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The Flight of Iqbal’s Eagle

The Flight of Iqbal’s Eagle

Issue 3 Jan / Feb 2004

Allama Mohammed Iqbal
By Mohammed Salman Malik
But only a brief moment
is granted to the brave
one breath or two, whose wage is
The long nights of the grave
The ascetic flight of an eagle and its love for freedom holds its kingdom high above the reach of other survivors. Its sharp vision and the aquiline trait to dive and rise up again glorify its affinity tot the empyrean.

Allama Mohammed Iqbal, the great poet-philosopher from the Asian subcontinent, used the eagle to identify the high calibre of a believer’s character. The Shaheen (eagle) of Iqbal’s thought surpasses the trival bounds of life. The restless nature of an eagle to perform action is similar to that of a believer where his ardent belief raises him with all his magnaminity to face calamities.

Iqbal’s longing to seek The Perfect Man lead him to search through the realms of spiritual innateness and secular philosophies. Eventually he came up with the characteristics of his superman. In essence it was not any difference from a mu’min (true believer). Iqbal laid down on his vision of the perfect man in accordance with the morals of the whole Muslim society. It is mentioned in the Qur’an that the believer is ‘like a good tree, whose root is form and whose branches are in heaven.’ (14:24)

The spiritual side of a Muslim is quite different than in the ordinary human. His ideals and his spirit become part of the mystery of existence itself. In contrast, Iqbal condoles with the condition of current Muslims and compares them with the eagle that has lost its way to its nest. In his poem Beyond the Stars he exhorts the eagle to discover new words by fliying even higher. But to achieve the virtue of a ‘high flight’ one must burn in the furnace of self-realisation.

Iqbal’s idea of Khudi (self-realisation) stems form an emphasis on the ego and its self-affirmation. Iqbal’s greatly hailed work Asrar-e-Khudi (Secrets of Self) underlined that the origin and continuation of all existence derives from the Self, which is born of the forms of desires and purposes, and the will to realise them. Iqbal iterates that the individual ego must follow the path of self-perfection.

He takes a step forward to his awakening of self-perfection in his preceding work, Rumuz-e-Bekhudi (Mystery of Selflessness), a continuation of Asrar-e-Khudi. Here Iqbal describes the relationship between the individual, community and mankind. He visualizes an ideal community whose ethical and social principles are based on Islamic teachings. The pre-requisites for such a community are that the individual must develop and deserve the communal ego.


Achievement of self-realisation comes through the path of Bekhudi (selflessness). The selflessness triggers the attainment of humility and concern for others. Such is the selflessness which is compliments the equally necessary affirmation of the Self. For guidance through true enlightenment, Iqbal idealises the blessed being of Prophet Muhammad. The perfect man of Iqbal is he who finds the secret of  his life by drowning in his inner-Self.

Since love first made the breast an instrument
Of fierce lamenting,
by its flame my heart
Was molten to a mirror,
like a rose I pluck my breast apart,
that I my hang
This mirror in your sight
Gaze you therein

In Iqbalian thought the emphasis for believers to acquire buoyancy is highly significant. Iqbal explicates it by distinguishing the believer with the quality of ‘Ishq (love of God). This ascetic fuel of ‘ishq sets the believer into a never-ending motion. Heart of a believer shines beyond glitters in ‘ishq. When it consumes the believer then he is culminating to the state of ‘Faqr’. It is a pride that never reaches the boundaries of a conceit. A faqir is free from the slave-hood of all masters except One. He is a king of the world of hearts and never seeks sustenance from anyone except Allah.

Iqbal supports his thought by providing us with an example of nature in support of a believer’s traits. In the stillness of a dark night only but a few souls are awake, the world around us goes into a state of temporary death. All the hustle and bustle of life stops. Then at the time of dawn this silence is broken with the call for prayers (adhan). Life stirs and wakes up again to start its constant cycles.

The mystery of existence and a believer’s self-awakening attract Iqbal’s special attention. But he never visualized a utopia where only perfection prevails. He looks through the veil of Muslim life and adduces them by reminding them of their majestic past. He calls for vigorous growth and self-transcendence. His thought gains energy through Reflection before action. He models a creative person rising to his utmost through faith and daring. The clear message of Iqbal to the believers is that they should stop living an indolent life and accept the challenges of life. They key to this freedom lies in the nature of believers; they just have to look into their hearts.

O wave! Plunge headlong into the dark seas,
And change thyself with many a twist and turn;
Thou wast not born for the solace of the shore;
Arise, untamed, and find a path for thyself.



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