its individuality. The time spent between death and resurrection is therefore a time spent in this intermediate realm of reality called the barzakh, where a strengthened ego does not face dissolution when faced with powerful forces from thebarzakhi reality.
Resurrection, according to Iqbal, is nothing more than an ego’s own self-assessment of its own past actions in the face of a comprehensive understanding of the actual and volitional potential for growth that it enjoyed while it was clothed in this earthly existence. The ego, therefore, experiences resurrection not as an external event but an internal self-evaluation; a resurrection of its own self from the ashes of its own past experience and the seeds that it sowed for its future growth.
Iqbal believes in the possibility of the ego’s growth even after death.[18] He quotes the following verse of the Qur’an to substantiate this belief: “What! When dead and turned to dust, shall we rise again? Remote is such a return. Now know We what the earth consumeth of them and with Us is a book in which account is kept.”[19]
The Qur’an has again and again reiterated the message that the end of human life is not death of the physical body. To Iqbal, the above message suggests that the nature of individuality is such that it is maintained even after the disintegration of the body, as we know it. Although we cannot gain any ‘insight’ into the nature of the ‘second creation’ i.e. life after death of the physical body, but the Qur’an clearly teaches that it is the nature of the human individuality to remain distinct and separate. It is due to its individual character that it experiences resurrection and punishment or reward according to what it deserves through its deeds, before death. Iqbal writes:
Philosophically speaking, therefore, we cannot go further than this that in view of the past history of man it is highly improbable that his career should come to an end with the dissolution of his body.[20]
In order to grasp Iqbal’s understanding of the concepts of hell and heaven and the growth of the human individuality after death, the following passage has been quoted from his seminal lecture on ‘The Human Ego- His Freedom and Immortality”. It is important to keep in mind that Iqbal came to these conclusions after an exhausting analysis of the concepts of hell and heaven as are elucidated in the vast realms of Islamic Philosophy, the Qur’an and Sunnah. Iqbal believes that heaven and hell are not some physical locations outside the human ego but are states of the inner human consciousness. “Hell, in the words of the Quran, is ‘God’s kindled fire which mounts over the hearts’ (37:41-49)― the painful realization of one’s failure as a man. Heaven is the joy of triumph over the forces of disintegration.”[21] Iqbal does not conceive of Hell literally as a “pit of everlasting torture,”[22] imposed by a vengeful God. Instead he understands it to be a place where an ego devoid of sensitivity to God’s Grace is kindled into a state from which he/she cannot but help respond to God’s Power and Glory. Heaven, on the other hand is conceived as a state where the ego becomes not a passive but an active participant in the creative process.
And the recipient of Divine illumination is not merely a passive recipient. Every act of a free ego creates a new situation, and thus offers further opportunities of creative unfolding.[23]
The creative unfolding of the human ego through a clear understanding of the doctrine of personal immortality is at the heart of Iqbal’s concept of khudi.

How does Iqbal's conception, outlined above, differ from Ibn Arabi's concept of the Barzakh? 
Iqbal's notion has affinities with Bergson's concept of Time and Creative Evolution. Ibn Arabi on the other hand affirms

“There is no repetition in [God's] self-disclosure” (lâ takrâr fi’l-tajallî) '
By acknowledging the unity of the Real, Tawhid, we recognize that it is one and unique in its every act, which means that each created thing and each moment of each thing is one and unique; nothing can ever be repeated precisely because of each thing's uniqueness and the divine infinity.' (W.Chittick)

In other words, in the same way that 'kshanika vada' (doctrine of momentariness) rescues Buddhism from other than instrumental commitment to karma, Ibn Arabi's system too is rescued from the hilarious image of Iqbal thinking great thoughts while mouldering in his grave.

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