To that Formless Reality

Iqbal is concerned with man’s love of God, but also with man’s inability to fully express this love in the life of action and in the life of prayer, until grace from God enables him to do so. He writes..

kabhi ai haqeeqat-e-muntazir nazar aa libaas-e-majaaz mein
ki hazaaron sajde tadap rahe hain meri jabeen-e-niyaaz mein
for once, oh formless Reality, deeply awaited, reveal Yourself in form
for a thousand prostrations quiver for You, in this prayerful brow of mine

In his call to God to reveal Himself to man and inspire man’s life, Iqbal sends out a challenge to God’s identity. Without being known by man, God isn’t God, but an incomplete being…

tarb aashna-e-kharosh ho, tu nawa hai mehram-e-gosh ho
wo surood kya jo chhupa huwa ho, sukoot-e-parda-e-saaz mein
may my self cry out for You, may your music reach my ears
for what music would that be, concealed in its lute forever, never heard?

Now, Iqbal addresses man, that sinful creature, bound in his own sorrows, yet capable of seeing God eye-to-eye.

na kahin jahaan mein aman mili, jo aman mili to kahaan mili
mere jurm-e-khaana kharaab ko tere afw-e-banda nawaaz mein
at no place did my heart find peace, but at one place alone
when my wretched sins took refuge, in the soothing touch of your forgiveness..

If God hides Himself, man too does not reveal the depths of his passion for God. Fear keeps man from being who he fully is, from bearing his deepest selfhood to the world, and from crying to God for grace. Iqbal says to man…

tu bacha bacha ke na rakh ise, tera aaina hai ye aaina
ke shikast ho to azeez tar hai nigaah-e-aaina saaz mein
not to be hidden, not to be protected, your heart is a mirror
which, when broken, is beloved to the Creator of all mirrors

Yet, man’s worship is not what it was once. And God’s response isn’t the same either. Iqbal writes of Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi, who conquered lands in the name of God, and his slave Malik Ayaz, who rose to be the general of the sultan’s armies, by the sheer force of his talent. Ayaz’s hair is used as a metaphor for his brilliance. Perhaps only those familiar with Urdu poetry would respond to this metaphor, hence, I do not translate it literally.

na who ishq mein rahin garmiyan, na wo husn mein rahin shokhiyaan
na wo ghaznavi mein tadap rahi, na wo kham hai zulf-e-ayaaz mein
gone is the warmth of my love for You,
gone too is the playfulness of Your beauty
gone is the quiver of Ghaznavi
gone too is lustre of Ayaaz’s courage

And again, Iqbal says that if God conceals himself, man too doesn’t long for God from his depths. If he did, concealment would become revelation. But man’s longing remains split between God and matters of the world. For Islam, anything that man longs for – love, companionship, happiness – if not understood solely and uniquely as a manifestation of God, is a mere idol, and the man an idol worshipper. Hence, Iqbal confesses for all humankind…

mai jo sar ba-sajda hua kabhi, to zameen se aane lagi sada
tera dil to hai sanam aashna, tujhe kya milega namaaz mein?
as i lowered my body in prostration, a cry resounded from the earth
your heart belongs to the idol, what would you receive from prayer?

Man’s intense longing for God, and God’s self-concealment is a topic Iqbal wrestles with throughout his writings. The consummation of man’s longing, and the end of God’s self-concealment, are both potentialities that rely on each other for their actualization. An extraordinarily courageous longing for God can lead to God’s self-revelation, and on the other hand, God’s self-revelation can catalyse an extraordinarily courageous longing for him. Both exist just beneath the surface, and the actualization of one can actualize the other. For most of us, however, the two remain mere potentialities.

And here’s a beautiful rendition of this poem by the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan –

Iqbal prays at a mosque in Cordoba, Spain



~ by tdcatss on August 6, 2012.

2 Responses to “To that Formless Reality”


  2. i totally agree :)

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