"The weak lose themselves in God; the strong discover Him in themselves." ~ Allama Iqbal

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I like it when messages manifest in music, poetry, etc. that highlight humanity's drive for a better world.

Sometimes they're messages with which I might whole-heartedly agree.  Sometimes, I might like part of it, or even just the intention behind it.

People with intentions to make the world a better place for everyone (not just a select few, group, or portion)...I like that very much.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


"Faust Making His Contract with Mephistophiles" ~ Franz Sinn
                              The Devil’s Refusal

In Allama Iqbal's poem, "The Conquest of Nature" (from his second book of poetry, "Message of the East"), is the passage below, "The Devil's Refusal."  Adam's birth has already occurred.  The angels now bow to Adam, but the Devil refuses.  Iqbal shares "The Devil's Refusal" as the devil's response and perspective. 

After this passage, I share my reflections.  Personally, I consider all such reflections on Iqbal's works as (potentially) highly practical, and supportive of humankind's genuine role.  So it is in this spirit, that is, a practical support for realizing collective unity, in this world, now, that this post is offered.                             

The Devil’s Refusal 

I am not such a foolish angel that I would bow to Adam!
He is made of dust, but my element is fire.
It is my ardour that heats the blood in the veins of the universe:
I am in the raging storm and the crashing thunder;
I am the bond that holds the atoms together, and the law that rules the elements;
I burn and give form - I am the alchemist's fire.
What I have myself made I break in pieces,
Only to create new forms from the old dust.
From my sea rises the wave of the heavens that know no rest – 
The splendour and glory of my element fashions the world.
The stars owe their existence to You, but they owe their motion to me:
I am the soul of the world, the hidden life that is seen by none.
You give the soul to the body, but I set that soul astir.
You rob on the highway by causing sloth, I guide along the right path with burning passion.
I did not beg paupers to bow down before me: I am mighty, but do not need a hell;
I am a judge, but do not need resurrection.
Adam - that creature of dust, that short-sighted ignoramus -
Was born in your lap but will grow old in my arms!

[Translation by Mustansir Mir] 

For me, this poem is powerful in how it overturns the apple cart so often given to us by so-called religious authorities.  I don't pretend to understand it fully, though, and offer the following as intuitive reflections and honest commentary. 

I sense that the devil, in Iqbal's poem, traps and potentiates, at the same time.  In this poem, Iqbal writes:

" The stars owe their existence to You, but they owe their motion to me..."


"You give the soul to the body, but I set that soul astir."


"Adam - that creature of dust, that short-sighted ignoramus -
Was born in your lap but will grow old in my arms!"

Conveyed in these lines is the feeling (to me) that the devil is almost an associate of God, and not the simple adversary as which he is so often depicted.  The subtle implication seems to be that he is a part of a grand plan.

The devil is, in this poem, "the bond that holds the atoms together, and the law that rules the elements."  The devil here is, then, like the fire of the world, of the universe, which keeps things spinning in motion...and (potentially) keeping things trapped.

There is something here of the devil being what enables life ("life" as it's normally understood) to be possible, that is, the manifest life of physical things.  By being manifest humans, however, we are also granted the ability to *choose* to turn toward that which is veiled (God) by struggling against that which traps (the devil).

The devil seems to provide the ground on which this choosing can even be born.  He, then, provides the very opportunity, in (as) the world for remaining trapped and separated from the Divine or in discovering (and manifesting) the Divine in the world.  The devil's gift is, then, the gift of great risk and danger, but a gift that, if not accepted, bars all knowing of the Divine.  

It's as if it's a trap (of being absorbed in the external), but with it also comes the potential to willingly choose to turn toward the Divine. By being trapped, the very potential for struggle is tapped.  Without this struggle, man would be attenuated and weak, less than it is meant to become.  With it, due to the devil's work, wings can sprout.  The devil's tempting is (potentially) a tempering that brings about the very opportunity for the gold in humankind to be found.

Without the trap of being seduced into falling asleep in the arms of the world, how could struggle emerge, and inward striving be initiated?  In a certain sense, it seems this struggle (the devil's work) is a gift.

Reflecting on this leads me to consider that the devil may have an integral role in the process of the world, a role often over-simplified, a role that is central with the work of God and the unfolding of humanity's divine potential.  I sense it as a role more like a partnership with God (in the fullest imaginable context of Divinity, and even, perhaps, beyond what we can imagine through the "normal" lens of our constricted human personality) than an outright obstacle.  To understand the devil as merely an adversarial opponent, seeking only to do harm to others for some kind of self-gain is, in my opinion, short-sighted.

Holding this short-sighted understanding of the devil also, in my opinion, diminishes humanity's genuine nature.  It does so because, in light of Iqbal's writings (and of course my capacity to comprehend his intended meaning), I'm understanding the devil now as not necessarily a figure to fear and fight against in order to remain with God, but rather a dynamic of creation (for lack of a better term) which offers real trials and challenges through which, by willfully choosing to overcome them, we discover God.  The devil, then, offers the opportunity to gain the "with" of "with God." 

A true test of one's mettle is discoverable when there is a worthy opponent, an adversity who, by bringing great trials and challenges, forces you to either give in or discover and actualize what is deepest/highest in you that enables triumph.  That is what I sense the devil does - he is a triumph-enabler.  He doesn't give the triumph, but he certainly provides the arena for one to find it for oneself.

The devil, in the end, for me, in light of Iqbal's poem, is a guardian (I'm using this in a highly nuanced manner) of a threshold.  He is what bars humanity's progress.  He is also, however, what provides the very opportunity to progress, grow, and blossom.

Being granted access into the world could, then, be seen as a gift, a gift that, if not given, prevents discovery, actualization, and unfurling of the splendor of humanity.  We're introduced into an arena where the most worthy opponent waits to challenge, press, and push.  It is by overcoming the deepest, most subtle, fears that the devil is left empty-handed, and we find ourselves on a journey of discovering and growing the "Biggest Real" about ourselves.

May this journey continue for us all.