Iqbal, a poet of international fame, is recognized as the greatest poet of the Indian subcontinent in this century. His message is a guiding light to the world and is likely to acquire greater significance with the beginning of the new millennium. It is a messianic message-insistent and emphatic and beautiful in language, inspired by the deepest mystical experience, and the greatest admiration for the glory of Islam.

    In countries and areas unfamiliar with Urdu and Persian, his great message has been conveyed by means of the many translations of’ his works, in several European languages and in those of the Indian subcontinent. In the corpus of his work, Baal-i-Jibreel occupies a very important position, as the expression of his recurrent major themes, and as the example of’ a chastened lyricism which rises to heights of great power arid passion. This great collection of Iqbal’s poetry, however, has not been translated into English so far, with the exception of his famous poem, ‘Majid-e-Qartaba. The verse translation presented in this volume thus fills an important lacuna and meets a great need. To the Islamic world, arid to the English speaking world in general, that has so far faced the barrier of language, this translation will, it is hoped, give some new insights, and offer some help in the understanding of’ Iqbal’s poetry.

    Baal-i-Jabreel can be divided into three sections: Odes, Quatrains (four-line stanzas), and Poems with specific titles, on different topics. their major themes, especially those of the Odes and the Quatrains, are three: a mystic experience, the concept of Selfhood (Khudi) and the conflict between Reason and Divine Love.

    This Introduction concentrates almost entirely on Baal-i-Jibreel, but in view of the thematic inter-relationship of Iqbal’s works, a discussion of these major themes has also brought into focus some points of linkage with his other works, both Urdu and Persian.

    Most of the Odes and many of the Quatrains in Baal-i-Jibreel deal with Iqbal’s own mystic experience. This experience is so pervasive in much of Iqbal’s work, and has such a passionate sincerity, that it cannot be considered a mere stylistic affectation (though some critics think so).

    For a correct evaluation of Iqbal’s mystic experience, it is necessary to know his own views on it, as expressed in his famous Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. 1

‘1. The first point to note is the immediacy of this experience. In this respect, it does not differ from other levels of human experience which supply data for knowledge. All experience is immediate. As regions of normal experience are subject to interpretation of sense data for our. knowledge of the external world, so the region of’ mystic experience is subject to interpretation for the knowledge of God.’

(page 18)

‘2. The second Point is the unanalysable wholeness of mystic experience. . . The mystic state brings us into contact with the total passage of Reality in which all the diverse stimuli merge into one another and form a single unanalysable unity in which the ordinary distinction of subject and object does not exist. . . ’

(pages 18-19)

‘3. The third point to note is that to the mystic, the mystic state is a moment of intimate association with a unique other Self, transcending, encompassing, and momentarily suppressing the private personality of the subject of experience. . . Response is, no doubt, the test of the presence of a conscious self. . . ’

(page 19)

‘4. Since the quality of mystic experience is to be directly experienced, it is obvious that it cannot be communicated. Mystic states are more like feeling than thought Thus, in the following verses of the Qur’an, it is the psychology and not the content of the experience that is given:

"It is not for a man that God should speak with him but by vision or from behind a veil. . . " (42:51)

The incommunicability of mystic experience is due to the fact that it is essentially a matter of inarticulate feeling, untouched by discursive intellect. It must, however, be noted that mystic feeling, like all feeling, has a cognitive element also . . .’

(pages 20-21)

‘5. The mystic’s intimate association with the eternal which gives him a sense of the unreality of serial time, does riot mean a complete break with serial time. . . ‘

(page 22)

Instead of an abstract discussion, a few lines from some of the Odes in Baal-i-Jabreel may be quoted in illustration:

Bright are Thy tresses, brighten them even more;

(Ode 2)

Sonic luminous beauty, mystic grace,
Has so enthralled them all.

(Ode 6)

O Cup-bearer! Give me again that wine of love for Thee;
Let me gain the place my soul desires.

(Ode 7)

Dost Thou remember not my heart’s first rapture
That piercing glance of Thine, those secrecies of love?

(Ode 10)

    The features to be noted in these lines are: the imagery of erotic symbolism, the concept of God as Absolute Beauty, and an anthropomorphic view of God (the concept. of God in terms of human attributes). The ideas and phrasal patterns are reminiscent of’ traditional Sufi poetry. Central among ideas is the concept of God as Absolute Beauty, which is not explicitly Qur’anic, but is the modification of purely aesthetic, transcendental neo-Platonic ideas. In Plato’s Dialogue, The Symposium’, the hierarchic quest for Beauty is described in memorable terms. 2

    In the process of an assimilation of neo-Platonic thought in Sufism, the concept of" Absolute Beauty was transferred to a religious plane, assisted by its identification with Truth. As an established philosophical formula, it almost became a platitude, as is evidenced by Keats’ rather facile aphoristic observation in the famous lines:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty-that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. 3

    For want of a better term, what may be called Bacchic imagery (imagery dealing with the drinking of wine) is also a feature common to Sufi poets. This symbolic image seems to have resulted from the concept of God as ‘the Divine Cupbearer of Celestial wine in Paradise’ (Saqi-e-Kauser). The word ‘Saqi’ (Cup-bearer), as a symbolic representation of God, has been used by Iqbal in the same meaning as by the other Sufi poets.

    A cognate term relating to Bacchic imagery, ‘The old cupbearer’ (Pir-i-moghan), has another symbolic connotation. It refers to ‘the spiritual guide’, and has been used by the Sufi poets in this sense. Hafiz Shirazi is a fine example of the frequent use of this term. Paying a -tribute to his spiritual guide he says:

My head shall be the dust in my old cup-bearer’s path,
A fitting memorial of his wine and his tavern. 4

    Though Iqbal has condemned the Sufis (or pseudo-Sufis) of his time for their spiritual emptiness, this should not be construed as a condemnation of Sufism itself. Comparing himself with these shallow Sufis, Iqbal says:

My little draught has value in this barren age,
For Sufis in their sanctums have nothing but empty casks.

(Ode 8)

    Iqbal believes that his mystic experience is genuine, though it may not be comparable to that of Rumi or the other great mystics. It is remarkable that Iqbal was able to have a mystic experience, in spite of many serious hindrances in his way.

    First among these hindrances was Iqbal’s intellectual upbringing his philosophical temper, attuned to Western thought, and his immersion in the life of reason and knowledge. fie repeatedly refers to this dilemma in his life:

The riddles of reason I have solved, but now
O Lord! Give me a life of ecstasy.

(part of a Quatrain)

    The problem was compounded by a titanic conflict his intellectual world the conflict between Nietzsche’s atheism and Rumi’s mysticism was one aspect of it. Keenly aware of the war within his personality, he cries out:

You alone can rescue me,
Revered apostle of God:
My intellect is Western,
My belief is heathenish. 5

(Ode 29)

Elsewhere he says:

The Western ways have tried to make me a renegade. 6

(Ode 14)

He refers to this inherently tragic phenomenon in many verses-for example, in this Quatrain:

Observe the strains of my tuneful song
An Indian voice, a theme Arabian;
An ear attuned to Western harmonics;
A royal nature, and the fate of a slave.

(Quatrain on page 85)

    Another serious limitation for Iqbal was that he had no living spiritual guide (murshid). Dissatisfied With the ‘Sufis’ and miracle-mongers of his time, Iqbal looked upon Rumi as his spiritual guide, though physically separated from him by a gap of more than six centuries. Rumi’s influence on his thought was profound, even catalytic-a counter-balancing force against (the impact of Western philosophers. His influence on the stylistic features of some of Iqbal’s poetry is also noticeable: in his Asrar-i-Khudi and Rumuz-i-BeKhudi, and also in the imaginary dialogue between Rumi and himself (in Baal-i-Jibreel), Iqbal uses the metrical structure of Rumi’s Mathnavi.

    Rumi himself had a spiritual guide-Shamsuddin Tabrizi, whom he calls ‘The Sun of Truth’, and who showed him the path of mystical love. So profound was the influence of this overpowering personality that Rumi, in his Diwan, used his name as nom de plume at the end of most of his poems. Rumi’s Diwan thus bears the title of Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz.


Under the empyrean’s fortresses are men who can
Seize angels, capture prophets, and get God Himself

    Rumi has, in these immortal words of extraordinary daring, pictured the infinite potentialities of the human soul. Iqbal believes that this glorious goal is achievable. In his concept of Selfhood, he formulates the hierarchic stages in which it can be achieved. After reaching it, he believes, some will remain in seclusion, and others will go out, like Prophets, for the regeneration of society:

Selfhood, in the world of men, in prophethood;
Selfhood in solitude is godliness;

(Baal-i-Jibreel; part of a Quatrain)

After this prefatory statement, we can proceed to the basic questions about the concept of Selfhood:

1. What is meant by Selfhood?
2. How is Selfhood achieved?
3. What are the blessings of Selfhood?

  1. Iqbal’s concept of Selfhood is closely linked with his concept of God. In his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, he makes the following observations about this concept, on the basis of his interpretation of Quranic verse, ;, and about the relationship between the two concepts:

    a) ‘We cannot conceive this unity except as the unity of a self-an all-embracing concrete self-the ultimate source of all individual life and thought. . .’

(p. 55)

b) ‘The infinity of the Ultimate Ego consists in infinite inner possibilities of His creative activity, of which The universe, as known to us, is only a expression. . . ’

(p. 64)

c) ‘I have conceived the Ultimate Reality as an Ego; and I must add now that from the Ultimate Ego only egos proceed. The creative energy of the Ultimate Ego, Whom deed and thought are identical, functions as ego-unities. The world, in all its details, from the mechanical movement of. what we call the atom of matter to the free movement of thought in the human ego, is (he self-revelation of "Great I am Every atom of Divine energy, however in the scale of’ existence, is an ego. But there are degees in the expression of egohood. Throughout the entire gamut of being runs the gradually rising note of egohood until it reaches its Perfection in man. That is why the Qur’an declares the Ultimate Ego to be nearer to man than his own neck-vein. . . ’

(pp. 71-72)

d) ‘.... No doubt, the emergence of egos endowed with the power of spontaneous and hence unforeseeable action is, in a sense, a limitation on the freedom of the all-inclusive Ego. But this limitation is not externally imposed. It is born out of His own creative freedom whereby He has chosen finite egos to be participants of His life, power and freedom. ’

(pp. 79-80)

e) ‘The acceptance of selfhood as a form of life involves the acceptance of all the imperfections that flow from the finitude of selfhood. The Qur’an represents man as having accepted at his peril the trust of personality which the Heavens, the Earth, and the mountains refused to bear.

    "Verify We proposed to the Heavens and to tile Earth and to the mountains to receive the ‘trust, ‘ but they refused the burden and they feared to receive it. Man undertook to bear it, but hath proved unjust, senseless. "(33:72)’

(p. 88)

    (It may be noted that Iqbal uses ‘egohood’ and ‘selfhood’ as inter-changeable terms. )

    This long but necessary quotation from his Reconstruction should form the basis of any discussion on Iqbal’s concept of Selfhood.

    Further elucidation of his ideas on Selfhood, which had their genesis in Asrar-i-Khudi (1915) and continued to preoccupy his mind all through the rest of his life, can be found in his numerous poems on the subject, both Urdu and Persian. A few representative extracts Are given here:

The Self is the source, and the essence of being,
Whatever thou seest is a secret of the Self;
When the Self did waken the soul of man,
It revealed to him the world of cognition.

(Asrar-i-Khudi, pages 20-21)7

What is life but the revealing of Selfhood’s essence?
Assert thyself. , thy essence has remained unknown.

(Zarb-i-Kaleem, p. 28)

Get out of the whirlpool of Being and Not Being;
Transcend this world that gains and losses counts:
Build up the spirit of Selfhood in thy soul;
Build a Kaaba within thyself, like Abraham.

(Payam-i-Mashriq, ‘Lala-i-Thour’, Quatrain 30)

    In Asrar-i-Khudi, Iqbal describes three progressive stages in the attainment of Selfhood: Obedience, Self-purification, and God’s Vicegerency. (Pages 73-74)

Iqbal’s concept of God’s Vicegerency is based on the famous Quranic verses:

‘And when thy Lord said unto the angels,
Lo! I am to place a Vicegerent on earth. ‘ (2:30)

    Iqbal argues that for reaching these three hierarchic stages, search for God is the first precondition. Man should capture God in much the same way as a hunter captures his game.

Says Iqbal:

O man of courage! Cast thy net for God Himself. 8
This is an echo of Rumi’s famous words quoted above.

    But God is anxious to be caught Himself, according to Iqbal, and is as much in search of man as man is in search of Him:

We have lost God, and He is in search of us;
Anxious like us, He yearns to find us again. 9

The highest hierarchic rank - the Vicegerency of God - is achieved when man is able, not to be absorbed by Him and thus lose his identity, but to absorb within himself as many of God’s attributes as possible.

  1. The blessings of Selfhood, after the attainment of the highest stage range from the conquest of what is mistakenly called destiny (taqdeer) to the spiritual conquest of the universe. Iqbal does not believe in predestination. Postulating the existence of a dynamic, creative, Absolute Ego, and His relationship with tile individual human ego (sell), he concludes that destiny is the wrong term for divine dispensation which is conditioned by the deeds, even by the will of the individual self. So he advises:

Raise thy Selfhood so high, that before each dispensation,

God Himself may ask thee what thy wishes arc.

(Baal-i-Jibreel, (Ode 47)

    In Asrar-i-Khudi he says that man is the victim of the durational, linear concept of time, and has not been able to see another world, a timeless world, within his heart:

O prisoner of days and nights, look into thyself!
And behold another world in the recesses of thy heart.
Thou best sown the seeds of darkness in thy soil,
And hast imagined time as a linear measure.

(Asrar-i-Khudi, p. 142)

The final stage in Selfhood’s achievement is the spiritual conquest of the whole universe:

The earth, the heavens, the great empyrean,
Are all within the range of Selfhood’s power.

(Part of a Quatrain)

    This concept of the spiritual rule of the universe is not Iqbal’s original idea. It is found in the philosophy of Sufi schools, representing the highest level of the hierarchic spiritual progress in the esoteric Sufi cult. This hierarchy includes Abdal and Aqtab. ‘The highest in rank among them is called Ghouse. They include many saints, whose shrines are well known. It is said about these spiritual reformers that they have specific duties; one of them is to rule the universe and perform such other activities as are known only to Sufis.’10

    The attainment of the Vicegerency of God is the stage at which a Muslim, according to Iqbal, fulfils the requirements of his Mard-i-Momin (Ideal Muslim). He has detailed the qualities of the Ideal Muslim in many of his Poems. In ‘the Mosque of Cordova, ‘ for example, Iqbal portrays him in this way:

His deeds sublime and noble; his thought flame-begotten;
With rapture in his soul; with modesty in his mien;
In every inspired act like the act of God Himself
Gracious and creative; beneficent, exalted.
Human, but angelic; man in the image of God;
Indifferent to both worlds; content with the divine will;
Humble, in his hopes; lofty in his ideals;
A person charismatic in glance and word and deed;
Soft as a breeze in converse; hot as a furnace in quest;
Pure of heart, pure of conduct, in battle or in peace.

    There are parallelisms between Nietzsche’s Superman and Iqbal’s Ideal Muslim. The well known fact that Iqbal was under the influence of the atheistic Nietzsche should not. obscure the dichotomy in Iqbal’s own thought as a result of this impact.

    In spite of Nietzsche’s influence on Iqbal, there are basic differences between his Superman and Iqbal’s Ideal Muslim. Nietzsche’s concept is basically individualistic and eugenically oriented. Iqbal, whose historical imagination was inspired by the glorious past of Islam conceives of his Ideal Muslim as a messianic force, as the architect of the resurgence of Islam.


    The conflict between Reason and Divine Love is a recurrent theme in Iqbal’s poetry, and though the concept is as old as the ancient Greeks and the old Sufis and mystics of the East, in Iqbal’s poetry it has complexity and a new dimension.

    The nature of this conflict changes with the growth and maturity of’ his emotional and spiritual life. His spiritual journey can be divided into three phases:

1. The early period, up to the year 1905. Baang-i-Dara, the most self-revealing of his works, contains, among his erotic poems, a very early poem relevant to his conflict. Its title is ‘Aql-wo-Dil’ (Reason and the Heart). It has a simple dialogue between the two. The Heart (traditional scat of the emotion) says:

Thou art concerned with the manifest alone,
And I am a knower of the inner truth.
Thou givest knowledge, and I give intuition,
Thou seekest God, and I lead to God.

    There are many other poems written during this period, which make it very clear that the conflict was between reason and physical love.

2. The middle period, between 1905 and 1915. This period seems to have brought a cataclysmic change in Iqbal’s intellectual and spiritual life. The three years beginning in’ 1905, which he spent at Cambridge and on the. Continent, mark the first phase of intellectual gestation, turmoil and reflection - a phase in which the impact of Western thought first collided with the impact of Islamic philosophers, scholars and Sufis.

    Baang-i-Dara, though in a sense a hybrid of disparate elements, with themes ranging from nature to the championship of Islam, is a faithful record of Iqbal’s spiritual growth. On the basis of internal evidence, it can be said that Iqbal’s spiritual conversion took place during the latter half of this period. It is significant that he has put the date ‘February 1912’ to his great poem, ‘Shama-wo-sha’ir’, which marks a complete departure in theme and style, and is in fact the beginning of his period of great poetry. His poem, ‘Muslim’, is dated ‘June 1912’ by him, and was followed by several poems on Islam, including ‘Khizr-i-Rah’ and ‘Tulu-i-Islam’ (The Rise of Islam). It was in this poem that Iqbal first used the term Khudi (Selfhood).

3. With the publication of Asrar-i-Khudi in 1915, he began -his new role as an Islamic thinker, a moralist, and a didactic poet of remarkable power, with a passionate love of God. It was during this period of his spiritual growth, from 1915 onwards - a period of the flowering of his Islamic spirit - that he seems to have Started recognizing (the existence of a strong conflict between reason or knowledge, and his love of God, which was now the deepest part of his consciousness. Leaving aside the traditional trappings of this conflict, we find that in Iqbal’s case it has some unusual features. He has presented it in two ways: first, as a general statement, which is in fact the externalization of an internal feeling; and second, as a direct expression of his personal experience:

Who snatched away the piercing sword of love?
Knowledge is left with an empty sheath alone.

(Baal-i-Jibreel, Ode 7)

Very often the statements are direct:
The path of reason was smooth for me to pass,
But I was lost on the path of ecstasy.

(Baal-i-Jibreel, Ode 42)

In Zarb-i-Kaleem, in a poem titled ‘Zamana-i-Hazir-KaInsan’ (The Modern Man), Iqbal says:

Love is extinct; reason stings him serpent-like,
Man could not make his reason obey his heart’s desire.

There are many poems on the subject in Payam-i-Mashriq, in one of which, titled ‘Ishq’ (Love) Iqbal says:

Reason that destroys the world in a flash of fire,
Should learn from love how to brighten the world.

    But more complex than this partly traditional conflict, is the conflict in what may be called a concentric circle - that is, a conflict within a conflict: in the field of reason and knowledge there is, in Iqbal’s mind, a conflict between warring concepts, beliefs, and philosophies. The atheistic Nietzsche and [he saintly Rumi were quite obviously incompatible; and even though Iqbal in Javid-Nama (pages 175-78) has presented Rumi as Nietzsche’s supporter, it seems to, be a vicarious attempt on Iqbal’s part at resolving a crisis of allegiance within himself, and at bringing the two together in his own mind. His heart is Muslim; his brain is a heathen. ‘ This apt description of Nietzsche makes it clear that faced with a dualism in his own mind, he could only transmit a similar dualism to Iqbal.

    But Iqbal finally conquered this dualism, and resolved the conflict created by the tyranny of modern reason. As he says:

I am aware of the torture
Of the inferno of modern reason,
For I was hurled into its fire
Like Abraham the blessed.

(Ode 56)

A few details, which defy classification, are added here.

    Structurally , Iqbal’s Odes have the pattern of a ghazal (a love lyric), in which there is usually no continuity or unity of theme; every unit of two lines can, in fact, have a different theme. There is nothing corresponding to this discontinuity of theme in English poetry. The underlying unity of thought seems to exist in the poet’s own consciousness. But structurally, a ghazal has a rigid unity created by the use of the radeef (repetition of the same word or words at the end of every two lines), and a qafia (rhyme), or only a rhyme There is only one rhyme-scheme throughout the ghazal. The radeef and the qafia (or just the qafia) thus string together all the units in spite of a discontinuity of theme. Iqbal, a traditionalist, has used both these endings, or only one of them, in most of his poems.

    In my translation, I have preferred blank verse to the use of rhyme for several reasons. My first priority has been accuracy in translation, and my second, adherence to the English poetic tradition. The use of rhyme involves departure from the original text, superfluity, and needless verbal transposition. The qualities of blank verse do not need advocacy. Much of the greatest English poetry, including Shakespeare’s dramatic work, Milton’s great epics, and some of the best poetry of the Romanticists and the Victorians, has been written in blank verse.

    The only exceptions in my translations are’ some Quatrains, in which I have used the traditional rhyme-scherne adopted by Iqbal, and two poems in which I have used the rhymed couplet, as it was more suitable for the satirical theme.

Historical references have been explained in the Notes.

I have omitted a few minor poems.


    This verse translation should be read as verse, that is, with an awareness of the metrical structure and rhythmic value of every line.

    I have used variations of blank verse, ranging from three to eight metrical feet. A metrical foot can be iambic (with two syllables, the first unaccented and the second accented) or anapaestic (with three syllables, the first and the second unaccented and the third accented).

Here are some examples:

A-line of three metrical feet:
A new world lives in thee
Its scansion will be as follows:

A new | world lives | in thee |

(From ‘Adam Is Received By the Spirit of the Earth’)

A line of four metrical feet, also taken from the same poem:

The spark in thee is a radiant sun

Its scansion:

The spark | in thee | is a ra | diant sun |

It may be noted that | is a ra | is an anapaest (it has three syllables, in which the third is accented).

Five metrical feet:

I have used this metre in all the Quatrains and in sonic Odes and Poems with titles. This, is the metre most often used in blank verse.

An example:

Love is sometimes a wanderer in the woods.


Love is | sometimes | a wan | derer in | the woods.

(Part of a Quatrain)

In many Odes and Poems with titles, lines of six metrical feet have been used, as here"

That love should be concealed, and beauty should be veiled!

Its component parts, in a scansion, will be:

That love | should be | concealed | and beauI ty should | be veiled. (Ode 2)

A line of six or more metrical feet has also been used in the long poem, ‘The Mosque of Cordova. ‘ Each line in the. poem is divisible into two halves, for purposes of an enhanced rhythmic effect, as in this line:

Thy beauty exalts the heart; my song inspires-the soul.

The two halves of the line have been distanced by extra space between them in most cases.

I have very rarely used lines of seven and eight metrical feet. They should be scanned in the same way. Here is a line with a special feature which has to be explained:

Make this half-enraptured soul a skylark of Thy spring.


Make | this half | enrap | tured soul | a sky | lark of | Thy spring.

In this line, the first metrical foot has only one syllable the accented one. It is a common practice to omit the first

unaccented syllable and to give the line the emphasis of a trochaic movement, in which the first syllable is accented.

California, 1996