B y Khurram Ali Shafique

Dawn, Books & Authors, November 9, 2003

Through most of 1910, Iqbal entered his thoughts in a little private notebook to which he gave the title, Stray Reflections. Seventeen of these entries were later sent for publication in a periodical in 1917, and the complete notebook was published in 1961 (edited by his son Javid). It provides a valuable insight into the evolution of Iqbal’s thoughts. Some extracts are given here.

  • Art is a sacred lie.
  • Our soul discovers itself when we come in contact with a great mind. It was not until I had realized the infinitude of Goethe’s imagination that I discovered the narrow breadth of my own.
  • Human intellect is nature’s attempt at self-criticism.
  • My friends often ask me, “Do you believe in the existence of God?” I think I am entitled to know the meaning of the terms used in the question before I answer it. My friends sought to explain to me what they mean by “believe”, “existence” and “God”, especially by the last two, if they want an answer to their question. I confess I do not understand these terms; and whenever I cross-examine them I find that they do not understand them either.
  • Hegel’s system of philosophy is an epic poem in prose.
  • It is idle to seek logical truth in poetry. The ideal of imagination is beauty, not truth. Do not then try to show a poet’s greatness by quoting passages from his works which, in your opinion, embody scientific truth.
  • Islam appeared as a protest against idolatry. And what is patriotism but a subtle form of idolatry: a deification of a material object. The patriotic songs of various nations will bear me out in my calling patriotism a deification of a material object. Islam could not tolerate idolatry in any form. It is our eternal mission to protest against idolatry in all its forms. What was to be demolished by Islam could not be made the very principle of its structure as a political community. The fact that the Prophet prospered and died in a place that was not his birth-place is perhaps a mystic hint to the same effect.
  • Justice is an inestimable treasure. But we must guard it against the thief of mercy.
  • In the economy of nature, each nation has a function allotted to it. The function of the German nation is the organization of human knowledge. But they have recently started on a commercial enterprise which may give them an empire, but they will have to suffer the displacement of a higher ideal by the all-absorbing spirit of trade.
  • Matthew Arnold defines poetry as criticism of life. That life is a criticism of poetry is equally true.
  • I confess I owe a great deal to Hegel, Goethe, Mirza Ghalib, Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil and Wordsworth. The first two led me into the “inside” of things; the third and fourth taught me how to remain oriental in spirit and expression after having assimilated foreign ideals of poetry, and the last saved me from atheism in my student days.
  • To explain the deepest truths of life in the form of homely parables requires extraordinary genius. Shakespeare, Maulana Rum (Jalaluddin) and Jesus Christ are probably the only illustrations of this rare type of genius.
  • Ideas act and react on each other. The growing spirit of individualism in politics is not without its influence on contemporary scientific thought. Modern thought regards the universe as a democracy of living atoms.
  • Individuals and nations die; but their children, that is, ideas, never die.
  • The memory of man is generally bad except for the offences he receives from his fellow-men.
  • God created things; man created the worth of things. The immortality of a people depends upon their incessant creation of “worths”, said Nietzsche. Things certainly bear the stamp of divine manufacture; but their meaning is through and through human.
  • Power is more divine than truth. God is power. Be ye, then, like your father who is in heaven.
  • The powerful man creates environment; the feeble have to adjust themselves to it.
  • Self-control in individuals build families; in communities, it builds empires.
  • Suffering is a gift from the gods in order to make men see the whole of life.
  • At least in one respect sin is better than piety. There is an imaginative value in the former which is lacking in the latter.
  • Sin has an educative value of its own. Virtuous people are very often stupid.
  • It is determination, not brains that succeed in life.
  • Democracy has a tendency to foster the spirit of legality. This is not itself bad; but unfortunately it tends to displace the purely moral standpoint, and to make the illegal and the wrong identical.
  • A prophet is only a practical poet.
  • A woman of superb beauty with a complete absence of self-consciousness is to me the most charming thing on God’s earth.
  • The beauties of nature can be realized only through the eyes of a lover. Hence the importance of a true marriage.
  • Both God and devil give man opportunities only, leaving him to make use of them in the way he thinks fit.
  • “Think of the devil and he is sure to appear.” This is equally true of God.
  • I judge the worth of my days, months and years from the experiences which they bring to me; and sometimes I am surprised to find that a single moment is more valuable than a whole year.
  • May 15, 1910: Yesterday morning at about 4:00, I saw that glorious visitor of our hemisphere known as Halley’s comet. Once in seventy-five years this superb swimmer of infinite space appears on our skies. It is only with the eyes of my grandsons that I shall see it again. The state of my mind was quite unique. I felt as if some thing indescribably vast had been closed up within the narrow limits of my clay: Yet the thought that I could not see this wanderer again brought home to me the painful fact of my littleness. For the moment all ambition was killed in me.