part of a Paper presented in the IAHR Congress, Sydney, August 1985
Iqbāl, popularly known as Allama Iqbāl, the spiritual founder of Pakistan, once
had something of an illumination, which led him to the reflection, as he wrote
in his well-known Urdu poems, Bang-e-Dara, that once while returning from a
prison (metaphorically 'bonded-state'). "I realised that in the Gītā is
contained the Qur'ān, and in the Qur'ān the Gītā. (He is referring of
course, to the celebrated Hindi Scripture 12 Bhagavad Gītā).
the face of it, is an amazing if not a provocative admission, and an unlikely
one to come from somebody who found himself to be poles apart from that other
contemporary Indian patriot, who swore by the Gītā, and said of the Almighty
that "Ishvara and Allāh" were equally His names. If
Gītā contains the Qur'ān and the Qur'ān the Gītā, Iqbāl and Gāndhi between them
should have been able to find a less bloody solution to the Hindu-Muslim
problem, and there should have been no cause for a separate Muslim patriotism that
found itself pitted against the alleged 'Hindu' nationalism, Unless, of course,
we take the Gītā and the Qur'ān to be unequivocally preaching just such
intolerance and territorial demarcations based on religious differences. It is
doubtful that Iqbāl read a clear mandate for unrestrained jihad  in the
Qur'ān and a similar vindication of war in the battlefield sermon of Krishna to
a despondent Arjuna. Rather, Iqbāl saw in the tenets of at least the Qur'ān the
fundamental basis for the unity of mankind, and of brotherhood, under a social
order that did not succumb to the divisions of race, religion, nation and
tribes (except perhaps for the nominal purposes of identification). He
expected the same of the Gītā's fine teachings. If there were an opposition, it
should come to naught, or end in futility, just as Iqbāl thought of the
"amazing tussle between the Shaikh and the Brahmin, in which neither lost
not won." Should it strike a greater note of irony that the same Iqbāl
is famous for the lyrics of a popular Hindustan song (declaring the brotherhood
of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians of the subcontinent)? –
Muslim, Sikh, Isai Saab Hai Bhai-Bhai."
however, finding the Gītā in the Qur'ān, and vice versa, did not necessarily
entail that one accepts just about anyone's interpretation of the Gītā – not
the least of those who tended to read the same sort of pantheistic monism in
the Gītā that several Islamic thinkers had been guilty of, particularly in the
form of doctrine of Wahdat-al-Wujūd or 'unity of Being', sometimes
rendered at 'Unityism'. Śankara, and to an extent Rāmānuja, would be singled
out as perpetrators of Hindu version of absolutism, and the mystic Shaikh
Muhyid-Dīn Ibn-al'Arabī as the principal expositor of the corresponding
Islamic doctrine. In Iqbāl's own judgement, which is expressed in the Preface
to Asrār-e-Khūdi (Secrets of the Self):
analysis of the question of the Asrār (self) there are references to strange
and amazing similarities in the historical background of Muslim and Hindu
thought; the very angle from which Śrī Śankarācārya gave an exegesis of the
Gītā, is the point of view from which Shaikh Ibn-al'Arabī of Andalusia has
given a commentary on the Qur'ān, and that has left a deep impact on Muslims.
impact or impression, though, on which Muslims and to what ends? Is Iqbāl as
approbating as he sounds to be, or is he prefacing that to which he is going to
provide a corrective, as it were? And was this the only instance of similarity
between Hindu and Islamic thought that troubled him or that he found to be
interesting, and was it to have any effect on his own analysis of the
impression that Iqbāl speaks of was left on the generality of mystics all over
the Islamic world, and since fourteenth century the con-comitant pantheistic
ideas formed the common theme of most Islamic poetry. Iqbāl was quick to
blame this doctrine for the decadence which characterised all Eastern people in
general and Islamic people in particular in respect of the indifference to the
world of Appearance in deference to the spirit of other-worldliness. This,
not withstanding, he thought the reformist efforts of the Aligarh Movement
instigated by Sayyid Ahmad Khān, confounded though by the heresies of the Qādīyania
belief in the complementarity of the revelation of the founder of the Ahmadeyya
movement, who declared himself to be the Buruz of Prophet Muhammad,
making his own finality virtually the finality of Muhammad.
doctrine of 'Unityism', to Iqbāl, smacked of pantheistic monism, which he
believed, inevitably led people to the belief in illusionariness of the world
and only served to paralyse the capacity for action amongst the people who
otherwise took delight in spending all their time thinking of other-worldly
joys (be in Nirvāna, or the mystic extinction in God). The impressions then
were anything but deep in Iqbāl's own mind.
contrary, he struggled hard to rid his mind free of such a spell he himself had
come under apparently quite independently of Islamic mystic and Hindu thinkers.
That independent influence is attributed to Iqbāl's deep study of European
idealists and modern metaphysical thinkers, from Hegel, through Kant, Fichte,
and Nietszche, to Henri Bergson, Bradley, McTaggart and Whitehead. Thus there
was obviously a tension in Iqbāl; perhaps not unlike the tension one finds in
the Gītā as it tries to strike a balance between the absolutism of the by-gone
Upanishadic era, on the one hand, and the Bhaktism with its radical theodicy
that was gaining momentum in Gītā's time (if not promulgated by the Gītā
What is fascinating is that Iqbāl arrives, as
a result of this tension, to a distinctive Islamic syncretism, presumably quite
independently of the Hindu, not to speak of Vedantic influence, that he had
embraced during his early thinking career. And in this he attempted to give
Indian Islam a distinctive turn that freed it from the metaphysical
implications of pantheistic monism that had become ingrained in much of the
Sūfī tradition, whose earliest link with India might have been created by
al-Bīrūnī. Iqbāl finds vindication for this syncretism in the Qur'ān, in the
Prophet's teachings and, in particular, in the life and works of Indian Muslim
leaders who preceded Iqbāl. He then discovers that this is precisely where the
Gītā is at, so to speak. This discovery struck a warm cord in Iqbāl, and he was
greatly comforted by it. He extolled the teachings of Śrï Krishna, and was
encouraged to learn that one of his Shaikh friends, Maulana Abdul Majīd
Daryabād, was doing a comparative study of his Qur'ān-based Asrār-e-Khūdi 
and the Bhagavad Gītā. Thus is understandable his evocation, with which we
began this discussion: that the Gītā is in the Qur'ān and the Qur'ān in the
Origins of Iqbāl
In light of
these remarks, we may ask: was Iqbāl then a typically Indian thinker? and was
his synthetic approach just another variation on the theme followed by most
Indian thinkers, from the authors, whoever they might have been, of the
Upanisads (esp. of Iśa and Śvetāśvatera fame) and of the Gītā, down to
the likes of Ram Mohun Roy, Sri Aurobindo, Radhakrishnan and to some degree
Gāndhi himself? Iqbāl, after all, was born of Brahmanical ancestry. His
ancestors were Kashmirī Brahmins who converted to Islam about three hundred
years before his birth in February 1873 at Sialkot in the Punjāb. Iqbāl
self-consciously refers to his Brahmanical extraction in this verse:
Look at me, for a Hind thou wilt not see again.
A man of Brahmin extraction versed in the
knowledge of Rūm [Rūmī] and Tabrīz.
his biographical details a while, Iqbāl moved to Lahore, where he received
further education and began to write poetry (in Urdu, since Persian was being
phased out in the subcontinent). In 1905 he went to Europe and studied in
Cambridge, Munich and taught in London. His doctorate thesis was a masterly
work on The Development of Mataphysics in Persia.  Here he came under
strong influence of Hegelian writers, but he also found affinity with Greek
thinkers and the German romantic idealists we mentioned earlier – though he
derided the neo-Plotinus and later rejected Plato as well. But it was the
French Philosopher Henri Bergson who was to have an even greater impact on the
budding Muslim mind. (Much later Iqbāl was to pay his tribute to Bergson in
Paris, in 1931-2, greeting him with the Qur'ān phrase that had Bergson totally
disarmed, namely, 'Don't vilify Time!')
Cambridge he had spent considerable time with the philosopher McTaggart, who
was later to confirm that Iqbāl's own orientations during his Cambridge days
tended towards pantheism and mysticism. McTaggart's own view was that selves
were the ultimate reality whose true content and goodness was to be found not
in time but in eternity, and not in action but in love. It is clear that
McTaggart's philosophy had left a deep impression on Iqbāl, though he later
rejected McTaggart's thesis of the unreality of time. 
Iqbāl returned to Lahore and took up teaching philosophy and English literature
in the Government College. Later he concentrated on law. Meanwhile, he longed
to return to the Eastern sources, and to refurbish the Islamic roots in the way
that he thought Western but also Hindu, especially Vedāntic thinkers had
achieved. This dream is evidenced in a telling paragraph he wrote in his
preface to The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. Iqbāl seemed almost
ashamed of his Persian heritage and while he might not have been taken in by
the pantheistic leanings of the Sankara-Vedānta system, he nonetheless comes
out in laudatory eloquence on the virtues of the Hindu intellectual
disposition; it is worth quoting the passage in question at some length:
subtle Brahmin sees inner unity of things; endeavours to discover it in all
aspects of human experience, and illustrates its hidden presence in the
concrete in various ways. ...The Hindus, while admitting, like the Persian, the
necessity of higher source of knowledge, yet calmly moves from experience to
experience, mercilessly dissecting them, and forcing them to yield their
underlying universality. In fact the Persian is only half-conscious of
Metaphysics as a system of thought; his Brahmin brother, on the other hand, is
fully alive to the need of presenting his theory in the form of a thoroughly
reasoned-out system. And the result of this mental difference between the two
nations is clear. In the one case we have only partially worked-out systems of
thought; in the other case, the awful sublimity of the searching Vedānta."
early impression and gnostic appeal have made a subconscious acceptance of some
elements of the Gītā's teachings much easier at a later phase in his thinking?
Of course, he soon came to reject the apparently meticulous model he had found
in Vedānta, and either believed the Persians had as much to offer or did not
see the need for such hair-splitting analysis and sublimity of search.
sources that Iqbāl clutched on to more seriously on his return were basically
the Qur'ān, the Prophet's tradition, and the writings of mystics, such as the
theists Jalāl al-din Rūmī, Muhammad al-Ghazālī (whose disenchantment
with his former profession of law and philosophy appealed to Iqbāl), and the
Indian scholastics, such as Shaykh Amnad Sirhindī (1564-1624 C.E.), Ibn-I-Abdul
Wahhāb (17thc), Sir Sayyīd Ahmad Khān (1817-98), and Shāh
Walīullāh (b.1703 C.E.), whom Iqbāl called 'the last great theologian of
Islam'. All three are renowned for their Indo-Muslim revivalist leanings.
Sirhindī is, of course, very important figure in the Indian tradition. Born in
East Punjāb, Sirhindī's scholarship earned him a place in the court of Akbar at
Āgra, where he shared his mystical exuberances with the Mughal emperor, but
later shifted his allegiance to the Naqshabandī reformist group under Khwājah Bāqī-billāh.
Overall, he is said to have influenced the restoration of the purity of Islam
in India and inspired the orthodox reforms of Aurangzeb, in his attempt to
impose the Shar’iat on the state. Sirhindī, however, did not concern
himself directly with Hinduism (dubbed kufr) and other non-Islamic religions,
except in some disparaging way. He was more concerned to instigate a distinct
role for India's Muslims vis-ā-vis Hindus, which, with Aurangzeb's reforms,
provoked riots among Hindus. Iqbāl himself paid his tribute to the
revivalist Aurangzeb, who is credited with having extirpated the libertarian
movement of his rival brother Dārā Shikoh; the latter's heretical leanings went
back to the Sūfis, but he was also the last to attempt a reconciliation between
Hinduism and Islam on the basis of their esoteric similarities.
sources, however, were to continue to exercise Iqbāl's mind, even if for their
dialectical worth – i.e. in terms of finding some doctrine to argue against, as
was the case with Śankara's particular interpretation of the Gītā. More
positively, he had thought of narrating the Rāmāyana in Urdu verse. He saw his
own classic Jāvid Nāmah (his answer to Dante's Divine Comedy in line with the
Hindu epics of Mahābhārata and Rāmāyana.
say this is indicative of Iqbāl's attraction to the Smrti literature, as
distinct from the Śruti – with its overwhelming extremes of polytheism (in the
Vedas) and absolutism (in the Upanisads) SirhindI, though, would have been
truly appalled, for he did not see Rām and Rahmān as one and the same, or even
comparable, and he was scornful of the human characteristics of Hindu
Deities. What would have been literature of the infidels (Kufis ) was quite
tolerable to Iqbāl; though he was worried about the polytheism and asceticism
of the Purānas.
particular problem areas of interest, we now turn to the discussion of some of
Iqbāl's own insights and theories, particularly as regards the nature of
ultimate reality, revelation, mystical experience, and their ramifications in
practical life. I want to discuss these in the context of their affinity and
parallel in the Gītā, with some reference, on the one hand, to Sirhindī, since
his Islamic syncretic conservatism created saves for later development, and on
the other hand, to Radhakrishnan, who curled his brand of syncreticism in no
small measure from the Gītā itself. Although it is true that both Iqbāl and
Radhakrishnan came heavily under the sway of idealistic and mystical thinkers
(both Eastern and Western) in their formative years, while Iqbāl tried to free
himself, though not altogether successfully as Rascid reminds us, 
Radhakrishnan absorbed the ideas and incorporated them in his vision of
Vedāntic neo-realism. But they were both products of their time, at a moment
when Eastern intellectual thought was making a return to its own after
centuries of foreign, in particular Western European visitations. In Jāvid
Nāmah, Iqbāl has Rūmī remind a Hindu sage, by name Jahān Dost, deep in
meditation under a tree that: 
The East saw God but did not see the world;
The West crept along the world and fled away from God.
against his own lure to the West he howled: 'I drank the West's enamelled bowl,
and darkness settled on my soul'; elsewhere he protested: 'Europe today is the
greatest hindrance in the way of men's ethical achievements; and in Jāvid
Nāmah he calls into question India's wisdom and asceticism as well.
obsessed with two philosophical problems that at the same time bring him closer
to the Gītā in view of Gītā's own preoccupation with these. One concerned the
exacting nature of the ultimate reality, qua ontology of God, and the self's
place in the scheme of being, the other concerned the notion of action
vis-ā-vis the mystic renunciation of a life of action.
ontological status of God is a topical issue for Iqbāl, as it had been for
Sūfīs and theologians over many centuries. He develops this in a number of his
poetical works, but more pertinently in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought
in Islam, that emerged from a series of lecture he delivered in South India
in 1928. In this work Iqbāl looks for a fresh inspiration from modern thought
and experience to up-date and qualify the idealistic tendencies of early
vis-ā-vis Sūfī mystical philosophy, so as to move towards a more deed-oriented
and creative process of religious life and thought.
Iqbāl is firmly committed to the unquestionable dogma that there is no God but
God: La Ilaha Illa Llāh (one of the two super-rational pillars on which
Islam is founded); yet he is of the view that human mind can penetrate the
mystery of the divine. Iqbāl's is one of the first attempts to bridge the
conceptual gap and explain Islamic cosmology in quasi-scientific terms, drawing
heavily from modern philosophical endeavours. Indeed, he would endorse Krishna's
insistence to Arjuna on 'insight accompanied by knowledge' for this awesome test
(BG X1.1). In this he appears to have sided the Sūfīs against the orthodox
Sunna Ulemā who took the word of Qur'ān to be the final authority without need
for interpretation on all such matters. 
But to be
equally fair to the spirit of the Qur'ān, Iqbāl did emphasise the inadequacy of
the human intellect in arriving at certain religious truths, such as the
totality of God's being. Here he would agree with Immanuel Kant that if there
is to be some actuality (suggested for Kant by pure reason and expressed in the
limiting idea of (thing-in-itself), it falls outside the boundaries of
experience and consequently its existence cannot be rationally demonstrated.
But what kind of experience was Kant referring to? Obviously sense-experience
guided by intuition. Iqbāl invokes Ibn al-'Arabī to suggest what might if the
Kantian view is reversed, so that 'God is a percept; the world a concept'! 
render the awareness of God a possibility within the bounds of experience,
albeit experience of a higher order. This might bring Iqbāl closer to Śankara's
ideal of Aporak Sānūbhūti (i.e. immediate 'identificative' experience of the
ultimate reality). But in other respects Iqbāl moves away from the 'Ibn
al-'Arabī's 'unitive' experience, and draws closer to Rūmī, al-Ghazālī
and Sirhindī, who were also taken immensely by the Sūfī vision of 'unity of
Being' and 'Emanation', but were later persuaded otherwise by the views of the
Sunnah – although Sirhindī seemed to keep having spurts of heretical
experiences. Perhaps heretical tendencies were endemic to Indian Islam ever
since al-Biruni made connections between the Sūfī speculations and the
teachings of the Gītā and Patañjali's Yogasūtras, which he had attempted
to translate. This may have even influenced Abu Yazed through Abū Alī
al-Sindī, probably an Indian Sūfī. Inevitably, Sūfī ontological monism
also implied large concessions to Hindu pantheism: either they could be
mutually harmonised, or both had to go. Indian Islam adjudicated towards the
latter, and Iqbāl in no small measure contributed to this move. Paradoxically,
however, he retained a soft spot for the 'teachings of Śrī Krishna,' and I want
to show why he had this appeal, whether and to what extent he was justified.
 Muhammad Iqbāl, Bang-e-darā (Urdu),
Lahore, Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf, 1962: Kullāyat-I-Iqbāl (Urdu), Lahore, 1963,
p.289. Other references to the Bhagavadgītā in Iqbāl's works occur in: (a)
Preface to Asrār-e-Khūdī (Farsi), Lahore, Shaikh Ghulam Ali and sons, 1962; see
also note 5 infra; (b) Iqbāl Nāmah [Letters] Part I, edited, Sheikh Attaullah,
Lahore, 1945 p.235; (c) Maqālat-e-Iqbāl, Abdul Vahid Moini, Lahore, 1963, p
also Iqbāl's interpretation of Ijtihad (judgement on legal ruling) in hisSix
Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, Delhi, Kitab
Publishing House, 1974 p148ff. Hereafter Reconstruction or Recons.
Qur'ān 3:63; People of the Book are called to join together on 'the Word that
is common to us all'. See Reconstruction p 94.
Bang-e-darā ; see note 1 above.
Asrār-e-Khūdī , in Persian, published in 1915l for translation details see note
1 above and 13 infra.
Abdul Vahid, Iqbāl His Art and Thought, London, John Murray, 1953.
Reconstruction p 150
Islam and Ahmadism by Dr Sir Muhammad Iqbāl, Lucknow, Academy of Islamic
Research, 1974 pp 1-11.
Iqbāl is quoted by Vahid, op cit, p 180. Iqbāl remarks that the commentaries on
God's message by the Sufis would even baffle God, Gabriel and the Prophet!
note 13 following. There is even a tinge of visada in Iqbāl: in his Wings of
Gabriel he has Rumi lament about his deep sense of loss and wanderment in the
world. Gabriel's Wings A study of the Religious Thoughts of Iqbāl, Annemarie
Schimmel, Leiden, 1963.
That Iqbāl and Gāndhi did not see eye to eye, especially on the complimentarity
of religion and politics (i.e. Islam and itjihāt) is clear from the collection
of Iqbāl's speeches and addresses during the sensitive freedom struggle
movement; this led Iqbāl to moot the idea of a separate Islamic state in a
letter to Jinnah. See Speeches and Statements of Iqbāl, (compiled by A.R.
Tariq, Lahore, Ghulam Ali & Sons, 1973) esp. pp 34-48. But he describes
himself also as a 'visionary idealist'. Ibid p 32/
Vahid, op cit p 2.
Published in 1908 by Luzac & Co, London; commented by R.A. Nicholson, in
Preface to his translation of Asrār-e-Khūdī (Secrets of the Self), London,
Vahid op cit p 14, and Recons. see note 66 infra.
Ibid ; and Reconstruction, p 57.
cit , pviii. Originally cited in Vahid op cit, p 244.
Recons . p.122. See Philosophy of Shar Wiliullah by A.J. Halepota, Sind Sagar
Academy, Lahore, (n.d.).
Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmed SirhindI An Outline of His Thought and a Study
of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity, Montreal/London, McGill University
Press, 1971, p xiii.
A.A.A. Rizvi, Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth
and Seventeenth Centuries, Agra, 1965, p.259.
Revelation & Reason in Islam, A.J. Arberry, London, George Allen &
Unwin, 1971, p 114. Iqbāl's tribute is in Mysteries of Selflessness
(Rumūz-I-Bekhūdi), (tr. A.J. Arberry), London, John Murray, 1953, p.17.
may note that Sankara's commentary on the Bhagavadgītā, in English translation,
by Alladi Mahadeva Sastry, was available in print since 1897, with successive
editions in 1901, 1918, etc. The chances of Iqbāl having come across this
translation is not remote – how else could he be making reference to Sankara's
commentary on the Gītā?
Friedmann op cit p.73, but is far too apologetic here.
Rascid op cit
Jāvid Nāmah , (Farsi) (trans.) A.J. Arberry, London, George Allen & Unwin,
1966 (lines 579-580), p 38.
Asrār-e-Khūdī (Passim) and Bekhūdī (passim) respectively.
Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam , Delhi, Kitab Publishing House,
1974. Hereafter Recons.
Recons . p 183
Friedmann op cit p 44, and see p 25.
Friedmann op cit.
Gunidar Kaur 'Al-Bīrūnī: an early student of comparative religions', in Islamic
Culture (Hyderabad) Vol 56, April, 1982, pp 149-63. See also al-Burini's India
(tr. E.C. Sacau, London, Norton Library, 1971). Also, Arvind Sharma, Studies in
al-Būrīnī's 'India', Weisbeden, Harrassowitz, 1983.
Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, op cit. P 90.
Purushottama Bilimoria is a homeless vagabond in
exile from Venus Bay in Australia.