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Sunday, March 6, 2011

‘You Can Deny God, But Can You Deny The Glory Of The Prophet’? – Iqbal

‘You Can Deny God, But Can You Deny The Glory Of The Prophet’? – Iqbal

‘You Can Deny God, But Can You Deny The Glory Of The Prophet’? – Iqbal

Summarized from
Gabriel’s Wing (page150 – 156) by Annemarie Schimmel
Published by Iqbal Academy Pakistan

It seem, that approximately from the twelfth century onwards a new side of Muhammad-veneration became more and more popular – at least we do not yet know how long it was already in use to celebrate the Maulud, the birthday of the Prophet, for which poets and mystics composed heartfelt hymns and which was, in some periods, a real popular festival with illuminations of the towns etc.

The Mauluds which were composed for these occasions, are still existent(122) –it is sufficient to mention the most famous example of his kind of poetry in Turkey, Suleman Celebi’s (d. 1429) Maulud Sharif which is still living in the hearts of almost all Turks, and which is recited not only on the birthday of the Prophet on 12 Rabi I but also as a kind of Soul’s Mass at the 40th day after death and at the anniversary of death. There are Mauluds all over the Islamic world, and in their simple verses, their loving devotion they belong to the most touching expressions of Islamic religious life.

On the other hand, poets used to put at the beginning of their works-after the poetical praise of God – the Na’at – a praise poem in honor of the Prophet, which also developed into a poetical from of its own right; still is the na’at of Maulana Rumi well-known in Turkey and the countries where Rumi’s mystical poetry is read. So Iqbal is perfectly right when he puts the praise of the Prophet into Rumi’s mouth and makes him describe the greatness of the seal of Prophet.

The mystical tradition about the prophetical virtues has lived in India as strong as elsewhere; to mention only one example: in the folklore of a comparatively small Province like Sind, the maulids, the versified stories of the miracles of the Prophet, the prayer which were addressed to him since centuries, fill large volumes, and in many cases the Western reader could simply replace the name of Muhammad by that of Christ, and could, then, recite the same poem for himself.


But in this mystical atmosphere the knowledge of the real human life of Muhammad had been nearly forgotten. Not earlier than in the last decades of the 19th century the Indian Muslim intelligentsia felt the necessity-as a counterweight against the Christian missionary activities-to inform their fellow Muslims about the life and deeds of the historical Prophet. Classical sources, like the ‘Life of Muhammad’ by Ibn Hisham, the collection of traditions, were largely used. Syed Ameer Ali’s famous work “The Spirit of Islam” is essentially called “The life of Muhammad” and its importance for a new presentation of the Prophet as the unsurpassable model of behavior cannot be esteemed too highly. Then followed the great Biography of the Prophet by Maulana Shibli- the first monumental work on this topic in Urdu which was completed (it contains 7 vol.) by Sayid Sulayman Nadwi, Iqbal’s venerated friend, and was partly translated also in other Indian vernaculars. All over the Islamic world more biographies of Muhammad written by Muslim scholars were published in recent decades than in the same number of centuries, and still this interest in the historical figure of the Prophet is continuing. In 1920, a special Sirat movement was started in India which aimed at the publication of books and pamphlets on the Prophet for distributing them among the population esp. in the Punjab.

The return to Muhammad was also visible in the concentration of mystical orders-like the movement of Sayyid Ahmed Brelwi in India and the Tariqa Muhammadiya of the Tijaniya or the Mirghaniya in North Africa who taught as highest goal the unification of the soul not with God but with the essence of the Prophet.

These two currents: the mystical veneration of the Prophet, and the investigation into his life in order to show the Muslims that they, just as the Muslim community in times of old, should live in complete harmony with the way of life, the behavior, and the idea which Muhammad had put before the faithful: these two currents together form the basis of Muhammad Iqbal’s prophetology which is sounding like a basso ostinato through his work in the different periods of his life.

The dust of Madina and Najaf is collyrium for my eyes (BJ 61)


Although some other problems which are most vividly expressed in Iqbal’s poetry and his philosophical work are rarely touched in his letters; the love for the Lord of Beings is felt in this private correspondence too, and his friends tell that he often was shedding tears from emotion when the Prophet’s name was mentioned. The visit or Adbul Majid Qureshi, the founder of the Sirat-movement, in 1929 was most welcomed by him, and in the same year he mentions with satisfaction the fact that the birthday of the Prophet had been celebrated by the Muslims in South India.-

“In order to bind together the Islamic nation of India the most holy personality of the honored Prophet can constitute are greatest and most efficient power”

Iqbal poetry, too, turns to the Prophet, often in most unexpected places, and the role of Muhammad is important from the Asar up to the Armaghan; perhaps with the exception of Payam-i Mashriq where –except the introduction- only merely literary allusions to the Prophet are found. There is the tune of perfect trust in the Prophet which is characteristic of the normal Muslim devotions:

Thy love is greater for the rebels-
It is, in forgiving sins, like the love of a mother.

It is however worthy mentioning that one side of the Prophet which is most frequently mentioned by other poets, esp. in folk poetry, and which makes him so dear to all fearful souls is not often met with in Iqbal’s poetical work: it is his role as Shafi’, as intercessor at Doomsday. Though in the Asrar (383) the poet sings:

In him is our trust on the Day of Judgment, and in this world too he is our protector

this tune is scarcely repeated, since Muhammad Iqbal’s conception of death, resurrection, and final judgment in the later stages of his theological thought widely differs from the accustomed theological and popular beliefs and dogmatic details. However, his confidence in every human affair rested upon the Prophet whom he had asked, in the end of Rumuz to grant him the power of activity.


It is rather significant that during his last long illness when he was staying at Bhopal he saw in a dream the Islamic reformer Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan-the grandfather of his host-who advised him to tell his illness to the Prophet, and indeed Iqbal composed long poem in which he after having described the sad situation of the Muslims, asks the Prophet to help him in his illness-just as seven centuries ago, the Egyptian Busiri (d. 1296) had composed his famous Qasidat al-Burda in honour of Muhammad who had cured his illness: an example which has become a model for pious Muslims through all centuries.

‘Interior medicine for me is only that I recite blessings (durud) on your ancestor (i,e. Muhammad)’

he writes, in 1935, to a Sayyid – but even this recitation is felt by him to be a daring work-

From shame my body became like water-
Love said: Oh you who are subjects to others…..
As long as you have not yet got colour and scent from Muhammad,
Don’t dirten his name with your blessing.

Muhammad was for Iqbal the visible side of God’s activity. God could not been seen by mortal eyes-as the Qur’an says lan tarani (Sura 7/139) thou wilt not behold me-whereas this word is not applicable to the Prophet (cf. AH 32):

God is my Hidden One, thou art my Open One!
With God I talk in veils, with thee openly!

And according to an apocryphe tradition, quoted by Rumi and many other mystics “Who sees me sees God”, the poet turns to the Prophet for help as well as for praise. Just as the Muslim feels the nearness of God when reciting the Qur’an, Iqbal admits to have felt a spiritual connection with the Prophet when working on the subject of Islamic history, and history of Islamic law.

“The differences of juristic questions and the argumentations of the jurists of Islam in which the love of the Seal of Apostleship is concealed-the study of all these things given me an endless spiritual delight (M I 404, 1936)”

And how much more the presence of something which was said to have belonged to the prophet! The visit of the Khirqa-i sharif, the cloak of the Prophet, at Qandahar during his visit in Afghanistan inspired Iqbal to one of the finest Persian hymns (Mus. 29 ff.) in which he compares his heart to Gabriel who was able to see the Prophet in flesh, and tells how his heart started singing and dancing and reciting poetry in front of the holy place,

The cloak of the “bar which both of them do not transgress” (Sura 55/20)
I saw it in the light of “I have two cloaks”

His religion and his ritual are the effect of the All
In his forehead is the writ of destination of everything.


It goes without saying that a visit to Madina at the Prophet’s tomb-combined with the performance of the duty of pilgrimage-was one of Iqbal’s greatest and most ardent wishes from early times’ onward. To die in the blessed country of Hijaz-that was his dream during war-time, and not without reason his posthumous poems have been called Gift of Hijaz. His letters in the last years of his life are full of sentences which express the nostalgia for the Prophet country most ardently, and he was sure that a visit of the place would bring innumerable spiritual benefits to the visitor (cf. his letters to Sayyid Ghulam Miran Shah M I 222, 1937; Mi 232, 1938). He had intended to go to Madina on his way back from Europe in 1932, but was of the opinion “that it would be bad manners to dare visit the Holy Presence of Prophethood in connection with a journey made for worldly purpose (M II 397)”

He wrote, then, the great ode to the Prophet which culminates in the line

‘Thou art the Preserved Tablet, and thou art the pen (BJ 151).’

The more painful his illness grew, the stronger was the wish to visit the Holy Place-

‘What other place is there left for sinners like me but the threshold of the Prophet? (M II 341. 1937)’

And even in the last months before his death he did not give up hope that ‘I can perform the pilgrimage in the following year and be also present in the Presence of Prophethood and bring from there such a gift that the Muslims of India will remember it. (M I 382, 1937)’

But that dream was not fulfilled-only a whole chapter of the quatrains in Armagban-i Hijaz is called “in the present of the Prophet”

In Muhammad-whom he, as most of the mystic poets, often calls with his surname Mustafa, the Chosen One-Iqbal saw the source of everything good and useful in human life; poverty (in religious sense, according to the traditional word “My poverty is my pride”) and sovereignty belong to the manifestations of Mustafa, he is the model for every Muslim, the visible witness of God’s beauty and power. His way is the only way to choose for the Muslims of this century who are still strangers to his beauty. This idea, which animates the quatrains of the Armaghan, is expressed already as early as in the jawab-i shikwa in 1913, where God is made say:

Thou a Muslim art, and destiny thy edict must obey.
Be thou faithful to Muhammad and We yield Ourself to thee-
Not this world alone-the Tablet and the pen the prize will be.

From here we reach the mystical ideas of Muhammad’s pre-existence, and can understand, in the light of the development of mystical praise, the great hymn which Iqbal has sung in honour of him who is the perfect manifestation of love.

Already in the Asrar, when showing that “Self is strengthened by Love” Iqbal turns to the person of the Prophet:

There is a beloved hidden within thine heart…………
By love of him the heart is made strong……….
In the Muslim’s heart is the home of Muhammad,
All our glory is from the name of Muhammad.


The idea that Muhammad’s mane itself is holy which is common in Muslim piety is already found in the Jawab-i Shikwa:

‘Light the world, too long in darkness, with Muhammad’s radiant name!’

And it is a common idea in all religions that the name of a thing designs the thing itself, and that to possess the name means to possess the thing itself. Name contains a certain power, a baraka, and that is the reason for calling so many children with the name of the Prophet in order to make them participate of the Prophet’s spiritual power-but it is also the reason for the tabuisation of the pronunciation of the name Muhammad in Turkey, and its changing into Mehmet, less the most holy name be polluted by daily use and misuse.


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