What is Marghdeen?

Marghdeen is an ideal world described by Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbal in one of his writings. I treat it as a parable about our world, and what it can possibly become, so let me first summarize the story presented by him in 1932:

The spirit of the great Sufi master Rumi guides Iqbal on a journey to meet God, so that Iqbal could achieve immortality. Half-way in this journey, they land on Mars. They observe that the Martians can foretell their deaths a few days in advance, and embrace it with joy. One of the places they visit is Marghdeen, where an inhabitant tells them that they received this country as a reward from God, since their ancestor Barkhia resisted a temptation from Farzmarz (apparently the Devil). Marghdeen has high buildings and affluence, and is completely free from poverty, injustice, crime and greed. It has no government, no army and no currency. However, at that time, it is threatened by the teachings of a certain preacher sent by Farzmurz, who is trying to persuade the people to negate the significance of love as a driving force for individuals and societies.

I see four basic points in this story: conscious evolution, civil religion, unity of matter and spirit, and a criticism of aristocratic radicalism. I find that these points were not only central to the ideas presented by some of the noblest personalities connected with the European Enlightenment, but also the thought of Iqbal and his like-minded contemporaries.

Conscious evolution

The first striking thing, and possibly quite jarring, is the suggestion that the “Martians” can foresee their own deaths a few days ahead and embrace it with joy. In my understanding, this is a metaphoric way of suggesting that an individual is adequately aware of the destiny of his or her society (or nation), and knows fully well the specific part which he or she has been assigned to play in it. This idea is quite closely related to what the American contemporary of Iqbal, Mary Parker Follett, had called “conscious evolution”:

“Conscious evolution is the key to that larger view of democracy which we are embracing to-day. The key? Every man sharing in the creative process is democracy; this is our politics and our religion. People are always inquiring into their relation to God. God is the moving force of the world, the ever-continuing creating where men are the co-creators … Man and God are correlates of that mighty movement which is Humanity self-creating. God is the perpetual Call to our self-fulfilling. We, by sharing in the life-process which binds all together in an active, working unity are all the time sharing in the making of the Universe. This thought calls forth everything heroic that is in us; every power of which we are capable must be gathered to this glorious destiny. This is the True Democracy.”

I believe that if only we could learn this today, we might find that all other pre-requisites of Marghdeen have already been fulfilled (as explained below).

Civil religion

The second important point in the parable is that Barkhia, the ancestor of the present-day inhabitants of Marghdeen, resisted a temptation offered by Farzmarz, or the Devil. However, it is was not just any temptation. We are told that Farzmarz said to him that there was a world better than Paradise, about which God Himself does not know, and there “God does not interfere in its organizing.” Barkhia replied, “Go away, Sorcerer! Pour your own image upon that world!” This is the temptation Barkhia resisted, and consequently God gave him Marghdeen.

I understand that this is a metaphor for the choice which almost every modern society has been forced to make in the recent past, i.e. whether or not religion should be banished altogether from the public sphere.

If we study the history of modern times according to the guidelines provided by Iqbal, we are led to believe that the Western civilization opted for a “civil religion” under the influence of the great Swiss-French thinker Rousseau, i.e. the idea that individuals should be free to seek God on their own but a few spiritual principles must also govern the public sphere:

“The dogmas of the civil religion must be simple and few, precisely expressed, without explanations or commentary. The existence of the Divinity, powerful, intelligent, beneficent, prescient, and provident; the life to come, the reward of the just and the punishment of the wicked; the holiness of the laws and the social contract; such are the positive dogmas. As for those excluded, I limit them to one: intolerance; it belongs to the religions that we have rejected.”

This is consistent with the line adopted by Barkhia in the parable. Many Muslim societies also made similar choices in the first half of the twentieth century – most famously the Muslims of South Asia during their struggle for the independence of their region. Other cultures might have undergone similar experiences, e.g. the communist countries seem to be coming back in this direction after painful experiments. The words of Rousseau might be as true today as they were at the time when he wrote them: “No state was ever founded without being based on religion.”

Unity of matter and spirit

Hence, I believe that the story of Barkhia has been metaphorically enacted by a large number of societies in the recent past. In the parable, the direct outcome of this action is Marghdeen. One of its residents explains its freedom from poverty and injustice by stating:

“Do you know from where come the power of intellect and the potency of worship? From where came this heart and its visitations, and these arts and miracles? If you have fire of speech or flame of action, they do not come from you. All these are the products of the springtime of Nature, which in turn derives from its Creator … The same is true of this wind, earth, cloud, field, orchard, meadow, palace, street, stones, bricks … None should convert a trust to his or her ownership. Blessed is the one who renders God’s property up to God.”

The idea that wealth also has an immaterial basis does not sound outlandish anymore in our times, but we are yet to start treating material possessions as a sacred trust – the step required to end inequality on a universal scale, according to both Rousseau and Iqbal. This might also become possible if we develop the ability of “conscious evolution.”

Aristocratic radicalism

What stand in the way of conscious evolution are all those ideologies which deny the significance of love as a driving force for individuals and societies. They prevent the “socialization of will”, which must precede the “socialization of property”, as Follett explained so beautifully to the contemporaries of Iqbal. In the parable, such ideologies are symbolized by the preacher sent by Farzmurz. In our times, the most widespread of all such teachings is aristocratic radicalism, i.e. the misconception that ideas originate with one or few, and travel down to the masses. This pernicious myth, most famously associated with Nietzsche and most widely popularized by Gandhi, strikes at the very root of the equality of souls. As Iqbal observed:

Nietzsche was a failure; and his failure was mainly due to his intellectual progenitors such as Schopenhauer, Darwin, and Lange whose influence completely blinded him to the real significance of his vision. Instead of looking for a spiritual rule which would develop the Divine even in a plebeian and thus open up before him an infinite future, Nietzsche was driven to seek the realization of his vision in such schemes as aristocratic radicalism.

Realizing Marghdeen

I believe that the world today is essentially Marghdeen, but we need to re-educate ourselves in order to “activate” its “features”. More specifically, we need to learn “conscious evolution.” We have long been talking about changing the world but maybe the world is just fine, and what we really need to change is ourselves. In the words of a citizen of Marghdeen in the parable, “View the world differently, and it will become different. Heaven and earth will also readjust.”

Find out more about Iqbal, his life, thought and works, and their relevance to our times.