Iqbal’s khudi

Iqbal bases his idea of human ego or khudi on Quranic precepts of a ‘Unity of Life’

Aneela Shahzad December 22, 2023
The writer is a geopolitical analyst. She also writes at and tweets @AneelaShahzad


In the ‘Reconstruction’ Iqbal bases his idea of human ego or khudi on the Quranic precepts of a ‘Unity of Life’ for each human being, that comes from the uniqueness, individuality and personal effort of the person.

This ‘Unity of Life’ possessed uniquely by every individual is defined by the ‘unity of human consciousness’ which is retained throughout the phases and experiences of life; and the ‘unity of inner experience’ is an undying rehearsal of the human ego identifying with the Larger, Absolute Ego. The Absolute Ego has chosen and guided the human ego. He has made him His representative in this universe and entrusted him with freewill, which makes him responsible for his deeds and makes every soul to bear its own burden.

This unique, individual, personal experience of every soul-bearing human person — who is seemingly woven in a horizontal web of inter personal relations, in the toils of labour and commerce, in its physical and intellectual pursuits — is also attached vertically to the farthest depths of the universe and with worlds that transcend the universe.

This same khudi is explained by Iqbal in his beautiful prose, elaborated below, where he succeeds in establishing the idea that ego belong to every unity, big or small, and every ego has the longing to be connected to the whole universe and to the Absolute Ego. It is the size of the ego that makes it big or small, it is the size of its longing that makes it static or dynamic!

The poem begins with pronouncement that the ego’s strife for self-expression mirrors its deep longing and love for being and becoming a worthy and harmonious part of the whole. The ego strengthens and enhances itself more so that its beloved, the Ultimate Ego, would lay its sight on it. To see and be seen thus become figuratively equal to identity and connection. Iqbal says:

Har ceez hai mahv e kud numaaii

Har zarra saheed e kibriaii (bigness)

Everything in the universe, every particle seemingly lying dormant in the vast oceans of wujood (being) is showing off itself, why? It wants to be loved, to be appreciated. Every particle, every atom, is connected, even not knowing what the connection really is — if there is no name for it, call it love. Everything wants to be seen, recognised in the great picture of reality and is a martyr of the want of greatness; by showing off itself, it is showing off the ultimate reality, obscured behind the glass of wujood.

Bey zauk e namood zindaggi maut

Taameer e khudi mein hai Khudai

If the self does not have the fire of being, becoming, be-knowing and be-known, then this dull and inert state of passiveness is equal to death. Here again Iqbal elucidates that between man and God is the difference of an infinitesimal and an infinite ego, and developing one’s ego is the way to imitate the Ultimate Ego and hence show it one’s love and humility for it. Perhaps growth, development, exploration and movement, all are the ways of the Ultimate Ego, and it has dispensed man with the same paths, perhaps because He too awaits the meeting of the paths.

Rai zoor e khudi say parbat

Parbat zaaf e khudi say rai

Iqbal’s message to mankind is the realisation of the ‘self’, the ego, as opposed to the realisation of material wealth and values. With the strength of khudi the tiny black mustard seed can have the strength of a mountain and with the absence of khudi the mountain can be as weak as the tiny mustard seed. And how will man acquire this khudi, by following the exemplar ego, that of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Insan-e-Kamil.

Taray aawara o kam aameez

Taqdeer e wujood hai judaii

Though woven in a large web of clusters and superclusters, which again form huge structures called filaments and walls, yet between each star, each planet, each galaxy there are insurmountable voids, and in the vastness of space celestial bodies rarely encounter one another. Everything is so close and connected, yet everything is all alone and kind of lost, everything needs to find itself while slowly drifting in the solitary fire of love. Solitude is fate of being!

Wo pechlay pehr ka zard roo chand

Bey raz o niaz e aashanaii

Here again, Iqbal points at the truth of being connected to everything in the universe. And this feeling of connection is two-way. Man sees the moon and the moon sees man, man talks to the moon and the moon talks to man. Once the moon enters the latter hours of the night, it became pale with the thought that the earth dwellers have gone to sleep, nobody is looking at it.

Ik tuo hai kay haq hai iss jahan mein

Baqi hai namood e seemiaii (mercury)

Who can see everyone, who can give total appreciation to each, who is worth your seeing, the perfect one you want to love; the only truth you long for is He. Everything else is like mercury — shiny and colorful — but not something one can hold. He is ‘the connection’, He is real, everything else is unreal.

Hain aqda kusha khaar e sahhra

Kam kar gilla e barhanna pai

The thorns that pierce the feet of the lover nourish his belief and add flame to the fire of the soul; the scares of struggle on his body open upon him the knotted secrets of the self.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2023.

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