(A lecture at Thinkers Forum USA event On November 24th 2013)
Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen
To begin with I offer my thanks to the editors and affiliates of the Thinkers Forum for inviting me to give a lecture on the concept of Adam as expressed by Iqbal in his poetry and prose. I also thank all those who have come to attend this event.
At the outset I should tell you that I am not a scholar of religion. My lecture is merely a talk about Adam in the prose and poetry of Allama Iqbal. It is meant to place before the Thinkers Forum for review and debate the views of Allama Iqbal on the subject of Adam and the emergence of the Insan, (Human being or Homo sapiens) on Earth. The lecture will be in English punctuated by Iqbal’s Urdu and Persian poems relevant to this subject. Iqbal’s prose, which I would be referring to and quoting, is drawn from his lectures which are part of a series of lectures undertaken by him at the request of a group of Muslims in South Asia called the Madras Muslim Association and delivered by him in late 1920s in Madras, Hyderabad and Aligarh. These seven lectures, as most of us know, are in the book published under the title The Reconstruction of Religious thought in Islam. In the poetry of Iqbal the subject of Adam appears in both Persian and Urdu collections (kulliat).
I will begin my talk with Iqbal’s sha‘r (verse):
Ghah meri nigahah-e-tez chir gaiey dil-e-wajood
Ghah ulajh kae rah gaiey meray tawahomat mein
In my literal translation this verse says:
Sometimes my sharp vision penetrated through the heart of existence,
Sometimes it got entangled in my superstitions
This verse expresses of a dilemma which Iqbal faced in dealing with the subject of Adam and tried to resolve it as I will discuss in this talk. I may mention here that even the epoch-making evolution scientist Charles Darwin, the author of the On the Origin of Species and Descent of Man faced this kind of dilemma: Though he was critical of Bible as history and thought religion was a tribal survival strategy he was reluctant to give up the idea of God as an ultimate law giver (Wikipedia).
Here, I quote two verses of Iqbal’s poem titled, Adam, which tell us what Iqbal thought about the concept of Adam:
Tilism-e-bood o adam jis ka nam hai Adam
Khuda ka raz hai, qadir nahi hai jis pa sukhan
Agar na ho tujhay uljhan to khool kar kah duon
Wojud-e-hazrat-e-insan na ruh hai na badan
In my literal translation of these couplets say:
The mystery of existence or non-existence which is named Adam is
God’s secret on which the words are powerless.
If you do not get confused I will clearly say:
The essence of Hazrat-e Insan is neither soul nor body
Now, you would naturally ask: then what the being or essence of hazrat-e-Insan, i.e. Adam was? There is an answer to this question in the first couplet which says it is God’s secret regarding which the words have no power to reveal. But, obviously, this is not enough for an inquisitive mind. So let us go to the Iqbal’s prose to find an answer.
His lecture III delivered as part of a series of lectures intended for the reconstruction of the religious thought in Islam (the very title of the published collection of the lectures suggests) Iqbal discusses the story of the Fall of Adam and offers a thought-provoking interpretation of the story which is narrated in the Bible and the Quran. He calls the story ‘legend’ and tells us that this legend is found in a variety of forms in the literature of the ancient world. He further says and I quote: “Confining ourselves to the Semitic form of the myth, it is highly probable that it arose out of primitive man’s desire to explain to himself the infinite misery of his plight ….. Thus in an old Babylonian inscription we find, the serpent (phallic symbol), the tree and the woman offering the apple (symbolic of virginity) to the man. These features of the legend of the Fall appear in the Book of Genesis of the Old Testament. The meaning of the myth is clear—the fall of man from the supposed state of bliss was due to the original sexual act of the human pair”. The original sexual act came to be known as the ‘Original Sin’ of the Man. The legend of Fall is also narrated in the Quran but, with remarkable points of difference which are elucidated by Iqbal in his lecture. I will briefly mention the differences between the Biblical and Quranic narrations, pointed out by Iqbal.
First, the Quran omits the serpent and the rib-story. The omission of serpent story frees the story from its phallic setting. The omission of the rib-story, suggests that ‘the purpose of the Quranic narration is not historical, as in the case of the Old Testament, which gives us an account of the first human pair by way of the prelude to the history of Israel’ (obviously, Iqbal meant ‘bani Israel’ not the state of Israel which was established some two decades after the lecture). In this context he points out that ‘in the verses which deal with the origin of man as a living being, the Quran uses the words, Bashar or Insan, not Adam, which it reserves for man in the capacity of God’s vicegerent on earth’(2:30-31). He further says: “The purpose of Qur’an is further secured by the omission of the proper names mentioned in the Biblical narration—Adam and Eve”. Then, Iqbal goes on to say: “The word Adam is retained and used more as a concept than as a name of a concrete human individual”. “This use of the word”, he adds “is not without authority in the Qur’an itself”. In support of this point Iqbal quotes the following verse of the Qur’an:
“We created you; then fashioned you; then said We to angels, ‘prostrate yourself unto Adam’”. (7:11)
This is how Iqbal answers the question posed by the inquisitive minds in reference to his couplet quoted by me earlier:
Agar na ho tujhay uljhan to khool kar kah duon
Wojud-e-hazrat-e-insan na ruh hai na badan
Second, Iqbal says that the Quran splits the legend into two episodes—the one relating to what it describes simply as ‘the tree’ and the other relating to the ‘tree of eternity’ and ‘the kingdom that faileth not’. According to the Quran, Adam and his wife led astray by Satan tasted the fruit of both the trees. According to the Old Testament man was driven out of the Garden of Eden immediately after his first act of disobedience and God placed at the eastern side of the garden angels and a flaming sword, turning on all sides, to keep the way to what is called ‘the tree of life’ in the Bible. According to the Quranic narration Adam’s first act of transgression was forgiven (2:35-37; also 20:120-122).
Third, Whereas the Old Testament curses the earth for Adam’s act of disobedience, the Quran declares the earth to be the ‘dwelling place’ of man and ‘source of profit’ to him for which he should be grateful to God who also established him (the man) on earth and given him therein the supports of life. 1qbal further says that there is no reason to suppose that ‘the word jannat means the supernatural paradise from which man is supposed to have fallen on earth. He further says that ‘according to the Qur’an man is not a stranger on this earth’, and quotes the Qur’an saying: ‘And we have caused you to grow from the earth’. (71:17).
This brings to mind Iqbal’s depiction of the ‘arrival’ of man on earth in two poems. I see this depiction as two Acts of a drama. The first poem is titled, Farishtay Adam ko jannat se rukhsat kartain hain (Angels bid farewell to Adam) and the second poem which immediately follows the first poem is titled, Roh-e-arzi, adam ka istaqbal karti hai (The Earth’s soul Welcomes Adam). The first poem consisting of five couplets opens with the couplet which says: Gifted to you is the restlessness of the day and night; we do not know whether you are of dust or of moonshine. The poem ends with the couplet which says: your voice reveals the heart of life as if the Nature has acted as the mizrab (striker) for your guitar. I am afraid this more or less literal translation by me may not have done justice to the poetic merit of these couplets so I will read to you the two couplets:
Aata huey hai tujhey roz o shab ki betabi
Khabar nahin hai kah tu khaki hai ya kah seemabi
Teri nawa se hai be parda zindagi ka zamir
Kah teray saz ki fitrat nay ki hai mizrabi
The second poem is a dramatic narration of the welcoming speech supposedly delivered by the ‘Soul of the Earth’ as the Earth received Adam. It consists of a number of beautifully composed and profoundly meaningful stanzas. To my mind, this poem has a significant place in Urdu poetic literature. I invite your attention to the dramatic and metaphorical diction of the verses of the poem:
Khool aankh, zamin dekh, falk dekh, fiza dekh
Mashriq se ubhartay huay soraj ko zara dekh
Us jalwa-e-be parda ko pardoun mein chupa dekh
Aayam-e-judaie kay sitam dekh, jafa dekh
Betab na hu, marka-e-beem o rija dekh
Hain teray tassaruf mein yeh badal, ye ghataian
Yeh gumbad-e- aflak, yeh khamoosh fizain
Yeh koh, yeh sahrah, ye samadar, yeh hawain
Theien pesh-e-nazar kal to farishtun ki adayain
Aayeena-e-aayam mein aaj apni ada dekh
Samjhay ga zamana teri aakhoun ka isharay
Dekhain ga tujhay dur se gardun kay sitaray
Na paed teray bahr-e-takhiul kay kinaray
Phunchain ga falk tak teri aahun kay shararay
Tameer-e-khudi kar asar-e-aah-e-rasa dekh
Khursheed-e-jahan tab ki zu teray sharer mein
Aabad hai ek taza jahan teray hunar mein
Jachtay nahin bakhsha huway firdus nazar mein
Jannat teri pinhan hai teray khun-e-jigar mein
Aa paykar-e-gul kushish-e-payham ki jaza dekh
Iqbal further tells us that in the second episode of the legend Quran describes the garden as a place ‘where there is neither hunger, nor thirst, neither heat nor nakedness’ and, therefore, he (Iqbal) is ‘inclined to think that jannat in the Quranic narration of the legend is the concept of primitive state in which man does not feel the sting of human wants the birth of which alone marks the beginning of human culture’. However, in my view Iqbal’s concept of the primitive state of man in which man does not feel the sting of human wants does not seem to be rational. Biologically there cannot be any state of human being or any other being which preceded man in the evolutionary tree. I am afraid the concept suggested by Iqbal, apparently to resolve the dilemma between faith and reason does not accord with the scientific theory of biological evolution. Mirza Ghalib had resolved the dilemma regarding the concept of jannat by a simple verse:
Hum ko malum hai jannat ki haqiqat, lakin
Dil kay kush rakhnay ko Ghalib yeh khail achha hai
Referring to the analysis of the Qur’anic narration of the legend of the Fall Iqbal says: “Thus we see the Qur’anic legend of the Fall has nothing to do with the first appearance of man on this planet. Its purpose is rather to indicate man’s rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to the conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience. The Fall does not mean any moral depravity, it is man’s transition from simple consciousness to the first flash of self-consciousness, a kind of waking from the dream of nature. Nor does the Quran regard the earth as a torture–hall where an elementary humanity is imprisoned for an original act of sin. Man’s first act of disobedience was his first act of free choice and that is why according to Quranic narration, Adam’s first transgression was forgiven (2:35-37).
The man’s rise from a primitive state of instinctive appetite to conscious possession of a free self, capable of doubt and disobedience, mentioned by Iqbal leads us to his wonderful Persian poem titled, Milad-e-Adam (Birth of Adam), which is a masterpiece of Iqbal’s poetic art in terms of remarkable diction and profoundness of meaning. Actually this poem stands as Part (1), rather Act 1, of what sounds like a drama titled, Taskhir-e-Fitrat (Conquest of Nature) published in Iqbal’s Persian poetry collection, Payam-e-Mashriq (The Message of the East) which was composed by him in response to the Divan of the German Poet, Goethe. Taskhir-e-Fitrat has five parts: (1) Milad-e-Adam (Birth of Adam); (2) Inkar-e-Iblis (Refusal of Satan); (3) Ighwa-e-Adam (Abduction of Adam); (4) Adam az bahisht beroun amada me go‘ud (Adam Emerges from the Paradise and Says); and (5) Subh-e-Qiyamat (The Dawn of the Day of Resurrection). Now let us see what Iqbal says in the poem, Milad-e-Adam. This poem narrates in a superb poetic diction and imagery the responses of the drama’s characters, namely: The ultimate Love; the ultimate Beauty; the Nature; the Cosmos (the Heavens and the Eternity); the Desire; and the Life. I will recite the poem and provide a sort of literal translation.
Na‘rah zad Ishq ke khoni jigary paida shud
Husn larzeed ke sahib nazray paida shud
Fitrat aashuft ke az khak-e-jahan-e-majboor
Khud garay, khud shikanay, khud nigaray paida shud
Khabaray raft zay gardun ba shabistan-e-azal
Hazr ae pardagian parda daray paida shud
Arzu bay khabar az khwesh ba aaghosh-e-hayat
Chashm wa kard o jahan-e-digaray paida shud
Zindahi guft ke dar khak tapidam hama umr
Ta az iyin gumbad-e-derina daray paida shud
I will now read to you my literal translation of the verses:
Born a rosy hearted being, exclaimed the Love
Born is a being with intellect, proclaimed the Beauty with awe.
From the dust of the constrained world, exclaimed the perplexed Nature
Born is a being capable of making itself, destroying itself, and taking care of itself.
Went out a news from the Heavens to the Eternity
Born is a being, who will tear off the veil, be warned O veil-keepers!
The Desire, asleep on the bosom of the Life,
Opened its eyes and saw a different world that was born
The Life said: I tossed about restlessly in the dust over my entire existence
Till from this ancient dome [sky or heavens] a doorway was born [came into being]
I am afraid the literal translation just read out by me may not have done justice to the artistic beauty and intrinsic meaning of the verses. However, I am assuming that the translation has indeed assisted those of us who are not conversant with the Persian language.
Now, reverting to the discussion about the legend I see that there are two matters mentioned by Iqbal which need to be discussed further: One is the man’s capacity of God’s vicegerent [khalifa] on earth, and the other is the point that ‘God caused man to grow from earth’, which appears to imply a to process of evolution.
God’s Vicegerent on Earth
Let us deal with the first point. Being the vicegerent of God, that is the Creator, man has the capacity to be the creator on earth. In this context I will read to you an interesting Persian poem of Iqbal titled, Muhawarah ma‘bain Khuda wo Insan (Dialogue between God and Man) and also its translation by V.G. Kiernan:
Jahan ra zay yak aab o gil afridam…………………Tu iran o tatar o zang aafride
Man az khak pulad-e-nab aafridam………………Tu shmshir o teer o tufang aafride
Tabar aafride nihal-e-chaman ra
Qafas sakhte tair-e-naghma zan ra
Tu shab aafride, charagh aafridam……………….Sifal aafride, ayagh afridam
Bayaban o kohsar o ragh aafride …………… Khayaban o gulzar o bagh aafrodam
Mun aanam kah az sang aaeena saaam
Mun aanum kah az zahar nosheena sazam
I made this world, from one same earth and water,
You made Tartaria, Nubia, and Iran.
I forged from dust the iron’s unsullied ore,
You fashioned sword and arrowhead and gun;
You shaped the axe to hew the garden tree,
You wove the cage to hold the singing bird.
You made the night and I the lamp,
And you the clay and I the cup
You— desert, mountain peak, and vale:
I—flower-bed, park, and orchard; I
Who grind a mirror out of stone,
Who brew from poison honey-drink.
Well said, but the poems show a picture of man’s creative capability in long time past ago. Now, by the beginning the twenty first century (early years of the second decade) Man’s creative capability has progressed to a level much of which was unthinkable just afew decades back. There is no need for me to mention the marvels of information technology, modern Physics, or biological sciences, the stunning space exploration, in particular the crossing of limits of solar system by a man made device launched more than 37 years ago and still continuing its flight in the inter-stellar space. This brings to mind Iqbal’s verse:
Uroj-e-Adam-Khaki se Anjum sahma jatay hain
Kah yeh tota houa tara mah-e- kamil na ban jai‘e
And now in the words of Iqbal, the Man who, according to the legend, was expelled from the Paradise can say:
Sitaroun se aagay jehan auor bhi hain
Abhi Ishq kay imtehan auor bhi hain
Qan’aat na kar aalam-e-rang o bu par
Chaman aur bhi aashian aur bhi hain
Agar khoh gaya ek nashaman to kia gham
Maqamat-e-aah o fughan auor bhi hain
Isey roz o shab mein ulajh kar na rah ja
Kah teray zaman o makan auor bhi hain.
Here is the translation of these verses by V.G. Kiernan:
Beyond the stars more worlds: Love’s grace
Has other trials yet to face—
In other gardens other nests–
Be not content with earth’s embrace;
Why for one lost home mourn, when grief
Can find so many lodging places?
Let day and night not snare your feet,
Yours another Time and Space!
In the field of the creation of weapons the Man’s capability has attained the unprecedented levels of causing destruction. Iqbal wrote most probably in 1933:
Huzur-e-Haq mein Israfeel nay meri shikayat ki
Yeh banda woqt se phahlay qiymat kar no de barpa.
In regards to the origin of man I have not found much material in the lectures indicating Iqbal’s position on the question of the origin of man (Homo sapiens) through biological process of evolution. However, in his lecture IV Iqbal does say that ‘the theory of evolution has brought despair and anxiety instead of hope and enthusiasm for life, to the modern world’. He has not specified the theory he is referring to. He then goes on to say: ‘The world of today needs a Rumi to create an attitude of hope and to kindle a fire of enthusiasm for life’. He quotes Rumi’s lines which tell us that man evolved from inorganic things. I quote these lines:
First man appeared in the class of inorganic things
Next he passed therefrom into that of plants.
For years he lived as one of the plants,
Remembering naught of his inorganic state so different;
And when he passed from vegetative to to the animal state
He had no remembrance of his state as a plant,
Except the inclination he felt to the world of plants,
Especially at the time of spring and sweet flowers,
Like the inclination of infants to words their mothers’
Which we know not the cause of their inclination to breast …
Again the great Creator, as you know,
Drew man out of the animal into the human state.
Thus man passes from one order of nature to another,
Till he became wise and knowing and strong as he is now.
Of his first souls he has now no remembrance.
And he will be again changed from his present soul.
[Note:According to the End-Note in the book, Reconstruction, the this is translation of the verses 3637-41 and 3647-48 of Book iv of Rumi Mathnawi . Allama Iqbals’s observation on these verses in his Development of Metaphysics in Persia, p.9]
The first thing that stuck me after reading these verses was that it Rumi came quite close to the modern doctrine of evolution that different form of life had developed gradually from common ancestry.
Apparently, the theory of evolution which, Iqbal says has brought despair and anxiety instead of hope and enthusiasm for life to the modern world is the Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. As you know, Darwin or Darwinism proposed that evolution occurs by means of what Darwin termed ‘Natural Selection’. Individuals of a species show variation. On average more off springs are produced that are needed to replace the parents and so there must be competition for survival and those that are best adapted to the environment (the fittest) survive and reproduce. Thus, evolution occurs by means of Natural Selection acting on individual variation, resulting in the Survival of the Fittest. This leads to the dictum that struggle for existence is the motive force of evolution. The discovery of genetic mechanism causing variations has resulted in a modified version of the theory known as Neo-Darwinism.
This theory had serious social and political implications. As a result many liberal and socialists such as George Bernard Shaw raised strong objections against this theory. George Bernard Shaw wrote in the Preface to his remarkable Play, Back to Methsalah that Natural Selection meant that ‘instead of being evolved to fulfil some vital purpose they were the aimless and promiscuous results external material pressures and accidents leading to the survival of the fittest– with, of course, the extinction of the unfit’. Shaw appears to favour the Bergson theory of ‘Creative Evolution’ and supports those who believe that the impulse that produces evolution is creative.
Bergson maintains that life is one great force, one vital impulse. Iqbal also holds similar views about life as the verses I quote from his poem, Saqi Nma show:
Dama dam rawan hai yam-e-zindigi
Har ek sha se paida ram-e-zindigi
Isey se hoey hai badan hein namood
Kah sholay mein poshida hai muoj-e-dood
Faryab-e-nazar hai sakoon o sabat
Tarapta hai har zara-e-kayanat
Taharta nahin karawan-e-wojud
Kah har lahza hai taza shan-e-wojud
Samajhta hai tu raz hai zindigi
Faqat zuq-e-parwaz hai zindigi
Gul is shakh se tut te bhi rahay
Isey shakh se phut te bhi rahay